Patrick Cockburn in Jabal Seraj: 'It's hard for us, but the villagers live in medieval poverty'

War against terrorism: Inside Afghanistan
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The Independent Online

Conditions here in a small village in Afghanistan's Panjshir valley, at the foothills of the Hindu Kush about 40 miles north of Kabul, are atrocious. But after three weeks, we have settled in to an odd sort of routine.

I arrived as one of a small group, given lodgings in an official "guest house" run by the opposition Northern Alliance. But with 200 foreign correspondents now crammed into the village, the overcrowding is severe. We are billeted in the former home of the manager of a local cement factory.

Initially we had two lavatories between 15 people. Now we are down to one for 45. And the Afghan definition of a lavatory is not yours or mine: it is little more than a hole in the ground.

Four of us share a room; we sleep on the floor with a cushion and a blanket. I found a carpenter to make me a small table to work on.

But if conditions are testing for us, the villagers live in conditions of medieval poverty and hardship. The village, with a population of about 2,000, has only a few tiny shops, one selling second-hand women's shoes from Europe and Pakistan.

There are so few things to be bought and so many hundred dollar bills in circulation, thanks to the international media influx, that the value of the dollar to the Afghani has halved locally in the past three weeks.

Donkey is the main form of transport and for taxis people rely on horses and carts.

We have electricity only between 3pm and 9pm and the generator is unreliable. Daylight ends at six and now, with winter not far off, it is getting cold. The dust storms are frequent and blinding and play havoc with our equipment.

At least I managed to buy two car batteries in the village to run my satellite phone for a few minutes every day so I can send my copy.

Dysentery is a constant hazard. You get it from the water or eating the vegetables. One of my colleagues was struck down the other day and I took him to the nearest hospital. Then I got the symptoms myself.

I get up at 6am to get to the washroom and lavatory before everyone else.

The only restaurant in the village also serves as a hotel. After the evening meal, people settle down on the low carpeted tables to sleep for the night. These days a lot of the customers are fighters carrying sub-machine-guns.

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