Afghanistan Trip Blog
Friday, April 02, 2004
Home Sweet Home. 52 hours traveling is beyond description. Every bone in your body aches, and the muscles too. A miserable 9 hours from Frankfurt to Newark in a middle seat. The classic middle seat where the woman next to me took up her seat and half of mine too. The booze is free on those flights, but there is just not enough booze for a seat like that. Then a few hours in Newark, then the flight home to SF. I didn't sleep on the flight to SF, I was unconsious. No memory of the flight at all. But here it is, a beautiful sunny morning in beautiful Mountain View. After a night in my own soft bed and TWO showers it is going to be a wonderful day. I might get a little homesick later, it's not nearly as much fun sitting here alone in my living room doing this blog as it was in the internet cafe. And where are my pringles?
Thursday, April 01, 2004
After a quick last hour at my favorite internet cafe, had to say good bye to Kabul yesterday. Long flight to Frankfurt but who was there to surpise me at the airport but my childhood friend Pam! Her husband Gunter gave me an official drive to their home on the autobahn, I don't even want to know how fast we were going at one point. A shower! A shower! A hairdryer! A hairdryer! Wonderful dinner in their lovely little village pub, managed to mispronounce the German word for onions about 7 different ways, but they were still delicious on my steak. German beer! German beer! And finally a nice soft bed with clean sheets. It was a bit disorienting to be back to the modern world, but very interesting to contemplate. When many Afghans were leaving in the early 80's, their first stop was most often Germany. I tried to imagine what it must have been like to drive to a relative's home via the autobahn after spending your entire life on the crazy dirt roads/streets of Afghansitan. It was weird after only 2 weeks...
Wednesday, March 31, 2004
I can't believe it's time to go. How can I go? I have a hundred things left to do. Started out the day back at the kindergarten to take pictures of what hopefully is now a functioning clinic. Not quite. Had a meeting with the woman who turned out to be the head of all kindergartens for the whole country. Seemed like a really smart woman. And I seemed to have made my point that if all the medicine locked in the mystery closet wasn't moved into the clinic pronto, no more was ever coming from the US. A few minutes later I'm drinking tea, eating a nice cookie and happen to look out the window to see a parade of staff carrying boxes of medicine across the playground over to the clinic. It was a happy sight to see Dr. Laila unpacking boxes into cabinets that locked with her key.
Off to Ariana Airlines for no particular reason, just because you should stop in and see if they're still in business the day before your flight. Then cabbed over to Rabia Balkhi to make sure the medicine didn't wander off somewhere with Boris. Visited with the directory Dr. Nazrin and she took me for mantu for lunch at Herat restaurant. In her personal tranport vehicle - the hospital ambulance. I felt guilty going to lunch in the ambulance then wondered where the heck they would bring anyone to anyway? I knew I belonged here when we spent lunch gossiping. I mean actual gossiping because we knew enough people in common.
Went out to Parsa to visit with a woman who had been here working at the NGO since the 60's. Didn't have much time and I would love to hear all her stories. Visited Hope Hospital and brought some burn cream to Dr. Feder. Seems like a really good guy, I hope the Christians can pull it off, that part of town needs a good hospital. Stopped by the famous Mustafa hotel to get some info for a company that wants to rent some rooms, got invited to a party by an Australian guy carrying a case of beer up the stairs. How did I not spend time at the Mustafa hotel while I was here? Maybe because the last time I was here 2 years ago you needed an armed bodyguard to eat in the restaurant. Maybe you still do, a few months ago 2 waiters stabbed each other to death over splitting tips. How do you have a dual mutual fatal stabbing? Perfect timing?
Had to walk through Chicken Street, say goodbye to gorgeous shopkeeper, no marriage proposal. sigh. Took back the 15th defective copy of Bandit Queen dvd and demanded my money back. Avenging consumer left with her 2.50. Except that they don't have coins here, so I left with 2 dollars and 20 afghanis. Finally bought my rug, he found the one I liked the first day I was here. Except it was made in Iran. I wanted an Afghan carpet, but I just fell in love with the flowered one and had to by it. So I have an Iranian carpet. My friend Ann tried to cheer me up by pointing out that there are hordes of Afghan refugees in Iran and maybe one of them wove it.
