Behind the headlines, the strategies, the surges, what is life really like in Afghanistan? What is it like to live and work there as a civilian on state-building with its people, fighting the Taliban with flip-charts and pens, not guns? In her account of sixteen months in the capital of Helmand province, Lashkar Gah, working for the UK-led Provincial Reconstruction Team, Kate Fearon records everyday life on the frontline. Amidst the violence she unearths extraordinary stories of how ordinary Afghans live and what they think, both inside and outside the walls of military bases.
From the thrills and risks of getting there to exploring Helmand and its history this book follows the author’s daily life she gets to know the people behind the war. She learns Pashto, visits the Districts, meets the US Marines, observes elections and evades suspected suicide bombers. She describes working with the tribal Elders on informal justice and policing issues, and building local democracy with them. She also listens to the musings of young men on marriage (and nightclubs), discovers what Afghan women really think of their burquas, and discusses poppy growing, pornography, forbidden love-notes, drinking and dancing.
Tragic and touching but also wryly observed, City of Soldiers tells of the camaraderie and courage of those working under extreme conditions, foreigners and locals, civilians and military alike. It evokes the despair—and the guilt—that comes with targeted political murders in response to the process of democratization. Kate Fearon explains how the key driver for Afghans is pragmatism, their overriding goal survival, and reveals how women—and men—assert themselves in a seemingly impossibly restrictive culture with humour and hope.