Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Shoot on Sight

I returned from Almaty yesterday feeling refreshed after 8 days of relative freedom. Of course we did a lot of work during the study tour/strategic planning sessions, but we also explored the city, frequented bars and (my favorite) walked around. On Sunday, our free day, we went out for brunch and then I walked and walked and walked. It was awesome. I will write more about this later (and post pictures), but I wanted to write about something that happened tonight.

After work Nathan and I went over to Scott's place to check out his new office and apartment. He has a more traditional set up with an open courtyard in the center of his staff house and several small buildings around the garden. Afterwards we walked over to another friend's house for dinner. Now, we were breaking the rules by going for a stroll, but we were only walking a few blocks and I wasn't going to complain. As we walked and talked I realized that this is furthest I've walked in Kabul. Scott said hello in Dari to each person we passed on the street, and I couldn't help thinking that our security measures are a bit extreme. In his two weeks in Kabul Scott has already seen more of the city and met more people than I have in two months.

We arrived and settled down for dinner. Two of the roommates who live in the house were home, and the third was at the gym but was expected home any minute. I was feeling very jealous of their normal lifestyle - going to they gym in the evening, walking around to get to each other's homes, etc. . . After a 1/2 hour the other roommates started getting nervous. Turns out the gym is only a block away, but everyone was nervous about a woman walking that distance alone at 9:30 pm. They kept trying to call the roommate, but there was no answer. Eventually we started eating and S got a call, and he rushed out of the house. A few minutes later he re-entered with his missing roommate, Aneela.

Apparently Aneela had left the gym on time and was jogging back to her house when she was suddenly slammed against a wall by an ISAF soldier. After a brief exchange he explained that the military was removing a car with an explosive parked on her street, directly across from her house. The street was blocked off (we must have arrived at the house just before this happened) and they wouldn't let her go home until the car was towed away. The soldier told Aneela that they had already disarmed the bomb, and just waiting for the tow truck to arrive. They were using a jammer (in case of a remote control bomb) so cell phone signals were blocked.

While she was waiting the soldier told her that she was lucky -- his partner had been ready to shoot, but as he said, "I thought it looked like a lady running, so I told him to wait." When Aneela questioned if it was their policy to shoot at unknown persons in the dark he explained that that was, in fact, their policy and their orders.

Understandably, Aneela was quite shaken by the experience.

When we got home, about an hour ago, I checked my work email and found a new security notice. Looks like a US Military Convoy in Kabul opened fire on a contractor vehicle that was traveling too close to the convoy. This caused the driver to lose control and slam into a shop. The convoy then opened fire on the vehicle, killing one doctor, one civilian and wounding four other doctors who were traveling from Bagram to Kabul.

Guess Aneela really was lucky.

In unrelated news, today I was offered and verbally accepted a new 3 month contract with my NGO working as a gender consultant.

***Pic is of Scott's mini-apartment.

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