Off to dinner at the international military base in town CJCMOTF with some doctors from HHS at Rabia Balkhi. Good American cooking. Ok, pretty awful American military chow. Spaghetti with ground beef. No tomato sauce, just spaghetti and ground beef. But plenty of fresh fruit salad safe to eat and my first milk in 2 weeks. And a sea of gorgeous soldiers. There's just something about American guys that you really notice after not seeing any for a few weeks. I don't know what it is, but you sure notice it. Visit to the PX was hilarious. They sell Pringles in the PX. You can buy Pringles on every wooden box turned over on the sidewalk passing as a store. Why are they bringing them from home? And dvds. For $20! Why would you buy dvd a dvd for $20? Eventually you'll get one for $2 that works.
One practical skill that you learn in politics is how to eat multiple meals. There were days during the Assembly campaign where I'd eat 3 lunches and 2 dinners. Tonight was a 2-dinner night when I went from dinner at CJCMOTF to dinner with Masha and Nilufar at her guesthouse. But it was delicious, can't have enough mantu in a day. Then just a nice vist and a ride back to my place.
I can't leave. How can I leave? Ok, maybe I'm really looking forward to my hairdryer and washing machine. But I've got enough Dari now to take a cab most anywhere, give him directions and pay a good fare. I know the cool restaurants. I didn't get a chance to get back to the internet cafe and say goodbye to my buddies. It takes me a half hour to walk the 2 blocks down Chicken Street because I know all the shopkeepers. Who will make the Deputy Minister of Health crazy? Will I ever get to see Bandit Queen?
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
I'm glad that I need to get 2 weeks worth of work done in one day. Excellent planning on my part, but that's Afghanistan - everything just sort of slogs along until it whips up into a frenzy. I had arranged to hire a driver and a translator and the day started off great when the driver didn't show up. So grabbed a cab and used all my new taxi Dari to get to Dr. Susan's guesthouse for breakfast. Had a great breakfast and then headed back to my place to see if the driver showed up. He did, so we were off to pick up the translator, then off to the bazaar Sahat to start spending some serious money. Dr. Susan was a gift directly from God. I could not have done anything without her. At one point she was behind the counter with the shopkeeper, going through his stuff, pulling stuff off the shelf, bargaining for prices and being fabulous. You couldn't pack one more person into the shop because the show had attracted every other shopkeeper from the building. We were piling cases of drugs on the floor. Cases of drugs. Seriously controlled substances in the US, we were just piling on the counter like boxes of corn flakes. Only cheaper. Vials of oxytocin that cost about $10 in the Us, 10 cents. We coudln't buy enough. The hilarious thing was when we bought 200 bottles of serum plasma and it came in 8 cases. Filled up the car and we ended up riding around with the back of the station wagon packed, the front passenger seat packed, and the three of us in the backseat with stuff piled on all of our laps. And Zarlasht the angel translator just took it all in stride with these 2 crazy American broads.
Then off to the Ministry of Health to "register" all of our purchases. I had to explain to the long-suffering Dr. Sherzai that there was no way they were going to unpack the car and inventory it. I gave them all the receipts and said they could inventory from that. So after about an hour of Afghan beaureaucratic whatever, we headed off to Khair Khana hospital with 2 braindead, wanna-be Soviet functionaries in a car following us.
We got to Khair Khana and that is where the bloodshed nearly started. We unloaded the car with the stuff for there, and the apparatchiks started inventorying according to the receipts we gave them. Well the receipts were from different stores, not necessarily by hospital, so we had each item marked. They started yelling at us that we needed to give everything on one receipt to the same hospital. They didn't get far. Then they told us we needed to leave everything out on the hospital driveway and the hospital's braindead wanna-be soviet functionary would take it inside after we left. Much yelling between assorted apparatchiks and the sweet chador-wearing translator. Much more yelling. Phone calls by furious American she-banshee to deputy minister of health. Who by the way, I'm sure is going to be at the airport to make sure I get on that plane. Discussion between 2 American women that these guys had 5 more minutes to get all their thumbs out of their collective Afghan orifices or all this stuff was going off to Hope Hospital - the one run by the Christians that doesn't answer to the evil soviet-style ministry of health.
Finally the director of the hospital comes out from wherever, and stuff was carried directly into the maternity section. To the great delight of the wonderful maternity director and her doctors. To the teeth-gnashing chagrin of the apparatchiks. Did I mention that all the maternity personnel were women and the apparatchiks were all men? Or had you figured that out by now?
