Wednesday, March 30, 2011
This is the District Director of Agriculture (below) addressing the gathered crowd (above) on Farmer Day. There were speeches by the District Governor and a mullah, as well. They were nice speeches, but the most interesting bit was the mullah, after reciting some verses from the Koran, explaining that Islam forbids the celebration of Nawruz. There are only two acceptable holidays in Islam - Eid-al-Fitr (end of the Ramadan month of fasting) and Eid-al-Adha. All other holidays are forbidden. A new year's celebration at the equinox is certainly not allowed. However, the Koran does not forbid a civic event like "Farmer Day." Thus, Farmer Day.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
On Nawruz itself, your correspondent went to a small Combat Outpost (COP) in nearby Logar province to check in on some projects our team there is working on, and, of course, to see how they celebrate the Nawruz. And one event for Nawruz was the distribution of shovels, picks, balsam tree cuttings, and small fir trees for local farmers. So, after standing outside in the sun all morning on a glorious clear spring day without a drop of sunscreen, your correspondent was privileged to personally distribute a few trees. The guy on the right seems pretty happy - maybe because of the great new shovel he just got, or maybe he's just amused about why this weird lobster-red guy is having his picture taken while handing him a tree.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
...which translates as "Happy New Year" more or less. The Afghans celebrate their new year ("Nawruz") at the Spring Equinox. Your correspondent attended several Nawruz celebrations of significantly different character over the few days surrounding the actual holiday. First up was the Official Embassy Nawruz celebration, which was nice because it involved emerging from our windowless cave-like offices to see the light of day on what turned out to be a pretty nice day. It also featured lots of kite flying, which is a traditional Nawruz activity, and doesn't always end as horribly as The Kite Runner might lead you to believe.
We got a couple nice pictures of the guys selling these colorful tissue-and-bamboo kites, and various embassy employees enjoying the festivities. But we're pretty scrupulous about not posting pictures of the Afghan staff at the Embassy, many of whom don't exactly publicize the fact that they work for us. So, no faces here - just the kites, many of which feature some fairly impressive tissue-paper craftsmanship. Tomorrow: Nawruz in the countryside.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Monday, March 21, 2011
On the shady side of the valley (i.e. the side with better snow) is Les Grands Montets, which might currently be in the running for the Holla's coveted Best Ski Area in the World title. The only problem is that to get to the top and do the best runs you have to take a stupid cable car that is so slow and crowded that you either need a reservation or you have to wait about 45 minutes in line. And you're only allowed one reservation a day. If they built a high-speed gondola up to the top here, and you could just hit the Grand Vue trail along the glacier (below) again and again, it would be unbeatable.
P.s. sorry about the weird gray glacier. It's so bright that it kind of freaks out the digital camera to the point that it's hard to fix later.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Not much to say besides that: These are two pictures from the cable car that goes way up to the top of Brevent, above the clouds on the sunny side of the Chamonix valley. Below, you can see the bottom part of Mont Blanc disappearing into the clouds, as seen from the building at the top of the cable car, with restaurant terrace and all. We've been to Brevent twice, and each time the views of the cloud-filled valley below have been spectacular.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Did I mention we get a lot of leave time here? I am not complaining, but getting two months off over the course of a year is a significant enticement to spending the other ten months of the year in Kabul. So, for vacation three (of four, most likely) we decided we had to do some skiing this winter and went to Chamonix - we've been there before, but decided the known quantity would be acceptable this time.
Friday, March 18, 2011
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
We failed to make it to see the cattle insemination clinic in Laghman. Fortunately, we visited a girls' school, which was awesome. The cattle clinic might have been a funnier story in the end, but you just can't argue with how cool it is to see girls getting an education here. There are a bunch of things going well in Afghanistan and a bunch of things that could be a lot better. And I can't honestly say that these girls are going to go to college or even get jobs outside the home one day. But they'll at least be able to read, and to participate in discussions they couldn't have otherwise and maybe even run their households a little differently than they might have, and that wouldn't have happened if we weren't here.
(And it's a shame they're so back-lit, but as we've mentioned before, photography wasn't our primary mission on this day.)
Monday, March 14, 2011
When the U.S. Ambassador rolls into town in Afghanistan, it's kind of a big deal. The Governor of Laghman hosted a lunch in his honor, for something like forty guests, all at this one giant table. Your correspondent enjoyed a delicious meal of all variety of Afghan delights... and Mountain Dew. The Afghans love Mountain Dew. And really, what's not to love?
