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Links

Dec 29, 2010   //   by peretz   //   links  //  No Comments

This has floated across my link­space over the past week:

  • Pajh­wok News — a local Afghan run news ser­vice, recently signed con­tract to pro­vide video and pho­tos to CNN.
  • How to write about Afghanistan — amus­ing read­ing. (Thanks Ben Atlas!)  I guess we have to study it harder, since we’re fail­ing so far.
  • Jim Gant: the Green Beret who could win the war in Afghanistan — inspired reading.
  • Kuchi, Afghan Nomads — Megan has been called a Kuchi, in par­tic­u­lar by one enthu­si­as­tic boy.  Sup­pos­edly since the Kuchi wan­der great dis­tances in remote places, they are pro­fi­cient smug­glers.  A Kuchi tribe has cur­rently taken up win­ter res­i­dence in Jalal­abad (a tem­per­ate lower val­ley).  There is a Kuchi out­post right across the street.  Dave says I shouldn’t peer in with binoc­u­lars.  “That’s the kind of thing that will get you shot.”
  • The Kuchi peo­ple have Kuchi Dogs which come in Sub-variants like: mountain-type, lion-type, tiger-type.   Last line in Wikipedia arti­cle cau­tions: “They are still a very prim­i­tive breed; per­haps not suited to gen­tle soci­ety.”  Then again, you can get them in the Bay Area.
  • Pash­tun Dances: Attan — spin­ning sim­i­lar to whirling Dervishes, and Khat­tak.  I’m sure some­one some­where has ana­lyzed the sim­i­lar­i­ties of var­i­ous spin­ning dances, such as Lezkinka of the Cau­cus, the Dervishes, or stick dances of the Tharu, etc.
  • I find this pecu­liar —> The­ory of Pash­tun Descent from Israel:
    Israel is plan­ning to fund this rare genetic study to deter­mine whether there is a link between the lost tribes of Israel and the Pash­tuns. (Wikipedia)

    “Of all the groups, there is more con­vinc­ing evi­dence about the Pash­tuns than any­body else, but the Pash­tuns are the ones who would reject Israel most fero­ciously. That is the sweet irony.“
    Shalva Weil, anthro­pol­o­gist and senior researcher at the Hebrew Uni­ver­sity of Jerusalem

  • The Extreme Tourist — Aus­tralian Travel Show about Afghanistan.  One of our con­tacts here in Jalal­abad has worked as the local fixer for the show.
  • NYT Video: Ashura in Afghanistan — Kabul’s annual Ashura fes­ti­val, in which Shi­ite Mus­lims whip them­selves to the point of blood, reflects new free­doms and old tra­di­tions in today’s Afghanistan.
  • Graphic Pho­tos of the same event —“Muhar­ram is the first month of the Islamic cal­en­dar. It is one of the four sacred months of the year in which fight­ing is pro­hib­ited… [I guess the alter­na­tive is to focus agres­sion inward.] The tenth day of Muhar­ram is called Yaumu-l ‘Ashu­rah, which is known by Shia Mus­lims as ‘the day of grief’. On this day the death of Imam Hues­sein, grand­son of Prophet Moham­mad, is mourned. He was killed in the 7th cen­tury bat­tle of Kerbala.”
  • A friend in Kabul told us about the best place to get the down­low of social hap­pen­ings about town. He had for­got­ten the name of the site, so he called a friend. Can you guess what it is? Couch­Surf­ing Group Afghanistan. I’ve been impressed by CS in the past, say by how many couches are on offer in Iran, but I had not until that point con­sid­ered surf­ing in Afghanistan ;) Have a look for yourself.
  • Glossary

    Dec 28, 2010   //   by peretz   //   terms  //  9 Comments

    Terms picked up along the way:

  • ISAF - Inter­na­tional Secu­rity Assis­tance Force is what the US-led NATO coali­tion forces are called in Afghanistan.
  • Com­mVoid — of as in, “Sorry, I didn’t hang up, we got Com­mVoid!”  Because many IEDs are trig­gered by cell­phone, ISAF and UN con­voys fre­quently travel with cell­phone jam­mers cre­at­ing a communi­ca­tion void in their vicin­ity.  As I have been informed by peo­ple who have expe­ri­ence with such things, the most dan­ger­ous place to drive is at the bound­ary of such a jam­mer bub­ble.  If the cell­phone is being used to trig­ger an IED in the road, once the con­voy passes, it goes boom.
  • Money is Expired — as in, “sorry, this money (old style 20$ bill) is expired.  We can only exchange it for 700 rather than 900 Afs (short for Afgha­nis, the local currency).”
  • Eye in the Sky — A high-tech sur­veil­lance bal­loon that flies in the skys of Kabul.  It is fre­quently down for repairs (as fre­quently as it is shot at.)  Locals believe it’s peer­ing eye can see them inside their homes.   Who knows, maybe it can?
  • The Wire — as in “Out­side the Wire, Inside the Loop” the tagline of an infor­ma­tive blog about Afghanistan by Tim Lynch, a fre­quent guest at the Taj. The Wire refers to the barbed wire that sur­rounds bases where sol­diers oper­ate and clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion dom­i­nates. It serves as much to pro­tect those within as it does to pre­vent them from accu­rately see­ing the sit­u­a­tion out­side.  Iron­i­cally, it’s own kind of veil and many inside the wire feel restricted and cooped up.
  • Pornol­ogy — as in what you are not sup­posed to be brows­ing on the internet.
  • Music Party — as in, if we have a first born boy, we’ll have a music party and many peo­ple will come.  If it’s a girl, we’ll have just a food party and not invite as many peo­ple.  Maybe you are the kind of peo­ple that will have a music party even if it’s a girl?

  • The Eye in the Sky is the large white object in this photo:

    IMG_4268.jpg


    It’s dusty here, and late. I’m going to use a Neti Pot to clear out my sinuses and try to catch some sleep.

    Afghan National Dresses

    Dec 27, 2010   //   by peretz   //   photos  //  6 Comments

    I found this scanned cal­en­dar of Ari­ana Afghan Air­lines from 1973 and am repost­ing here.

    Click­ing on an image will bring up a light­box. Then you have to click on the sides of the light­box to pan around.


    And you should take a look at this photo series from For­eign Pol­icy Mag­a­zine, which will totally blow your per­cep­tion of Afghanistan’s recent past:

    Biology Class in Kabul University - 1960s

    - Biol­ogy Class in Kabul Uni­ver­sity, circa 1960s

    What’s NORMAL anyway?

    Dec 26, 2010   //   by peretz   //   long  //  2 Comments

    Words are pow­er­ful.  You read them and they paint a picture.

    The prob­lem is, some things are hard to describe, our con­texts are too dif­fer­ent. Humans have an amaz­ing capac­ity to adapt, and we have already adapted.

    You’ve seen some pic­tures and some videos.  We’ll keep those coming.

    Once a week, I’ll try to write a longer post.  Lou and I have been here a week now and it’s time to share more fully.

    It’s chal­leng­ing to back­track this process of adap­ta­tion, but nec­es­sary, so that future writ­ings will make sense from this shared context.

    Afghanistan is a land of walled off com­pounds with no incen­tive to out­wardly adver­tise what lays within.  Things hap­pen behind large walls, and often sev­eral tiers of walls.  Going some­where, is often a process of exit­ing one com­pound, quickly and qui­etly mov­ing to the next.

    To begin with — the air­port.  We land, rough land­ing, the plane almost bounces on the tar­mac.  We’re dri­ven to the gate to col­lect our bags.  We’ve got con­tra­band — alco­hol, good as gold in an Islamic coun­try.  We try to take advan­tage of the com­mo­tion, stack our bags densely behind a group bring­ing in a large load of boxes, whisk them away quickly, before the cus­toms guards learn to care.  We’re clear.  We’re here. Where?

    I don’t know.  Afghanistan for sure, but what is this place?

    The sec­ond tier of secu­rity seem to spend more time figh­ing with each other than pay­ing atten­tion to us, punch­ing each other, scream­ing at each other.

