Browsing articles by " Hameed"

Surkhrod Trip of OSM

Aug 26, 2011   //   by Hameed   //   Uncategorized  //  13 Comments

Nearly two weeks ago, we had an OSM maps edit­ing trip to Behsood Dis­trict. Our team spent the last ten days and a few days before the trip to fin­ish edit­ing the entire dis­trict in very detail: OSM/Behsood
This week, when we were fin­ished with Behsood as per our plan we took a map­ping trip to Surkhrod Dis­trict of Nan­garhar Province. Luck­ily, our map­ping man­ager, Habib Raza is from Surkhrod and he knows the area like the back of his hand. Our team­mates joked with him and said that he knew his wife’s vil­lage bet­ter than his own because he spent more time in that vil­lage than his own vil­lage before he was mar­ried.
Habib showed us around all day long and we recorded a lot of gps tracks and gps points. It was cool that we could view the data that we had edited the days before on our smart phones offline and nav­i­ga­tion map appli­ca­tion, OsmAnd. We could see what was what and what needed to be changed/edited. We vis­ited some cool and his­toric places in the area. I wanted to take some pho­tos of the sev­eral beau­ti­ful man­sions of Haji Zahir (a local com­man­der now-MP). I was stopped by the guards. We saw his beau­ti­ful gar­den with this advanced drip irri­ga­tion sys­tem.
Over­all, it was a very fruit­ful trip and we had a lot of fun too. There is enough data that we col­lected on this trip to work on for the next one week or so. We have worked on it for three days now and OSM/Surkhrod Map looks very good already. Our next OSM trip (place to be decided) will be in the next two weeks. On the com­ing adven­ture, we will be allowed to eat and drink as the month of Ramadan will be over by then.

OpenStreetMap Trips

Aug 16, 2011   //   by Hameed   //   GIS  //  7 Comments

As I said in my ear­lier blog, our com­pany (J Syn­ergy Tech Devel­op­ment) is work­ing on a map­ping project to edit Nan­garhar Province in the east­ern Afghanistan on Open­StreetMap. There are a few dif­fer­ent ways to edit on OSM: You can edit by hav­ing local knowl­edge of the area you are edit­ing. You can also edit by record­ing gps tracks with a gps or a smart phone and then upload­ing those tracks on OSM and edit all the places you have been to with your device. This way you can mark places with names and take geo­tag pho­tos, etc. Another way to edit on OSM is to draw a map of the places you are vis­it­ing and then sit at your desk and edit from your home. Our team uses a com­bi­na­tion of all these meth­ods. We are a group of five edi­tors that usu­ally go on long trips to the far away dis­tricts of Nan­garhar. We have a TOYOTA Corolla with a mileage of 233415 that was dumped in Afghanistan after it was used in the U.S. It still has ‘THE LONE STAR STATE’ license plate on it.
The day before yes­ter­day, we went to Behsood, a dis­trict that is not very big and it is close to Jalal­abad city. We already knew some about the struc­ture of its main bazaar, its roads and streets and pub­lic ser­vices build­ings but we still had a lot to see and map: any new schools, clin­ics, or other pub­lic places built. Usu­ally, when we go to a far away dis­trict we go through our con­tacts to see if any of us has friends or rel­a­tives in the area. We always find hos­pitable friends that will host us for how­ever long we want. We take some food with us to our host fam­ily for all of us to make sure that they have enough to serve us. On this par­tic­u­lar trip, we did visit some friends but we did not have to take any food: a) we went early in the morn­ing and fin­ished in one day. Behsood is very close to Jalal­abad so we came back home for the night. b) We were all fast­ing as it is the month of Ramadan here. In Afghanistan, to avoid any sus­pi­cion you want to fin­ish every­thing in one trip, if pos­si­ble. Two days is enough time for us to drive around on the main roads of a dis­trict, get a sense of where every­thing is and get some tracks of the key loca­tions. Some of us walk with their gps track­ers on so we can cover as much area as pos­si­ble. We also draw a map of pri­mary roads and other key places on our draw­ing pads.
After we fin­ish record­ing tracks of all the main roads and key areas, we come back to Jalal­abad and start edit­ing on Open­StreetMap. We put all the col­lected data together before we start edit­ing. We usu­ally work for a cou­ple of weeks on each small dis­trict before we go to another. There are 22 dis­tricts in Nan­garhar and we will be work­ing on OSM to edit as many dis­tricts in the next five months as pos­si­ble. Next week we are plan­ning to go and map Surkhrod Dis­trict. It also a dis­trict that is close to the city but it is big­ger. By the end of 2011, we will have a very detailed map of our province. We will hope­fully start edit­ing another province after Nan­garhar.
In the photo below is Noor Ahmadi, our net­work admin­is­tra­tor and he makes that our Inter­net is always work­ing as we edit the map of our city on OSM online.
Rah­mat Sadat is our admin­is­tra­tive assis­tant and he always makes sure that every­thing is work­ing smoothly and every­one is work­ing on their planned tasks.
The rea­son why it is impor­tant to record tracks and gps points is that the imagery on OSM is usu­ally old and it does not have places that have been built recently. There is one prob­lem in our project: None of the gpx files that we record with our Sony Eric­s­son smart phones view on OSM. Right now, we con­vert those gpx files to KMZ and open them on Google Earth. We look at the Google Earth and edit OSM which is a much harder alter­na­tive. If you/any of your friends can help us trou­bleshoot the gpx view­ing issues, please leave a comment.

