John Patten
Photos from Afghanistan

    Well I am in SA and have been enjoying things. Just got back from the coast in Bellito where we spent
    New Year’s. The biggest thing I’ve had to complain about is that the Kudu pate resembled too closely the
    Ostrich pate. People here seem to love talking about their holiday death tolls, which does not seem to
    have had much effect on the 1,000-plus people killed on the roads in the last four weeks. I only drove in
    the wrong lane twice and entered the wrong side of the car once. But I still drive better than Afrikaners on
    holiday, who seem a different breed than me. I guess I can cut them some slack if I take into account the
    context of their long history. They still seem upset over the Boer Wars however. Next time the race lobby,
    which hasn’t been here either, starts in on SA racism though, tell them about the campaign slogan by
    some ANC members saying, “Kill the Boer, kill the farmers,” which oddly enough was ruled not hate
    speech by the current government. Like human nature is different among any group anywhere. I guess
    they would have had to also tack on something about dicing them and using them in salads. It’s a shame
    the ANC is a corrupt shadow of what Mandela got going. But people love to wear their badge of double
    standards. Even black people here don't think Mbeki is doing a good job. Johannesburg and Durban are
    almost unlivable, the latter looking like a post-apocalyptic Miami Beach in 2040. The disparity between
    rich and poor is one of the key problems, but things are never one-sided. Each seems to be responsible
    for various complex reasons, often everyone’s views being equally valid and equally biased. Nobody
    seems to see the connection between the insane 42% unemployment rate and the crime. Here seven
    times the number of people are murdered each year than the U.S., despite my country being about
    seven times the size. They also drive very selfishly and there is carnage on the roads every day. You
    can’t develop your country that way, at least not until they sort out their legal, judicial, economic,
    communications, political and policing systems. Who wants to invest under these conditions? It doesn’t
    change the fact however that it is just stupid to go to certain places.

    I still miss the holiday season in the US and all the things that go along with it, like football bowl games,
    etc. I can only find cricket on the TV, and it doesn’t matter if I watch it for ten more years, I can’t figure out
    what is going on. In today’s test match they said there were eleven players with no balls, which I thought
    should have made headlines in more than just cricket-loving countries, instead of the ridiculous scoring
    system. The newscaster later went on and on about the match, but I was still left saying, “So who won
    then, you pratt?”

    I’ll have to find a job down here, because Eriko has her job in Pretoria for the next two years. I don’t know
    about having to live behind electric fences and grates in the house though. I’m less fazed by shelling. At
    least then I can go out of the house without having to get all the beeping devices to get past the fence. I’ll
    also have to get an office job, which is pretty hard for a pirate that wants to go set things up in Iraq next.
    It’s what I want to do. This is not much of an emergency here relatively speaking, unless you count the
    fact that many older Afrikaners have appalling hair, bad TV shows, and music that would piss off Boxcar
    Willie. I’m sure I’ll find some way to get in trouble or shake things up.


    Well back in the office today. It’s been a year here and I just had my 38th birthday. Long overnight trip
    from SA to Islamabad with no sleep. But still had to go into the office there to sort out business because I
    was on the flight early the next morning to Mazar. It looked like the weather would force us to stay in
    Kabul and I really needed to get back home to my room and rest and unpack, so that was fortunate. I
    have to pack some things now in case of evacuation if there are more protests due to the US war effort
    against Iraq, which is very unfortunate. I don’t think there’s anyway to turn back the huge war machine
    short of a miracle, like Hussein leaving. I want to go to Baghdad to photograph children and families and
    post on a website to show real people like I do in Afghanistan. They’re the ones that will be effected and
    it’s going to be a humanitarian disaster for which there is little plan if all the roads are cut off. I know it
    won’t help the situation to go though. The decision to invade was really made a long time ago despite the

    I realized that I only have a short time left here which will go very fast. I hope I can make every day count.
    I already have to start planning for my exit and all that goes along with that. It will be emotionally tough to
    leave here and the staff after all that’s happened in the past year.


    Getting reacquainted with all the electricity problems here. Let’s see, we have city power, a big
    generator, and a backup little one, all of which are not working again. My computer battery goes from
    having one hour left to zero in the span of two minutes, so it’s maddening. It’s been this way for a year
    and now just seems like the fabric of our house. Plus, one of the guys told me that we owe Uzbekistan
    seven million dollars in outstanding electric bills. I wonder what went on behind the scenes to keep it
    going. Visa cut me off at five grand.

    Nobody has the keys either. I needed to go back to the office last night to pick up some papers and there
    was no key and no driver. Against regulations I was driving all around Mazar at night on the wet, dark
    and muddy back alley streets trying to get the key and get into the office. It was kind of fun and
    liberating, although I did take an extra shirt, gloves, and a scarf in case of getting abducted. The holding
    cell would have been chilly. The things you plan for here! At least we have some semblance of an
    emergency plan and security protocol now. A year ago it was pretty much just, “scream like a schoolgirl,”
    which, while not very effective, is very viscerally satisfying and still seems like the method preferred by
    several smaller agencies.

    I found out the deer is gone too. I thought I noticed an absence of shit all over the driveway and wanted
    to ask if it was alright. It’s over at Dr. Gawhery’s house now and is happier in the bigger garden and with
    other animals around. I really think it lost its mind after four years in our backyard. They had to wrestle
    the thing into a taxi though and drive it across town to his house. I wish I could have seen that and taken
    pictures. That thing’s going to need a deer psychologist, but unfortunately we’re not anywhere near L.A.


    My replacement got here today and is getting settled. It’s 10:30 pm though and the lights are out and
    writing by the kerosene lantern. They just seemed to have started a gun battle nearby. Welcome to
    Mazar! I landed here exactly a year ago today. Now I’m a bit nonchalant about the gunfire and it doesn’t
    even get my adrenaline moving. I need to get to bed and it seems it’s just an average skirmish. They’ll
    get tired of it in a few minutes and everyone will get back inside around the heater like me.

                           PREVIOUS                                                                                              NEXT