But the fun didn't stop there, because we still had a pile of stuff for Rabia Balkhi hospital. We were inside visiting with the Khair Khana maternity women, and Dr. Susan was being shown around and the MoH cheesedicks sent someone inside to tell us to hurry up, they didn't have all day to follow us around and make our lives a living hell. Or something like that. At that point Dr. Susan got the extensive, detailed maternity ward tour. Much picture-taking, visiting, international relationship building and general time-killing ensued.
Finally we strolled out of the women's section of the hospital and headed off to Rabia Balkhi with the MoH bus, yes a bus, in hot pursuit. But thanks to the efficiency of Afghan healthcare, they manage to cure everyone by 4:00 and the whole staff was gone. Except for the Rabia Balkhi braindead functionary who stayed around special just to steal all our stuff. Not even. Dr. Susan had a friend from HHS who was working at Rabia Balkhi meet us in the courtyard of the hospital. The stuff was unloaded and turned over from one American doctor to another. Any complaints call George Bush. The MoH guys got back on their bus. The Rabia Balkhi functionary went home to tea and we carried all the stuff upstairs and locked it in the international office.
We dropped off our fabulous translator-warrior at home and said goodbye to our long-suffering driver at Chicken Street, because shopping needed to be done. Who do we see as we get out of our cab sitting in front of his house on Chicken Street? Oh, come on, three guesses and the first 2 don't count. Of course, the Deputy Minister of Health. The guy is truly a saint, and these 2 weeks with me would have certainly taken time off purgatory if Muslims have purgatory. Gave Dr. Susan the tour of Chicken Street, including a visit to my heartthrob shopkeeper.
Then dinner at her guesthouse, a ride home and fall into bed for a nice 12-hour nap.
Monday, March 29, 2004
I think every trip here is supposed to teach me something - the lesson for this trip seems to be that only God knows everything. It will definitely take longer than 2 weeks to figure out all the political intrigues of the healtcare system and who best to help by doing what. If you can ever figure it out.
A pretty universal cure for the blues however, is going to a kindergarten. I spent the morning at the Microrayan kindergarten where my friend Kathleen built a clinic. If you can believe that the clinic was built when I was here last June and I arrived to find the clinic in exactly the same state. No, I take that back, there was some indoor-outdoor-type carpeting on the floor, a desk and 3 chairs. Turns out the kindergarten administration wouldn't let Dr. Laila start working there because she didn't have clearance from the Ministry of Health. Needless to say that got done in a hurry. Then they had all the drugs locked up in a closet, but we couldn't see any of them because the "responsible person" i.e. the one person on the entire plane with the key, wasnt' there. For crying out loud, do they moonlight at Ariana Airlines??? So off we went to the bazaar to buy some metal storage cabinets, some more folding chairs and an examination table to get this thing up and running.
Dr. Momand and Dr. Laila took me for the most fabulous lunch ever. Shandaz restaurant is currently the most famous restaurant in Kabul. It is a Persian restaurant in the swanky Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood. The inside of the restaurant is a tent, and they have little raised booths with thatched roofs. I felt like I was in Trader Vics without the mai-tai's. They proceeded to bring out lamb chops on skewers the size of swords. Heaps of lamb chops. An entire herd gave their lives for our lunch. And the softest rice. The most delicious cured yoghurt. Perhaps worth the trip to Kabul alone.
Then off to the bazaar sahat, the medicine bazaar. Basically a bunch of small, dirty shops that sells every medicine you could ever want. mostly. We priced medical equipment and pharmaceuticals to buy for the hospitals. Ask me the difference between a ring forcep and a delivery forcep. Not only can I tell you the difference, I can bargain down to the right price. Spent the whole afternoon dragging from shop to shop to figure out who had what, but a very productive exercise.
Because that just wasn't enough shopping, I stopped on chicken street to return the defective dvd. No international incident, just another pirate copy of the Bandit Queen. And bought a few more things from the gorgeous shop keeper on Chicken St. I figure if I buy enough stuff from him he'll have to ask me to marry him.
Then went to my friends guesthouse to see my friend Masha, a journalist who just arrived in town. We relaxed for a while and yakked, then I took her to the inernet cafe to show her how to hook up her laptop and get the power converter working. Hung out and read the Pakistan papers while she did some email. Then we went to Anaar, the hip pseudo-Thai-Indian place in my neighborhood. Lousy service, mediocre food, fabulous people-watching.
