Sunday, April 27, 2008

Somewhere in the desert

Hellmend Afghanistan

There could be no more apt name for where I am now than Hell, for geographical reasons they have added a "mend" an created a province in Southern Afghanistan, whose only claim to fame is that produces approx half of the worlds of Opium for Heroin and also it is home for the Taliban. Given the terrain and the weather here you can understand why these people are so mad.

I am taking notes and will write a full account of this embed, but for security reasons I am limited in what I can write and account for at this time.

But I will say that I have never been this hot or uncomfortable in years, the days are just brutal the heat is above100 by the early hours of the morning and you just feel yourself drain of life as the day goes by, even now as i write in the dark it is in the 90's and the heat is replaced by th bugs attracted to the screen light and I barely have the energy to stand. The only aircon is in the medics field hospital surgery and whilst it is nice to go in, the reality is that you have to come back outside.

Our sleeping quarter are inside a hut built of Hesco barriers with a tin roof covered in sandbags which has no air, but will withstand a mortar attack, there is no hot food apart from MRE's or a new alternative which seems to be cans of catfood with labels that indicate beef. Water is taken from pallets and the sun makes it like drinking warm bath water all the bottles are covered in dust and it has been three days now since I have washed or changed clothes>

Last night as we tried to get to sleep. Dana asked me "Mal how long are you going to keep doing this?" I answered not much longer, but in a few months the discomfort of today will be forgotten, but for the moment all I relate too is that in a few hours the sun will be back up and the only thing you look forward too is it going back down.

Hell does exist, it is called Hellmend Southern Afghanistan

The next few days will be interesting.

Doing my best to keep safe Lou and Bj w will again swim with the turtles.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hope that Maryam never finds out


It was over a cup of Chamomile tea, yes we have been reduced to drinking herbal tea in the evening before we turn in. Not exactly the hard image of War Correspondents in the battlefield that seems to pervade every stereotype. That whilst discussing plans for the upcoming embed and the move down South to be embedded with the US Marines and in all probability come into contact with Taliban and Insurgents that our producer Maryam Sepheri laughed as Correspondent Dana Lewis i sipped our tea before turning in for the night.

That Dana turned to me and said, "This is bad enough, hopefully she will not find out what we bought in Dubai"

"What did you buy?" asked Maryam intrigued that could there be anything worse for two experienced war veterans, than being exposed as Chamomile tea drinkers.

"Nothing" I replied and "Remember Dana, no one is to know! it will remain a secret and we cannot start to use it (the unnamed product) till after our embed"

"Come on you guys, that is not fair!"

But somethings are better off left to imagination, lets face it what could be worse than admitting to drinking Chamomile tea.

The Name is Back

After leaving Israel after five years there, I thought that it was relevant to change the name of the blog to reflect the my new assignment, and tossed about many names but after some 300 entries I reflected back, realised that I could not come up with a better name that somehow even here in Afghanistan "Unholy" has more relevance than "Mind the Gap" .... lets be honest that title did not have the same irrelevance as Unholyland , so as I wrote in my last blog about "there back & the Taliban" thus Unholylandnews is back.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Are they Back ?


From filming stockpiles of drugs to local Tv stations being forced to pull from air soap operas, there can be no doubt that the Taliban are back and starting to exert influence in all spheres of life here again. New laws are on the table for Parliament that will enshrine in the constitution that
- Women will not be allowed to wear make up at work or in a school
- Men must not wear clothes that are not appropriate, like short sleeves
- Men will not be allowed to wear anything deemed not manly, ie chains or jewellery
- Restaurants will not be allowed to play loud music
- Women will be barred from dancing at concerts or in public if men are present
- Women will not be allowed to be in public with a male unless they are related
- Hotels will be by law forced to separate men and women
These are not decrees from a past regime that issued them and enforced them with beatings, but religious leaders are pushing these laws to become the law of the land. Whilst they debate about pieces of paper, and try to deny that the wordings the intentions are clear and the force behind these laws is undeniable.
People we have met and filmed over the past few days here in Kabul, try to downplay and diminish the Taliban but they control the drug trade which is set for another record crop which in turn funds there insurgency and there power.
The view from Kabul is seen thru rose tinted glasses, Kabul Ken, the spokesman for the International Forces here tried to spin via powerpoint the success of operations, Ministers of the Government all claim they are doing what they can from the sanctuary of the capital whilst the newspaper headlines reflect that the country is once again sliding down a path of turning the clocks back again, and this despite billions of dollars of foreign aid in all forms seems to have achieved very little since 2001.
We leave the capital in a day and I hope we get the chance to see the reality of the situation here, I made a vow after visiting here in may 2001, when the Taliban where in power that never again will I look thru those rose glasses again, I may have become more cynical but I will not be lead into false stories again.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Flying Ariana Airlines

The post script to flying Ariana Airlines (the National Carrier of Afghanistan) is that losing one bag of 18 is not that big of deal, in fact in percentage terms you would expect 1 bag of 18 to go missing.

