Kabul, Afghanistan - Since my arrival, it has been quiet. Not that there is nothing to do. I had organized the bureau's equipment, fixed new bracket for a back light at our live shot "studio" and attended two press conferences at the presidential palace.
Although the actual press conferences usually last only thirty minutes, it takes more then four hours to attend one. First, there is the short drive. We have to leave early as traffic in Kabul is horrendous. Late arrivals are not accepted. It seems to me that part of the problem with Kabul's traffic stems from road closures. Many streets of Kabul are closed off for traffic. The closures are due to safety precautions of various embassies, NGO's and government buildings. The whole city especially the center looks like it's under permanent internal siege. All significant buildings and many residential houses from outside resemble mini-fortresses. From inside they rather feel like mini prisons. Concrete barriers, guard houses, high walls topped up with barbed wire are just the few visible safety measures. Soldiers, police and private security guards are everywhere ... In the chaotic traffic we slowly inch towards the palace grounds.
To get to the actual palace we must navigate our car through three concrete barriers set in the middle of the road. Each one manned by soldiers and other security personnel. Then we get out of our car and walk thought yet another heavily protected check point. After a brief ID check we walk down a wide tree-lined boulevard. Another gate marks the meeting point for journalists. A good place to catch up on latest news and gossip. I'm just glad that so far the weather has been mild. During the day it's sunny and very pleasant. I dread the time when it's going to be miserably cold. Standing outside of the gates it's not doing to be a pleasant experience.
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/12/29/story.karzai2.jpg caption="Hamid Karzai with Belgium's Prime Minister Yves Leterme"] When all of the journalists are assembled, we move on to security check... I'm not going to go into the details of this procedures but there is nothing left to a chance. Let's just say that an average airport security screening is a breeze compared to this. In the many years of my experience as a news cameraman I have never been screened, checked, re-screened and re-checked so thoroughly.
After the security checks which seem to last forever we are led to the press conference room. As a cameraman I move swiftly to get the best spot.
From the start the odds are stuck against me. It seems that all of the local guys have some kind of arrangement going on at the palace. They leave their tripods permanently there. The result is that I just about manage to squeeze on the right flank. Leaving me with a slightly sideways shot.
When all of the cameras are set in place and seats taken by the journalists in attendance we are invited for lunch. The invitation is friendly but seems compulsory... I don't object. Lunch is short and sweet. And a good time to chat with the few foreigners who are there.
Most of the journalists at the two pressers that I attended so far seem to be from local media. Both times there were no less then 25 cameras and a dozen still guys. It looks like there is no shortage of press outfits in Afghanistan.
After lunch we go back to the press conference room and wait... eventually the presser starts. Less then thirty minutes later it's all over. Except now we have to make our way out. Today, we had to walk all the way past all the security barriers beyond the security zone to get to our car... with equipment, it's about 15 minute walk. At least the weather is wonderful - sunny and warm.