I finished off a busy day by curling up in bed with the big-screen laptop to watch my dvd. Except this was a $2.50 pirate dvd. No movie again tonight so just stressing out over the huge day tomorrow.
Sunday, March 28, 2004
Did a little shopping yesterday morning - bought a dvd for $2.50 - of course it didn't work, so we'll see what type of international incident I'll cause today when I bring it back and try to get them to give me a new one! Had some pastry from the frenchised bakery. It must be frenchised because it sure ain't french.
Then off to the Afghan Center to do go over the stuff I'll be doing for the preserves training course. They invited me out there early for lunch, so I got there and proceeded to chow on some bulani - thin dough stuffed with potatoes and onions and then fried on a griddle. If you've grown up on pierogis these are mighty yummy. What I didn't realize at the time was that these were from a class in the morning where they were teaching the women how to do some food marketing - pricing, buying and then selling food products. Turns out I was eating the classwork. After I had stuffed myself with this carb extravaganza they then announced it was time for lunch! I'm nothing if not polite so I managed to force myself to eat wonderful stewed mutton and potatoes. I skipped the rice and bread thought. Even a carb-girl like me can only handle so much. And for dessert of course the sweetest tangerines. They are in season and are everywhere here. I was once told that they grew citrus in Jalalabad, but when I asked if these came from there Fazal told me that the warlords had cut down all the trees in Jalabad and these came from Peshawar. The class went well, I have a lot of Dari to learn - like pH and sterilize. But the women are already doing food training so the concepts like hygiene and food temperature were naturals.
Then another meeting with the health minister and my day went downhill fast. There is always a point in every trip when I hit the wall and feel like I'll never know what I'm doing here and should just give up, go home and never come back. I try so hard to not be a stupid American when I'm here. I do my homework, talk to lots of people from a variety of perspectives, and try to do things that make sense based on what is really happening. It just never fails that no matter how much I dig, I manage to miss something important. It is so frustrating and a little heartbreaking. Maybe that's Afghanistan - you are not meant to ever know the whole story. I was focusing on hospital administration, wanting to make the best decisions on how to help the hospitals that are the best run and wouldn't sell the stuff we bought. Turns out that doesn't mean those are the hospitals that have the best doctors and provide the best care. I went home at 4:00, crawled into bed, watched a dvd, then just went to sleep hoping tomorrow would be better. I can only hope today is.
Saturday, March 27, 2004
What a fun day off. Friday brunch buffet at the Hotel Intercontinental. The food was a pretty random collection of french toast, mutton curry and 4 types of pudding but everything was a delicious, if not precise, version of what it claimed to be. And of course who was sitting next to us was the Deputy Health Minister. You'd never know if you were being stalked in this town, it's just too small. On the other side of us were a table of Russian guys - more about them later. Saw my friend Khaled's book in the hotel bookstore and got a great picture with the owner. Also got a Dari phrasebook so maybe I'll get that whole number thing down for cab fares.
Then Nasreen, Amy and I made it a complete girls' afternoon out by heading down to Chicken St. for some serious shopping. Passionate people tend to have passionate entertainment - the Italians have opera, the Afghans have shopping. Nasreen is a native Farsi speaker with an American woman attitude so is the absolute perfect shopping companion. I'd find something I'd like then let her loose on the shopkeeper. I don't understand Farsi of course, but here is my best understanding of what happened:
Nasreen: My friend would like that shawl.
Shopkeeper: It is the most beautiful shawl ever made in the history of making shawls! $30.
Nasreen: Your grandmother rides a donkey backwards to the disgrace of your entire village! $5.
Shopkeeper: Your friend doesn't fool me with her raggedy American clothes! She is a millionaire! She will take this shawl back to America and sell it for $500! $25.
Nasreen: Your entire family for the last 7 generations has crooked noses and crossed eyes! $10
Shopkeeper: This shawl was brought from Bamiyan in the arms of my uncle who was shot on the road and died on the doorstep just to bring this shawl to my store! $20.
Nasreen: Your uncle was shot by the uncle's cousin's brother of the man he cheated selling him a dead sheep by propping him up against a tree! $15.
Shopkeeper: My family will starve to death because of your cheap American friend! $15.
Nasreen: Give him $15.
Of course, I think there was more because the whole thing would take at least 15 minutes. I was buying shit just to watch the show.
