Browsing articles by "LouBu | Jalalagood"

Entering the FOB

Mar 18, 2011   //   by LouBu   //   culture, military  //  6 Comments

If you search for Jalal­abad on googlemaps only one road shows up, Hwy A01, the Asian High­way, a.k.a. Kab­ul-Jalal­abad-Torkham High­way.  That road is the main drag of Jalal­abad City, sport­ing twoish lanes of traf­fic flow­ing each direc­tion, packed with tuk­tuks, motor­bikes, don­keys, track­tors and toy­ota corol­las, all jam­ming for space.

The main US army base in our region is FOB Fen­ty, locat­ed on the east­ern edge of Jalal­abad City. It’s a well-estab­lished base that’s been around for many years.  It’s main gate direct­ly opens onto the High­way.  Part of the secu­ri­ty pro­to­col for han­dling entrances and exits to the base requires clear­ing the road in both direc­tions for about 100 feet to pre­vent any oppor­tunis­tic assaults. This tends to make for inter­est­ing traf­fic jams:

Jbad Traffic Jam
The main gate to the base is a 20 foot wide steel door with a large guard post on one side. Parked behind the steel door is an MRAP to fur­ther block the door should any one attempt to smash through it.

If any vehi­cle, includ­ing MRAPs, ANA pick up trucks, sup­ply con­voys, or per­son­al cars pull up to the gate to enter the base, pro­to­col requires that the area around the gate must be secure before it can be opened. This entails a dozen ful­ly armed sol­diers dis­pers­ing into the road and stop­ping traf­fic 100 feet back from the gate going both direc­tions. Only once all the traf­fic on the main road in Jalal­abad has been ground to a halt, can the secu­ri­ty MRAP be backed up to allow the gate to open, and the vehi­cle to enter. Once the vehi­cle is safe­ty in, the gate is closed,  the MRAP has been dri­ven back into place, then traf­fic can start flow­ing again.

Imag­ine if a high­way you drove between home and work was inter­mit­tent­ly blocked in both direc­tions by guys curs­ing at you in a for­eign lan­guage, “stop,  stay the fuck back” while point­ing rifles in your face and occa­sion­al­ly fir­ing warn­ing shots.

How is this set up sup­posed to win the “hearts and mind­s” of the Afghan people?

The secu­ri­ty pro­ce­dures make sense as the base is often a tar­get of attacks, but after years of this may­hem maybe the army should think about mov­ing this heav­i­ly traf­ficked, high­ly secure entry­way onto a side street, per­haps off the major high­way run­ning through town.


Etymological Weaponry

Mar 10, 2011   //   by LouBu   //   military, photos, terms  //  1 Comment

Two rep­re­sen­ta­tive sym­bols of Afghanistan, grenades and pome­gran­ates, come from the same ety­mo­log­i­cal root. We dis­cov­ered yes­ter­day that the word “grenade” is tak­en from the French “pome-grenate.” French sol­diers gave the hand­held explo­sives their name because they looked like the seed­ed fruits, both in their round shape topped with a crown, and in their inner work­ings con­sist­ing of lots of small seeds, prepped for activation.  We keep a stock of both at the Taj.


Mean­while, “RPG” is usu­al­ly miss-trans­lat­ed as “rock­et pro­pelled grenade.” Its a mem­o­rable term that fits the let­ters and sounds like it could be right, but isn’t. Here the Sovi­ets can claim ori­gin as the let­ters actu­al­ly orig­i­nate from ручной противотанковый гранатомёт, mean­ing “hand-held, anti-tank, grenade launch­er.” It’s not quite as catchy in Eng­lish because “HHATGL” does­n’t have the same ring as “RPG”, so we’ve adopt­ed the acronym while mak­ing up a handy sub­sti­tute for the let­ters. Plus, “rock­et pro­pelled” sounds bad ass.