My University Graduation

Jul 30, 2011   //   by Hameed   //   university  //  8 Comments

Four years ago in Feb­ru­ary I took the Kankor Exam, the uni­ver­sity entrance exam in Afghanistan. Kankor is like the Amer­i­can SAT. It is devel­oped and scored by the Min­istry of Higher Edu­ca­tion (MoHE) of Afghanistan. Kankor includes ques­tions about the sev­eral sub­jects we study in high school (math­e­mat­ics, physics, chem­istry, lan­guages, geog­ra­phy, his­tory and Islamic stud­ies) and it nor­mally takes three and a half hours. That year (2007) more than 80000 stu­dents took the exam and less than 2000 stu­dents were accepted in state uni­ver­si­ties all over the coun­try [m: state uni­ver­si­ties in Afghanistan are free of any charge and less cor­rupt than pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties]. My first choice out of the 10 dif­fer­ent fields that one can choose on the Kankor was Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture. Actu­ally, I wanted to study Inter­na­tional Devel­op­ment with the spe­cial focus on busi­ness and liveli­hood development.

After a lot of research I real­ized that no uni­ver­sity in Afghanistan offered a degree in that field. So after tak­ing the Kankor I was accepted in my favorite pro­gram in Nan­garhar Uni­ver­sity. This Eng­lish lan­guage degree pro­gram that I stud­ied in was funded by the World Bank and Nan­garhar Uni­ver­sity worked in part­ner­ship with San Diego State Uni­ver­sity. Our cur­ricu­lum was devel­oped by SDSU. After I got into the pro­gram I started to grow fonder of it. I stud­ied hard at school and worked part-time. Ever since I was in 9th grade I have always com­bined school with work: a) because I needed to sup­port myself and my fam­ily finan­cially as my father who would usu­ally brought the bacon home was suf­fer­ing from a heart attack b) because I wanted to gain work expe­ri­ence together with for­mal stud­ies at school. Major­ing in Eng­lish in school and work­ing with inter­na­tional orga­ni­za­tions at a young age pro­vided me with the priv­i­lege of know­ing a lot of Amer­i­cans and other inter­na­tion­als. In the last few years, I worked with a num­ber of inter­na­tional and national orga­ni­za­tions in Afghanistan and I made sure that I did well in school.