After about 3 hours of that we drug ourselves off to the Marco Polo restaurant for some tea. It is a cool place on the second floor with huge windows so the perfect people-watching spot. Except who did we see but the Russion guys from brunch. And they saw us and peeled on upstairs to chat. We thought we were off the hook because they didn't speak any English and we didn't speak any Russian, but then when he asked if we spoke French, little miss show-off me had to start yakking. Well they proceeded to try to get us to come to a Chinese restaurant with them for better food. I dont' know if they know that Chinese restaurants in this town have a reputation as being fronts for prostitution. We tried to get out of it by explaining that Amy has been sick and she needed to rest. Then they started inviting us back to their room for vodka which is of course the universal cure for everything. Now normally some fat Russian guy in an electric blue polyester track suit inviting me back to his room for vodka isn't the biggest temptation. But my last real drink was on the Lufthansa flight over here and it took me 30 seconds to fight back the urge.
But off we went to the internet cafe for social time and then another international incident at a carpet store which involved me storming off back to the internet cafe and the shopkeeper coming in to apologize. I'll get that carpet yet.
Spent the evening working on an early marriage report, eating pasta and drinking Campari and pineapple juice. Went to Chelsea market and paid $6 for a jar of tomato sauce and a box of pineapple juice. But when you gotta have some home cooking, you gotta have some home cooking. It was the worst pasta I have ever eaten, so if you ever see pasta made in the Federal Industrial Area of Karachi - run away.
Busy day ahead - better run!
Friday, March 26, 2004
Where did I leave off, I'm getting too busy to blog. Wednesday night had a wonderful dinner at the home of my friends Dr. Mohmand and Dr. Laila. They know everyone in this town and were here straight through during the Taliban too so they have the stories to tell. Yesterday went back to the prison with the builders to get a quote on the kitchen and I had to keep reminding them that Martha Stewart wasn't getting transferred to this prison last I heard so they need to scale down their proposal. Hopefully the UN will actually do this as part of the work they're doing now to finally pave that swamp of a courtyard. Then off to pick up my wondeful translator for a trip out to Khair Khana hospital. She's a second year med student so it's just perfect. Except that I don't have a driver - the only international in town who doesn't - so I'm cab girl. I just jump in cabs all day. They speak as much English as cab drivers in New York and it's a lot cheaper. Except I don't really know my Dari numbers yet so I can't understand the fare they're telling me. So I just have a general sense of how much it should be, I add about 50 cents and hand it to them. If they don't yell at me I get out of the cab. I could pay for Dari lessons just on the cab fare I'd save. Anyway, when I told Zaresht we were taking a cab to Khair Khana I thought the poor girl was going to have a heart attack. I sincerely don't think she had ever taken a cab, or at least not without a male relative. She was covered up so much I don't know how she ever saw where we were going. But as much as I could figure out our cab driver was in Pakistan during the war and so was she so they were evidently chatting about all that for the whole trip. Then he didn't want to charge us because I was a guest in his country. Fighting with a cab driver to take a fare is a unique experience.
Khair Khana was incredible. I could have beamed down from a space ship for all the internationals that have been there. That would be none. The Italians expanded the hospital a few years ago and no one has set foot in the place since. You can't walk down the halls of Rabia Balki without tripping over an American and this place has just fallen off the map. I have some dough from Jane that I'm going to use to bring them some things like sutures, antibiotics, forceps. Extravagant high-end medical stuff like that. When I bring everything back on Monday I'm also going to bring Dr. Susan along. She is here with a group that does medical delegations and I would love for them to bring some doctors out here to Khair Khana. That is the kind of thing that really raises the profile of a place and gets it on the radar screen for international help.
That evening I had dinner over at Dr. Susan's guest house, of course the food was yummy. It's hard to believe but I'm not eating that much real Afghan food because they don't really serve it at international restaurants here, and there aren't any Afghan restaurants because why would you go out to eat the food you eat at home everyday. So it was great to have Kabuli Pallow last night - the classic pile of rice cooked in lamb with carrots and raisins.
Up this morning to get some stuff done here at the Park Net Cafe, where else. Breakfast of Champions - orange juice and Pringles. It will have to hold me over until 11:30 when I go for Friday Brunch at the Intercontinental Hotel. Remember, friday is saturday is sunday here. A couple pictures:
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
I think I'm too happy to blog. Just look at the pictures. Yesterday I was busy ngo-grrrl, visiting Rabia Balki Maternity Hospital. Believe it or not our mostly good-for-nothing government is actually doing something useful here. In the hospital I got to meet a pediatrician from the CDC who is helping with something, I'll get more details when I have dinner with her over at the military base while I'm here. And another guy from the VA who is here on loan to help train hospital administrators. And another guy from HHS who is here as part of another program. It's about damn time.
