Thursday, March 17, 2011

Leaving Bahrain

Leaving Bahrain began with a goodbye/good luck drink with my neighbors / friends / work colleagues. We expressed our concerns and frustrations of the past week and compared informative notes about what we knew. I had watched too much news and saw too much violence. Most of all that I had seen I didn't discuss. It should be enough to know it happened.

My phone rang and interrupted our conversation. It was my driver. I had arranged for him to pick me up at 10:30. He called saying how it was so bad and could we go early. It wasn't even 9 p.m. I agreeded and was ready having packed hours earlier. I had anticipated needing to go earlier than planned.

Kayo and Gökhan helped me downstairs drinks still in hand and a bag of raw chicken that I didn't have room to freeze.

Downstairs we found six men where usually there was only 1. They were keeping watch. The manager shook my hand and asked me to call him. I had earlier in the day paid my April rent in advance. They were keeping watch and also keeping the front doors locked. I was able to pay the man who washes my car his money for the month of March. I am now paid up for everything except my car rental. That will be due the first week of April.

So off we went. Me and Sayed. I thanked him for being available. He said he must. He will get me to the airport safely. I had met him back in early January when he picked me up from the airport when I first arrived. He talked about the troubles and how he would only take me and then go home. He said that no taxis were available. No one was driving. People arriving to BAH were finding themselves stranded. I soon found out why.

Every street has a roadblock. If it is a highway it is blocked by the government. A combination of police and military. Jeeps trucks and cars parked askew to ensure slow passage and the S wave path. Guns down but clearly brandished. AK-47s. But these shined in the lights. On the side streets you also had roadblocks. No vehicles. No lights. Men standing themselves askew with trashbins and rocks and broken bits of gathered fencing. These were the entrances to the villages. Self-governance and willful independence defended by two, three, perhaps six men. Their weapons are knives, boards and belief.

We went through three checkpoints. All government of course. Each stop we turned on the lights. We were waved through. White woman passing through.

I saw perhaps a dozen other vehicles between Adliya and BAH. The rest were the watchful guard.

I paid my driver three times what is normal. He asked me to pray for Bahrain. And then he left. I hope he gets to his home and family safely.

At the airport another checkpoint. Documents required. And then the wait. I found waiting for their checkin counter an American-Bahraini who works for the U. of Bahrain. She had been there since before sundown waiting to get their boarding passes. Three hours they had waited. I chatted about what she knew from her institution. She was leaving with her whole family for the USA. Having lived here for years she knew things were not good and would not be good for a while. I talked about what I had seen on Bahrain TV. Her husband talked about what he had seen on Iranian TV. When their counter opened we wished each other safety and peace.

There are so many exhausted families here. Babies screaming. Everyone exhausted.

Now all I do is wait my own three hours for my counter to open. Then another three for the flight itself. I will be in Dubai approximately seven hours from now. Hugs all. I am booked to return on Saturday. But prepared for a long separation. We shall see. 23:18 15 March 2011.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Library Lock on Front Door Broke/Got Busted In

I've been back in Kabul for a month now. Over the election weekend, our library lock on the front door broke.

You would have to kick it pretty hard to bust it up like this. But nothing seems to have been taken. The security folks reported it and put a piece of white sticky paper (like what we use for book labels) over the door and dated it. They left it unlocked, of course.

So I unlocked the bolt and re-screwed in the bolt to the other side. It was then that I saw that it didn't just 'fall out'.

So our facilities guys fixed it later that day.

The Eye in the Sky. Western Kabul

Kabul has an eye in the sky over the downtown area. Central Kabul. Monitoring activities and movement if/when something happens.

Now we have an eye in the sky in the western areas of town. It hangs above Darulaman Palace or in close proximity.

Do I feel safer? No, but I don't actually ever feel too unsafe. But it is a signal that things may get interesting on our side of town.

We have the whole Hazara / Kuchi thing in our mountains. And last may the car bomb or VBIED on the Darulaman Palace circle.

But it can be easy to think about the balloon as just a big kite in the sky that twinkles at night.

Dallas Cowboys in Kabul. My little room

I am very cozy in my little room here in Kabul. Photos of home. Way too many gadgets (who can live without technology these days? Not I). And Armed Forces Network by satellite. I paid for it myself last May. In time for Football season. And got it setup. It blew down and then I re-fixed it back in August. It is such a blessing to veg out with a bit of American entertainment!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Not eating during Ramazan. I gave up.

Though I am not Muslim, I had been respecting my colleagues and not eating or drinking while on campus and at work. But I gave that up working on Saturday. I call it 'not eating' instead of fasting just to keep things straight in my own mind.