When I grad­u­ated from uni­ver­sity last month I got three dif­fer­ent job offers: 1) from the Eng­lish depart­ment of my own uni­ver­sity to teach at uni­ver­sity level as a pro­fes­sor 2) from USAID in the cap­i­tal Kabul as a field offi­cer for Sus­tain­able Water Sup­ply and San­i­ta­tion (SWSS) to col­lect gps data of mal­func­tion­ing wells in Afghanistan and help to try and fix them 3) from a close friend who has a con­struc­tion com­pany to work with him as an admin­is­tra­tive assis­tant.
I pon­dered a lot about what I wanted to do for the com­ing two or three years. After vac­il­lat­ing between choices, I decided to open my own tech­nol­ogy devel­op­ment com­pany and offer my ser­vice to my peo­ple through that. Luck­ily, I had smart and tech savvy friends that I hired to work together with me in my con­sul­tant busi­ness. We are a group of about eight peo­ple and we train peo­ple to use tech­nol­ogy in their devel­op­ment projects in Afghanistan. We have a nick­name ‘Geek Squad’. We recently hired ten interns from Nan­garhar Uni­ver­sity that we are train­ing right now in using gps, GIS and other map edit­ing pro­grams and Open­StreetMap. After a cou­ple of weeks all these interns will be ready to embark on col­lect­ing gps tracks and edit the map of Nan­garhar province many of its districts.

I plan to work for a cou­ple of more years in Afghanistan gain more expe­ri­ence and then pur­sue a master’s degree in inter­na­tional devel­op­ment abroad, ide­ally in the United States.

Urinals in Afghanistan

Mar 9, 2011   //   by Hameed   //   culture, photos  //  2 Comments

When con­struc­tion does hap­pen at Nan­garhar Uni­ver­sity, it usu­ally takes place in the sum­mer months when the stu­dents and fac­ulty are on vaca­tion and there is less inter­fer­ence with classes and all that. Upon return­ing to cam­pus, there is a buzz of sur­prise among the stu­dents with each new building.

Veterinary Dept. NU

Vet­eri­nary Dept. Build­ing at Nan­ga­har University

This is the vet­eri­nary build­ing in Nan­garhar Uni­ver­sity. The funds for its con­struc­tion were pro­vided by USAID and its blue­print fol­lowed a stan­dard mold for such a build­ing, designed in the west and prob­a­bly never intended for Afghanistan.

A local con­struc­tion com­pany was hired and con­tracted to build accord­ing to the pro­vided spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Since the design of the build­ing spec­i­fied uri­nals in the bath­rooms, the local con­struc­tion com­pany built them.

The cleanest urinals in Afghanistan

As clean as all of the other uri­nals in Afghanistan.

In Islam it is pro­hib­ited to uri­nate while stand­ing. Prophet Moham­mad “pbuh” always squat­ted when he uri­nated and we do every­thing the same as he did.  The term for fol­low­ing his prac­tices and cus­toms is “Sun­nat”. So five years after the con­struc­tion of these uri­nals, they remain as clean as all the other uri­nals I have seen in Afghanistan (and the only ones I’m aware of in Nan­garhar Province.)

A few years ago, a sim­i­lar con­struc­tion mishap occurred. Another for­eign com­pany designed the dorms at NU and incor­po­rated West­ern toi­lets. The stu­dents in the dorms soon destroyed all of the toi­lets because they hap­pened to be fac­ing Mecca.

Western style toilet facing the mecca

West­ern style toi­let fac­ing Mecca.

Accord­ing to Islam, even when seated, you are not allowed to uri­nate in the direc­tion of Mecca.

The plumb­ing hole in the ground is all that remains from those toi­lets, and that is where we do our busi­ness. With a sym­met­ric round hole, it’s up to you which direc­tion to swivel.

In my opin­ion, to avoid such mis­un­der­stand­ings and oth­ers like these, for­eign­ers who work in Afghanistan could con­sult with their Afghan col­leagues in the process of imple­ment­ing any devel­op­ment projects, and give their con­trac­tors flex­i­bil­ity to push back on cul­tural issues.

