Outside the window, the sound of an old-fashioned, metal sewing machine is chugging away erratically, mixing with the music of the birds, the dogs, the chickens, the donkeys, the children playing soccer across the street, the cars beeping up on the main road, the lorries laying on their horns, and the hammering of construction somewhere nearby. The breeze is cool and life-giving in the heat of this second-floor room.
Yesterday, I arrived in Faizabad via a UN flight from Kabul. Before taking off, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the UN airport wing in KBL hosts perhaps the world’s only concessions stand that is not overpriced. On top of this, I got the Cute Foreigner Discount, which is hard to deny when I don’t really feel like paying USD1 for Nescafe in a paper cup. We made stops for passengers in Maimana, Mazar e Sharif (where the necessary refueling and peeing and cigarette smoking was done), and then Kunduz, before landing on a dirt airstrip in the middle of an impressively green valley nestled in the jagged, snowy clutches of the Pamirs.
It’s calm and idyllically pastoral here at the staff house where I’m typing up some work from the morning meetings held at the office around the corner.
My internet connection here is better than the one I curse at daily in Kabul. My pistachio green room is extremely cheerful, and the pillows are actually soft. My neck has a kink in it now, because it’s not used to having a comfortable pillow.
The intersecting patches of rockscape, wild grass, forest and bald, swaths of loam on the mountain foothills containing the valley appear too cleanly cut, their colors too strange because my eyes are now accustomed to Kabul’s dust and tepid brown that they just look fake. It feels good to just stare for a while and discover that I’m smiling. The icing on the cake is the front of dark, grey clouds to the West, pregnant with rain and advancing with the smell of a storm over the prairie in North Dakota during summer.
Needless to say, when I discovered a reason to stay longer in Badakhshan this morning (more meetings to attend, more conversations to join that will ‘get me in the picture’ as so many are fond of saying here), I dove in head first. Instead of going back this Saturday, I’m sticking around until next Wednesday or so, depending on the planes.
Tonight before dinner, I lost four rounds of ping pong and burned my tongue on dupatti chai as lightning danced closer and closer to the house before passing over altogether. We didn’t mind the scattered rain drops amidst the smell of kebab searing on coals and the wild howls of Kareem Ali each time he missed a shot. While we shouted at Chelsea losing to Manchester after dinner, I introduced my house mates to the happiness that is nutella smeared on pieces of fruit.
As in Kabul, the staff house residents become pseudo families. Old and new, permanent and temporary, we swap jokes and ethnicities and mobile numbers, all of us glad to have more names to check in on when things get tense, more friends to buy drinks for when we’ll see each other weeks from now in the capitol, shaking off a long day of driving and too many months of pastoral quietude.