Saturday, September 12, 2009

"High Heels Being Nicked"

Post report from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, September 2009:

Pollution index? Very unhealthy. There is constantly sand, pollution and poop in the air.

What is the climate like? Weather patterns? The climate is similar to Denver's, with some very hot days in summer and cold snowy days in winter. But it also has cool spring evenings and mild fall evenings.

What kind of insect problems are there, if any? There are lots of ants, mosquitoes, and a few scorpions if you live in the hooch area.

Security concerns? There are major security concerns. You are confined to the embassy the majority of the time because you never know when a vbied, bbied or IDF will strike next. There was a major bombing at ISAF, next to the embassy, about a month ago.

Housing: Housing is in either a hooch (containerized living) or an apartment. The housing situation is bad and will only get worse before it improves, due to the influx of personnel and poor planning for housing. Higher ranking officials, couples, and personnel who volunteered for a 2-year assignment have their own apartments. Lower ranking personnel live in a shared apartment or single hooch. TDY personnel might sleep on cots in bunkers.

International schools: Embassy staff don't bring children to this assignment.

Is this a good city for families/singles/couples? The "city" is confined, mostly to the embassy compound, with the exception of NGOs who live in Kabul. Some couples come to the embassy together and live in a shared apartment. Employment is a condition of bringing your spouse. There is a lot of partying going on that both singles and couples participate in, but embassy staff are trying hard to arrange activities that don't revolve around partying. It is a stressful environment for everyone - married or single.

Is it a good city for gay or lesbian expats? I don't believe it is a good environment for gays. It seems like they are not out in the open with their socializing, but I can't say for sure.

Are there problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices? I haven't witnessed problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices but it is a male dominated environment and has proven to be difficult for females coping with not being used to being around males all the time.

What difficulties would someone with physical disabilities have living in this city? Yes. Folks with disabilities should not come here. There are no resources. If you can't run from the attack, you don't want to come.

Interesting/fun things to do in the area: Shop at the bazaars (when they aren't closed due to a recent suicide bombing), work out, party, sleep if you have the time.

Are gyms or workout facilities available? There are two small gyms at the embassy with pretty good cardio equipment and weights, but both are becoming overcrowded with the "surge" in personnel. There is a new yoga class which seems to be popular, and there is also a swimming pool and tennis courts.

What fast food and decent restaurants are available? Cost? Officially, there is no going into the city to restaurants, although some staff go into the city to attend "official" functions or functions that they claim to be "official". Listing the locations wouldn't be appropriate, but when you get to Kabul, you'll find out.

What is the availability (and the relative cost) of groceries and household supplies? You eat in the chow hall, currently run by KBR. The food is usually fried and fatty, but not too bad. There is a dining facility for the Afghan employees (which American staff can use) and it isn't too bad, but the menu doesn't change. So you soon get tired of it. There is a small convenience store now that doesn't have a wide variety but soon will be expanding. Employees order through or buy junk food at the nearby military facility. With the housing crunch, it isn't a good idea to bring a lot of extra items with you to take up valuable space.

What type of automobile is suitable to bring (or not to bring) because of rugged terrain, lack of parts and service, local restrictions, carjackings, etc? If your vehicle isn't armor plated and you aren't qualified to drive an armor plated vehicle and carry a weapon, you can't ship a vehicle here.

Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable? No, no, no. Someone tried to take a taxi from the airport once, I don't know if they ever found him again.

Items you would ship to this post if you could do it again? My ipod with docking station, a good laptop with CAT-V cord, a small blender, workout gear, a yoga mat (the few in the gym are filthy), 2 sets of plates, cups, utensils, a good digital camera for travel, good carry-on luggage that holds a weekend's worth of clothes for use on your RRBs, and bedding that you don't mind throwing away when you leave.

Availability and cost of domestic help: There is a concierge service at the embassy that will clean your apartment or hooch, but there have been some problems reported with thefts.

How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living? None..unless you are an officer that has meetings in town. If you are confined to the embassy, everyone speaks English.

Is high speed internet access available? Cost? There is internet available for free at the Embassy, but the service is overwhelmed and sometimes is slow or goes down. There isn't anything that can be done except wait it out or use the internet in the office.

Size of expat community: Large and growing.

Morale among expats: Morale depends upon your mindset. If you go to the embassy knowing you will work long hours, be confined to the compound, and not able to get out much, it is okay. After all, it is a war zone. There has been a batch of folks lately that complain about their high heels being nicked when they cross the street, complain about the food and the fact they can't go to restaurants... I don't know what they were thinking when they volunteered to go to Kabul (again...a "war zone" ), but they should have volunteered for Paris or stayed home!

Are there decent job opportunities for expats on the local economy? No.

Entertaining/social life: A lot of drinking/partying goes on here, but there are those who don't partake in this at all and do just fine. They read, watch movies, or get together at other folks' apartments.

Dress code at work and in public: For non-security personnel, the dress code is similar to that at other embassies. There is a Marine Ball and ball gowns are worn, there are also balls at other embassies you can attend. It is a good idea for women to bring at least one full gown, a black cocktail dress and one other formal dress if you want to attend these events.

Any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available? The embassy med unit is good. If there is a serious health concern, you will be medevaced to another facility. Your skin, hair, and nasal passages will be dryer than you ever thought possible. If you have serious health issues (including anxiety/depression), you should NOT come here, it is a war zone.

You can leave behind your: idea that you will find a husband if you are a gal. Most people are not looking for long-term relationships here. Also, your: idea that you are entitled to go to restaurants/clubs in the city; idea that the food in the dining hall is healthy; idea that you will get sleep - get used to being tired; idea that everything is equitable because it isn't - some folks have their own staff and never eat in the dining hall or have bugs crawl on them when they sit outside. AND don't bring too much stuff because there isn't a lot of room in the apartments/hooches.

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there? Yes, it was a tough tour, but I never worked harder in my life or felt like I contributed more than at this assignment. It's all about mentally preparing yourself for the assignment and then there will be no let downs.

Recommended fiction related to this city: Caravans; The Kite Runner; Three Cups of Tea.


Blogger Steve Sailer said...

The first chapter of "Caravans" by James Michener (1963) is set in the embassy district of Kabul. It sounded like a pretty rotten place for assignment even in peace time.

9/12/2009 3:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Caravans should be required reading for anyone connected to our Afghan policy.

9/13/2009 12:37 AM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

Gals? Looking for husbands? What, is Rose Marie there? In what year does the writer live?

9/14/2009 11:27 AM  
Blogger DED said...


9/17/2009 11:56 PM  
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