4 Feb 2012

Britain’s idea of snow is ‘frankly hilarious’

“It is very good. Very good indeed.”

Abdulhamid is smiling. He’s out of breath and working hard to keep up with the driving snow. But he’s smiling. Smiling because like almost all Afghans, the exceedingly large dollop of snow that has roared in from Iran far to the west, is very good news in this drought-stricken land.

Some rough stats – as if anybody here gives a hoot: it snowed without stopping from 20.00 on Thursday or so until around noon today, Saturday, depositing roughly a foot and a half (or seventeen zillion centimetres or whatever it is) of snow on the city.

It’s frankly hilarious looking at the tweets, and the dire “amber warning” about snow in the UK. Untreated roads! What luxury to live in a land where even roads are given treats.

I’m seeing all this stuff about which areas are “at risk”. I will bet my own head that within hours British TV reporters will be talking about Kent or Yorkshire “bearing the brunt”. With some horror I learn that Dartmoor was below freezing. At noon. Words cannot convey my horror…

Read more: Flights cancelled as snow heads for UK

Here, a winter or two ago on the Salang Pass north of Kabul, over 170 people were killed by avalanches which blocked the roads for days and trapped people in their vehicles leaving them to freeze to death, which they did. All that, on a stretch of road fully-equipped with aid-donated snowblowing and ploughing paraphernalia.

Fortunately for Kabul, the latest 38 hour blizzard coincided not just with the Friday of rest but today, the birthday of the prophet Mohammad and another day of rest and mostly closed shops.

Not that this would have stopped most Afghans who strap on snow-chains if they have them, or just go out anyhow and drive and perhaps crash but maybe not.

Bilal’s just called: “Alex – I cannot come for tea my friend.”

“Oh – why’s that Bilal?”

“I am in a ditch.”

“Oh.”

“Yes. Very big ditch. There is oil.”

“Where Bilal? Where is the oil?”

“From the car. Under the car Alex. It’s coming out. It’s making a noise. We are out of town. So I cannot have tea. I am very sorry about the tea Alex.”

There you have it. Turns out Bilal can see the oil because it’s easy. Because the car is upside down. His family may or my not be in the car. But Bilal is concerned that the vague idea of having a cuppa with me might not happen now. The ditch, car, family, location, rescue plan – none of it really up-agenda because it will all be ok you see. Not a problem.

Picture gallery: Afghan winter – pictures from Kabul

Which is why, my friends, Kabul will not be unduly troubled by a monster blizzard. The police checkpoints will make snowmen and then patrol about aggressively to spy on other checkpoints and see whose is best. People will drive. They will crash. They will not crash. Everything will go on rather as normal. But a lot whiter.

Yes, the only real supply route is Salang and that is shut. Yes, the international airport is shut. Yes, the Afghan airforce isn’t flying and NATO don’t exactly seem sky bound either. But this will all simply pass in time and Kabulis are smiling.

For snow is water on a parched, austere land that relies on intricate irrigation and, come July, the high mountain snowmelt.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Follow Alex Thomson on Twitter @alextomo

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5 reader comments

  1. adil says:

    Excellent writing! I read all these posts. Hope that you will write more on the average Afghani’s hopes, ideas, life. Will there be a book coming? Like your excellent colleague Ms Hilsum? I’m looking forward to her book (hope it will be in ebook format as well).

  2. anon says:

    Yes, I agree, nicely done.

  3. victoria 2 says:

    Hey I see some gentility there in the Afghanis’ charming re: the tea party. Gorgeous kids and photos too.

  4. Lilly says:

    Thanks for giving us the reality of life in Afghanistan. This is the news most of us want to hear. Looks like you could use a hat out there.

  5. Rob says:

    Personally, I dread the onset of a bit of bad weather, because I just know that people are going to go on and on about it and that the local TV news will milk it to death. Yes, I know that a bit of snow can be inconvenient and can pose real problems for some people, but it’s rarely severe and it usually only lasts for more than a few days. We’ve got this clichéd idea about the “British winter” being a meteorological nightmare. Don’t people realise what a benign climate we’ve actually got in this country, particularly in the south? It seems to me that, as a nation, we’re getting increasingly hysterical … and I’ve got a pretty good idea where that influence is coming from.

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