Frankly I don't even know what to say about Kabul. It was hard to form an impression since I wasn't allowed to walk around. A car picked me up each morning from the guest house and a car returned me to it in the afternoon. Many buildings are hidden behind high blast walls (my office and hotel included) and there are guys with big guns posted at every entrance. Because of this I also don't have a lot of pictures.
There's me all scarfed up. I had to wear one at all times outside the hotel. I could have taken it off in the office but several of the staff are very conservative and I figured I was causing enough scandal sharing an office and, gasp, eating with one of my male coworkers. So I kept it on.
The guest house I stayed in is called the Park Palace. I think the name overstates itself. When we drove up my coworker told me it might look like a prison (it did but then I discovered so did almost everything) but that it was fairly decent. It was surrounded by a high wall and a man with a gun went through my suitcase before allowing us to enter. We walked into a large, enclosed room and across the way a second heavy door opened to reveal two more men with guns. We walked through another courtyard and gate (where there was only sometimes a man with a gun) into the hotel's actual courtyard.
The room was actually not the scariest room I've ever been in. There were a couple in India and one in Serbia that were worse.
There was no heat so that tiny little space heater to the bottom right of the picture was all I had. I wore a lot of layers and rarely took off my coat while I was here. I also made a list of everything I should bring if I ever go back to Afghanistan, including: several flashlights, batteries, long underwear, lots of make up and hand wipes, heavy socks, and lots of sweaters. Electricity was iffy but it never stayed off for too long.
The bathroom was the trickiest part. Anytime I turned on the shower water went every where. Also there was no hot water. I spent almost a week making do with "washing up" but a couple days in I couldn't stand my hair anymore. I stood just outside the shower area and turned myself into Gumby so that the majority of the icily frigid water fell only on my head. It was not pleasant. My last day there the water coming out of the sink tap was so hot it was almost boiling. I got pretty excited only to find that the shower wouldn't even turn on that day.
I was in Kabul for the Shia holy day of Ashura. Ashura is generally bloody enough in that the devout beat themselves in the mosques...but this year on December 6 it was especially so as a suicide bomber walked into the Shia mosque courtyard and killed over 60 people and injured over 100 more. The New York Times ran a picture from the AFP that was shocking...both for content and that American media are usually more conservative. Many of those 63 killed that day were children. The bomb was thankfully in another part of the city, we didn't even hear it, but security was extra cautious over the next few days in fear of reprisals.
Looking at the city as it is now, I have a hard time imagining what it might have looked like before...and that there could have been a real city here at all.
This is Chicken Street, a market area with largely jewelry and textiles.
I was able to go to a couple more places than just the office and the hotel. I went with coworkers to a few restaurants. Getting in was a very similar procedure as with my hotel...except there were multiple signs posted barring carrying weapons and requesting that you deposit your sidearms with the guard. The guys I was with were also patted down while I, a woman, was allowed to pass through without a search. Which on the one hand showed their respect of women but on the other was incredibly stupid. You could fit a lot of weaponry under a burka.
In addition to Chicken Street I was also able to go to Darullaman, the (former) king's summer palace. It was, as you can see, destroyed but is being rebuilt.
The region is quite mountainous.
Now, I think I may have mentioned that I have airport fear. They completely freak me out. Getting into the Kabul airport did not help matters. The airport is only a 15 minute drive from where I was in the city, but getting into the airport took longer than the drive. We got to the main entrance and a male coworker had to get out and walk a few yards down the street and be patted down. The driver got out, was patted down, and opened the trunk so the guard could inspect the car. I just sat inside. We drove a little ways and all three of us had to get out and be patted down. Being female I went to one side to a small building where an older lady just ran her hands down me and sent me on while the guys got in the long line of men being searched outside. Then we had to take out our bags and run everything through an x-ray machine. We put everything back in the car and were driven to a small parking lot from which we then had to walk. We were stopped once to have our tickets inspected, then again in a few yards where my male coworker was searched. We were searched going into the airport, again I had to go into a separate small room, and bags were run through another x-ray. Then I checked in and went through another x-ray and metal detector at the gate.
I just hope the thrice damned TSA never experience that and get any ideas from it.