The Bazaars Of Kabul – And The Permeating Smell Of Shit

The Bazaars Of Kabul – And The Permeating Smell Of Shit

The Bazaars Of Kabul – And The Permeating Smell Of Shit 150 150 Comfort Aid International

Sohail Abdullah, my colleague and Senior Trustee for CAI, and I are traveling to Afghanistan for our semi-annual compliance audit of the very many CAI active projects in the country. This is my 45th trip to this overwhelmingly depressing and very challenging country that albeit has a special place in my heart. Traveling long distance is stressful, to begin with, but with the Doodoo, mandatory timed COVID tests, and protective masks on all the time, I feel an overwhelming weight on my shoulders – how on earth are we going to maintain our compliance commitments for the projects; past, present, and future?

The Emirates flight from New York to Dubai is superlight and both Sohail and I get a row of seats to ourselves after we sweet-talk the check-in lady to block the remaining two. Since we are traveling cattle-class, the food is callously dumped on my tray and the stewardess, who looks like an alien with a fully-clad PPE gear and whose face I cannot see, seems eager to finish the feeding process fasta-fasta. Across from my row to the left, a man with a beard that would put Rouhani to shame, fidgets, without a care in the world, with his TV monitor while his full niqab wife struggles with a newborn baby and about a five-year-old impish son creating a ruckus. I feel an urgent itch to yank his earphones off his bushy face and yell at him to help his struggling wife, but I don’t want to cool my heels in jail either, so I grind my teeth and shut up. It’s a bit nervy while we convince immigration in Dubai that we are healthy so they can let us leave the airport and rest for the 18-hour layover. There are no issues. We have dinner, fitfully try and sleep through jet lag and fly to Kabul the next day.

It has been a while since we have been to Kabul, what with the COVID Doodoo making mischief. Virtually nobody wears a mask here, however. The place is as busy and chaotic as I last left it – the traffic a royal mess, the air laden with smog, dust, and deadly chemicals, and the atmosphere of incoherence system prevail; I am genuinely surprised the system has not collapsed already. The massive impressive CAI orphanage and school facility an hour away from the airport is a welcome sanctuary; we are warmly welcomed with genuine joy, especially by the 150 or so orphans that CAI donors support.

We spend the next two days in meetings with key personnel, Wasi, Basheer, and Aasef, trying to catch up on so many challenges ignored in the last few months because of the Doodoo and the neglect arising from it. The school was shut down, our orphans sent home to their surviving family, and our humanitarian services were much curtailed due to the government lockdown. Thank Allah, the six remote medical clinics services in Bamiyan and Daykundi were not affected and vital medical services to the poorest and vulnerable people of Afghanistan continued unaffected.

It is a teeny-weeny 6-seater Kodiak aircraft that flies us to Nili on a crisp Saturday morning; I see not a single wisp of cloud anywhere; it is an expanse of a vast deep-blue sky vista up and an unending raw of craggy mountaintops beneath us. This is a single propeller aircraft, very well maintained. Still. The single-pilot flying us can have a heart attack, or the stomach flu or…. We land at the unpaved runway at Nili where our loyal and dependable driver Sher Hussein awaits us. Sher Hussein is a rugged character, with an infectious laugh and large hands that can do wonders to tired aching muscles with a brief massage every night. We traverse the very remote and dangerous, treacherous, and unforgiving mountain roads of Afghanistan. A single error, six-inch either way can have catastrophic and fatal consequences. My trust in Sher Hussein’s driving skills is absolute, however, unless Allah Mia has other plans for me. The two days going to inspect CAI constructed and managed medical clinics are exhausting but gratifying and necessary. One of the treats of visiting a taxing Afghanistan is a visit to a rural Hamam for a hot and rejuvenating clean up after the dusty trip. The one in Nili is a good one but Sohail turns chicken at the last minute, citing COVID concerns and that treat is snatched away.

Back in Kabul, we have tons of issues to resolve so we get super busy. Most heartening is the progress our orphan kids have made. Many can now comfortably converse in relative fluid English, something that was a struggle just a year ago. Our girl orphans, who have been with us for almost nine years, are a delight. They surround both Sohail and me, seeking attention and ready to converse in English to impress us. A wonderful warm feeling emits from the pit of my essence, that I have a small role to play in these children who are so special to Allah.

Emirates Airlines has stringent procedures we have to follow before they’ll allow us to board their flight to proceed to Dubai on Friday next. This includes a COVID test that is negative, taken within 96 hours of flight time. However, the results must be in their system 24 hours before, so this is a dance of distress in calculating all the requirements and what times their designated labs will be open to accommodate our deadlines. So, we head to City Laboratory, an Emirates designated center, right in the middle of Kabul.

So, we head out that way on a warm Wednesday afternoon. Although the mornings and late nights in Kabul now are nippy, the afternoons are warm, with an unrelenting piercing sun. The traffic is predictably horrendous and I get impatient as our vehicle is snarled in the unmoving lanes. Since it is walking distance, for me, I decide to walk instead of boiling in the stifling car interior. Bad decision. A very, very bad decision. Kabul does not have a working sewer system, especially in the older sections of the sprawling city. So, the pong of raw sewage and shit hits me. Hard. I am wearing a good perfume-laden mask, so the stink is somewhat camouflaged. Still, I gag a few times in the time it takes me to reach my destination. This is a bazaar area, with open stores and restaurants doing brisk business. Nobody I encounter or see has a mask on. None. This riles me. How can these people live like this? These are the bazaars of Kabul, with an unshakable smell of shit. It is a huge relief to enter the relatively modern City Hospital for our COVID PCR test. Still, even from the third floor of the building, when I am asked to remove my mask so my throat can be swabbed, the lingering whiff of shit and sewage makes me gag. The lab technician, a young good-looking Pashtun makes a distasteful face. But I’m done shortly.

We get our COVID results the next day. Both negative, alhamd’Alllah. We are off to Najaf, Iraq tomorrow. Insha’Allah.

You might like these photos of our trip.

[pictures | sohail abdullah]


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