KABUL, Afghanistan—This morning I returned to the site on the city's south side for the first since it was rocked by a Taliban suicide car bomb that killed 18 people, including 12 civilians, three months earlier.
The walled but undeveloped lot, where the university that employs me wants to build a new campus for 2,500 students, looked little different than it did in May. The weeds were higher, in some cases already dead, and they choked the paths that a colleague and I used to run last spring whenever we could, which was never often enough.
A small, independent veterinary clinic was still open on one side of the 75-acre site. On the other side was the shack that provided shelter for the detail of security guards, who were no doubt responsible for a new garden of onions, eggplants and tomatoes. Adjacent to the guard shack, on a new football (soccer) pitch lumpy enough to ensure twisted ankles, the private security firm employed by the university was training maybe 20 new recruits. In the spring, the site was sanctuary to a dozen or more stray and often emaciated dogs. This morning I spotted only two: a mostly white adult and skinny brown puppy. In a society in which dogs are widely viewed as unclean, the other dogs had probably been run off or killed.
On my second convoluted loop around the lot, I spotted a young boy, maybe seven, standing on the wall and motioning me to retrieve the flimsy kite he had lost. “Tashakor (thank you),” he replied when I handed it to him. Further along that same stretch of wall a gaping hole was created the morning of May 18 by the deafening detonation of an estimated 1,600 pounds of explosives packed into a Toyota mini[van. That fat stone and concrete wall, almost three meters tall and now conscientiously repaired, was all that prevented my running partner and I from becoming wartime causalities.
One week ago, my flight from Frankfurt, Germany, sliced through the dust-filled skies at sunrise and I arrived at Kabul International Airport. Approaching the terminal, I realized I had few strong feelings, which I interpreted as an improvement over the sense of dread I had expected upon my return to Afghanistan. I have no desire to be here, save to stay employed in a line of work I still enjoy, but I am confident that my commitment to my students will carry me through another semester.