Generally speaking, I have been weakened by the reintroduction of whatever clever little bugs I find myself surrounded by here in Kabul. I am indeed weak, but not sick. Meaning that I don't need gut medicines. It takes about two weeks to adjust a bit better before I find myself semi-normed. No Westerner that I know of ever feels normal while here.

We do our best.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Doing my best to stay healthy.

The good, ole Kabul diet has kicked in. If I eat anything someone else made for me (cafeteria, restaurant), I have about an hour of processing before my body says enough of that.

One of my new colleagues has already come down with Typhoid. Didn't even take him 3 weeks to get exposed and sick.

100% vegetarian at home seems to do the trick for me.

Doing my best to stay healthy!

Shared Iftar with my AUAF Library work colleagues

We all stopped work at 6:30 to try to listen to the Mullah announce that we can begin to eat. We never heard the Sunni call, but the Shia assured us it was time (10 minutes later).

I learned that in Afghanistan the average age of a child to start his or her fasting is 16. But if your family is very conservative, it could be as young as 10 years old.

The Shia wait 10 minutes longer than sundown as a mandatory double-check that they break their fast after sundown as commanded.

I had a chicken sandwich. And a Coca-cola. American-style iftar today.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Upon returning to Kabul. Walking at Night and Beware of Toilets in General.

Upon Returning to Kabul

At the airport, I encountered a bit of confusion after getting my bags. Apparently, there is a new bus shuttle between the terminal and Parking Lot C (where you go if your drivers are not allowed to drive the car with the special VIP pass). The man I 'hired' to wheel my bags from the terminal to Parking Lot C wanted to wait for the shuttle. After waiting for 10 minutes, I said, I want to walk. He said no. I said, ok. He then asked me for money to pay him for his work. I said no, I hired you to go to Parking Lot C. And he raised his hands and said something I couldn't understand (which is probably a good thing) and I replaced my bags onto the cart. The ISAF dudes waiting for their pick up just laughed.

I sighed and started pushing the cart. The distance to Parking Lot C is about half a mile. Along the way, the numerous checkpoint men all laughed. You go through about 3 separate checks/stops. I agree that it must be a funny thing to see a tired woman push 120 lbs of luggage on a broken cart. Once I went past the third checkpoint, I hired a young boy to help me through the broken sidewalk and ramps areas. Then I got to laugh as the boy got help pushing the cart up the ramp (about a 45 degree angle) and rode the sleigh as he guided the cart down the ramp into the parking lot area. It was worth the five bucks tip I gave him for the smiles on everyone, including my own face, for those last few moments. And I also didn't have to explain my stubbornness to my driver and escort upon meeting them finally at Parking Lot C.

After my morning trekking through the Kabul airport grounds, I arrived home around 10 a.m. (we landed about 7:30 a.m.) I took a quick nap before my 1 p.m. shopping. I got to go shopping all by myself. This is such a rare treat! I made my list of places I wanted to go. Spinney's, New Finest, French Bakery.... We headed towards downtown and the driver and escort told me that the traffic was too bad, did we have to go downtown. I said, ok, no. I just went to the French Bakery at to the Pouli Sork Finest. It was my first time there and it will do. I was back home within 45 minutes. On one hand, it is nice to get things done so quickly. On the other, I like to see Kabul on these shopping trips. Just getting away means a lot. But I am just nice to the drivers---Ramazan and all. Everyone is cranky and sleepy.

So I returned at about 3 p.m. and napped until my planned meeting at 4:30. As my guest house warden, I wanted to meet and greet with the new employees. No one showed up. Typical. But I had given everyone the documents they needed and they can read it as they like. I am not responsible for anyone's educational status on safety or what they need to know before a crisis. Oh well. I live with adults. Hopefully, they will act like adults if a situation arises when we need them to be. hahahhahah. sigh.

Walking at Night

Then it was off to the AUAF President's house for Iftar/shared meal. I enjoyed myself. Afghan food. Company of several friends. Then when I had enough, I wandered outside. It was pitch black. They pointed to the van I would get in and then wait for a few others to join me. Their direction had me cross the open sewer and I was glad to notice the dark gully before I went a step further. Those deep sludge pits give me nightmares.

Beware of Toilets in General

Today's embarrassing moment was when I brushed the water hose in the toilet with my backside (the stalls are quite small and you straddle the toilet a bit and move to the side to open the door, which comes about 2 inches from the toilet seat, to make your exit). Not only did I get sprayed on my backside, it stayed on, so I got sprayed from back to front turning around to grab at it in my attempt to get to it to make it go off. Yes. That was my noon-time welcome back during my first day at work after summer holidays.

As everyone here has told me throughout the day today: Welcome Back!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Step in Kabul after 5 months.

