Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Waiting for Spring

Two days after returning to Afghanistan, I went to the ISAF base with Betsy to talk to them about selling Women of Hope products there weekly. We took a public taxi (which I was informed later by my boss is completely off limits in the future) and drove through the city. It had seemed like spring was approaching before I left, but Tuesday proved us wrong with dark gray skies and slushy snow. We stopped at a traffic light, not because the light was working but because traffic was backed up, and I was looking out the window, as usual.

I saw an older man, he looked to be in his late 60s but was probably only in his 40s, lying on his side on the sidewalk. A dirty turban was wrapped around his head and he was wearing lightweight pants and had a thin sheet thrown over him. His eyes were closed and he was rocking back and forth a little, his mouth stretched wide as he moaned. As he rocked the sheet slipped down to expose the nub where his left arm should have been. He skin was stretched so tightly across his thin frame it looked as if his bones would break free at any moment. Pedestrian traffic continued on the sidewalk around him, although I could see that kind Afghans had left money on the ground in front of him.

I can't get the image out of my mind.

Eventually the street unclogged and we continued to the base. While we were waiting for our military escort, Betsy picked up a copy of the ISAF newsletter to read. The lead story was about how ISAF had underestimated Taliban capabilities and that they are anticipating the spring to be the worst since 2001.

You can feel the tension in the denseness of the air. Attacks have been picking up in regions outside of Kabul and we are all waiting for the spring to reach us in the mountains. Four rockets were fired into the Jalalabad Road area of Kabul last week - aiming for a military base and getting pretty close, I guess. My NGO upped our security restrictions and we're talking about having a lock down on Friday. I guess the Mujaheddin are going to protest on Friday - I assume they are marching to pressure Karzai into signing the Amnesty Bill which has already been passed by both Afghan Parliamentary houses. The bill grants amnesty to all people who committed crimes during the Mujaheddin Wars - including the many warlords in Parliament. If Karzai signs it he will lose the support of the international community, but if he doesn't sign it the former warlords will not be happy... There have been many protests and demonstrations in Kabul since I've been here, but people are whispering that this one has the potential to turn into riots like the ones this past May. I've heard three different expats in the last 2 days say that they think evacuation is a possibility this year and if the international forces can't get control of the country by the end of 2007 it will be a lost cause.

Of course, these are all rumors - people were saying that the Taliban was planning a winter attack that was going to take everyone by surprise, but it never materialized. What is unnerving is to read ISAF newsletter and talk to some of the soldiers who are saying they think this spring is going to be very bad. I get nervous when the military and the NGO community agree on anything...

Betsy got permission to start selling her stuff at the ISAF base on Mondays. Unfortunately, I can't help out because I'll still be at work when she heads over. But, once the warmer weather arrives I will be able to help out at Camp Eggars again, which will be good. Volunteering my time to help Afghan women, even if it at a military base, makes me feel a little better about being here.

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