Updated: Jan 14, 2019
Disregard everything you read previously about this blog not being presented in any form of alphabetical order, we're going to go with presenting this blog in alphabetical order.
A to Z.
Naturally the first country that comes up on the Foreign Office Travel Advice site is Afghanistan. (Obviously we must disregard the claims of Aardland to being a real country).
Afghanistan. This will be an easy one to write a sensitive and considered report on, balancing humour with the right to dignity of a people who have endured incursions from within and without for many years. (However they do have a place named Bum, FYI).
The first thing I notice when floating above Afghanistan is that there is a wildlife refuge. A mild and pleasant surprise (though it shouldn’t be and this serves to highlight my Eurocentric assumptions – there will most likely be a LOT of this, so get used to it now – this is where I would put a smiley face if I were the sort of person to use smiley faces. I am not). Baude Pitaw wildlife refuge appears to be part of a national park, that of the Band-e-Amir national park. Nearby (in Afghanistan terms, it’s probably far but I’m just not up for measuring right now) there is another national park, the Ajar Valley national park.
There is a small part of me that wonders if ‘national park’ is a euphemism for ‘terrorist training camp’, but just a small part and I can’t prove anything anyway.
Actually, the very first thing I should mention is – and I’m paraphrasing the Foreign Office Travel Advice here – under NO circumstances must you GO TO AFGHANISTAN. Even if you really like mountains, just – fucking – don’t.
Now, with housekeeping out of the way we can have a look around. Our first Photo-Sphere presents us with a view of a bridge. A bridge with some sheds on it, or shed-like structures. They have blue doors. The river runs alongside us to the left and the shed-bridge crosses that. Walking towards us from the road side of the bridge is a serious-looking man in a dark-grey nondescript combat-overall ensemble. His grim demeanour probably belies the fact that he’s about to welcome the photographer warmly and ask – “would you like to be in the photo?”
So there you go, everyone is definitely still alive.
In Kabul there is a lovely park which reminds me very much of the park in Honor Oak where I walk the dogs. Perhaps one was modelled after the other. It is called Bagh Babur Park and the Google Earth notes inform that it was the last resting place of the first Mughal Emperor. Who exactly he was is for another day and another blog. And another writer. It is very beautiful and inside the pale blue and yellow building situated at the north end of the park is a rudimentary photography exhibition. The photos are nice but the layout is awful, some of the blown-up stills are at head-height of the average toddler. But it’s nice to see freedom of artistic expression anywhere. The subjects range from children playing to five people practising a skydive.
At least, I hope that’s what they’re in training for.
Towards Pakistan is the city of Khost, where we are treated to a view of the inside of a booth selling mobile phone accessories. So common a sight are these on the streets of London we perhaps consider how we rarely get the view from inside of one of these ubiquitous cabins. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect but that’s not the point.
Back in Kabul there is also a really intensely intimate 360-degree shot of a very small room in which several men are dining. I’m guessing the panoramic camera they are using is patently unsuited to such a small and confined location (not only can you see in immense close-up detail what the chaps are eating but how much they have eaten – and probably if you zoom in completely, what stage of digestion they have reached) but it is a fascinating glance into the quotidian in a country about which we rarely hear anything even slightly quotidian.
But, still, don’t go.