Afghanistan Diary - Day One
Silke had to write her first entry in the dark after the hotel generators shut down for the night. Power is in short supply in Bamyan, a town high up in the mountains of central Afghanistan where Silke begins her journey getting to know the people and terrain of this rugged part of the world.
It's 11:30pm and I'm sitting at my desk with a wind-up electric torch between my teeth trying to find the the SD card on my camera... I'm in Bamyan, high up in the mountains of central Afghanistan, and I should have read the sign on the door of my hotel room more closely: the generators shut down at 11pm, not at midnight as I'd thought. Mind you, I can't complain.
There is no power grid here - and 40 % of the 400,000 or so people living in the province of Bamyan don't have any electricity at all.
Similarly, there is running water at the hotel - in a province where less than 1% of families have access to a decent toilet, and only 14% of people have safe drinking water. I'm lucky.
I'm here to look at WFP's projects in Bamyan and Daykundi - two desperately poor regions in the heart of Afghanistan, parts of which have now also been affected by a recent drought. Bamyan is about 240km to the north-west of Kabul, where I live. I didn't know much about the place before I started researching this trip, basically just three things: Bamyan has a lot of history, a lot of mountains, and a lot of poverty.
What I see first with my own eyes are the mountains, coming in on the UNHAS flight, nervously trying to spot a landing strip among the jagged peaks. The beauty is breathtaking, but when you see the amount of snow already around now, in mid-November, you can only imagine what the winter has in store. And how is it possible to live, work, go places or grow food in an area of such tough terrain?
It's clear that this is not an easy place to live. The next part is the history. This was one of the major points on the Silk Road, the great trade route between East and West. All trade between China and the Middle East used to come through here - imagine the sight of those caravans, imagine the cultural exchanges!
Bamyan is also the city of the buddha shrines, the statues destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. The gaping holes in the mountainside watch over the city like sightless eye sockets.
But what is more striking still is the many small caves and niches around those shrines, where people live. I don't know how they manage, dwelling in these caves literally carved into the mountainside. The poverty here is extreme - I read that on average a person spends about 1189 Afghanis per month - about 25 dollars - but I can't imagine the people living here having that much to spend.
A logistics challenge
It's too late to see any WFP projects by the time we land and get settled in, so I tag along with some colleagues in the afternoon - they are looking at potential sites for a new warehouse.
So far this year WFP has delivered more than 15,000MT of food to the central highlands of Afghanistan from the central warehouse in Kabul.
The logistics challenges are immense, and the team is looking at ways to improve the supply chain - maybe a warehouse in Bamyan would help. We look at a few sites, meet with the mayor (who would be willing to donate the land, yay!), look at the setup of some other UN compounds. This takes us through till the evening - the last plots we look is lit by golden rays of sunset, and it's time to call it a day.