A City of Inspiring People
“The first thing you’ll notice is the smell” – were the words of advice from the passenger next to me, an American contractor for a NATO base just outside of Kabul. The sun had barely come up and Morgan Ashenfelter and I found ourselves in a tiny airplane, packed with anglophones, a few minutes from landing in the chilly Kabul airport.
Yes, the smell of smoke and dust might have been the first thing that struck me once we landed, but the sensation was soon forgotten. In its place came the overwhelming smiles and welcome we received from every single person we met last week, during our 6-day trip to see and shoot PDT’s work in Kabul.
Meeting the PDT staff was one of the highlights of the trip — I got a first-hand look at an amazing team who has single-handedly helped the growth of one of the most struggling economies in the world. (Morgan talks about their work and results in this post.)
But we didn’t have much time to stay in the cozy, warm office: our schedule was packed every sun-lit minute of the day. The idea was to get as many visuals and meet with as many Afghan business owners and international buyers as we possibly could in the short amount of time. Over the week, we shot at a hospital construction site, a factory that produces boots for the Afghan army, a greenhouse facility of a promising flower business and a woman-owned engineering company. We visited and spoke to buyers, like the US Army Corps of Engineers and UN Habitat. Sprinkle in the hunt for PDT billboards across the city and a session with University students talking to local shopkeepers and glueing PDT stickers on shop windows. Top it all off with interviews of PDT staff, who talked about the work they do and the challenges they face.
Each interview meant careful planning of logistics: all our travel was done in PDT’s discrete, bullet-proof 4×4, with the constant presence of our driver Karim and a security guard in the passenger’s seat. Laurie, our main security guy who did an amazing job of briefing us and helping to plan our comings and goings, made sure we only stayed on routes that were deemed safe that day. So many stories of attacks and kidnappings meant all these precautions weren’t really a luxury, they were just part of the day-to-day life for internationals working in Afghanistan.
We also had to carefully balance our shooting time with meet-and-greet time. With every person we interviewed, we were always requested to sit down and chat over tea, coffee — and sometimes energy drinks at 11 am! — and inevitably invited to stay afterwards for lunch or dinner. We knew that accepting meant we would have less time down the road to capture scenes of the city, or to head to our next interview, so it was crucial to smile and learn a little bit of Dari when we had to politely decline some of the offers. Teshakor!
At night time, when business hours were over, all the memory cards downloaded and batteries placed to recharge, we were left with exploring the city by going to a few local restaurants. The food in Kabul is amazing, and I have already found an Afghan restaurant here in Paris that I will very likely become a regular customer at. One thing we could have never dreamed of was going bowling in Kabul, but we did — courtesy of our trusty and talented Communications Officer, Hamid. Not only did he help plan a fantastic week of great interviews, he took Morgan and I out to a different place every night.
But what struck me most is that every single person we met – whether doing manual labor in a factory or biking the dusty streets carrying enormous bags of trash — every last person had a smile on their face and never seemed to complain about a single thing.