My Moment of Heroism

Jan 1, 2011   //   by Hameed   //   long, Uncategorized  //  4 Comments

Morn­ing rolled around. After hav­ing break­fast with my uncle, I headed towards Jalal­abad bus sta­tion in Kabul. I sat in the rear seat of a wagon. A man with grubby clothes, long hair, dirt-caked hands, wear­ing a big baggy vest with swollen pock­ets, lines etched into his tanned face, creases framed his eyes and his mouth, came aboard and sat next to me. His face was pale and his eyes were fright­ened, like the eyes of a hunted ani­mal. In my coun­try, we hear of sui­cide attacks every­day, and the signs that the man had were all of a per­son about to com­mit a sui­cide attack on for­eign troops in our coun­try. The road I was trav­el­ing on is an impor­tant high­way which con­nects two major cities, the cap­i­tal, Kabul and the fron­tier province, Jalal­abad. For­eign sol­diers’ con­voys travel on this road frequently.

Think­ing all about these pre­mo­ni­tions, I thought that the man sit­ting next to me was sui­ci­dal tar­get­ing for­eign sol­diers. His eccen­tric­ity and talk­ing to him­self dou­bled my doubt. The man on my right looked scared and pale. We traded a blank look. I was try­ing to fake a smile, but all I could man­age was a fee­ble upturn­ing of the cor­ners of my mouth. He stared at the sus­pected man, his eyes switch­ing from him to me.

After dri­ving for thirty min­utes, we passed Mahipar Val­ley. I sat bolt upright rack­ing my brains when I remem­bered my mother who used to tell me sto­ries when I was at sev­enth grade. There was a line in one of her favorite sto­ries. She would always repeat it again and again: “cham­pi­ons are not made in the gyms; cham­pi­ons are made from some­thing they have deep inside them.” I was rolling my eyes. I asked the man on my right to roll down the win­dow for me. I made the excuse and started talk­ing to him. When I asked him about the dirty man on my left, we were on the same page (he was doubt­ful too). I couldn’t dare talk to the sus­pected man. How­ever, I hes­i­tantly shot my first ques­tion fol­lowed by another bunch. I would either get a nod or a mono­syl­labic answer which shot up my doubt.

After a few min­utes of vac­il­lat­ing from one idea to another, my eyes were sud­denly caught by an approach­ing oncom­ing con­voy of ISAF (Inter­na­tional Secu­rity Assis­tance Force) and ANA (Afghan National Army). I looked at the sus­pected sui­cide bomber. He was mov­ing from side to side look­ing at the con­voy while keep­ing one hand on his tummy mut­ter­ing some­thing with him­self. Like when some­one is dying, they repeat verses from their holy book. When I saw this, I became a hun­dred per­cent sure that the sce­nario seems to be a sui­cide attack. My Adam’s apple was bob­bing up and down. My lips had gone dry. I licked them and I found my tongue dry too.

When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal a wife’s right to a hus­band, and rob his chil­dren of a father. If you save a life, I believe in some rewards from God. So, I quickly decided to thwart the imma­nent attack and save my life along with nine other pas­sen­gers in that vehi­cle and many oth­ers outside.

First, I took a deep breath, focused all my con­cen­tra­tion and energy and then grabbed both hands of the man twisted them and turned them over to hind. I felt so strong at that moment that I attacked a thirty year old man and slumped over on his seat with my itsy bitsy body. I put my knee right up against his back. He was scream­ing and try­ing to release him­self, but he was held so tightly that he couldn’t even move. Loud Afghan Atan music with strong beats of drum and trum­pet blared from the speak­ers in the car. Since we were in the rear seat, the dri­ver couldn’t hear us, so he kept dri­ving. I was hold­ing him as long as the con­voy passed us. Finally, I searched him with my foot pre­tend­ing that I would release him. After a veneer of releas­ing, I searched him thor­oughly. There was noth­ing explo­sive to feel hard or heavy with him. His vest was stuffed with empty min­eral water bot­tles and old shop­ping bags like some­one with a psy­chi­atric problem.

After it turned out that the man was inno­cent, I was very much embar­rassed. I received punches, slaps and shoves, but I nei­ther showed any reac­tion nor cared about it. After exchang­ing a few words with him, I got to know that he had men­tal prob­lems and was psy­cho­log­i­cally unbal­anced. After a few min­utes, the man raised his hand to scratch his head. I flinched, because I thought it was another one of those slaps on my face. I was mor­ti­fied and still felt scared tinged with a lit­tle feel­ing of courage and brav­ery, but I took myself as if I had done noth­ing wrong.

