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The dust-covered Humvee roars down the busted road lined with dirty, yellowish vendor shacks. The people on the sides also seem covered with yellowish dirt. A hill rises on the left side, with little mud houses perched on top of each other. Yellow dust columns are dancing around them – tiny tornado whirls chased by the wind. “Shit wind,” says the Doctor and chuckles. “All the shit here pours right on the street. When the air hits 40 degrees (104 F) it dries out in half an hour and turns into dust. Then the wind picks it up and they breathe it. That’s why the Americans call it shit wind.” The Doctor buries his salt-and-pepper moustache into his Afghan scarf. The black-and-white fabric has turned dirt-yellow too.

The Doctor and a whole convoy of troops picked us up from the airport and are escorting us trough Kabul to a military base. They call him the Doctor because he is a military surgeon. There are two civilians in the Humvee – newspaper reporter Angarev and I. “Petkov,”Angarev says, apparently worried. “Do you… like… have one more scarf?” I don’t. I only took one from Sofia because we were supposed to stay in Kabul for only a couple of days. I’ve wrapped my mouth and nose tight with a few layers of the fine cotton fabric. Dusty combat boots thump around between Angarev and me, as the machine gunner fiercely spins the turret above. His face is wrapped in a scarf as well. Everything inside the Humvee is covered with a layer of fine yellowish dust. The armored windows may be able to stop an AK bullet but they provide no protection against shit wind.

Afghanistan Patrol

On patrol, Afghanistan 2010

Angarev and I served in the army together. That’s why we call each other by surname. I feel a little guilty I didn’t think of telling him about shit wind before we left for Kabul. I promise to buy him a scarf as a present as soon as we stop at the base. It’s the first time for him here and the fourth for me. Last time I was here alone – no troops or guns around. I walked around the little houses up the hill. I even stopped by for tea in one of them. There are no streets up there, only dusty tracks. Each house has an internal toilet and a pipe that sticks out to a brownish baked-up pile. The shacks are very clean inside. But outside there’s shit wind.

I was going home from work yesterday. I usually go through this little playground – by Sofia’s 22nd school. It’s sunny and warm. The snow has melted away but the trees are bare and the city is still ugly, the way it always is just before spring. Three kids are sitting in the playground’s sand pit, digging away with little toy-shovels. Their mothers are smoking, perched on the benches around. The street that leads away from it is covered with dog feces – dozens of them, everywhere. All of a sudden the wind picks up and fills the air with dust. Shit wind. That’s how it’s going to be all spring long. And all summer long. Kabul used to be a wonderful city too – a mix of Western and Oriental architecture, broad boulevards and even trolleybuses. There were centennial woods around it too. And the streets of Sofia used to be washed regularly. It was clean. We still have the Vitosha forests, though. That’s nice.

“Many people here are infected with hepatitis A,” the Doctor says through the scarf and nervously looks around, as the Humvee roars against the afternoon traffic. “The virus can survive temperatures of up to 60 degrees Celsius (140 F) and it flies on the wind.” Angarev has managed to dig out a woolen scarf out of his luggage and has wrapped it around his face. The machine gunner’s combat boots angrily shift around, puffing up yellow dust clouds inside the vehicle. His long shadow outside waives its arms over people, motorcycles and shabby Toyotas.

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