Of Lions and Horses in the Panshir

Feb 23, 2011   //   by LouBu   //   culture, long, photos, videos  //  4 Comments

Last Fri­day morn­ing we head­ed off at first light from the mud­dy streets of Kab­ul. We wound our way north, past Bagram, where ISAF is head­quar­tered, and took a sharp turn east in the vil­lage of Jebal Ser­aj. We’d decid­ed to take a day long pil­grim­age, of sorts, to the tomb of Ahmad Shah Masoud. His grave lies deep his home­land of the Pan­shir Val­ley which he so famous­ly defend­ed against the long and ardu­ous Sovi­et attack.

View From a Tank
Masoud is arguably Afghanistan’s biggest hero. Through­out Afghanistan his pic­ture is dis­played in car win­dows, post­ed on build­ings, or memo­ri­al­ized in woven blan­kets. The day he was assas­si­nat­ed, Sep­tem­ber 9, 2001, by sus­pect­ed Al Qae­da agents pos­ing as jour­nal­ists, is a nation­al hol­i­day. He earned his title “The Lion of the Pan­shir” defend­ing his home turf from the Sovi­ets dur­ing the attacks of the 1980s. Lions are intrin­si­cal­ly part of Pan­shir cul­ture. The word itself means “Five Lion­s” and we saw elec­tion posters for a can­di­date whose sym­bol was four of the majes­tic beasts. (Each can­di­date is “randomly assigned” a visu­al sym­bol so illit­er­ate peo­ple can rec­og­nize their can­di­date on the bal­lot. It’s well known that with the right funds and con­nec­tions it is pos­si­ble to influ­ence on this “random assignment.” One polit­i­cal par­ty paid for all of its can­di­dates in dif­fer­ent races to have apples for icons, to present uni­for­mi­ty to its illit­er­ate supporters.)

Dur­ing the Sovi­et inva­sion of the 1980’s the Lion of the Pan­shir and his mujahideen fight­ers would descend from the val­ley, attack the Sovi­et sup­ply chains head­ing across the Salang pass to Kab­ul, and retreat with their stolen booty. The Sovi­ets tried to dis­lodge him from the val­ley in ten sep­a­rate offen­sive attacks. All of them failed.

When the com­mu­nists fell from pow­er Masoud served in the mujahideen gov­ern­ment as Min­is­ter of Defense for the few years before the Tal­iban took pow­er. He then retreat­ed back to his val­ley, from where he con­tin­ued fight­ing the Tal­iban, (until the bomb hid­den in the dis­guised jour­nal­ists’ cam­era made him a mar­tyr.) When he died he was the leader of the North­ern Alliance, or the Unit­ed Islam­ic Front-an unprece­dent­ed mul­ti-eth­nic group of lead­ers who fought against the Tal­iban gov­ern­ment and, once the US began car­pet bomb­ing post Sep­tem­ber 11, took con­trol of Afghanistan.

The Chief of Martyrdom's Hill
In 2002 Mosoud was post humous­ly nom­i­nat­ed for a Nobel Peace Prize. (How­ev­er, the prize can only be award­ed to a liv­ing per­son.) He was buried 30 km from the entrance to the val­ley, near the vil­lage that was his home. Orig­i­nal­ly it was a plain, sim­ple grave on a large prom­e­nade over­look­ing the val­ley, but recent­ly a mas­sive mar­ble struc­ture has been erect­ed over the grave, with plans already in con­struc­tion to add a large mosque and build­ing com­plex to the site.

Masoud Monilith
This was our ini­tial des­ti­na­tion as we made our way up the val­ley, dri­ving along­side the Pan­shir riv­er, stop­ping to climb around in the rust­ed shells of dis­card­ed tanks and heli­copters, until we reached the hill­side crest­ed with the mar­ble mono­lith. We paid our respects to the great hero, along side with a steady stream of oth­ers, local and vis­i­tors, who often stopped to pray at the holy grave site.

