“Walk into a restaurant. Look for the back door. Pick a table in the lee of something structural”: how to live in a war zone

Wednesday attack in Kabul, Afghanistan killed 90 people and injured more than 460

The following shared by Jerome Starkey, journalist who covers the Middle East

2 June 2017 – Never sit near restaurant windows or in the lobbies of big hotels. Try not to drive at rush hour or get stuck on gridlocked roads and always let the convoys pass. They are the targets of big bombs.

I never lived in fear, for the five exhilarating years to 2012 that Afghanistan was my home. Real life got in the way. But that is not to say I was never scared.

The horror of a truck bomb, or a suicide attack, or a squad of armed terrorists storming through the door, lurked at the bottom of my consciousness and shaped a set of habits that are hard to shake. Walk into a restaurant. Look for the back door. Pick a table in the lee of something structural. Never loiter near the doors in large public buildings. If you must be in an atrium stand by the columns that hold up the roof.

In Kabul I was free to not live or work in the neighbourhood of military bases and embassies known as the green zone. There is nothing green about it — the streets are lined with concrete blast walls and drab industrial sandbags.

The 90 people killed in the green zone on Wednesday, and more than 460 injured, did not have a choice. It is one of the most dangerous parts of Kabul because the embassies are magnets for terrorist attacks. Yet most victims were not soldiers or diplomats. They were innocent civilians torn apart or maimed by geopolitical tides that have buffeted Afghanistan for centuries.

The precautions I took were meaningless luxuries that let me dupe myself into thinking I had some semblance of control over whether I lived or died. Wednesday’s bomb, which was so big it has stunned a city that is almost inured to violence, was a hideous reminder that life and limb are still a lottery.

None of the victims could have known that a sewage lorry had been filled with explosives. Some must have been stuck in traffic caused by checkpoints and road closures designed to keep foreigners safe. On a journey made a minute later, perhaps they would have survived. If they had to get to work then they had to brave the roads. They could not leave the country on a whim, as I always could. So they went about their daily lives, as most us will today. Think of them as you commute.


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