I slouched against a thick netted seat cover in a banged up taxi cab, my nerves raw with exhaustion. Dust crept through my headscarf, which I’d pulled around my nose and mouth. I was back in Kabul, in time for the Kabul Conference and subsequent citywide lockdown.
I’d been – more or less – unafraid since I landed in Afghanistan. But for days in advance of the Kabul Conference I’d woken up to the piercing sounds of jets and helicopters cutting across the sky. In anticipation of the conference, there’d been a suicide bombing. A man on a bike set himself off in the middle of the day, killing three. The roads home from the Shuhada office that afternoon were eerily free of traffic. And every time we stalled, stuck behind a truck or waiting for someone to cross, my muscles tensed. I found myself, then, constantly scanning my surroundings wondering if anything would detonate.
Because the city was on high alert, I’d spent the day before the conference off the roads – holed up in my small, musty guesthouse room, cleaning up and interpreting data for a report on Shuhada’s teacher training projects. Staring at excel sheets for hours in my tiny, claustrophobic space, I began to feel nauseous and anxious. I knew that the following day, the day of the Kabul Conference, all movement would be restricted. That night, I had to get out. Attacks were far less likely in the evenings, anyway.
I texted a friend to meet me at a restaurant. The streets were nearly silent – free of the bustle that so marks Kabul’s day-to-day. Security guards in worn olive green uniforms were out in abundance, perched with their rifles behind sandbags, carefully eyeing the seldom few passersby. Police at checkpoints squinted into my window, and waved us on. In those moments everything looked sharper, as though the city was washed with light.
I arrived at the restaurant without any problem. It was empty except for my friend, sitting on her computer in candlelight. When I sat down, I immediately felt better.
The conference itself went off almost without incident. Insurgents launched a few rockets at the Kabul airport, causing Ban Ki-moon to reroute his plane to land at Bagram Airbase. But unlike the Peace Jirga earlier on in the summer, there were no major bombings or firefights. And the very next day the city was unthinking, alive, and chaotic again – grateful for the relative ease with which the event had passed.