Taliban Seal
The path approach­ing the site was lined with a vari­ety of Sovi­et armored vehi­cles, some spray paint­ed with the Taliban’s sym­bol (were they cap­tured as Pan­shiri loot dur­ing a bat­tle 15 years ago?). A few bees had tak­en up res­i­dence behind the screen of one of the instru­ment pan­els, cre­at­ing a clus­ter of per­fect­ly geo­met­ri­cal cells, whose inhab­i­tants and mak­ers were now frozen to death by the chilly win­ter. Beyond the high prom­e­nade, fields spread out across the val­ley, sewn with snow.

Fields of snow
As we climbed around the rusty met­al, the wind whipped falling snow at us prim­ing us for some hot tea, so we went in search of a chai­hana. As we drove up the val­ley we stopped to ask men wrapped in green Uzbek robes, hud­dled against the cold, where we might be able to get some chai and a bite to eat. “Fifteen min­utes up the road” seemed to be the stan­dard response. After a few incar­na­tions of this, the road final­ly passed through a tiny town cen­ter, com­plete with a mosque, a few stores, and exact­ly one place to get food.

We stomped in and hud­dled near the fire they lit for us. After real­iz­ing all they had was beef broth and tea, so Najib took charge and sent the employ­ees to the bazar for sup­plies and then end­ed up cook­ing up the meal him­self. I’ve encoun­tered few restau­rants where you bring your own food and cook for yourself.

Najib gives the thumbs up

Grate­ful to be out of the car and out of the cold, we relaxed on the raised wood­en plat­form cov­ered in car­pets. The oth­er patron across the way start­ed chat­ting with us. We learned from him that every Fri­day in win­ter the vil­lage played Buzkashi on a field just down the street. They were now on a break for prayer, but would resume the game in an hour. He invit­ed us to come watch.

Buzkashi is the nation­al sport of Afghanistan. It’s a win­ter sport, played on hors­es, some­what like polo. Two teams com­pete to grab a dead goat and trans­port it across a field into one of two goal cir­cles. Usu­al­ly two vil­lages com­pete against one anoth­er and there are cash prizes for the play­ers who score goals.

The match we saw was played in a large field of mud and snow. A clump of play­ers reared their mounts, smash­ing and push­ing one anoth­er in attempts to reach down and scoop the 36 kilo dead goat off the ground. Many of the play­ers wore Sovi­et tanker hats. When asked how they acquired their head­gear they answered “We took them from the Rus­sians we killed.” Four hats per tank, hun­dreds of tanks, you do the math. As they kicked and whipped and pushed, the hors­es’ and play­er­s’ legs alike were cov­ered in mud­dy brown slush and the goat was inde­ci­pher­able from a bag of mud.


And so we spent the after­noon hud­dled against the cold with the entire pop­u­la­tion of a small Pan­shir Vil­lage, watch­ing hors­es and men fight each oth­er to car­ry a dead goat across the valley.

Epi­logue: On our jour­ney home we stopped to watch some kids shoot snow­balls across a field using a long sling­shot appa­ra­tus. When they real­ized I was video­tap­ing they quick­ly pushed their ace sling­shot­ter for­ward, encour­ag­ing him to dis­play his tal­ent. They then taught Peretz how to shoot, applaud­ing his efforts. His num­ber two shot earned him much whasta.


Downed Helicopter

Tile Porn

Feb 16, 2011   //   by LouBu   //   culture, photos  //  3 Comments

Pre­sent­ed here for your visu­al enter­tain­ment and aes­thet­ic enlight­en­ment are images from Her­at’s Fri­day Mosque, one of the gems of Islam­ic Architecture.
Entrance Courtyard

Squares and Teardrops

Color Explosion

Orange Starburst

Traffic fLaws

Feb 2, 2011   //   by LouBu   //   culture, long, photos  //  1 Comment

Osten­si­bly, in Afghanistan, traf­fic dri­ves on the right hand side of the road. How­ev­er, this rule is lenient­ly applied. In Afghanistan the road is used for dri­ving, and if the left hand side of the road is open, a dri­ver will take it.  Today while cruis­ing down the lane of oppos­ing traf­fic, we had to edge back into the reg­u­lar flow to pass a check­point. The guard was angry.

