ANOTHER YEAR UP IN SMOKE |
December 31, 2012
Name: Ross Magee
Stationed in: Afghanistan
It’s New Year’s Eve in Kabul and I’m trying to count the number of New Years that I’ve spent away from home, but I’m rapidly losing interest in this endeavor. Christmas is over and now I just want this holiday behind me too.
Kabul is still crusted in snow and frozen mud. Though the days have been warm, it’s dropped well below freezing every night and the colder temperatures mean one thing in Kabul: smoke. Kabul sits in a bowl, surrounded by mountains, and at night when the temperatures drop the smoke is trapped in the city. Those not fortunate enough to have electric heaters or efficient wood stoves burn anything combustible to heat their homes.
There are entire markets dedicated to the sale of firewood hauled in from distant mountains that many Afghans use for heating and cooking. The less fortunate burn what they can find and it often includes trash. The smell of wood smoke is laced with the acrid and unmistakable odor of burning plastic. It permeates everything, and when you open the door and look down the hundred-yard long hallway of a building the far end of it is often obscured by smoke. And that’s “indoors.”
As the sun sets the smoke rolls in and if you spend more than just a few minutes outside you’ll smell like you’ve been standing around a burn-pit. And that’s because you have. Everyone here is coughing and hacking and it’s generally miserable. I was able to escape the city earlier in the week and enjoyed a full day in the mountain air that can be found beyond the pass. I felt like a tuberculosis patient seeking refuge at some high altitude sanatorium. As we drove back into the city at sunset, I could see exactly why I felt so good in the mountains. A pall of smoke hung over the city.
New Year’s Eve is usually one of my favorite holidays because it often involves friends, cocktails and controlled explosions. Tonight, as midnight approached, I cracked my window open to see if I could hear anything across the city that might indicate there was anyone even awake. A bit of celebratory gunfire would have even been welcomed but I heard nothing — just the steady hum of a generator.
I wished my roommate a Happy New Year.
His response was flat. “Happy New Year. I wish I was on a beach.”
Maybe next year.