However we arrived to find that in fact not one bag arrived, in fact not one bag of the entire plane load of people made it to kabul, they just seemed to have neglected loading one single bag without informing anyone until we arrived, despite the fact that surely someone must of told the pilot that his hold was empty of luggage.

The bags did come on a later flight 7 hours later, no doubt that the plane was probably empty of passengers but full of bags.


Aluminum Foil

En route Dubai to Kabul @ 31,000ft

There may come the day when I feel the need to apply for an Ariana Airlines (the National Carrier of Afghanistan) frequent flyers card, but it will not be in the near future. I make no secret of the fact that I like airline food but then again breakfast on flight 406 was as tasteless as the cooks at Dubai airport could make dutifully served by a stewardess wearing jeans, somehow the uniform for both male and female flight attendants on Ariana is now jeans.

Dubai, was a stopover for us and a chance for all of us to get together. Dana Lewis (correspondent) flew in from Moscow. Maryam Sepheri (producer) from New York and Tom O’Neill (security) from the UK. Naturally in the first hour Dana managed to forget his camera in the hotel lobby and a bag was left on the bus and what was worse was that we did not realize that we had forgotten it till our final count at check in. Then again traveling with 18 pieces of check in is in itself a total logistics nightmare.

Now Dubai has managed to cultivate a global image of being glitz, glamour and the happening city of the Gulf Region where money is no option and anything and everything is available. Whilst that may be true, then travel writers should turn up at Terminal 2 at 4am on a Sunday morning, here are the options and destinations available this morning.

Kabul (two flights), Kandahar (cancelled) Baghdad International (as opposed to what? Baghdad Domestic) Islamabad (the excitement never ends there), Mosul (also a fun destination in Iraq and finally a place called “Kish”. Where in the hell is Kish! , Without looking up on Google does anyone know a place called “Kish”.

Yes Terminal 2 is the place that many International tourists will never see and Dubai planners have managed to figure out how to racially profile without offending rich tourists. The average suitcase that arrives at Terminal 2 is naturally wrapped in a blanket or mat and then tied up in ropes so elaborate that Bondage Masters should come and take lessons here. Women covered in black sit on the floor in front of their husbands who ignore them, not so much as their eyes showing thru a slit.

Dubai may be a modern metropolis but it can under the surface still treat women with a disdain and prejudice that is almost comical if it was not for the fact that it is true. Two examples jumped out at me, the first being at the airport yesterday morning on arrival at the main terminal, outside the doors there was a fenced in zone clearly marked “Women Greeters Area”. Here we are in the 21st century and one of the most modern airports in the world considers it necessary to separate sexes coming to meet you at the airport.

The other example was at a supermarket in mall so large that I never found another exit in 90 minutes. I needed to pick up some toiletries and there was the standard area with everything available in every size shape and brand, toothpaste to make up, shaving cream to condoms. I picked up what I needed (just fyi a roll on deodorant stick) . Then walking back thru the store I looked up and there was an aisle marked Female Hygiene and Aluminum Foil. Thus the average local Arabic male would never have to look at a tampon or napkin pad box, whilst he was shopping, he can go to the toiletries happy in the knowledge that he can look at condoms and lube creams, and never have to worry about being offended by female hygiene.

I think most Arabic men in Dubai, wake up in cold sweats worried that one day they may have to go to the supermarket and shop for Aluminum Foil.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Preparing for War , Again

Heads up as they say , heading out to Afghanistan tomorrow, three weeks. All I know is that we are going to Kabul then onto Hell'land province as the papers call it here. To cover a war that most people have forgotten about, a war that should of been won many years ago given the amount of money and support that has been provided to date, and in reality a war in a country that has never lost a war on its home soil, and never fought a war on foreign soil.