Friday, December 31, 2010
This is right next to the Embassy, as in, you walk out the security checkpoint, and there it is. Massoud Circle is a traffic-choked roundabout named after the Ahmad Shah Massoud, the hero of the Afghan resistance to the Soviets. He was assassinated in 2001. He's a towering, heroic figure. Of course, those not familiar with his likeness might mistake his portrait on the circle for Che Guevara, or Bob Marley, or anyone else with facial hair and a floppy hat rakishly draped off his head. Knowing tragically little of the history of the city, I don't really know if the monument here was re-purposed to be a Massoud monument recently or if it's recent construction. While we're busy getting into the minutiae of provincial budgets and insurgent reintegration plans, we don't learn about the geography or history of the city blocks right around us.
In a certain way that focus is surely appropriate. In another way, it's a shame.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Hello loyal readers:
We haven't been out and about much lately. And even if we had been, the air around here is so thick with the disgusting haze of burning trash, the opportunities for photography would be pretty limited. We have had several nice Christmas parties, hosted both a Channukah and a Festivus party, and generally kept ourselves busy here in Kabul. But none of that is really worth saying a lot about here.
So here's an old picture that we like, from less hazy times in Afghanistan. More such coming over the next few days.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Most of the housing in Afghanistan is of the humble, single-story, mud-walled variety. But in the neighborhoods not far from the Embassy one spots a great number of houses like the one pictured above - noticeably new, flashy, and of course relatively expensive. Every developing country I'm familiar with has a neighborhood like this, where the ruling elites live, and those few who make huge profits off of the country's prominent industries, whether legal or, ahem, not-so-legal.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
A last picture from our jaunt around the East of Afghanistan. As mentioned previously, most of the bases have little stores for the soldiers. While this base has been growing, the retail opportunities haven't kept pace, so this little conex full of stuff is all they have.
Tomorrow: Something else!
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
Monday, December 13, 2010
This is a photo of a local government official in Khogyani, Nangarhar, and an attendant of some sort, each perusing a copy of a photo book of pictures of mosques in America. They were fascinated. The attendant, who in keeping with his job mostly hung around the periphery and didn't say much, was so intrigued by the book of American mosque pictures that he needed to come get a copy and take a look for himself.
It is shocking how many people in Afghanistan literally don't believe that there are mosques in America. The Lovely Katherine escorted a visiting American Imam around Kabul and some outlying provinces, and reported that at many of the medrassas and mosques where he spoke, the students literally did not believe at first that he could be a Muslim from America, because everyone knows that Muslims in America are persecuted or jailed or worse. I wish there were an easy way to fix it.
So you've got some ridiculous percentage of Americans believing President Obama is a Muslim (as if there would be some horrible problem if he were) and some ridiculous percentage of Afghans believing that there are no Muslims in America. I'm not supposed to get into policy issues in this forum, but it seems there just might be some space for further public diplomacy here.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Your correspondent was privileged to attend a small shura, or meeting of elders, in Khogyani. They had some issues they wanted to address with the PRT and the local government. I can't really say more than that, and the staff photographer really couldn't take a lot of pictures at the meeting, as much as he would have liked to. This picture was snapped as the meeting was breaking up.
It was nice that the whole thing took place on a carpet in a garden outside, with plates of apples and bananas passed around for all the guests. We should do more of our government hearings that way.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Afghanistan is one of several countries that considers itself home to the most generous, welcoming people on Earth. I don't have enough data to say for sure, but it's probably a contender. When we reached the Khogyani District Center, it was lunchtime, and the Deputy District Governor was having lunch. He immediately asked us to join him. When he found out I had come all the way from Kabul, he apologized profusely that if he had known he would have prepared a proper meal, rather than simple but delicious sweet potato fries and nan and rice. I wish I could eat simple rice and nan more and industrial cafeteria tortellini less.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
This graffiti is from the side of a computer school in Khogyani. Three light bulbs. But why? They are striking, but I doubt they're there for art's sake. Unfortunately I can't read the writing around them. I certainly hope, having posted this, that they don't say something like "Down with capitalism and its infernal light bulbs" or "The Taliban will give your family three light bulbs if you join them and live in a cave for a while."
The computers in the school ran off a diesel generator. It's possible the light bulb message is something about possibilities for electrification. In one of his less tactful moments, your correspondent was talking with a local government figure, who mentioned (through a translator) that he would like to improve his English. Always looking for an angle for commercial diplomacy, your correspondent suggested that a lot of people learn English by watching American TV shows or movies. My interlocutor quickly moved to checkmate by noting that he doesn't watch much television, what with the town not having electricity for the most part. It's a very different world out here, and it only increased my respect for the officers out in remote districts who have to build relationships based on so little in common.
Me, I'm just doing my part to prove that we're not always as clever as our wikileaked cables make us out to be.
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
Monday, December 06, 2010
This is the kind of thing you can take in when walking through a town instead of speeding through in your armored SUV or MRAP. There's no way one would really get to see the more than a glance of the guy peeking over the fence, let alone the guy sitting in the courtyard reading a Koran, and definitely not both. Better to have loved and lost and all that, but it was a sad reminder of what the normal way of seeing a country is and how far abstracted from that we are here.
Of course, it's not like I was going to talk politics with these guys anyway. I've all but given up on learning more Dari than "Hello" and "Thank You." And the guys in this picture probably speak Pashto anyway, in which case I'm lucky that "Salaam Aleikum" means "Hello" all over the place.
Sunday, December 05, 2010
Your correspondent visited Khogyani, a kind of out-of-the-way district in Nangarhar Province, and it was a definite highlight of the whirlwind N2KL journey. First of all, it was definitely different to be in the middle of nowhere on a relatively small (but much bigger than it was just a few months ago) installation. And the view of the mountains of Tora Bora was nice. But the real peak was going on a "dismount mission," which in the military's typically complex way of saying things, means: We walked instead of driving to the district governor's office. It was only a 20-minute walk, but that's more walking than I do most months around here. Above, about twenty of my closest friends setting out from the base for the leisurely stroll.
Saturday, December 04, 2010
These little motorcycle pickups, often called Zaranjes (which may be the brand name), are all over Afghanistan. They seem like a really handy thing. For carrying vegetables to market or for getting five or six people around, they seem perfect. I'm sure they don't go very fast once fully loaded, but when the competition is taking a bunch of trips back and forth with a donkey, you don't necessarily need a F-150.
Friday, December 03, 2010
OK, it's kind of hard to tell, but those little dots are guys playing cricket right outside the walls of the Forward Operating Base in Jalalabad. I guess that's how it goes when your country has been at war for 30 years or so; you just shrug off the martial scenery sometimes and go about your life.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
After Asadabad, Kunar, we hopped a helicopter to Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province. Our base there is one of the weirdest military installations your correspondent has seen. It's on what was once a Soviet R&R hotel - complete with a swimming pool that is now drained and has a makeshift basketball court at the bottom. Unfortunately, no pictures on the base. The staff photographer did take this picture over the wall, looking at the fields adjacent, but still far enough away to test the limits of the little point-and-shoot camera. Thus, the oddly impressionist effect.