“Why were dri­ving on the oth­er side of the street??” He demand­ed, accord­ing to Najib’s translation.

“What did you tell him?” I asked.

“That I had for­eign guests in the car! [Refer­ring to us]” Was the answer.

I saw one dri­ver in Kab­ul even dri­ve up onto the side­walk. No small com­mit­ment because the street is sep­a­rat­ed from it by a 2 foot deep ditch so he’d have to dri­ve the length of the city block before get­ting back. Still, the road was full of cars honk­ing but the side­walk only had pedes­tri­ans on it- and they learn quick­ly to get out of the way.

Jalalabad Road

Crane recov­ers fall­en truck on Kab­ul High­way. (Tod­d’s photo)

With all this chaos you’d think that there would be lots of acci­dents. And you’d be very right. The road from Kab­ul to Jalal­abad winds down gorges for miles before open­ing up into the plains of Nan­garhar. This is where 16,000 British Troops and their fam­i­lies were noto­ri­ous­ly slaugh­tered in their retreat from Kab­ul in 1842. One lone sur­vivor, Dr. Bry­don, made it out of the val­ley to Jalal­abad. As the sto­ry goes, the Afghans let him sur­vive so some­one could tell the tale. Mean­while, today the gorge is not dan­ger­ous because of IEDs or Afghans shoot­ing from the hills but because of hor­ri­ble dri­ving. Dr. Baz Moham­mad, the direc­tor of the Pub­lic Hos­pi­tal told me that in this year already there have been 1400 acci­dents and 300 deaths on that road. He knows because many of the patients treat­ed at his hos­pi­tal are vic­tims of those crash­es. (The Afghan cal­en­dar starts on the Ver­nal Equinox, and so these fig­ures cov­er 9 months of acci­dents, not just 1.)

The main road in the city of Jalal­abad has a divider down the mid­dle of it, in a futile attempt to keep traf­fic on its own side of the road. Often it works, but it’s cer­tain­ly not uncom­mon to see a vehi­cle dri­ving the wrong way on your side of the bar­ri­er. They’re com­mit­ting to dri­ving against traf­fic, act­ing on the assump­tion that traf­fic flow­ing against them will all spot them in time to swerve around their oncom­ing car.

Inefficient Traffic Cop

There are no road signs in Jalal­abad. Dri­vers indi­cate they are pass­ing by honk­ing loud­ly. No on uses left or right blink­ers as turn signals, but it is local­ly under­stood that flash­ing your blink­ers means you plan on hurtling straight through an inter­sec­tion, regard­less of oncom­ing traf­fic. The only street­lights in the city are found at one par­tic­u­lar­ly busy traf­fic cir­cle in the mid­dle of town. They aren’t pow­ered. Instead, a cop with a shrill whis­tle and a stop sign the size of small din­er plate stands in front of the lights, wav­ing his sign men­ac­ing­ly while being thor­ough­ly ignored by the cars fight­ing to get by. Round­abouts are com­mon here, and dri­vers usu­al­ly go the same way around them. Not always.

directing traffic

Tak­ing a turn, espe­cial­ly a left-hand one, is not for the over­ly car­i­ous. Cars will not let you turn unless you give them no oth­er option. The only way you’ll be let into the flow of traf­fic on a busy street is if you get the hood of your corol­la nosed in far enough that cars can’t swerve around it. The rule of the road is that you nev­er give up space to any­one if you can’t help it. This includes budg­ing an inch for the army truck with 4 men hold­ing AKs in the back try­ing to wedge its way into traf­fic. No excep­tions giv­en. When we rid­ing in the Teach­ing Hospital’s Ambu­lance (they sent it to the Taj for our ride) its dri­ver turned on the siren in a vain attempt to push faster through traf­fic. The siren had lit­tle effect. It could bare­ly be heard above the honk­ing of horns, not that peo­ple would have heed­ed it if it had been louder.

