My dream with journalism is to travel to the frontiers and send their stories to breakfast tables thousands of miles away. Join me for my first chapter, in Afghanistan, summer 2006. These are my letters to you.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Turning Point


I arrived at the Afghan Embassy in London half an hour before it opened. A crowd of Afghan men were already gathered, talking in Dari. They wore thick coats over their shalwar kameez, and crossed their arms against the cold. We waited.

When the bolts slid back on the heavy doors, however, the two other foreigners and I were ushered forward. The visa queue was three people deep. The Afghans were there for other business; they were not yet returning to their homeland.

I asked the man in the three-piece suit behind me why he was going to Afghanistan.

"Journalism," he said, and held out his hand. "I'm Richard Beeston, from the Times. I want this in my passport so that I can pop over at short notice. We're expecting things to heat up very soon." He said it with confidence.

I put in my paperwork, left the Embassy and wandered through Hyde Park. I bought a newspaper, and learned that Richard Beeston is the diplomatic editor for the Times. I thought about what he told me, then got on a train for Southall to look for a ticket into the fire.

I found the Ariana Airlines office in the Punjabi center of London, tucked between a sweet shop and a music vendor, blasting the latest Bollywood hits. There were red paan stains in the street. I felt like I was back in India. Inside his office, Aziz found me a flight from London to Dubai, then Dubai to Kabul. There were no credit card machines, so I found a couple ATMs and paid for it in cash.

That afternoon I had a visa in my passport and a ticket in my hand. I celebrated with a box of Indian sweets in Regent's Park. You couldn't have found a happier man in London.

That was two weeks ago. Richard Beeston was right. Things in Afghanistan have heated up. The Taliban are mounting their annual spring offensive, rising stronger now than at any time since Operation Enduring Freedom began in 2001. Though concentrated in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, the violence is creeping north.

In Kabul, on 29 May, an American military convoy crashed into a civilian traffic jam, killing up to eight people. Shots were fired into the air to keep the gathering crowd at bay. Then, as the tide turned violent, the US soldiers sped off. In the following turmoil, 2,000 people took to the streets to protest the continuing American occupation. The correspondent for the Times, Tim Albone, in Kabul, says that the events of this day may have turned Afghanistan against the US military presence for good.


An Afghani police car burns in the streets of Kabul as protests
rage after a US army vehicle crashed into a traffic jam, killing
up to eight people. (SYED JAN SABAWOON / EPA)

Heavy US bombing continues almost daily on Taliban targets in the South. Their insurgence continues unabated, however, as the fighters are able to slip back into the tribal regions of Pakistan to regroup and gather supplies.

It may seem strange to some that I am eager to board the next plane to such a place. But I would be unable resist the pull of the adventure of practicing journalism here, even if I tried. It is my passion. I'm sure most of you have felt the same about something. And so, I am waiting for my plane with anticipation. I fly from London on 4 June.

My next post will be from Afghanistan, in'shallah (God-willing). Depending on internet access in Kabul I hope to update this blog at least once a week. In the meantime, check out www.timesonline.co.uk for some great articles from Tim Albone, who is in the thick of the action.
Khoda hafez, my friends.

3 Comments:

Blogger duke said...

Good Luck Jacob. I can't wait to read about your adventures. Your curiosity will lead you to great places.-- Luke Trautwein

9:15 PM

 
Blogger ScouseJon said...

Best of luck Jacob. Have a safe journey. - Jon Nugent

3:15 PM

 
Blogger Pat-Norton said...

Jake, best of luck to you, we shall faithfully read your blog. Hope you can hook up with Jim, our neighbor, in Kabul. Love, Pat & Norton

8:32 PM

 

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