Move Along, Nothing to See Here:
I think I may have been living in a war zone for too long, and it is taking its toll. Before Christmas I was talking with a friend who had been working in regions of conflict exclusively for 10 years and he described that there are something like 59 symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and he exhibited 43 of them. The result, he is leaving Afghanistan to live in some peaceful glade somewhere in the world, from where he can calm his nervous disposition, put away his pistol and flick knife and transition to a new reality.
Fifty-nine is a big number and 43 of them is clearly impressive, it takes commitment, you don't just manufacture this kind of information. I am sure if he wanted, if he wasn't so half-arsed he could get nearer to 50, and I am pretty sure that once he passed that magic number, that old competitive desire to finish the job would take over and he could race to the summit, the peak of 59 could be achieved in a matter of months. A simple kidnap and a possible amputation and he would be a winner in the PTSD lottery of the dead, this is all it would take, he has already ticked off 'being stared at by a foreigner' and 'shitting in a bag' - kidnap would by a doddle.
And bear in mind you don't actually have to do anything other than to hang around in the same place for a while to be kidnapped or blown-up, it's not like working in a bank or plumbing in a sink. All the same, he seems to have lost his enthusiasm for the whole thing, and so close to the finishing line too. Maybe we Brits don't like it up 'em after all.
I mention all this because I think I may have three of the initial symptoms myself now and if things continue at this dazzling rate I may have to soon discontinue my tryst with the devil and seek medical help.
Let's examine this more closely. Many of my friends in Kabul sleep with a pistol under the pillow, a 9mm Baretta - no explanation needed. I myself have started to sleep with an old teddy bear and suck my thumb - go gentle with me. The other evening a police helicopter briefly hovered over the house I am staying in whilst back in the UK. Initially it didn't bother me but soon I became agitated and paranoid, I accused people of staring at me and eventually I snapped and watched a Steven Seagal movie - oh the shame. And just this morning when I got up, bleary-eyed and hungover, I saw a mosquito on the mirror in my bedroom, and fearing that it was two mosquitos I released a canister of Agent Orange. Now, as things stand I am still behaving rationally, but it's a fast moving situation and I worry that if my writing becomes unintelligible then the game may be up - every now seems working thing for though be to. Bugger!
The military sound is ever present and has a gentle drip-drip effect on all!
Eighteen months ago I had just completed a big photographic contract here. I had spent 21 days traipsing around Afghanistan, and in an effort to look distinctly local, I had not shaved or had my haircut throughout that time. I looked like a cross between the Wild Man of Borneo and Hugh Grant (if you can imagine such a thing). I was soon to head back to the UK and keen not to spend the rest of my days being 'water boarded' in Guantanamo Bay, I decided to grab a haircut in Kabul before I navigated the perils of Afghan immigration and found myself gagged and blindfolded in the back of a C130 in the company of demonic Yanks attaching probes to my genitals.
So I found myself in a hairdressers across town and all seemed to be going swimmingly well, my hair was shorn in the correct fashion, and my matted mess of a beard was temptingly tidy - I looked ready for travel, ready to rush headlong into the arms of loved ones without them repulsing in disgust. My barber asked if I would like a head massage, and feeling more like Hugh Grant by now, I agreed in a thrice. It started gently, temples were needed and hair was ruffled, my forehead was rubbed and my ears squeezed. I was as happy as Divine Brown! And then he grabbed my head violently, smashed it to one side and I felt my spine snap. He then repeated in the other direction.
Now I have seen enough movies to know this is how assassins operate, I have seen Day of the Jackal and I was '@^*&£%*%' alarmed I don't mind saying. I was sitting in the chair of an angry Pashtu, and he was practicing killing me by breaking my spinal chord. Smiling he asked "I like?", "Again?". I winced which was an evident "go ahead, kill me one more tim" and he had another crack, at which point I asked him to desist, thanked him kindly, paid and left.
We have spent many years trying to eradicate Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, with some success. But we have missed a trick. We know that many Talib are gay, where better for them to continue their evil ways than in the Salons of Sangin, the Barber shops of Bamyan. I tell you plain and simple, they are all undercover hairdressers, they drive Minis and have friends who are nail technicians. I am off to get my haircut this afternoon and I am scared. I am going for a 'short back and sides' but fear I may end up as a headline in the Malvern Gazette:
'LOCAL PHOTOGRAPHER PERMED BY SALANG STYLIST - Family Informed'.
In my absence please take care of my kids, they have suffered enough!
There are lots of interesting ways to die in this country!
All images and words © Martin Middlebrook 2012
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