Saturday, April 11, 2009

How I built a school in Afghanistan

My name is Ian and I'm here to help!

'The day started badly with a rabid policeman waving his Kalashnikov menacingly at us, screaming "where's your card - get back!".

My mistake had been, foolishly, to try to drive to the front-gate of the American Embassy where we had been invited to go on a press trip.'

Imagine if news reports were written by a hybrid of Joan Collins and Abdel Bari Atwan (editor of Al-Quds, hater of Jews and Britain, where his newspaper is written and printed). You'd get something like this.

'The city keeps building ever more layers of barbed wire, blast walls, checkpoints, guns and angry policemen.

The US and the rest of Nato keep telling us how the security situation in the capital has improved.

But they are unwilling to practice the confidence they preach.'

See, its not about the actual place and the actual stuff going on- its all about those lying bastards the Americans and their blatant lies about how things are improving and whatnot. I've been in town for forty minutes- easily long enough to suss stuff out and still have time for a Pimms.

'Now whole streets of Kabul are off-limits to the majority of us who don't have "the card".

I have not actually seen "the card" but rather like the "golden ticket" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I believe it does exist and grants almost magical access to the lucky holder.'

If the Americans had only given me "the card", I could have spent more of my dreary little trip actually writing about Afghanistan and whats going on there!

'The press officer at the US Embassy came to our rescue and persuaded the Kalashnikov-waving guard to let us through.'

Ok, I'll fess up- not having a card meant nothing at all. A press officer came and I went straight in. What do you mean, why am I still whingeing? I might have been delayed.

'We had been invited to go on a trip to Balkh Province in the north, for briefings and interviews on counter-narcotics.'

Balkh province, for those of you whose Afghan geography is rudimentary, is as far away from the shooting and IEDs as it is possible to get in Afghanistan.

'The plane arrived in good time but it became immediately clear that the US team were less keen on briefings and more on palming us off on the Afghan officials.'

I just don't know why the Americans would not want to spend massive amounts of their time with a whingeing arsehole like myself. Shocking.

'Our luggage was unceremoniously dumped on the runway and we were told the plane would leave at 2.30pm.'

And they didn't even have caviar and schnapps waiting for us in the VIP lounge...

'The US team was whisked away by beefy special agents driving super-sized armoured trucks.'

Stupid Americans with all their money and beefy guys and proper equipment!!!

'We squeezed into the back of a rather beaten-up car to make our way to see the opening of a new school, paid for with American money - donated in exchange for eradicating opium-producing poppies.'

Stupid Americans with all their humanitarian gifts and being kind to foreigners and making me feel ashamed and guilty inside!!!

'Unseemly retreat

It was now midday. We were told it would be an hour's journey. Just enough time to get there, see the project and get back to the plane.

One of the American vehicles broke down en route. Unknown to us, the agents were inside and decided to cancel the trip and beat an unseemly retreat to the airport.'

Cowardly, stupid Americans! Returning to the airport just because their vehicles didn't work! They should have run all the way, the lazy good-for-nothings.

'It actually took two hours of bone-crunching, off-road driving to get to the village. [see what a MAAAAAAAAAANNNN I am!] By the time we arrived, the whole district had gathered on either side of a long cordon to greet the Americans who had funded their new school.'

Stupid Afghans and their stupid gratitude for the stupid school built by the stupid Americans!!! GGGGGGRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!

'Unfortunately, I and the BBC's cameraman, Sanjay, were the only foreigners to turn up.'

Unfortunate because we didn't pay for anything in their district at all, hate the people who did pay for the school, and hate the idiot Afghans for taking the free school.

'We were greeted with silence and a look of awe and ushered through a long line of men and boys to the ribbon cutting ceremony.'

Stupid Afghans can't even tell the difference between us Queeny BBC reporters and Americans with money, muscles and decent armoured vehicles.

'Later the minister called me forward and presented me with a chapan, the full-length gold and green-striped cloak that President Karzai is often seen wearing.

I pulled it over my shoulders and smiled rather weakly for the camera.'

I didn't have the heart to tell him I've never done anything vaguely humanitarian in my life, and will be writing a hatchet-job about the people making this humanitarian gift when I get back to my cosy office in London.

'It was now past two o'clock. Our American "hosts" were absent without leave. [The meaning of the words Absent Without Leave have been changed since you last heard them, in case you were wondering] The plane was due to leave in half an hour and we were in the middle of the middle of nowhere with a story that would not even work its way onto the back pages of the local newspaper .'

Fucking bastard editor sent me all the way to Afghanistan, and all I got was this lousy gold coat... I could have been down the Groucho club doing REAL news but NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO...

'A few frantic phone calls established the worst. [We were all about to be beheaded by crazed Mujihadeen- oh, hang on-] The plane had already departed without us because of bad weather heading our way.'

Boo hoo. Our plane left early. Wheres mummy?

'We started to drive back. We passed along river-beds and mountain-tracks, waved at by the odd rough-looking shepherd, passing through breath-taking wilderness in a place untouched by modernity.' Yada yada yada. Had to put this in or the editor threatened to send me to Kosovo.

'We saw the rusting green remains of Soviet tanks, kept by locals as a reminder of how world-class military might had been defeated by a tenacious, low-tech insurgency.' Well, actually kept because they had no way of dismantling enormous metal objects, but whatever. Its more poetic, yannow? Some idiot historian pointed out to me a) that the Soviets didn't lose, they just left and b) that there were some things called stinger missiles that encouraged them to leave and c) that it cost America quite a few billions and the destabilisation of Pakistan to get that done, but I hate those piffling accurate details.

'Two hours later we were in Mazar-i-Sharif, attending a banquet organised in honour of the minister and the now absent American agents.'

I still wake up in the middle of night screaming, every detail seared into my consciousness like a livid wound.

'Broken brakes

Despite facing the prospect of an eight-hour road trip over a snow-bound mountain pass in the dark, we accepted the invitation.

It is the Afghan way. [Us Brits, we go native like that] You see it is not enough to throw money at good causes and leave early because of a little bad weather.' You'd think I'd know what my point is here, but I really really don't.

'Here face-time and respect matter, deeply. They are the foundations upon which friendships are built and success achieved. The Americans had shown an astonishing lack of guile.' Stupid, stupid Americans with their gifts of whole schools and their guile-deficiency. What matters is showing up to the hand-shaking, gold coat wearing bits- fuck the school!

'By now it was five o'clock [and I hadn't had a single Vodka martini]. The minister kindly gave us one of his cars and a guard and we finally started to head back to Kabul.' Stupid Afghans and their stupid generosity.

'Three minutes out of town and the driver pulled into a local garage - the car's brakes were broken.' I said to the driver, what is this, an American car? You stupid Afghan! God, this never happens at White City!

'Another hour on and we left the city - again.

I finally hobbled into bed at three in the morning. My back was sore, my neck seized-up and I could barely move my head.' I'm pretty sure that qualifies me for at least the VC. The sacrifices I've made ensuring those little Afghan shits get an education.

'We had been on the road for 21 hours and were only home thanks to the good grace, generosity and ingenuity of our new Afghan friends - and no thanks to our US hosts.' I say friends- most of the Afghans thought I was a whingeing tosser with nothing to bring to the party. And funnily enough, so did the Americans...

What do they know????? They don't even belong to the Groucho club!

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