Back to Kabul

Kevin Rumsey is trading a desk job at the Elijah Smith Building for suicide bombers and bulletproof vests in Afghanistan. And lately, the local water sanitation expert has been having trouble sleeping.

Kevin Rumsey is trading a desk job at the Elijah Smith Building for suicide bombers and bulletproof vests in Afghanistan.

And lately, the local water sanitation expert has been having trouble sleeping.

“It’s the anxiety,” he said, over one last cup of coffee at Baked.

Rumsey left for France April 29, en route to a US air base in Kyrgyzstan to get outfitted with dog tags, a bulletproof vest, a helmet and a flak jacket.

“Recently, I have been engaged in efforts toward peace,” said Rumsey, who just finished setting up a Yukon chapter of the Canadian Department of Peace Initiative.

“And now, I’m getting dog tags.”

Rumsey has been hired as NATO’s first environmental protection officer in Kabul.

He’ll be living on the NATO base with 4,500 soldiers and civilians, eating army food and sleeping in shared quarters.

Just a month ago, two women in burkas blew themselves up outside the Kabul base.

“They were trying to get in,” said Rumsey.

When they were denied access, they detonated themselves at the entrance.

Rumsey has been to Afghanistan before.

Two years ago, he was in the war-torn country to build water sanitation and hygiene projects for Afghans.

It’s work that came out of Rumsey’s Masters in Human Security and Peacebuilding.

He didn’t live on the NATO compound then, but he still remembers the rocket strikes.

“Kabul is in a valley surrounded by mountains,” he said.

“All you need is a rocket launcher on one of those mountains aimed at the base ….”

Rebel troops tried this last time he was in Kabul.

They missed.

Although he lived downtown, Rumsey still felt isolated from the locals.

“I had a driver and bodyguards,” he said.

Walking anywhere is out of the question, he said.

“But the most scary thing is being stuck in traffic.

“There are 12,000 child beggars in Kabul.”

When they noticed his foreign face in the back seat of the car they would flock to the vehicle.

Despite the dangers, Rumsey managed to travel to several provinces where he had water projects in the works.

Afghan men are incredibly “warm and generous,” he said.

Rumsey didn’t know anything about the women, because he rarely saw them, and if he did, he wasn’t allowed to interact with them.

But the men “are so real,” he said.

“Every day, even if they just saw you yesterday, they kiss you on the cheeks and ask how your family is and if you slept well.”

Rumsey hopes he can contact some of the friends he made when he returns, but it could prove difficult.

This time around, he won’t be allowed to leave the air base.

“It’s too dangerous,” he said.

The danger is part of the draw for Rumsey.

“It’s exciting living in the moment, and knowing life can change at any given second,” he said.

“That adrenalin rush is addictive.”

Rumsey was a far cry from missile strikes and bomb blasts, at his desk in the Elijah Smith building, when an “email showed up out of the blue in December.”

NATO was recruiting and someone had passed on Rumsey’s name.

“They must have thought, ‘We’ll contact Rumsey, maybe he’s crazy enough,’” he said with a laugh.

They were right.

But Rumsey took his time.

“I had to talk to my girlfriend about it first,” he said.

“But deep down I knew I wanted to go.”

She was supportive, and Rumsey applied.

Three weeks later, he found out he was the runner up, and wasn’t offered the post.

“My family was relieved,” he said.

Rumsey had just settled back in to his federal post when another email popped up.

The first candidate had backed out and Rumsey was back in play.

He’s not sure what his new position as NATO’s environmental protection officer will entail. But he assumes it will involve preparing for the environmental nightmare that will ensue when NATO pulls out of Afghanistan in 2014.

Rumsey already has plans.

He hopes to start composting leftover food on the base and giving it to local farmers.

And he hopes to strike up partnerships to reuse the scrap metal.

“Right now, I suspect it’s buried,” he said.

“I know the sewage treatment system is not working there,” he added.

“And I know they burn their waste – that needs to be airtight.”

Rumsey will also act as a liaison working with all NATO countries to ensure their environmental protocols are being met.

If one of the NATO countries has an environmental disaster, like a fuel spill and doesn’t clean it up, it will be Rumsey’s job to price the clean up and bill the country.

“They may or may not pay it,” he said.

That will all be part of the learning curve.

Rumsey will only be in Kabul for a year.

And he won’t have much time off.

Every three months, he will get five days leave.

On his first break he’s thinking of visiting Petra in Jordan, then maybe Egypt.

“There won’t be many tourists there now,” he said.

“It might be a good time to go.”

Rumsey is ready for Kabul’s dry dusty summers.

And he’ll be familiar with winter temperatures, which can dip to minus 20 degrees Celsius.

He’s even ready to get along with unknown roommates on the base and eat bland army food.

But he’s not ready to die.

“I’ve been thrown into the military in the most dangerous place there is,” he said.

“But I’m still a civilian, doing environmental work, so I can live with that.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

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