Then dropped by Malalai again to visit with Dr. Susan who just arrived from Geneva NY - I had brunch with her at the dining hall on Cornell's north campus a few weeks ago. She has some good scoop on the politics at Malalai which may impact some of the aid I'm bringing. That story as it develops. Then last night I was whisked off to Wardak, which is a province about an hour south of Kabul. I'm a city girl, but the village is peaceful and beautiful in a stark way. I was the guest of Saraj Wardak in his beautiful home on top of a hill overlooking his village. Slept on the floor on the most comfortable cushions, I may get rid of my bed when I get home. Then breakfast on the roof of one of the buildings: hard-boiled eggs so fresh the yolks looked like pollen they were so yellow, crumbly honey, raisins, nuts, bread, mango jam, cream, sweet tea with milk. Ranked right up there with best all-time meals. Got a quick tour of the clinic that he had built and visited the school. Way too cute. Then back to Kabul in the morning and a visit to a brand-new hospital in Darulaman which will open on Saturday. I got the insider's preview and I'll be bringing that burn cream I brought for Herat over in a few days and get another view of it after the grand opening. Then cabbed it back to the guesthouse, did my undies and got all the presents ready for my visit to the prison.
Here's where I can barely type I'm so happy. My overwhelming memory of the prison was the smell. Before you even went in the outside door you could smell the stench of the floor/toilet. They say smells are the most powerful memory and I have plenty of the prison. I had never even seen my 5 rooms finished, but that is only the start of the story. Turns out that those 5 rooms were such a dramatic improvement that it embarassed several ngo's to get off their butts and do what they should have been doing ages ago. Not only were my 5 rooms clean and bright, but there is now a bathroom with 5 stalls with toilets and wash areas, all the rest of the rooms have been painted, the dark hallway has new lights, the other wing which was rubble now has a sewing room where the women get vocational training. And get this - a washing machine! I told Rona I was going to bring my laundry over. It was beyond emotional to see her after 9 months, we would have cried if we could have stopped laughing. It was like we were devious little instigators who had it all planned out to do just a little mischief to get everyone else moving. $5000 turned into a whole new prison. Well almost - there is one middle hut out in the courtyard that would be good to turn into a kitchen so the women aren't cooking with propane tanks in their rooms. They call them "gas bubbles" here and they explode with alarming regularity. So back I'll go with my builder homeboys and we'll see what we can do.
Anyway, that was the cell phone, got invited to dinner so going to finish this up and head back from my hangout here at the internet cafe. Did I mention how much I love it here? Enjoy the pics:
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
#1- I'm NOT in Herat. The most coherent account we've found of what went on was in the NYTimes, but the versions from Sunday night are just so much more interesting. The problem now is I've got 10 tubs of burn cream for the Herat hospital burn unit sitting in my room.
Yesterday was the Kabul I love. School opened and the streets were full of young girls in white headscarves and bookbags. Traffic was crazy. And I had my first gallon of tea by noon. I've been slowly making the transition to street food this trip, with good success so far. Grilled kebabs the other day no problem, didn't expect any. Yesterday I was walking down the street and they were frying french fries in a tub of oil on the sidewalk. This is a pretty safe bet since the temperature of the oil does a good job of killing stuff. The fries were for a wrap they were making in the shop - I checked it out and it was french fries, onions, hard-boiled eggs and a slice of ham in thin bread with tons of salt and pepper. That's all in the generally-safe category and looked yummy so I splurged the 30 cents. I'm walking down the street chowing down and it was so good, but then it struck me - um, this is a Muslim country. That ain't ham. Well I'm still here 22 hours later so whatever it was probably won't kill me at this point.
Met with the Deputy Health Minister yesterday. I knew I was in Afghan zen mode when I waited in his office for 2 hours yesterday completely calm. I think it's the tea. He was in an emergency cabinet meeting about Herat. I'm also working on editing a report on early marriage - it's an issue Rachel would like to see start getting some attention.