This is what I look like a good deal of the time here in Kabul.

KFC. Kabul Fried Chicken.

Is finger lickin good.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Time has flown - Kabul 5 months later

Since February I have:

Given two Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Project workshops
Taught Business Communications at AUAF
Selected and ordered over 1,300 books for the AUAF library
Established new technical services procedures in the library
Established new public services procedures in the library
Moved to a new guest house
Bought 3 Afghan carpets (one is felt, does that count)
Traveled to Dubai and India again
Learned that sleeping pills are wonderful things
Turned 40
Attended an Afghan wedding
Hiked up the Soviet Swimming Pool hill
Never got sick
Never got scared
Made lots of new friends
Realized how hard withdrawal from good internet bandwidth is
Never cried about anything
Is a good nester
Only killed 5 things and they were all ticks
Learned that USAID does not quite have its act together in Afghanistan
Read the Tufts University report saying that more aid leads to more problems
Read Flashman
Drank very little poison
Drank lots of Diet Coke and Dr. Pepper
Never smoked anything illegal, but like the smell
Never had to use any of the medicines that I brought except for one z-pak for a chest infection
Gave away medicines to two different colleagues
Ate local foods without 'dying'
Babur Gardens twice
Learned enough Dari to tell a taxi driver how to go to my home
Generally worked my tail off on stuff
Only thing that makes me homesick are thunderstorms
The only gun ever pointed at me is at the International Club and they have one gun that points at everybody
Am pretty comfortable surrounded by men with guns now
Still do not like when red laser pointers shine inside the car
Realized that I don't fear too much in this world

and finally, I still believe that Afghanistan can make little steps towards the 21st century
....but I am much more cynical now.

Friday, February 26, 2010

My workweek a short summary in 500 words or less.

So the workweek began with confusion. The library is responsible for textbook distribution and in order to distribute, the students should have a record in our system with a unique id. We then check the textbook(s) out to them and all is well. But what happens when you have 50-60 new students who arrived, ready for their textbook, but we don't have them in the system? Well. The ever faithful paper and pen method works just fine.

This week, I finished a report on funding and fundraising for the upper admins. They seemed both pleased with my work and disappointed that I wasn't bringing them good news. Of the top 100 foundations giving money out, less than 700,000 has been spent since 2004 in Afghanistan. Everyone thinks that the American government is spending enough there already. They are spending money, sure, but not on the people, not on education, not on projects like AUAf. We've got to work on that. Big time. At least my research helped document the situation for them and they understood the scale and scope of what is ahead for development projects. We have to start from scratch.

On Sunday, I gave my passport to human resources again. Instead of sending it on to get a work permit, I was getting, finally, a multi-entry 'stay' visa. I had a six month, single visit visa and that meant that if I left, I'd have to wait a bit in Dubai or some such until I got permission to enter again. I got my visa and passport in hand on Tuesday. It really isn't such a big deal except for I had to carry extra 'papers' signed and sealed (literally) saying that everything is ok, but my passport is unavailable due to its being processed by specified ministry. Why? Well, the street we drive regularly has now police and army checkpoints. We pass at least two every time we drive it. And they have taken to stopping 'richer' cars and telling the folks inside that if they don't produce their papers within half an hour, they will haul us down to central processing. Sigh. It is most likely just a way to get more monies, but it is daunting. So when I was gracefully driven straight past these checkpoints, I just sighed with relief. I had my 'papers' but didn't want to use them. Most of the police have difficulty reading anyways.

So with multi-entry visa in my 'papers' now, I booked flights to Dubai and Mumbai for my March spring-break rest.

Then, less than 24 hours later, I checked my American bank account to see if my first paycheck made it through. It did. But so did about five unknown charges taking place in Dearborn, MI. Sigh. Visa checkcard with Bank of America was compromised. I'm down less than 500 bucks, but still. They moved fast. So quickly! I'm putting my money on the Safi Airways transaction. I wont book them online again. What can I say, but those criminal, but 'permitted' networks are nasty, mean beasts.

How do you solve a problem like credit fraud (on a personal level)? Well. Your card gets canceled. Then they mail you a replacement card to your home address. Then your home folks will send the card to a friend in Dubai and you will pick it up there. And make a long distance phone call to get it activated. So you first have to make sure that your skype is working in the UAE. If not, you get to give Etisalat some more of your money to make the call. In the meantime, you don't have access to your US bank. Isn't that special?!

But I am blessed. I had asked for 1,500 to be taken out of my paycheck and provided to me as cash. I'll have that available to me on Sunday. I had no idea all this would happen, but money is always nice to have around. And extra money is even better.

