Ah the traffic!

Can’t remember whether it was the American or the British ambassador, let’s define him a diplomat for the sake of accuracy.

Someone told me that a while ago a diplomat publicly declared that Kabul greatest problem is traffic. The statement generated outrage, was followed by demands of apologies, explanations, withdrawals.

How insensitive, what a bad taste… we are in a country at war, for God sake!

Perhaps. But there is not a single day that goes without talking about traffic. With the baker, the taxi driver, while drinking a cup of tea.

In the long hours spent in the car you feel like a brick in a Tetris game that has gone beserk. The jigsaw of vehicles of all forms and shapes – bicycles, donkey-driven carts, Toyota Corollas, SUVs – gets entangled, enmeshed and extricated with an agility that verges on the unbelievable.

This absurdity obviously generates all kinds of jokes and urban myths.

It seems that, with the nearing elections, the mayor realised that a certain (American? Japanese?) funding was about to expire and it was so that he found himself in the position of having to redo all the roads of the city at the same time.

For those who venture around the streets of Kabul, the picture is that of a pharaonic enterprise with a labour force worth the construction of the Pyramids: digging, shovelling, hammering, mixing cement. For every man at work there is one who advices and one who keeps company.

Kabul is an endless open-air construction site: where clouds of dust limit the visibility of those who drive to the bare minimum, the ditches that one day will become sewers are a threat to physical safety and the mounds of rubbles that get accumulated every day in a different road make it impossible to preserve any sense of orientation.

Urban myths have it that the poor mayor was caught in a dramatic impasse: the contracting company that was asked to break the roads turned out to be faster than the one that was asked to rebuild them. Hence the unexpected unmanageability of the situation that made of the mayor the target of all kinds of ferocious ironies.

When you get stuck in a cul de sac in a road that was open until a few hours before, the unavoidable comment is: the mayor was here.


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