Saturday, May 05, 2007

Having fun in Kabul...

[I tried to add some pictures to the blog but the internet is too slow upload pictures.]

Yesterday was Friday which is a holiday here. Here the weekend is half of Thursday and all of Friday. I went with my cousins to Paghman which is 20 miles north of Kabul. It was good to see my cousins and their children who are SO cute. Unfortunately one of my cousins, Hasina, had severe burns on her foot. Her husband lit a lantern indoors and when he didn’t see a flame he added more fuel without turning it off. The lantern exploded and Hasina’s pants caught on fire as did their rug and cushions. Both she and her husband have severe burns on their feet. Luckily their children were not around! Poor woman can barely walk and she also suffers from Rheumatoid arthritis and she’s only about 35 years old.

Anyway….So yesterday the cousins came over and we ate some lunch and headed to Paghman. We took two cars. I went in Malahat’s van and sat with her and two of her kids while another sat in between the driver and passenger seats. On the way out of Kabul my uncle stopped and gave some money to a few of the women that were sitting on the side of the street. They sat there with dirty torn burqas, hands outstretched, some with children by their side. One child almost got hit crossing the street to get money from us. Luckily the taxi driver saw her and stopped! We also passed some UNICEF tents that are used for school. As soon as we exited Kabul it was beautiful and peaceful. Everything is green and the streams are full due to the rains this year. As we drove toward Paghman we saw lots of people picnicking in various places, hanging out and relaxing. On the left side of the road there was a little sheesha stop. Men sat in the shade puffing on sheesha. My cousin said she tried it once and really liked it. It tasted like apple but made her head dizzy so that she couldn’t stand up. I wondered if it was straight tobacco or was laced with something else. After she tried it she told her cousin to try it and then told her to get her some tea. Her cousin stood up and sat right back down from being dizzy!

The road was full from people driving out of town. Most of them were heading to Qargha which has a lake and some food stands. I could see some men swimming in the lake and having fun. We continued on and reached Paghman which is a small town. It’s most noticeable feature is an Arc de Triomphe knock-off built by King Amanullah in the 1930s after he returned from Europe. We stopped to take some pictures and continued another 5-10 minutes out of town where we reached a beautiful river. Lots of people were picnicking there and the mountains were beautiful. It was quite a task keeping track of all the little children climbing rocks, wanting to jump in the river. We walked around past some kids playing soccer, up the hill. There was a small mud house with a woman peering through the window. According to Malahat, the woman was making sure that we would not pick her fruit (as Malahat did this last time and the woman came running after her!).

We took some pictures near the river and my cousin’s husband told me to take my scarf off because it wasn’t necessary here. It was interesting…I was on one side of the river without any scarf, and on the other side were 3 or 4 women completely covered with a black chaudori (a giant full body scarf).

Later in the evening the men went and bought some beers, kababs, and a warped soccer ball that we played volleyball with. I don’t think I’ve played volleyball since middle school and forgot how much it hurts my arms! Ouch! The men, warmed by their beers, wanted to stay all night but the women started to lose their patience as their children were getting cold, so we packed up and headed home. Before reaching Paghman we stopped again to look at a mosque and statue Amanullah Khan had built that was still standing. An old man explained to us that the symbols on the statue celebrated education. We walked around the inside of the mosque a bit and headed home.

We took a different road home which was bumpy and full of whole. By the time I got home I was exhausted and went straight to bed.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Moonlight dinners in Kabul

Yesterday afternoon, my uncle and I were bored so we had our own tea party-just the two of us- and ate some cookies and drank some tea. I have been very spoiled in the food department while I’ve been here. I’ve been eating good food every day. Before our tea party my uncle bought two lambs and they were grazing in the yard. He bought them for “khairat,” which is charity. Basically, their heads will be cut off while being prayed over (halal). I was thinking about those poor lambs, but then I thought at least these lambs get blessed before they are killed. There is some appreciation for the lamb giving its life to feed someone else, whereas in the US I’m not sure the animals we eat get so much gratitude. I decided I should watch the process, which I suppose sounds pretty sick. But I just thought if I’m going to eat them then I ought to see them killed too. If I can’t see them killed than maybe I should become a vegetarian.
After our tea party we went to a friend’s house for dinner near “chicken street” which is a famous street that sells antiques. We sat outside in the courtyard under the full moon and my dad and the other engineers talked “engineer talk” while I tried to keep up as much as I could. The TV was on and the news showed some men carrying coffins in Jalalabad. A few days ago US forces raided houses in Jalalabad and killed several people, including women and children. I can’t remember if 25 houses were raided or if 25 people were killed. A man and a woman from Jalalabad spoke angrily of this injustice and that the US forces should not have raided these houses without permission. Today I saw that Karzai said he will not tolerate any more civilian casualties. I think he’s been saying that for a while though, and am not sure how he can enforce his claims. After the news was a show similar to David Letterman or SNL. There was a pretty good sketch making fun of the Afghan program “Afghan Star” which is the equivalent to American Idol in the US. One thing that is really refreshing about Afghanistan is the media here. It’s so new, and so much more democratic than the media in the US. Remember “free speech”? They show different programs, their news interviews everyday people and shows what’s going on in everyday life rather than just interviewing so-called “experts,” as we see on the news everyday in the US. It was really funny, they were showing president bush talking but it was dubbed in Dari. Regardless though I could still hear his dumb voice. The man looks stupid even when he’s dubbed in another language.

