Hello Afghanistan

After 10 days in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, for MSF internal training, the journey to Kabul begins. Then comes the settling into the compound. 

Hello everybody, It's Friday, it’s noon, I'm listening to Billy Joel. I am waking up slowly after a very nice evening with few co-workers. In Afghanistan the weekend falls on Thursdays and Fridays. It’s already 10 days since my arrival in Kabul, not without some twists.

Arrival at Kabul

After 10 days in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, for MSF internal training, I planned to fly to Kabul via the following route; Abidjan to Dubaï via Accra, then Dubaï to Kabul, planned arrival Sunday afternoon, 2nd December. But when I finally got through all the security gates in Abidjan (apparently it’s weird to go to Kabul when you are not in the army !!) a significant delay on the departure time was announced because of a technical issue on the aircraft. I'll skip on the details but I finally reached Dubaï over five hours late. My connecting flight, of course, had already left. I had to be re-booked on the next flight. However, thanks to these changes, I could visit the most impressive city I’ve ever seen. In the end, I flew at 4am on Monday morning and safely arrived at Kabul. From the aircraft, the view of Afghanistan was breathtaking. 40 minutes before landing, the sun started to rise and the plane began its descent so we could appreciate the landscape: mountains all around. At the beginning, the landscape looked like dunes but quickly became rocky mountains with snow sometimes and then snow everywhere. Time was running out, the plane was still going down, but there were still lots of mountains. I wondered where the plane would land. Finally, at the last minute, the ground became really flat and we could distinguish some squares. Actually, it was the boundary walls of the houses. In this city, most of the houses or other buildings are surrounded by walls high enough to protect them. It’s a quite strange view. The aircraft landed perfectly and my entry into the territory of Afghanistan was way simpler than the exit of Ivory Coast… Anyway …  The MSF driver was waiting to drive me to the compound. Arrival at 8:30 am and first briefing at … 8:30 am :-). We are work hard at MSF!!! I spent the first day in this maze which will be my life and work place for the next nine months. Indeed, the compound is a set of several buildings which used to be different dwellings, each surrounded by a boundary wall. There are a few openings in the walls to get from one end to the other without leaving the compound, but it is quite complicated to work out.

Lifestyle at Kabul

In general the living conditions in Kabul are quite OK and cool. We are around 20 expats, living in several small houses. Each house has its own kitchen and one or two bathrooms. We all have our own room, our own personal space. The food is good also. Lunches are made by a local chef, they're quite good. For breakfast and dinner, we manage ourselves. There is a supermarket nearby with everything we need. Almost every evening, some expats will cook a shared dish for people who want to join in. So overall, I enjoy eating here. Security rules are very strict, but there is still opportunity to go to the restaurant, go shopping or even go to other NGO places for a party. So life here is not bad at all. However, Afghanistan is still a country at war, and very frequently we hear huge helicopters above our heads, we see armed people in the street, or we learn about a bomb explosion, suicide attack … somewhere in the city. As flying supply support, I’ll be spending time in the field on MSF projects all over the country. Living conditions there are really much  stricter. But I’ll have the chance to talk to you about this later. Regarding the weather and climate, it’s true that it’s not really warm here, but apparently it’s no worse than in France or Belgium (around -5C degrees on the morning). We had the first little snow yesterday morning, but nothing serious. Winter is just starting so the next three months will be really cold according Afghan people.

Relationship between national and international staff

Living arrangements between expats and national staff is going very well. I don't know the exact number, but I think there are around 100 national and 20 international staff working here at the coordination. On my side, I am part of the supply team of three international and eight national staff. They are all very nice. I spent some time with a guy who knows the organization of this department pretty well and we discussed some general topics. It’s really interesting to realize that not everyone shares the same point of view about what we hear in Europe. With the other expats, it’s cool too. There are a lot of French speakers, so even if at work it’s English for everybody, I still speak a lot in French. Talking about foreign languages, I had my first Dari class yesterday. In Afghanistan, there are two official languages: Pashto and Dari. I don’t think nine months will be enough to be able to speak, read and write Dari, but it’s still nice and helps me to understand this culture a bit more.