My embar­rass­ment turned me a lit­tle to the right, so that the man couldn’t see me eye to eye. I faced to the pas­sen­ger on my other side. I saw a smile on his face for the first time since the begin­ning of the trip. When I talked to him, he thought that he would die with his baby-girl on that day. We rolled up to Jalal­abad city. I was about to get off the bus; the pas­sen­ger on my right addressed me with the nick­name “denar bachay”, and pat­ted me on my back. He wished me a bright future. I apol­o­gized to the sus­pected man for my mis­take and asked him if he wanted to stay with me for lunch. He accepted my apol­ogy and declined the invi­ta­tion. I got back home safe with a feel­ing of valor. That is how my trip to Kabul ended.

A Small Adventure

Jan 1, 2011   //   by Hameed   //   long, Uncategorized  //  No Comments

(Note: This is the first post by Hameed. Get used to it!)

I have an Amer­i­can friend named Jeremy. He is my Pashto lan­guage stu­dent as well. Our friend­ship is very tight, and it goes beyond the teach­ing. One day, Jeremy asked me to travel to Kabul with him because of secu­rity prob­lems and to help with trans­la­tion on the way from Jalal­abad to Kabul. I agreed to his suggestion.

It was a bright Thurs­day morn­ing of humid sum­mer, promis­ing heat, in July 2008. Every­thing was all set. We took a taxi, and rolled towards Kabul. The trip was very fun. We chitchat­ted on the way talk­ing about one topic after another. The time passed very quickly. It flew, actu­ally. We arrived in Karte-e-Char at 01:00 pm. Tom– the host wasn’t at home that time. The watch­man of his home was a friendly slightly over­weight man. Not only did he let us go in, but he helped us to carry the bags, too. We had the key to Tom’s room by hav­ing called him in advance.
We sat in the room wait­ing for the host to come. We had one taco each at the top of Mahipar Val­ley which hit the spot for an hour. I was very hun­gry and out of patience, so I asked Jeremy to call Tom if he could come so that we would have lunch together. So he did. Tom said that he couldn’t make it until 8:30 at night. My part­ner asked me if I could wait until 3:30pm for lunch. I was starv­ing, but my cul­ture didn’t let me say no, so I said, “That’s Ok, no big­gie.” Finally, it was 03:30pm and I thought it was time for lunch beyond the shadow of a doubt, when I heard my part­ner said “Hameed, can you wait for three more hours, so that we would have a big din­ner at Rose?” Suit your­self, I replied under breath. ‘What?’ he asked. As…um… as you wish, I said. Jeremy was a man who meant every word he said, but I couldn’t get over how dif­fer­ent he was that day. I missed lunch, and I had to wait for three more hours to eat din­ner. I was very shy and clumsy. I didn’t even have the guts to tell him that I was starv­ing. I waited for three hours think­ing about the Amer­i­can cul­ture, Jeremy, and how he could sur­vive with one taco for twelve hours. I would yawn and steal looks at my wrist-watch three con­sec­u­tive hours. I felt like a fish out of water.

Even­tu­ally, it was seven in the evening. My abdomen began to give low-battery warn­ing by mak­ing funny sounds. Jeremy prob­a­bly heard it. Then he had to take me out to chow down. We entered this west­ern style restau­rant, Rose and had a big meal there. We returned home around 8:30pm. Tom had still not come home. He didn’t come until 9:30. He was a very chummy young man and had a bub­bly per­son­al­ity. He brewed us some tea right after he came to sound very Afghan and good host. We hung out deep into the night.

Morn­ing came. Andrew, a friendly man in the neigh­bor­hood, invited us for break­fast. After the break­fast, I said good­bye to them. Then, I went to visit an aunt of mine in Kabul. Next, as the day was end­ing and it was get­ting darker and darker, I stayed at my uncle, Qasim’s home for the night. My uncle and his two chil­dren had just got­ten their visas to Amer­ica. Uncle Qasim was extremely happy and he was telling me about their planned immi­gra­tion to the U.S.

con­tin­ued reading …

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