This morning I woke up several times. First was from the call to prayer. Then was the rooster’s call, and finally it was my dad shuffling around the room trying to empty his suitcase. He couldn’t sleep as usual. He flew in yesterday and surprisingly did not take a nap during the day. I thought we would share the queen sized bed but he opted to sleep on the floor, which made me smile. I thought, my mom would kill to snuggle with me, but I guess my dad is not much of a snuggler, which is OK. He probably would have tossed around like a dolphin anyway, twisting the covers around him.

Fortunately or unfortunately I woke up too late this morning and missed the lamb sacrifice. After the lambs were killed, the meat was separated into several bags and my uncle distributed them to the poor.

Later that day I had some of this lamb in a dish called “Do piaza” (Two onions) which has yellow split peas and onions soaked in vinegar

Today was a pretty relaxed day. Outside my window I saw some men trying to get a camel on a truck. They pushed and pulled as the camel moaned. I have no idea what they were trying to do with that camel. I went to the bathroom and when I came back they were trying to get the camel OFF the truck. The camel was not so happy about that and it took several men to drag him off as he moaned and groaned. Later on I saw the camel tied up outside my dad’s place, sitting contently.

Today we went to a coffee house called Chaylee. It’s a coffee house geared towards foreigners and was opened by an American woman. On the outside of the building, you can’t even tell there’s a coffee shop. There is no sign and it’s completely non-descript. Inside it’s like a little oasis of Kabul meets Starbucks. Wooden Afghan furniture, rugs, soft lighting and even some photos of coffee on the walls. Outside there is seating as well with red cushions and a screen that they use to screen movies every so often. My uncle and I opted for the ice cream with strawberry sauce. Yum :). It was really great people watching. It was a little magnet for foreigners. It was like they had all come out of the woodwork and were in this one place. Inside the women took their scarves off, sipped their lattes and worked on their laptops. There were also some young Afghan men hanging out there. One had his traditional paron-e tomban outfit with ipod earbuds in his ears. After I finished my ice cream, I noticed these two young men walk in. they looked like teenagers. I couldn’t help but stare at them, they were so adorable. At first I thought they were Japanese—they had Asian like features, but what made me really think they were Japanese was their clothing. They were SO hip. Washed out blue jeans rolled up, leather loafers, designer t-shirts…they looked straight out of an urban outfitters catalog or something. They ended up sitting near my uncle and I and I could tell by their fluent Dari that they were indeed Afghan, not Japanese as I had assumed :).

After ice cream eating, my uncle dad and I went shopping. My dad loves shopping, no matter where he is. He wanted to buy a small mattress that he could sleep on since he’s sleeping on the floor :). My impression of Kabul on this trip is that it has opened up a bit—it doesn’t feel as stiff and people are more relaxed. Also I see many more women wearing a head scarf rather than a burqa and also expressing themselves with different fashions. It turned out the owner of the mattress store had met my dad some 18 years ago in Seattle. He used to have a rug shop there. Small world, eh?

After shopping we went to my dad’s cousin’s place. He runs a nonprofit school that teaches computer skills and English. He really is a wonderful man and I’m always very happy to see him because he has such love and dedication for the children of Afghanistan. It really touches my heart. We sat in his courtyard under the moon and had a ‘romantic’ (they joked) dinner with candlelight. One thing that wasn’t so romantic was the guard walking around with a gun in his hand. I guess the security is getting so bad here that he has hired a guard and when the students come to school they have to be searched. Seeing the guard spawned a whole conversation regarding the security of Afghanistan and its future. Let me tell you, it wasn’t exactly the most uplifting conversation, especially considering the fact that I was sitting with men that have been in Afghanistan for about 4 years now and really have a sense of what’s going on in this country. My dad’s Studio is next to a parliament member’s compound who has many enemies. So there is a concern that if the Taliban tries to attack this parliament’s house my dad’s studio could also be affected. I really didn’t like the sound of this and started to go on in my head about why the hell he’s here or why any of us are here. But, by the end of the conversation, I did see the silver lining on the moon so to speak. I thought how lucky I am to be in the company of 6 different people whose dedication to the rebuilding of Afghanistan is this strong. They really represent the hope of the country—the possibility of a society that works for the Afghan people. So by the end of it I was happy that I was sitting with people that, though their actions may defy common sense (given security, politics, etc), they are taking a stand for something greater than themselves.

And then I was reminded of why I’m here (because let me tell you, I’ve been wondering these past few days!). I was reminded that I am here because I am also taking a stand for something greater than myself. I am taking a stand for the possibility of an Afghanistan that works for the Afghan people and a world that works for the world—i.e. peace. Sometimes I think, well I’m teaching these art workshops, what good will that do. I should be in the UN or something instead, making a “real difference”! But who knows whose life I will make a difference in and what the ripple effect of that will be.

