A poke in the rear

It's been some three days since we reached Taloqan. We have been visiting the front lines some 20 kilometers away everyday. News is that Kunduz is expected to fall any day now.

It's been a real bear working here as a woman. I have been poked, prodded and grabbed more times than I have experienced in my entire life. I have punched, cursed and kicked more men than I ever would have imagined. I have been stared at in the most shameless fashion on the street.

Today, the highlight was a poke in the rear with a stick. I have instructed my translator to tell the soldiers that they represent Islam to me and they make themselves look bad when they are disrespectful toward me. Furthermore, it's Ramadan, and they're not even supposed to look at women.

A French photojournalist, "Patreeeeek," of Sygma photo agency, put it to me this way: Only prostitutes go uncovered, so when Afghan men see a woman not covered in a burqa, like me, they think that I have "offered" myself to them. That's pretty deep stuff. I must admit that I find myself despising this country, although I don't want to feel this way. I have simply never come across such wanton lust and such rabid greed, where the hospitality only lasts as far as your money.

Even before we left Khoja Bahauddin, the mood of the journalists had changed, subtly but very concretely. And that has carried over to Taloqan.

There was an edge to the interactions between foreigners and locals. Journalists were simply tired of being scammed. Most people don't mind paying for services rendered by drivers and translators. But the earlier journalists made no efforts to squash inflation, and within days, word spread throughout the entire country that money was flowing like water out of the foreign media. Con artists came out of their lairs and a new economy was born. That's when Tracey and I arrived.

Four journalists were killed yesterday between Jalalabad and Kabul. They were in a convoy, probably from Islamabad, one of the routes we were considering taking. We are all unnerved.