In October 2011, I closed down my world in a leafy provincial English town in and headed to Kabul, with the avowed intent to establish myself as an internationally recognised photojournalist.
I decided to chronicle the experience of my day-to-day life in my online Kabul Diaries.
What follows is hopefully a hilarious, humane, poignant and moving narrative of the struggles of leaving behind 20 years of established family and friends, flying in helicopter gunships over Helmand, nearly dying twice inside 30 minutes in a Kabul massacre, and countless other satirically observed experiences that together provide more than a life half filled.
My diaries now comprise 50,000 words and grow daily, so for now I will post an edited selection of writings from the past few months until this blog catches up with my online musings!
My full diaries and images can be viewed online at www.martinmiddlebrook.com
German Movie Night in Kabul was, I confess, a greater success than I had anticipated. The film, Head-On (in German "Gegen die Wand") was a heady concoction of violent drinking and drugs, brutal romance, Teutonic-Turkish humour (better than you might think), peppered with the usual quantity of goose-stepping sex.
Nudity was of Olympic proportions I am thrilled to report - those industrious Germans never fail to deliver. And whilst I did feel slightly uncomfortable sitting in a room of mostly foreign women as this on-screen disportment took place, they had scattered cushions generously across the floor - they think of everything here.
I feel that I may be winning the battle against Afghan biters. They may be dogged the Hun, but we have superior technology. I returned home from Flower Street Café yesterday and my room smelled like a sixth form chemistry lab, yellow and black tape was strewn across the landing - a crime scene.
They say cockroaches are the only living thing that will survive a nuclear war; well I can tell you plain and simple, they wouldn't have survived the 'nerve gas' they pumped into my bedroom.
I can only presume that in my absence, a team of elite hand-picked weapons inspectors, clad head to toe in chemical warfare gear, must have cordoned off my bedroom, sealed all windows and exits and pumped lethal amounts of Agent Orange in there. I recoiled with the smell, but with nervous excitement I entered my room expecting to find a pile of insects equivalent to a booming ants nest on my floor. Well I'll be buggered. CSI would have been hard pushed to find evidence of death, but eventually, close to the door, I found one, breathing its last in a final vain attempt to escape. It died in my arms. I have never had to calculate the size of an insect, but I would say on close inspection it was f***ing tiny!
How could one insect the size of a grain of rice have wreaked such havoc upon my immune system? How indeed!
On Embed in Helmand!
Morphine and Falling Out of a Truck
I now have my personal stock of morphine. How very handy. You can self-administer, or they will do it for you. I am not sure that I would ever be lucid enough to self-administer when my legs are 30 yards from my torso. I hope I never find out.
We are heading out tomorrow for a few days, then back for one night, before we head out again for five days. Each time we take helicopters from Camp Bastion. However after landing we take armoured convoys, so today I had the joy of an hour in a simulator pretending to be blown up, or worse (somehow), the road collapsing and the vehicle rolling down a bank and submerging in a canal, upside down.
So this is what you do. When outside of Bastion you never go anywhere without full body armour, helmet, etc. on - it is verboten and you will be summarily shot at dawn. So this morning, weighed down by what seems like carrying an anvil on your back, you are strapped into a simulated armoured vehicle, and then they swiftly rotate it 180 degrees so that you are hanging upside down.
Then you discover that its on fire or filling with water and you have to escape. You are wearing ballistic glasses which are now smeared with sweat because it's 40 degrees, and it's dark. You can just about make out the roof of the vehicle, which is now the floor, but you are hanging upside down in your four-point harness. If you release the harness you fall and, here's the fun part, break your neck. The technique is to bend one leg until it reaches the floor whilst keeping one hand on the ceiling, and then somehow (you are literally bent double at this point and your head is filling with blood) you have to release the harness. The principle is that your grounded leg acts as a brace and prevents you falling.
What happened to me is, after much consultation, what happens to everybody who does this the first time. You can either reach your harness release, or put your foot on the floor, but you can't do both. After hanging around for too long, and imagining the fire ripping through the hulking metal carcass, and the smell of burning flesh (my burning flesh to be precise), you release the harness, fall 12 inches and land on your head.
You now weigh 300lb of course because of your body armour, and you feel all the vertebrae in your neck shatter as you land upside down. You locate the door and roll out 'cool as you like', so that the assembled audience think 'you are the man'.
On returning to your tent, you swallow four Nurofen and discover that your neck is broken. Amongst your fellow men you smile through gritted teeth, amongst the female officers, you cry like a baby.
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