Today I was eating lunch with the maid and I asked her how many kids she has. She said 5, but that it was too much and that if she had one more she would kill it. I wasn’t sure if she was joking or not…I think she was half serious honestly. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about all the Afghan orphans, and meanwhile there are still so many Afghans bringing more children into the world. What a difference birth control or sex education would make here. I think about all the controversy in the US regarding these issues. It’s ridiculous, we are debating whether or not to have these resources at our disposal, meanwhile there are people in the world that don’t even have the option of these resources and are feeling desperate because they cannot control the number of children they have and have no idea how they can take care of them all. Then that also lends itself to the human trafficking trade. I read recently in US news that at any given moment 2 million people are being traded worldwide!

The other irony I always see in the US is that normally the Pro-life are also the ones supporting the war in Iraq. I don’t see how you can be Pro-life and then also support the killing of Americans and Iraqis.

Well I’m done with my soapbox for now. I’ll write more later.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Hi Everyone,
I arrived in Kabul safe and sound. The last few days have been a bit of a whirlwind. I started in Phoenix sweating in a tank top and shorts. It was hot, dry and flat. Then I landed in NY, where it was humid and cloudy and there were actually trees! The buildings were tall and the city was not so clean. Then I landed in Dubai, which is trying to become the NYC of the Middle East and now I’m in Kabul.

When we arrived in Dubai, outside the airport was a line of taxis waiting for us. The interesting thing was the line we were directed to was a line of women taxi drivers. I don’t think I’ve ever had a female taxi driver in the US. The woman that drove us had a kind wrinkled face and large black sunglasses with rhinestone studs on the side. She was Filipina (there are a LOT of Filipinos here) and has lived in Dubai for 24 yeaars. She explained to us that she was the first woman taxi driver for the airport. She told us that women were allowed to drive taxis 7 years ago in response to a crime. Apparently, a woman from the UK traveled to Dubai and her taxi driver raped and killed her :(. In response, the Dubai government allowed women taxi drivers and now parties that include women must take a woman taxi driver. If you are a man traveling on your own, you go with a male taxi driver.I have to say, I felt more comfortable with a female taxi driver, even though I was traveling with a man already.

Dubai was really warm and humid and the climate made my hands swell up like water balloons--very weird. First we took a nap and then we walked around and went shopping. Dubai has a lot of the shops that you can find in the US. It was cool seeing all the diverse clothing styles that people wear and that you can buy at the mall. For example, there was one store that sold bikinis and the store adjacent to it was selling stylish head to toe coverings. Some women here wear all black from head to toe, with only their eyes showing, while you can see other women wearing tank tops or see-through tops. There are a lot of Filipinos and Indians that live here. It seems like many of them occupy the lower-class jobs. Everything here is written in Arabic and English and most people here seemed to speak English.

The next morning we went back to the airport for our flight to Kabul. Next to the counter for Kabul was the counter for flights to Baghdad. I felt sorry for anyone that was flying there, but then saw the irony of my judgment as I was sitting in the Kabul line! But still, Kabul is definitely not as bad as Baghdad.

The flight was smoothly and I couldn’t help but notice the man sitting across from me who was watching war movie after war movie. I wondered if he was on his way to Afghanistan as part of the military and permanently peeled my eyes away from his DVD screen when I saw an image of a Vietnamese man with his skin peeled off. GROSS! I don’t understand why anyone enjoys watching that kind of thing.

When I arrived at the Kabul airport, my uncle Rabi was there to pick me up which was nice. He was there because his luggage did not make it to Kabul a few days ago when he arrived but luckily all of our luggage arrived. Yay! Let’s see if my dad has the same luck when he flies in tomorrow. He seems to have really bad luggage karma. It’s funny that in the past 6 months I’ve seen my dad in Kabul more than in the US!

I was surprised that driving through Kabul I felt like I was ‘coming home’ or something. Not that Kabul is home, but my point is I guess I’ve been here enough times that I’m not shocked or anything like that. The exhaust fumes are still very strong and suffocating though. Don’t think I’ll ever get used to that. The road leaving the airport was lined with Afghan flags which was a new touch.

I was reminded of how different our perceptions of reality are. My perception of Afghanistan in the US is so different than it is when I’m here. In the US, I’m always thinking war, Taliban, etc. but when I’m here I’m reminded that life goes on and people are still going about their day to day activities.

I got to see my uncle Mahmoud’s new baby Lemar. He’s 4 months old and SOO cute. He has blue-grey eyes and is a little munchkin. If my sister was here she would go nuts for him.

Now I’m watching a Hindi soap-opera that is dubbed in Iranian Farsi. It’s really amazing how far “Bollywood” reaches. It seemed like Bollywood films and music were very popular in Dubai as well. The soap-opera is SOOO overdramatic. Barf. It's a lot of women crying, men yelling, and pretty women making mischievous plans. I guess no different than American soap operas. Maybe it's the dubbing that make these particularly bad.

Well that is my update for now. I’m happy to be here, though I have no idea how these workshops will go! It’s so nice to be still, as the past few months I have been running around a lot in the US. I’m also excited for the good Afghan food :). Knock on wood I won’t get sick.

Talk to you later!