Ditched

Last night it finally happened: one of my dinner guests stepped blindly into the ditch that runs in front of our house. Here in Kabul, and in this part of the world, these are the drainage ditches that run everywhere along both sides of the street. They are basically open sewers. It was dark, Pierre’s eyesight isn’t so good in the dark and we were chatting when suddenly Pierre dropped down. As he pulled himself out he acted like one would expect a doctor to act, ‘oh, no problem.’

But I know doctors as I was brought up by one and have a few in the family; I was worried that he would not give himself the same advice as he would give to a patient. One of his shins was bloody, skinned from knee to foot. His driver fished one of his shoes and his cellphone out of the ditch. A little later we discovered that Pierre had put on the wrong shoes, and that it was Steve’s shoe that had been submerged.

Steve had earlier quoted me a saying from his time in Shiraz that when you fell into one of these ditches you would never leave town. We thought that had applied to Pierre but since these were Steve’s shoes this may now apply to him. It was an unfortunate ending to a lovely dinner with a few friends.

One of them first arrived in Afghanistan 44 years ago. He also read Paula Constable’s article in the Washington Post a week ago (Dread and Dysfunction in Kabul) and was even harder hit by it than me. He remarked that in the olden days typical Afghan (mudbrick) houses, even in the city, had a series of small rooms built along the walls of the compound around a beautiful garden occupying most of the space; a garden that received attention all day long.

Now garish monstrosities are built to within an inch of the outside walls leaving very little space, not even the size of a walkway, between the house and the house next door. There is no more outdoor life because there is no more outdoors, only cement, brick and tiles. Gone are the roses, the grape vines, the fruit trees. Many people who lived here a long time ago can’t find their houses back. They are gone.

Our Afghan dinner was cooked, served and cleaned up by our cook and housekeeper who had offered to stay, for the evening. Steve and I immediately accepted. That’s one thing I will miss: having a dinner party and when you go to bed everything is cleaned up and put away.

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