    Cars don’t pull up to the ter­mi­nal.  You walk.  Todd knows the way, Lou and I fol­low. Through one bar­ri­cade of stone walls and barbed wire, then another.  We see a park­ing lot of cars.This isn’t for us.  They are armored.  A lot of the NGOs hire Land Cruis­ers with B6 grade armor to bring their employ­ees home.

    We walk through another gate.  We walk past Soviet con­tain­ers turned into office.  We walk through what looks like an aban­doned bus ter­mi­nal.  It’s dark and empty.

    At last, we are in the civil­ian lot.  A few cab dri­vers are fight­ing with each other.  It seems like the issue is who got there first and who will leave first with a pas­sen­ger.  A younger one shoves an older cab dri­ver away.

    Todd has called a car for us.  “Zuhak, we’re here and wait­ing for you.”  Zuhak is one of the mid­dle tier car ser­vice com­pa­nies and Todd likes them for their rec­og­niz­abil­ity – red Toy­ota Corol­las, all 9 dri­vers are cousins — and also their abil­ity to blend into the traf­fic — most cars are Toy­ota Corol­las.  “We’re less of a tar­get that way.”

    We maneu­ver out of the lot weav­ing through bar­ri­cades set up to slow traf­fic down and make the air­port defen­si­ble when nec­es­sary.  We stop for a car­a­van trav­el­ing quickly, armored camoflauges Lan­drovers, sirens blaring.

    Traf­fic is tense.  Every inch is eaten up imme­di­ately by any vehi­cle in a posi­tion to do so.  It doesn’t mat­ter what direc­tion it’s head­ing in, even if it’s oppo­site the direc­tion of traf­fic.  Dri­ving is a per­pet­ual game of Chicken. Larger vehi­cles have less to lose.  Smaller vehi­cles can con­sume smaller gaps. I am con­vinced we’re going to get hit a few times (even­tu­ally we did).  There are sewer ruts on either side of the road.  We get so close, I am con­vinced we’re going to fall in.  (We see oth­ers who have.) It’s off road­ing in the mid­dle of the city.  We pass a check­point and Todd says, “We’re home.”

    Masked gun­men approach our car and peer in inquis­i­tively.  “Hello my friend. Are there any rooms avail­able?” What rooms.  We’re in a dark alley.  Sand­bags are pilled high in the form of a bunker.  It is a bunker!   The ratio of guns to humans is upset only by the fact that we don’t have any.

    They return Todd’s friend­ly­ness with a smile, Salaam Alekum.  Come in.

    The entrance is designed like canal locks. The door behind locks you into a small steel cham­ber.  If you’re favor­ably assessed, the next door is opened.  A few iter­a­tions of this and we are in a lobby.  A nice lobby. Wel­come Sir, says a host­ess from the Phillipines.

    ***

    My weak­ness is writ­ing long blog posts, and often leav­ing them unfin­ished.  I’ll cure myself this go around, and wind down with some anecdotes.

    Among the ex-pats there is a stunted social scene in Kabul.  In an amus­ing regard, it’s like high school, every NGO has their own cur­few, it’s own set of rules where they can and can­not go, and what chap­er­ons (read “armed guards”) need to accom­pany you.  Sleep overs are com­pli­cated. You have to clear it in advance with your guest-house man­ager.  (Every NGO has their own guest-house and some are under such strict lock down that they have to bribe peo­ple to come visit.)  Sol­diers, for the most part, live inside an even more secluded bubble.

    Nev­er­the­less, some estab­lish­ments thrive in this envi­ron­ment.  One reminds me of Casablanca, cash only, crisp bills, no credit, locals aren’t allowed in (where alco­hol is served), the owner has the final word.  Con­trac­tors and sub-contractors, NGO employ­ees, jour­nal­ists and thrill seek­ers spend their evenings over­pay­ing for booze inhal­ing the thick air full of smoke from cig­a­rettes and wood fires.

    When we are frisked within the chan­nel locks, “No guns no knives?”  Do many guests have guns and knives when they come in?  The guard replies, “The smart ones.”  There are cub­bies for this pur­pose, to check your weapons before you enter the bar.