Went to Malalai maternity hospital on my first visit yesterday. It was very clean, orderly and everyone seemed to know their job. I'll have a better idea of things on future visits. Saw a little baby in an incubator, they had a whole row of them as a gift from Japan. Wasn't quite ready to be standing there in a delivery room with 3 women giving birth right next to me - but fortunately I didn't lose it and will be better prepared at other hospitals. In today's episode of small world - one of the women who had given birth that day and was in the recovery ward was my friend Homaira's sister whose wedding I attended when I was here last June.
After Malalai I needed a relaxing evening. The women from medica all went to Delhi Durbar, the famous Indian restaurant in town. I love the menu - "A Diet Transformation!" but especially the drinks page with a list of all the cocktails for foreign guests and section of mocktails for "Afghani guests and All Lovers!" The bill is in Russian because their other 2 restaurants are in Dushanbe. Then we all laid on the floor and watched Love Actually on a nice Toshiba laptop. Just another night in Kabul.
Monday, March 22, 2004
Welcome back to the world's most boring blog! Not many people think of coming to Afghnistan for a relaxing vacation, but it has its charms. Another day of life-changing humanitarian efforts yesterday. Not. Went to the bazaar in the morning to find sample cookware for the preserves class demonstration I'm doing on Saturday. Found everything but instant-read thermometers, so those I can bring from the US for the actual classes this summer. Oh, and can't find preserving jars so those will be coming over on a container and getting out of my garage, hopefully. Had an awesome lunch with my friend Fazel, all my favorite food. You just need to focus on the food and get past the fact that in a huge, busy restaurant you're the only woman. Then spent the afternoon on Chicken Street - the Union Square/Fifth Avenue of Kabul. For a person who hates to shop, Chicken Street is massive fun. Yakked with some American soldiers from Camp Phoenix out on the Jalalabad Road, didn't realize we had US forces that close to Kabul these days. The health minister blew me off for dinner so hung out at the internet cafe, pretty much the equivalent of a neighborhood bar. $2/hour internet connection, Pringles not included.
And since I'm just so frantically busy in Kabul, I may have to reschedule my trip to Herat tomorrow. What's happening in Herat? Oh, hope you don't want just one version of that story. Medica staff person there Majo spent the night in the bunker because there was fighting in the street right outside the UN guesthouse where she is staying and they've been told to stay there today. Ismael Kahn is basically the Mussolini of western Afghanistan - the trains would run on time if they had them, but don't get hung up on personal freedom. CNN version: Ismael Khan's son, Mirwais Sadiq, the aviation minister, goes out there to try to assassinate and overthrow Dad, gets offed himself, factional fighting ensues. Gossip variation - Karzai sent him out there to get rid of Khan. BBC version: add some warlord named Zahir Nayebzada to the mix for love triangle plot complication. Random-restaurantgoers in Kabul version: Sadiq rapes some guy's wife in 1992. Guy kills wife for shaming him, then 12 years later kills Sadiq out of revenge. All other news versions just spin being fed to gullible international media for various purposes. Aren't you glad you have someone right here who can give you the inside scoop?
Sunday, March 21, 2004
This is the holiday that never ends. So New Years day was supposed to be today (Sunday) so everyone got off work. But then friday night the mullahs looked at the moon (or something) and declared that New Years was yesterday (saturday) and made everyone take off work so now today will be the third day in a row (friday is saturday/sunday) that nothing is happening. It's all very nice, but I need to start getting some work done. The major event for yesterday was getting my luggage! Waited out on the runway, next to shipping containers, for the famous "authorized person" to get the key. The luggage had been opened several times, there was a TSA clip inside, my clip from Frankfurt was gone, and who knows what else - but I must say it seems to have everything. Good thing the Deputy Minister's cousin was there with me because the airport guy wanted some baksheesh to let me take it out of the airport. That got settled in a hurry. So then spent the afternoon in the park eating meat cooked on a grill watching guys play soccer. Kabul? San Jose? Further episodes in the small town chronicles, hanging out in the internet cafe saw the Deputy Minister. Went to Anaar for dinner again - this time it was open and saw the German ambassador's bodyguard and a woman I met at the airport the other day. Watched Thirteen on dvd - they sell every dvd you could ever want for $3 here. The quality is questionable, and the one I was watching kept popping up every 15 minutes with a big blurb that this movie was for promotional purposes only. It is pretty disorienting to watch videos here. Watching your standard movie set in a California suburb, you just slip back into your normal world. Then you turn the video off and wham! you're back in Kabul.