5 lanes of traffic

Five lanes of traf­fic? This is a two way road with one lane in either direction.

Park­ing is also hap­haz­ard. There aren’t real­ly park­ing spots down­town so much as there are gaps between food carts where you can stash your car for a while. The cops, Mehrab told me, don’t give tick­ets because “no one would pay them.” Instead, they go around with a screw­driv­er and take the license plate of cars parked “illegally.” (The vast major­i­ty of parked cars here would qual­i­fy as this in Amer­i­ca.) That way, dri­vers have to go to the police sta­tion and pay to get their license plate back. The fee is nom­i­nal, but the has­sle of hav­ing to pick it up is sup­posed to deter.

Oregon Plates

Most cars are bought on auc­tion in Amer­i­ca (after hav­ing been totaled) import­ed and repaired. You often see plates from CA, MA, TX, and even from Canada.

The odd­est acci­dent I’ve almost got­ten into involved a van div­ing in front of us whose wheel popped com­plete­ly off the vehi­cle. Maybe the nuts weren’t tight­ened, oth­er­wise they were rust­ed com­plete­ly through because the whole tire with its wheel popped off the axle and flew across the road, into oncom­ing traf­fic, smashed into the front of a car going the oth­er way, and ric­o­cheted back into our lane. Najib slammed on the brakes as the tire bounced across the road in front of us. Mean­while the dri­ver of the van had man­aged to keep con­trol and pull it over to the side, undam­aged if you don’t count the miss­ing tire.  The car that took the brunt of the tire seemed to have a smashed front light, but lit­tle oth­er dam­aged. And we cruised between the two stopped vehi­cles, head­ing into town.

Guns and Welding

Jan 20, 2011   //   by LouBu   //   Uncategorized  //  2 Comments

I was play­ing around with my stick weld­ing skills when I attract­ed the inter­est of one of our secu­ri­ty guards. He wan­dered up, try­ing to look non­cha­lant, to check out what I was doing that was mak­ing so many sparks.  I showed him the sec­tion of an ammo case lid where I had ground off the paint and was prac­tic­ing lay­ing welds.

When he saw I also had a 40mm bul­let cas­ing, then he got real­ly excit­ed. He pulled out a clip of live ammu­ni­tion from his cam­mo vest and took an AK round out to ask, through ges­tures and hand sig­nals if what I had was also a bul­let. I nod­ded in agree­ment and he was hooked. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the bul­let cas­ing turned out to be alu­minum not steel, but I had acquired my first student.

Mean­while, dur­ing our bul­let exchange, Mustafa, the “house com­man­der” joined us. Not want­i­ng to be left out of the fun he picked up my angle grinder and ges­tured how he should use it, look­ing to me for a nod of assent. I showed him where the but­ton was and next thing I knew the two guards were grind­ing all the paint off of my ammo case, prep­ping it beau­ti­ful­ly for lots of weld­ing prac­tice. If we got those two guards into the Boxshop, all our FLG grind­ing prob­lems would be over. They worked the thing metic­u­lous­ly, get­ting at every scrap of green paint until the thing shone.

And that’s how I came to teach two Afghan men with very large guns who speak absolute­ly no Eng­lish how to stick weld. We’ve arranged for les­son two tomor­row, inshal­lah, as they say here.

Ladies Night…. Or Afternoon

Jan 15, 2011   //   by LouBu   //   long, photos  //  2 Comments

The park in Jalal­abad is, like so many oth­er pub­lic venues, open to men only. How­ev­er, Wednes­day is spe­cial. Wednes­day is Ladies Day.

So Jenn, Kel­lie and I decid­ed to take a soc­cer ball and spend a few hours hang­ing out in the park with the Ladies of Jalal­abad. The park is sur­round by tall walls, shield­ing it from the views of passers­by and the entrance is guard­ed, per usu­al, by a young man in fatigues hold­ing an AK-47. He gave us a nod of approval and we slipped through the gate to the oth­er side.

