28 February 2009

On poverty and bellyaching

Any excursion in the city by a Westerner invariably attracts desperate and needy people, like this woman begging with a child.

Afghanistan’s endemic poverty is evidenced by some stunning demographics. For example, the average life expectancy is 44 years, similar to what you might expect in a sub-Saharan African nation riddled with HIV infection. What invariably accompanies poverty is a lack of quality and reliability in almost sphere of daily life. Things just don’t work well. Government doesn’t work, garbage isn’t picked up, the air quality is awful, utility blackouts are common, and consumer goods are often inferior and fall apart.

On some roadways the potholes exceed the area of flat surfaces. An Afghan TV network recently reported that Kabul, a city of maybe 5 million inhabitants, has 35 kilometers of roads considered to be in good condition. There is essentially no driver’s licensing procedure; if traffic laws exist, there are not enforced and the only reason there aren’t more accidents is that no vehicle can go fast enough to avoid stopping—excluding, of course, western military vehicles. Acutely aware of their vulnerability to attacks, they often race down the roads, stopping for nothing, forcing most other drivers to the shoulders, and on occasion running over and injuring civilians without stopping. But I digress…

Despite these problems, which are confronted every day, some of the international faculty members here, my colleagues, throw hissy fits because they expect all the creature comforts of home. “My cable TV is out; the internet service is slow.” Well, Jack, the cable and internet services sucks for the whole city, not just you.

I have often wondered what some of the Afghan personnel really think of us. My guess is that they are probably too polite, cautious or even fearful to be honest, but I am certain some of them see us as pampered crybabies.

1 comment:

  1. I am glad you opened up the comments.

    Your reporting from Kabul has been outstanding.

    You should try to free-lance it.

    Keep yer head down, pal...