Parallel universe

Yesterday evening I went into a parallel universe. I was invited by a friend who lives with her significant other in a real apartment as opposed to a hooch (a container) in the US embassy compound. I used to arrange jailbreaks for her and her man but this time I went into the jail.

The driver picked me up after Iftar which is now a quarter before 7 PM. As we drove across town I realized how strange it was to see people eating and drinking in public. Since I am usually not out after dark during this month of Ramadan I didn’t see anyone eating our drinking, including our drivers and guards. Now they were drinking water and eating grapes. They offered to share with me, part of Afghan hsopitality, but I declined as I was going to a dinner party in another universe.

The roads were empty because most people were at their homes. As a result there were few cars on the roads, which are now nearly all in excellent condition due to the mayor’s concentrated efforts to get the municipal infrastructure up to snuff. The combination of the emptiness and good condition of the roads are potentially lethal as people drove much too fast and, if they hadn’t already broken their fast, with their minds probably focused more on food and drink than on the traffic.

At the American embassy I was dropped off in front of the outer perimeter of this heavily guarded bastion. In the dark it is even more eerie than in daylight – as if you enter a warzone. I made it quickly past the outer two guard posts because of my American passport but at Charlie 1 I was stopped and had to wait for my escort. It took a good 20 minutes to check me in and, after handing over my cell phone, I entered what looks very much like the dorm section of a college campus.

There were joggers, women with bare arms and exposed ankles and long hallways with fluorescent lights. Inside the tiny apartment, the only thing that indicated we were in Afghanistan were the rugs and the Karzai coat displayed on the floor and walls.

My friend had invited other friends. All from inside the bubble and so I was the only one who had come in from that very dangerous outside world called Afghanistan. Introductions were on a first name basis and then everyone told everyone else what they worked on. Only much later, during the take out Thai dinner, did I dare to ask whether people felt their efforts made any different. The answers were depressing.

At one point people asked me where I lived. I described my house and yard, not forgetting to mention the apple and pear trees, the tomatoes and basil. People looked at me incredulously. “Aren’t you afraid?” they asked. I told them that I found being in the US embassy compound much more frightening as it seemed were right in the bull’s eye.

To leave the compound and get back to my driver who was waiting outside in Afghanistan, I had to walk half a kilometer between blastwalls and razor wire, tanks with twirling tops that followed me in their visors. A heavily armed military man offered to escort me. He told me he couldn’t keep up with my light and fast steps (I had to get out of there fast) because he had 40 kg strapped to his body. He actually kept up quite well but soon our ways parted as he went towards the outer defense line where I couldn’t go and so we said goodbye. He seemed alarmed that I was simply going to walk out of this heavily guarded nest but I told him my driver was waiting and I was going to be alright. With that I disappeared out of his sight and into Afghanistan again. Pfewww!

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