The first threat on our lives came less than 24 hours after we’d arrived in Afghanistan.
“Next time I see you,” said the Afghan outside our car window as he slid his thumb across his throat in a slicing motion, “I will kill you.”
The dangers in Afghanistan are legion. From roadside bombs and Taliban kidnappers to highway robberies and car bombs.
McClatchy’s Tom Lasseter has been threatened by Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother. Jonathan Landay has been endangered by Taliban fighters that hit U.S. and Afghan soldiers he was traveling with in eastern Afghanistan.
This threat came from an adolescent boy in Kabul.
Two young street peddlers rushed up to us as we emerged from the main gate at NATO’s HQ walked past charred trees recovering from a suicide car bomber that killed seven civilians three months ago.
We bought two maps from the younger boy, but weren’t too interested in the cheap bracelets the older kid was selling. But he’d seen us shell out some cash already, so he kept trying to close the deal -- even as we got into the car to drive away.
It was then, in a last-ditch attempt to get rid of some bracelets, that he tried the hard sell.
“Next time I see you, I will kill you,” the scrawny boy said as he made the throat-slashing motion with his hand.
It was an idle, adolescent fatwa.
I couldn’t help but think of Achmed the dead terrorist, ventriloquist Jeff Denham’s famous skeleton suicide bomber, best known for threatening audiences laughing at him by shouting: “Silence! I kill you!”
But the dangers in Kabul are real, and ever-present.
The front gate of our guest house looks out on the charred UN compound hit two weeks ago by well-trained militants.
Hundreds of expat UN workers are suddenly being asked to pack up and move to Dubai or other nearby cities.
Rumors quickly filter through the social scene that a 7,000-pound bomb has been smuggled into Kabul.
The security at our guest house has quadrupled the number of armed guards and installed new security protections.
On my first visit to Kabul, I ask a friend who has worked here for years how to assess the dangers.
“You’ll know it,” she said, “when it happens to you.”
Behind the barricades, Kabul’s unusual social scene spins on. Military contractors check their handguns at the door of the city’s well-known Italian restaurant near the NATO HQ.
Expats gather to drink watered-down martinis made with fresh pomegranate juice at a party to celebrate the imminent opening of Kabul’s newest restaurant – an upscale eatery that will most likely be called “Martini Grill.”
When the red wine and beer run out, there is whiskey and vodka.
A mix of diplomats and journalists gather the next afternoon at a guest house for a scrumptious brunch that includes homemade cookies and hot pizza prepared by the cooks in the home’s new pizza oven.
Under the watchful eye of an armed Afghan security guard wearing a powder blue surgical mask (a largely useless effort to protect against “swine flu”) while standing watch in a guard tower surrounded by sand bags, brunchers whoop and cheer while playing croquet in the yard.
And there is dark, war zone humor.
At another dinner party with diplomats and UN staff preparing to pack up and move out because of the newest risks, one guy secretly jams everyone’s cell phones and says he’s just received a warning that another attack may be underway.
Guests laugh -- and the host pours more champagne that he won’t be able to bring with him when he moves.