Is this the most boring blog ever? I can't believe I'm halfway around the world in one of the most exciting spots on the globe and all I have to write about is dinner and a movie? Oh well, so much for living life on the edge - no body is ever going to be impressed with me again when I tell them I've been to Afghanistan :)
Saturday, March 20, 2004
Happy New Year! It definitely seems to make more sense to celebrate new years when the weather is sunny and lovely than freezing our butts off in Times Square. I think we should move our new year to the spring equinox as well. Kabul has been really mellow and quiet since I arrived because of Nawroz, hardly any traffic, electricity all day, I'm getting spoiled and things will be cranking back up tomorrow. Did I mention how happy I am to be here? Went out to dinner last night at a really nice restaurant I remembered from last year. I knew something was up as I was walking through the courtyard and people were going in dressed in suits and lovely outfits. Turns out the restaurant was closed for the evening for a wedding and they insisted I come in and join them. A very, very Afghan thing to do - hospitality rules. I would have gone to the wedding except I was in my jeans and felt way underdressed. No problem for me wandering in to an event I wasn't invited to, where I don't know a soul and start eating - that's a pretty basic job requirement for a politician!
I actually am getting some work done, though. Yesterday spent the morning with the folks out at the Afghan Center in west Kabul planning my upcoming trip to teach preserves. Looks like they'll be building a little cooking training center and I'll come back when the fruits are in. Toured the upolstery training class, the carpentry class and the women's literacy class. Technically I toured the classrooms, because it was Friday and no one was there, but still cool. I'll be doing a little introductory session next Saturday for the center staff to introduce preserving concepts and see what concepts will need more work to translate so they're ready when I do the class this summer.
Friday, March 19, 2004
So I'm sitting here in the hippest internet cafe in town, working on client websites, talking on my cell phone. How much of a Kabul homegirl am I? The mystery of the lost luggage continues. I was supposed to go the airport this morning and the "authorized person" would give it to me. The "authorized person" went to Pagman however, because Friday is Saturday/Sunday in Afghanistan. Imagine there is a locked closet at the airport where they put all the unclaimed/lost luggage. Now imagine only ONE PERSON ON THE ENTIRE PLANET has the key. Right. So I asked them what would happen if Haji Faim drove over a cliff on his way back from Pagman? They didn't get the sarcasm. The person who was translating for me thinks something very fishy is going on. Didn't need a translator for that. My guess is that my luggage isn't in the closet and they're stalling until they can get it back from who they know stole it. They probably let them steal it and didn't care until the Deputy Health Minister got involved. Frantic luggage retrieval ensues? I'm supposed to return tomorrow and was guaranteed the presence of the "authorized person" and his key. But tomorrow is Nawroz, New Years, so why would Haji come back from Pagman? Stay tuned.
Went out last night with Nilufar, it was great to catch up on all the news and happenings with all our mutual friends. Turns out I know the Deputy Minister of Public Health - I met him here 2 years ago but knew him as just Dr. Abdullah, rather than Dr. Abdullah Sherzai. It will be fun to see him again, yes it is a small city in so many ways. Went to a new restaurant called Taste which imagines itself as a hip place for "fast food" which is actually a term used to denote a type of restaurant. What type exactly I can't quite figure out yet, but there are several so I'll keep you posted as I decode the restaurant lingo. Some things have changed here since the summer - sadly some things haven't. No one has yet made chicken kebab out of that damn rooster in the yard. Hence, my blogging at 6:30 am. This may be the end of the road for that rooster...
Thursday, March 18, 2004
Left Pennsylvania in a snowstorm 10:00 Tuesday morning, arrived in Kabul 10:00 Thursday morning. Two days of no real sleep and no shower and the same clothes gives the whole experience a surreal feel. Was over the Ariana luggage weight limit by 100%, and only a sweet young German clerk in Frankfurt got me through. It was all in vain though, because the one suitcase with all the medicine never showed up in Kabul. The assistant to the Deputy Minister of Health has been tracking it down and it seems to have shown up. I'll see how much of the contents are still in the suitcase when I pick it up tomorrow. Had tea with a member of the German Ambassador's personal bodyguard - they are civilian police rather than military. Have my own phone - if you need me I can be reached at 011-70-93-256436. The electricity has come back on for the first time today so I'll wait a bit and see if there is any hot water to wash my hair. Small luxuries.