Jemal Mena

The sunlight was fabulous again this evening, so I went out to take pictures of my neighbors. Here is Mohammed Nader again. Now I need to find a local photo-finishing service that will do a good job at hardcopies; I owe him a print. I dearly hope that at some point I can get a photo of him smiling, as he usually is.

His neighbor asked for a print too. It is my honor to be able to get such portraits. Note that I am withholding names in most of these portraits; Senator Roshanak and Mumammad are public figures, but most folks I photograph are not.

Muhammad suggested that I take a picture of the guys across the street getting water. I turned around, and there they are filling pink squirt-guns at the tap! The tap is broken open; so whenever the Municipality turns the water on for this area, water just flows nonstop into the street. A chronic problem in infrastructure anywhere is maintenance, which requires local commitment at least to notification if not self-repair.

The shopkeeper who sells me phone cards is from Kapisa province, but he has brought his whole family to Kabul because of continued fighting there. Now he rents in Chehel Sotun, and bicycles up via Jad-e Darul Aman to Deh Mazang every morning. I will try to put together a map of Kabul neighborhoods so y’all can get a sense of the local urban geography.

This is the morning commute the shopkeeper is referring to, from the south edge of the city. The ratio of bicyclists and pedestrians to cars puts America to shame. Of course helmets would improve the safety in Kabul, as would the use of seat-belts. I think a lot about different choices of risk-reduction these days.

Bicyclists and drivers here often use bells and horns to notify each other as they negotiate the slow, dense traffic in the center-city. It is very effective and generally civil. There are a few young ‘hotdog’ drivers in big SUVs, but they are generally frowned upon. U.S. armored vehicles are known not only for aggressive driving behavior, but for colliding with other cars and not stopping (I have a firsthand account of this as well as stories). The behavior of U.S. military drivers is the main direct encounter with Americans for most Kabulis. We leave a bad impression, pun intended.

The violent reaction to the accident of 29 May needs to be understood in this context. Yes, a big part of the problem is massive discontent at unemployment; but since the present government is regarded as an American project, economic stagnation and an offensive foreign military presence are seen as linked. Furthermore, this city works on rumor, which insurgents can use. For example, it is rumored here that the U.S. driver who killed seven people was drunk. Whether this is fact or not is secondary: public intoxication is extremely offensive to Muslim sensibilities. I have not heard U.S. authorities try to contest this rumor, which they should if it is false. But they may not be aware of the general word on the street. Their own security restrictions keep the diplomatic team locked up in the downtown fortress labeled ‘U.S. Embassy’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *