THE BLOG

Life in a War Zone: Text Messages, Shopping, and Bad TV

The day after the attempted assassination on Hamid Karzai in April this year, the cops raided a house near mine in Kabul. In a gun battle that last several hours, Taliban assailants and some civilians were killed.

I could hear the gunfire from the garden of our house, where I was sitting having tea and toast while watching the gardener tend his beloved roses.

A text message came. It told me not to come to work until the fighting had stopped. I rang a friend in Australia, urging him not to worry - he may hear that the Taliban was having a shoot out in Kabul, but really, everything was fine.

He laughed with incredulity. "Do you understand how ridiculous that sounds?" he asked. It was only when I was at home in a Sydney café drinking over-priced cappuccino with friends several months later that I realized how that phone call must have sounded. My friends were asking me about life in Kabul and while I felt like I needed to be dramatic, the best I could could come up with was "quite good really, sometimes a bit boring. Tedious when the electricity goes off."

Long ago, I learned that - even though this may sound odd - you are still the same person when you enter a war zone. You have the same life, the same back-story and the same abilities as you did when you got on the plane in your home port. You need to do your washing, satisfy your urge to shop for luxuries, meet friends and watch bad TV. It doesn't change and your take on life doesn't either.

My favorite text message came one night from my organization's security detail: "Intelligence suggests suicide bomber on loose in Shar E Naw, looking for target, stay away from area." I lived in Shar E Naw and the idea of some listless fitted-up half-wit wandering around deciding who to bomb was too much for the gathering in my lounge room. Call yourself a suicide bomber? Didn't you figure out your target before leaving the house? How could you be so disorganized?

What may seem terrifying when heard from afar is your life when you are living it.

I am currently in Manila. Today I met someone who has been based in Kabul for three years. How's things? I asked rather earnestly, having heard about the downward spiral in security since I left in September.

Terrible, he said, and then detailed complaints about his organization that seems to be hide bound by bureaucracy and inefficiency. There were personality issues too and someone had not met the requirements of their duty statement. It was a frustrating story, to be sure.

Er, yes, but how's Kabul? I asked, having seen this week's gloating by the Taliban who claim to have a noose round the city, read the tales of high profile targets, the increased bombings and locked downs. "Oh, same old same old," he said.

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