END OF OPTIONAL READING

The government, ethnic resentment dynamic seems pretty raw. Power, Karzai was from the south, being bombarded with how bad the government is, how bad the NGOs are - - I don't know if I'm being used, spun or it's legitimate resistance fighter rhetoric.

The rural poverty is pretty staggering. The isolation of so many of these villages also staggering -- the urban areas, bazaars, mazes of mud huts, little girls carrying water jugs on their shoulders and navigating sharp rock mountains like billy goats, boys standing with naked legs in rivers while I'm bundled up against hypothermia in the SUV.


Then suddenly if you look somewhere else there are palatial structures, gleaming corporate office buildings.

Two artillery sounding blasts in Faisalabad, think they were blowing something up intentionally and announced it in Dari over loudspeakers, but ugly sickening sound. I remembered it from being in the field in Germany in the army; a long time ago and I'd forgotten about it.


I ride in an ambulance with Afghan EMS workers, hang in their barracks, bond, arm wrestle on the floor with one, everyone cheers and smiles and we're all tight, NYC and Afghanistan.

Today came back to a hotel in Kabul and read that they bombed a school, killed or injured 17 children, burned the school down. Up north they killed four healthcare workers in an NGO.

Impossible to blend in, be low profile here if you're not from here. Just have to stride around like you don't care about fear and those rules don't apply to you and for the most part I think that works; here, in life. I don't know how consistently I can pull that off though, or fake that, or will myself to play that part or be that person.



THE CHILDREN, THE SCHOOLS

Three kids say they think they are 15, 16, 18 years old (they're not sure) - - shirts off on the futblol field, long pants jumpsuit, kids all rise up among the Unicef and USAID tents everywhere.



I'm swarmed and pressed close by children, some tension with teacher about his grammar, blasted with Taliban commentary, blasted with Pakistan territory rhetoric; palms of hands touching me are changing from cold to wet to colder.

Why don't I have a car, why don't I have a driver, they want to know and at the same time taunt. Then I can't shake an angry young boy, back and forth nonstop talking about giving him my laptop and more. I'm not rich I insist (then why the heck am I here acting the implicit benefactor). I tell him maybe I'll give my old computer to his school, try to buy them drinks, they seriously refuse. I look up and say, literally, Arrgh - - I've been through this many times before in the field but it's exhausting. I had to practically run away from not bombs or AKs but a kid with angry persistence and demands.

Crumbling remnants of a structure house in distance; met a man - - told him to write his thoughts in Dari and he bends down and writes this:



Twenty Afghans form a circle and my scribe gets teased about not being really Afghan because he was born in Pakistan.

****

In parts of Kabul there's a vibe of being ripped off and complaining about being ripped off. Former touristy thriving Chicken Street and Flower Street are empty and abandoned. Hotels, guesthouses, guide book recommended places, all gone, abandoned, virtually empty.

And there's another scene - - massive PX I went to. No Afghans allowed, pretty big alcohol consumption, coming back with a car filled with alcohol; two people already told me about women from China or Asia here working as prostitutes (don't know if that's true) behind walls in houses - - so many foreign workers - - like an international job program, come to a dangerous, rough place and make real good money.

****

It all ended with a refugee-like scene; crowded very hot wait on an airfield and then being hustled and violated and forced to pay a bribe by an extremely aggressive military official who practically dragged me through every step of the airport boarding procedure and then demanded more and more money at the end.