Women on the streets of Jalal­abad move quick­ly and pur­pose­ful­ly from one des­ti­na­tion from the next, cov­ered in sky blue burqas. They don’t linger on the streets with the men. If lucky you may catch glimpses of red or pur­ple pants or a spark­ly dress under the burqa’s cloak, but women are large­ly anony­mous, cov­ered crea­tures in public.

How­ev­er, the park on Ladies day, safe from the eyes of men, is an out­let. An oppor­tu­ni­ty for girls and women to enjoy being out­side, uncov­ered, large­ly free. They sat in clus­ters and groups, burqas cast aside, dressed in bright col­ors with heavy lay­ers of kohl and lip­stick paint­ed on. I have no way of know­ing if they always are so done up or if the park was an excuse to real­ly dress up, but the gold­en fields of parched grass were cov­ered in the sat­u­rat­ed greens, pinks, reds and pur­ples of the tunics and head­scarves of these women.

Afghan Lady

While their moth­ers and old­er sis­ters sat in the grass, pic­nick­ing and drink­ing tea, hordes of chil­dren ran around, scream­ing, play­ing, and fight­ing with one anoth­er. When Kel­lie, Jenn and I start­ing kick­ing a soc­cer ball around and invit­ed some kids to join us we near­ly start­ed a riot as the clus­ter of kids raced after the ball.

Boys playing soccer

The kids also love hav­ing their pho­tos tak­en. The boys espe­cial­ly will preen and strut in front of my lens, try­ing on dif­fer­ent pos­es and ham­ming it up. The girls bring for­ward their baby broth­ers for pho­to ops, their way of try­ing to get cap­tured on film. They’ve been taught they shouldn’t have their pho­to tak­en, but if it hap­pens that they are hold­ing a baby who is being pho­tographed and they make it into the shot…..

Afghan Kids_1

Afghan Kids_4

As we were obvi­ous­ly not Afghans, we gar­nered lots of atten­tion, not only for our soc­cer ball and cam­eras. Young women fre­quent­ly approached us, chat­ter­ing away in Pash­to, not car­ing that we had no clue what they were say­ing. They showed us their babies, offered us tea, and ges­tured emphat­i­cal­ly to get points across that were thor­ough­ly opaque to us. Smiles abound­ed and we nod­ded enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly, not know­ing what we were agree­ing with.

A few men are allowed in the park- they run the food stalls and the pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dio in one cor­ner. For some rea­son this arrange­ment is under­stood as accept­able and the girls pose for pho­tographs and buy ice cream cones with their head­scarves down.

How­ev­er, the guard on duty with­in the walls was female as well- the first female Afghan secu­ri­ty per­son­al I’ve seen. She was a stocky woman in fatigues and black head­scarf who bran­dished her large knife men­ac­ing­ly at kids who appeared to be mis­be­hav­ing. Unlike every male in fatigues, she had no gun.

After a few hours of enjoy­ing the sun­shine we said our good­byes to new friends, promised to return next week, cov­ered up our hair once more, and passed back onto the street, back into the realm of men.

Hardware Shopping

Jan 10, 2011   //   by LouBu   //   photos, taj  //  3 Comments

As it turns out, Jalal­abad has no Home Depot. Not even an ACE Hard­ware. So, when I want­ed to pur­chase an arc welder  to make fur­ni­ture and art out of old ammo cas­es and bul­let cas­ings, Mehrab took me and Peretz to the bazaar. More specif­i­cal­ly, to the hard­ware store sec­tion. Jam packed stalls nes­tled next to one anoth­er, crammed and over­flow­ing with jumper cables, machine belts, rusty bolts, and cheap Chi­nese screw dri­vers. Func­tion­ing as indi­vid­ual isles of the larg­er bazaar,  the coex­ist­ing shops all stock many tools while each spe­cial­iz­ing in a few. A cus­tomer starts a rela­tion­ship with one own­er, who then sends run­ners from their staff to oth­er shops along the way to grab any items not in stock. We choose a shop, out of acci­dent more than rea­son, and began the process of buy­ing tools.