Anyway, it was quite a spread of lamb and chicken and salad and spinach and peppers, which your correspondent, being a seasoned diplomat, and therefore versed in all manner of social graces, carefully spilled an entire plate of all over his own lap. But fortunately, we're in Afghanistan, so before long all the grease stains on my pants were covered by dust and nobody was the wiser.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Saturday, March 12, 2011
These kids took turns stopping to watch our somwhat less than subtle procession walk by - the Ambassador plus an entourage of probably 25 aides, press, security, and soldiers. They (the kids, not the Ambassador's entourage) were out collecting stuff that would burn -- wood, paper, trash, plastic, whatever -- for use on home fires for cooking or home heating. Our day in Laghman turned out to be clear due to sleet the day before, but with all the trash-burning, that's not a guarantee.
Friday, March 11, 2011
One more picture from the counter-narcotics shura. These guys were sitting out in the dirt courtyard in front of the building. Did they just get bored? Was there not enough room? And if the latter is the case, were these the guys who showed up late or the guys who were too junior to qualify for seats in the main hall? (As always, click to embiggen the picture.)
Thursday, March 10, 2011
The shura is the traditional form of governance in Afghanistan. It's a format not unknown elsewhere in the world - we would probably call it a "council of elders" or perhaps just a "town hall meeting" in the New England sense, not the election campaign sense. Basically, whenever there's something important to figure out, the wise old men of the village or valley or region get together and talk it out until they've figured out what to do. It's fairly democratic, or at least broadly participatory, other than the part about no women being invited.
This was a shura called by the government of Laghman province to get all the respected elders of the community together to talk over what to do about poppy cultivation in the province. At least 250 men packed this hall, with seats stretching out the front door and onto the porch. Your correspondent was only there for the welcoming speeches from various dignitaries, although it would have been interesting to see what the ensuing discussion looked like.
Unfortunately, we were running around like crazy trying to make the visit go off smoothly, and were not given the day to just take photos, as would have benefited this publication. So, the reader will sometimes have to settle for our favorite snapshots rather than fine art photography. But if you're asking yourself, "Where are the Holla-standard pictures taken though the bulletproof windows of a moving MRAP?!" fret not, they're coming soon.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Coming soon to a runway near you, the fashion item of the spring: Afghan turbans, in a variety of colors to match any outfit. In this case, seen not in Paris or Milan but on a not-too-long-ago trip to Mehtar Lam, capital of Laghman province. More pictures from Laghman coming up over the next few days.
Monday, March 07, 2011
Women in burkas are certainly photogenic in their own way. A scene of a commonplace developing-world street suddenly seems extra-exotic when there are burka-clad women in the scene. For the moment sidestepping the issue of enjoying as a spectator what is for many a manifestation of some pretty horrible subjugation of women, which really is an issue we shouldn't sidestep, but it's late and we're trying to get a bunch of posts lined up for the next week before we are out of comms for the next week or so.
Anyway, we'll get back to that at some point, but for now, I'll note that the most perfect moments are when you see women in burkas doing normal things that people do. It jolts you (or at least me) out of seeing them as mysterious objects of tourist fascination, or even seeing them as pitiable prisoners of their clothes and their culture, but rather you (or at least I) suddenly remember that there's a real person under there who might just need a ride across town, so they scramble over to any car that will stop for them and hope the man in their group can convince someone to do it for a reasonable price.
Sunday, March 06, 2011
This public bus on the usually jammed road from the airport into town (not jammed because of all the visitors landing at the airport, I assure you) is so serious about being Turbo that it says "turbo" right there on the bus not once, but twice. Unfortunately, your correspondent never saw the road really open up enough to let the bus driver display the full power of his turbo-charged machine.
Saturday, March 05, 2011
One prominent feature visible from the Embassy: High on a ridge above the city, a high-dive platform, built during Soviet times when I guess the Russians decided they would demonstrate their dominance by forcing their new subjects to win Olympic gold in diving.
(Sadly, The Lovely Katherine had our DSLR camera in Herat on Embassy Rooftop Photo Day, so your correspondent was stuck using the zoom on the pocket point-n-shoot. Oh, well.)
Friday, March 04, 2011
If you are someone who reads this blog out of a general interest in Afghanistan or the Foreign Service or what have you, you may have seen pictures like this elsewhere of late. After weeks or months of thick, gross, sooty air caused by millions of Kabul residents burning various plastics and worse to stay warm, we got some rain and snow and wintry mix. Once the storm passed, it had washed most of the all-too-literal crap out of the air, resulting in beautiful views of the mountains all around. So the Embassy, in a fit of generosity, allowed everyone to go up on the roof to take pictures, and virtually everyone did. So, if you know anyone else at Embassy Kabul, you've probably already seen a nice picture of the pretty mountains around the city. Sorry we're so slow!
Thursday, March 03, 2011
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Herat may be famous for its ancient architecture or its grand tradition of poetry, but when it comes to more modern forms of expression, the great spirits of this generation clearly turn to to tuktuk painting as the form that defines the era. I think the guy below may be demonstrating our next frontier for cultural diplomacy as he clearly painted that tuktuk based on a tutorial from Bob Ross.