    It’s now the hol­i­day sea­son in the West.  Many local ex-pats are tak­ing their vacata­tion, fly­ing back home, “back to the real world tomor­row.”  But isn’t this the real world also, I say to guy who has been work­ing for DAI.

    The real world for me is when my daugh­ter tells me to turn the light out when I leave the room.  Over here, we’re always run­ning on gen­er­a­tors and they’ll use the same amount of fuel regard­less, plus we’re told not to alter the power load too much by flip­ping light switches on and off.”  And that’s just the beginning.

    Get­ting into a car, a local tells our friend Megan, “Don’t buckle up.  It’s dan­ger­ous.”  Another adds, “well, it’s com­pli­cated.  If we roll the car, or get into a high speed acci­dent, it would have been bet­ter to be buck­led.  If we hit an IED, it’s bet­ter to be unbuck­led and have the door open. That way, it may blow you clear.”  A spe­cial forces guy inter­jects that his tech­nique is to buckle the bot­tom but put the chest strap behind the back, and men­tally review the way to climb out of that posi­tion.  “It’s com­pli­cated either way.  You got to make your own decisions.”

    Turkey Slaughter

    Dec 25, 2010   //   by peretz   //   videos  //  6 Comments

    We went shop­ping for Christ­mas din­ner in the bazar. Todd (Huff­man) had in mind to get a turkey and our dri­ver helped us find one. The bird was dis­as­sem­bled in front of our eyes.

    Explosively Sweet

    Dec 22, 2010   //   by peretz   //   photos  //  No Comments

    Explosively Sweet

    The Russians are coming.

    Dec 20, 2010   //   by peretz   //   Uncategorized  //  1 Comment

    In the 80s I was a lit­tle boy grow­ing up in the Soviet Union and everyone’s older brother was either going or busy­ing them­selves about how to get out of going to Afghanistan. Mil­i­tary ser­vice was manda­tory. If you didn’t study hard and get into uni­ver­sity, the gov­ern­ment had an alter­na­tive edu­ca­tion in mind for you.

    Study hard so you will go to uni­ver­sity,” the teach­ers warned us, “so you will not die in Afghanistan.”

    Hamid was our taxi dri­ver from Kabul air­port. I asked him what he recalled of the Soviet Occu­pa­tion. He was 12 dur­ing the inva­sion. He said he liked the Rus­sians because they were friendly. They would wave to the kids and let them climb aboard their tanks. Hamid knew that if he brought a lit­tle ball of hashish to the sol­diers, he would get some­thing pleas­ant in return. The Amer­i­cans, in con­trast, raise their weapons if you are within 100m and yell at you not to come nearer. It’s like they want noth­ing to do with you.

    Today, I asked Dinesh what com­mon peo­ple in Afghanistan thought of Rus­sians. ”The com­mon peo­ple do not like the Rus­sians. The peo­ple of Kabul do not like them less. But I can tell you more. Now, the com­mon peo­ple do not like the Amer­i­cans.” Then Todd said that I was both Russ­ian and Amer­i­can. Dinesh turned to me and held my hand, “but we can love you.”

    Afghan War Rug

    Dec 19, 2010   //   by peretz   //   Uncategorized  //  No Comments

    In a coun­try where most peo­ple are illit­er­ate, the tapes­try of his­tory is woven into the rugs.

    FabFi — FabLab Jalalabad

    Dec 17, 2010   //   by peretz   //   Uncategorized  //  No Comments

    Meet the home­made FabFi mesh network.

    We are bring­ing some indus­trial equip­ment to replace the most used edges on the network.

    (bonus if you can spot the geo­graph­i­cal error in the pow­er­point presentation.)

    Mullah Todd

    Dec 17, 2010   //   by peretz   //   Uncategorized  //  No Comments

    This is Todd Huff­man, our house­mate in San Fran­cisco and host in Jalal­abad.

    Mulla Todd spent Spring Break work­ing with some of the boys in the FabLab on all sorts of high tech stuff. The boys gave him the “Mulla” han­dle because of the long chin whiskers which all the locals never fail to com­ment on. He’s like a rock star in the Bazaar down­town. (via Free Range Inter­na­tional » One Step For­ward Two Steps Back)

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