Chickens in the Hardware Store

First, we col­lect­ed assort­ed wrench­es, ham­mers, and screw­drivers, ges­tur­ing “bigger,” “smaller” or “heavier” to suit our needs. We perused the sin­gle aisle, avoid­ing the pair of chick­ens roost­ing under the ful­ly stacked shelves. Angle grinder. Leather gloves. Weld­ing gog­gles. Check. Our shop­keep­er showed us a file and told us it was “Good qual­i­ty. Made in India.” Even Afghans have dis­re­gard for cheap Chi­nese made tools, although the store was still full of them. The qual­i­ty prod­ucts they see come from India, hop­ping over Pak­istan to com­pete with infe­ri­or goods.

Then onto the rea­son we were there: a welder. The shop sold one option, a red met­al box with 5 thick screws pro­trud­ing, announc­ing the amps they would draw, and a ground­ing screw stick­ing out the side. Instead of a pow­er cord, two bare wires extend­ed, ready to be stuck direct­ly into a sock­et, as is the local pre­ferred method of “plugging in” an appli­ance. How­ev­er, for this com­pact met­al box to be use­ful as a welder we need­ed to piece togeth­er its attach­ments. The store sold us eight meters of heavy duty wire, cut off a large yel­low spool. Next, we debat­ed the mer­its of the two options for han­dles and set­tled on a heavy duty grip. But when I inquired about a ground­ing clamp, vital­ly need­ed to com­plete a weld­ing arc, our shop­keep­er seemed per­plexed. He sent one of the boys lin­ger­ing in the shop off to find one, while he encour­aged us to drink some chai. We perched on tanks of gas and sipped steam­ing hot cups of sweet­ened, car­damom fla­vored tea until the boy returned, with a pair of jumper cable clips. Not exact­ly what I had in mind, but it’d do.

Hardware Store Purchases
The bits and bobs added up to most of what would be need­ed or use­ful for arc weld­ing and so, as we paid the shop­keep­er, our tools and sup­plies were loaded into a wheel­bar­row for trans­port. Next step: assem­bly and test­ing of the Mac­Gyver welder.

Welder and Other Tools

Disaster Services

Jan 2, 2011   //   by LouBu   //   Uncategorized  //  5 Comments

Yes­ter­day Megan and I taught CPR to a group of Uni­ver­si­ty Stu­dents who have tak­en it upon them­selves to form a Dis­as­ter Response team and are try­ing to amass skills and knowl­edge that will be of use to them and their com­mu­ni­ties. One of the boys, Hameed, is part of our infor­mal “geek squad” at the Taj and wrote the pre­vi­ous post on this blog. Of the four he was the only one who spoke ful­ly flu­ent Eng­lish. Two could get by in Eng­lish and the fourth spoke none, although he was flu­ent in Pash­to, Dari, Urdu and Russ­ian. Many Afghans in this area can speak and read (if they are lit­er­ate)  Pash­to, Dari and Urdu. If they are in their for­ties or fifties, they can get by in Russ­ian. The younger gen­er­a­tion tends to know dab­bling of Eng­lish. Pash­to is the main spo­ken lan­guage but Dari seeps in from the West, Urdu from the East, and West­ern Lan­guages trick­le in through the occu­py­ing armies sta­tioned here.

The class was punc­tu­at­ed by Hameed’s rapid fire trans­la­tion, side con­ver­sa­tions in Pash­to, and the boys wrestling match­es as they were a lit­tle over­en­thu­si­as­tic when prac­tic­ing the Heim­lich maneu­ver on one anoth­er. The best part of the class was the myr­i­ad of ques­tions the boys had, indi­cat­ing both a sin­cere desire to learn skills applic­a­ble to dis­as­ters they had wit­nessed first hand, as well as expos­ing deep seat­ed cul­tur­al dif­fi­cul­ties that nev­er arose in my numer­ous First Aid re-cer­ti­fi­ca­tion classes.

