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Diary From Kabul - The Secret War

Posted: 21/04/2012 00:00

The Secret War: If you were to take a look at my legs at the moment, you would think that I had been picking shrapnel from my wounds for weeks. You would probably lie me down and feed me soup through a straw, invite family and friends over for bedside company, and gently over time, you would nurse me back to health. You might suggest I consider some psychological support to ward off any early onset symptoms of PTSD. And though the thought of a combined team of family and trained medical staff attending to my every need, for say six months, whilst I lie in bed and catch up on all that reading, seems like a brilliant plan to me, I fear I would have duped you all.

Since my brush with death at the Ashura bombing in Kabul and my crack on the head, I have developed a disturbing ability. In the same way that bats can locate moths by echolocation, I have discovered that I can locate furniture with my shins. We never stop learning it seems. It started in Dubai when I jammed my foot into a table and sliced my toe open. Twice in Beirut I walked slam bang straight into one table and one bed. And since my return to Kabul, I have wandered aimlessly into various tables and sofas with such regularity that I am now a danger to myself. In fact I will go further. I have come closer to death on international duty by ramming into a nest of glass-topped coffee tables, than ever I have on embed or photographing religious gatherings.

The vaguely worrying thing for me is this. Furniture is large and it doesn't move, it is not as pernicious as an IED or as devilish as a mosquito, it's a big lump of wood in your living room. You know it's there, it's always been there, it hasn't morphed and changed its form or moved a little to the left and right in a secret attempt to catch you out. It's an inanimate object of size and warning. So why in god's name have I stopped seeing them; it may be the crack on the head, it may be dwindling eyesight, some peripheral vision damage, it may be some childlike need for attention I am developing, except that doesn't work in Afghanistan where most people have lost a family member through complete dismemberment. When I shriek and scream and crunch to the floor, no one comes running, they just step over me as though avoiding dog shit in the streets. No there is definitely something deeper going on here, but it is wearing me down, I admit.

I do know this much, more accidents happen at home by tumbling downstairs or choking on your toothbrush than ever occur chasing a photographic dream - unless you photograph furniture for a living, which as a war photographer I would strongly advise against.

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At work on embed in Helmand

Table for One: I went to the Gandamack Hotel and Restaurant in Kabul last night for a drink with a friend. I cannot mention his name because if his girlfriend reads this column, she will likely have him shot. So David and... oh darn it, I've gone and done it again. Sorry, "Young Slow One with Eight Muslim Children" as I call him. The good news David is that now she has read this, you won't be having those eight children after all, you will be having your spleen removed.

Anyway, where was I? So David has been pursuing me for weeks now about contacts I have in Somalia. He is a photojournalist and filmmaker and he is desperate to do a piece on the worrying rise of the Al-Shabaab terrorist group in the Horn of Africa. I have made literally one phone call and sent a staggering email in my vain attempt to tee him up with the right people, but to no avail.

David was very keen to go to Somalia for the first two weeks of January, in fact he was remarkably persistent, more persistent than is healthy. There is something quite unsettling about the way he was happy to spend his own money and risk what little life he has left by embarking on this madness in Mogadishu. And the specific nature of the dates was alarming also, he seemed completely inflexible.

Last night he fixed me a stare that left me in no doubt that I have failed in some way, that our friendship is perhaps teetering on a precipice - a transgression had occurred, by me it felt. To lighten the atmosphere I asked how things were going with his girlfriend, and this is what he said. "Well 'Old Man Who Runs Too Fast', because you have failed to sort the contacts I needed in Mogadishu I now have to go to Goa on holiday with her for two weeks instead, so thanks for that, Somalia was my get-out clause, now I have to be all lovey-dovey on a bloody beach drinking cocktails and having sex". Romantic Bastards these war photographers!

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And the resulting image!

 

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