Abu Dhabi- To get from Tajikistan to Abu Dhabi was a bit of an arduous trip via Kabul and Dubai and no sleep. Here are a few random shots from the Blackberry from 24 hours in my often bizarre life.
Abu Dhabi, UAE- Well it’s that time again. The end of the road. I’ve been going non stop for almost four months. The timeline goes something like this: Depart NYC July 30th-Arrive Abu Dhabi, Six nights at my friend Arif’s in climate controlled villa, bus to Dubai, fly Dubai to Kabul and arrive in Afghanistan on the 8th of August-Depart Kabul on the 2nd of September to Dubai, take a taxi from Dubai to Sharjah (neighboring emirate), stay one night at Sharjah youth hostel, next day fly one way to Athens, Greece, immediately take bus to Piraeus port upon landing, play brickbreaker on my Blackberry on steps of massive Greek cathedral to pass the time, then try to sleep hiding on chairs on deck of coffee shop until I get woken up by ouzo-smelling cleaning crew, take 7:15am ferry to Ios island, 10 days of whooping it up on Ios and finishing up writing from Kabul, then overnight ferry trip to Turkey via Paros and Samos (spot group of African and other assorted migrants being dragged out of the Aegean and marched to Samos’s detention center and get asked by Greek policeman not to pay attention to them),
Arrive in Kusadasi, Turkey the following morning of September, 15th, two nights there, then bus to Fethiye, 2 nights there, bus to Antalya, 4 nights there, bus to Adana, 1 night there, overnight bus to Cizre near Iraq border, cross Turkey-Iraq border on foot/taxi, Kurdish guy I’m ordered by Turkish soldier to get in taxi with gets in fisticuffs on zero line at border, take taxi from Zakho on Iraq side 3 hours to Erbil on September 25th, travel to Qandil mountains on Iraq-Iran border, cross back to Turkey on October 7th, take bus to Mardin, 2 nights there, take bus to Erzurum, 1 night there, over night bus to Turkey-Georgia border, arrive in Tbilisi following morning on October 11th, 17 days in Georgia, travel to Chechen border for book research, fly Tbilisi-Dubai, arrive Dubai on October 28th, one night at Dubai youth hostel, get another Afghan visa the next day, buy 3:30 am ticket to Kabul, arrive back in Afghanistan on October 30th, fly back to Dubai on November 9th, paid random Keralite guy at airport to drive me to Arif’s in Abu Dhabi, spent the last 2 weeks here doing the better part of nothing, flying to Dublin tomorrow, 2 nights there, then arriving back in NYC on November 24th. Phew! It’s been a long one.
Abu Dhabi, UAE- I have a new piece in today’s Asia Times about the overall decline of the security environment in Kabul and the collective West’s political will to do something about it. Five more years of Karzai rule is a bitter pill to swallow for anyone who considers themselves to give a damn about Afghanistan. My friends Raymond Pagnucco and Spencer Mandell made an excellent film about the first imposed democratic experiment in 2004 and all the fraud that accompanied that mess entitled God’s Open Hand. Swap Yunus Qanooni for Dr. Abdullah (and figure in that Qanooni was one of Abdullah’s strongest backers in this year’s destined to be flawed contest) and the electoral mess of 2004 begins to resemble this year’s fiasco. One might even go so far as to make a comparison between the 2000 and the 2004 Bush “victories” in the United States. Democracy is imperfect everywhere but in Afghanistan these imperfections yield deadly consequences.
Travel through the world’s developing layers is all relative. As I was leaving Abu Dhabi last night, I said to my friend that the U.A.E. will look like the West in the rearview mirror of his Lexus in comparison to Kabul where I landed today. To someone who’d never set foot outside of the West, the U.A.E. might seem strange and bewildering with its teeming migrant worker population and neon Arabic signage. Kabul, again in relative terms, will feel like Los Angeles what with it’s pizza restaurants and one or two ATMs linked to the outside world in comparison to the Afghan countryside. And when I pass back through the U.A.E. on the way home with its lack of genuine press freedom and human right, the comforts of its top-down imposed modernity will mask over its freedom deficit. The Emirate’s many ATMs, fast food courts, constant air conditioning and clean drinking water will pass for freedom but only for a day or two.
Kabul is humming before the election in twelve days. Political posters are plastered all over the city though a large number of them are defaced, literally. On the road in from the airport, my Afghan Logistics taxi was stopped at a checkpoint and an illiterate ANP cadre mistook me for being a local (a Tajik from the Shomali plain) and was insistently accusing me of being a local just coming off the flight from Mazar while the driver couldn’t keep a straight face telling this poor chap I’d just come from Dubai. He was looking at my Afghan visa from last year and it was clear he had no clue as to how to decipher it.
The (presumably) Taleban lobbed a few rockets into the city on Tuesday to put the scare into residents to say that the capital, while largely secure, remains within their reach. This will be an interesting few weeks here.