Noorah­mad probed about how to clear water from a person’s lungs, the mem­o­ries of last year’s flood­ing and earth­quake still penetrating.

They asked about the spread of infec­tion and how they were sup­posed to avoid get­ting dis­eases when sweep­ing a victim’s mouth clean or pro­vid­ing res­cue breath­ing. (The next step of prepa­ra­tion involves each of them assem­bling a med­kit, com­plete with lots of latex gloves).

Through Hameed’s trans­la­tion, Najib explained to me that he was from a very rur­al area where there were no trained med­ical per­son­al in any kind of prox­im­i­ty. He want­ed advice for preg­nant women that he could bring back to the vil­lage and dis­perse. Accord­ing to the UN, Afghanistan has the sec­ond high­est infant mor­tal­i­ty rate in the world, topped only by Seir­ra Leone. It is the only non-African coun­try in the top twen­ty-five. Access to infor­ma­tion on preg­nan­cy and birthing, let alone trained med­ical work­ers, is slim at best. Even where there are med­ical facil­i­ties, mis­in­for­ma­tion abounds. I was shocked to find out last night that the direc­tor of the Neona­tal ward at the Pub­lic Hos­pi­tal in Jalal­abad has nev­er seen a live birth.

Rah­mat raised his hand and said “In our cul­ture we are not sup­posed to touch women. What should we do if it is a woman who is not breathing?”Although sur­pris­ing to my west­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties, the ques­tion is of utmost impor­tance. Most women in Jalal­abad still wear their burqas in pub­lic. Although Afghan soci­ety is extreme­ly phys­i­cal, it is so in a ful­ly seg­re­gat­ed way. Men and boys are always play wrestling, hug­ging, and walk­ing with their arms around each oth­er, but the two sex­es nev­er touch in pub­lic.  Mean­while, in the pri­va­cy of the university’s two-month-old women’s dorm, I chat­ted with half a dozen teenage col­lege girls play wrestling in their own way- hug­ging, pok­ing and slap­ping. Still, one girl there was mar­ried and five months preg­nant yet her hus­band lived across cam­pus in a men’s dorm. There was no place they could live togeth­er with­in the orbit of the school.

Even in a life or death sit­u­a­tion, where a women would die if she were not giv­en a few breaths of oxy­gen, there is a hes­i­ta­tion if it is the right thing to do. The ques­tion was not uncar­ing, quite the oppo­site, but it reflect­ed the extreme chasm between men and women which will take more than an effec­tive counter-insur­gency force and an army of preda­tor drones to solve. In the end, if these boys ever have to per­form life sav­ing aid they will have to make those deci­sions for themselves.

Nan Factory

Dec 30, 2010   //   by LouBu   //   videos  //  6 Comments

While walk­ing down the streets of Kab­ul last week I stared a lit­tle too inquis­i­tive­ly into a nan store/factory pump­ing out the long, flat bread that is eat­en with every meal in Afghanistan. The man stretch­ing the dough noticed my pry­ing and invit­ed us in to see the whole process up close, encour­ag­ing us to take pho­tographs and film the intri­cate, six man team work­ing togeth­er to form the vat of dough into iden­ti­cal dia­monds of flat bread. The bread is baked in a clay tan­doori oven, stuck ver­ti­cal­ly up against the inside wall. As the fin­ished bread is pulled off the oven walls with long iron hooks, a man in the win­dow sells the hot, steam­ing fin­ished prod­uct to cus­tomers, who fre­quent­ly go away with half a dozen or more loaves. In a tra­di­tion­al Afghan meal instead of a plate each per­son is giv­en a full loaf of bread. He or she tears off chunks and uses them in place of uten­sil­s to scoop up chunks of lamb or beans. They sent us away with a steam­ing, flat, piece of nan. Delicious.