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February 25, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, February 25, 2005

Letter from Kabul Letter from Kabul (February 25, 2005)

Climbing out of sewers, and winter

By Rosemary Stasek

I fell into the sewer. Kabul is a huge city without a functioning sewer system. Imagine a gulley between the sidewalk and the street that is 12 inches wide and up to two feet deep.

Through it runs raw sewage, street garbage and this time of year, melted snow. Occasionally, there's a chunk of concrete thrown over it, but most of the time you have to leap to avoid it.

I missed it one dark evening, and down I went at full speed into the ditch. I was stuck, with sewage up to my thighs. My Afghan driver rushed over, and this wonderful man, who had been indoctrinated to not touch a woman who wasn't his wife, anxiously waited for me to climb out.

But since it felt like I had broken my leg, I wasn't going anywhere with my own power. So my driver reached down and gently lifted me, soaking wet, out of the sewer. I think his pride suffered the greatest injury.

Back at the Kabul Beauty School, the women are learning to comb hair. No joke, they spend days learning to section and comb hair. That's why I'm the logistics manager and not the cosmetology teacher -- I would have about five minutes of classroom material on combing.

Last Tuesday, they spent the day giving each other perms. Since there are 15 students, they needed an extra head for practice, so I had to make myself scarce. I think I'm sacrificing enough for the cause, thank you.

I usually spend my days hunting down stuff and the money to buy it with. I've been working with the U.S. Embassy a lot and although people there have been a great help, it's been a little tough. I failed the Foreign Service Exam, which is required for Embassy workers, last November and now I'm friends with the folks who have the job I dreamed of having. I keep trying to remember that, at the end of the day, I get to leave the Embassy and go off and traipse about town in clubs with friends while they're locked down on the compound, living in an actual shipping container. But still.

Kabul is slowly coming back to life after one of the toughest winters in memory. People are remembering friends lost when a Kam Air flight hit a nearby mountain in a blizzard on Feb. 3.

But now snow is turning to mud, and I'm burning fewer trees in my bedroom at night to stay warm. And when the sun shines so beautifully in the afternoon, you know spring is close -- and we're more than ready for it. Rosemary Stasek is a former Mountain View mayor. Her column will appear once a month in the Voice during her stay in Kabul. More about her project and trips to Afghanistan can be found at

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