It is raining in Kabul this weekend. Fresher air is nice. Muddy shoes again, less nice.

I had off from work today. It is the Prophet's Birthday. I cleaned, straightened, worked on a project (a side project related to normal work) and watched a movie with Carol who is the assistant to the AUAf president. We watched New Moon. Man. It really sucked. But the company was fun. Most of my guest housemates are away for the holiday weekend. I think most of them are in Dubai. A big jealous, but the visa came to me too late for a last-minute trip.

Tomorrow (Friday) I will do my usual routines of laundry, shopping (I would like to find some light bulbs as my reading lamp lost its bulb--at least it didn't explode on me like one of the 'internationals' said happened to him. That would be too exciting before falling asleep!)

On Saturday, I hope to get over to the Kabul Museum (or the National Museum of Afghanistan). I was not able to go last weekend because they closed us down for transportation due to the opening of the National Assembly.

Then it is three weeks of work and I'm on vacation. I can't wait to see folks I miss in Dubai and then escape reality for a bit into the magical world of Mumbai. Don't quite know where I will stay there, but just making arrangements for travel is fun. Reading and perusing pictures. I should have been in the travel business. The education business suits me fine, though.

On Monday night, my team will serve as the Quiz masters for the night. Our AUAf team is getting hard to beat! I am having a lot of fun coming up with my sets of questions.

On the Air Quality in Kabul

on the ride home from work yesterday, we were talking about pollution in asian cities and the numbers for Kabul. We were looking on the positive side--in that instead of industrial pollution, our air quality just has a lot of feces and carbon from dried and dusty poo and wood stoves. I quipped, 'well, at least it's organic.' and that cracked everyone up nicely.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

When you are at work and the lights go out

My regular hours, official hours, the general hours when I can for certain be found at my desk on campus, more or less, are from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. The sun retreats sometime around that time. And today, I have chosen to continue to work until 7 to try to get some of those things done or gather up things to work on at home when I may or may not have internet access (like downloading the 400 or so remaining photos of students and staff that I have not uploaded to Koha yet).

Suddenly, the power goes out. The emergency lights, the florescent bulbs with a little orange light next to them, seem to have been burned out...or are generally not working. So it is pitch black. As in can't see the fingers I have in front of me. Save for the glow of my laptop. The power is out for the lights and facilities, but the wifi still works. And I work on a laptop, so the battery still works. I just keep downloading and typing away in the pitch dark. My eyes are bad enough that I find myself scootched up as close as possible to the screen, which lessened its light output to save battery time. And I get through about 50 when the lights return. I am quite sure I must have looked like a hunchback, hunkered over my laptop as I was as the student outside of my window gave me a good smile and chuckle.

I do enjoy the little things getting done. And now it is truly time for the weekend. I hope very much to enjoy the ride home.

Adventures going to work

This morning, I was first in line waiting for our routine pickup. When I got to the van, from my group, I was the first inside. But then we learned that there were now 6 persons, and the van, for security reasons can only hold 5. After a little banter about who can leave and who has a meeting, I just said, ok, I will take the next one. And so I disembarked and waved everyone farewell/catch you later.

I went inside and about 10 minutes later, a car arrived for me and I got in and we took off on the road to campus. About 5 minutes from campus, we saw the earlier van pulled to the side of the road and surrounded by ANP. Afghan National Police (blue-ish) uniforms. We slowed down enough to holler at the drivers of that van and then got pulled over ourselves. They wanted to see passports. The earlier van, the one that I was on for that brief moment this morning, had been waiting for over 10 minutes wondering what to do...

My driver was somewhat assertive and obstinate and he chose to yell something in Dari to the ANP man next to our car such that the ANP man, armed, of course, banged on the hood of the car and yelled something back. We drove off and I think that my eyes were popping and I dared not look back. But I did, because I can't help but do that, and saw that the other van, the earlier van, was now pulling off, too.

We all made it to campus safely.

There were a few emails this morning now declaring that we should have with us our original passport, not a photocopy, and on our person at all times.

But that's how I got to work this morning. Just a side venture into a pod of men with multiple small arms pointing this way and that.

End Note:

I get to send my passport off to get its longer, multi-entry visa next week. And now, I look forward to the weekend.

Update, long past due

My house is working out just fine. There were a few incidents, growing pains, and adjustments to accommodate, but for the most part, the house and the residents are coming along just fine.

The house is now full. We have another woman at the house! So now there are we, two. They have just about fixed some of the sound-proofing needs so that we can enjoy a most excellent television setup downstairs.

My room is perfect for what I need here. I enjoy the space. I now have TWO comfy seats to go with my poof. I need to make better use of my storage space and finally put away my suitcases.

This morning during my shower, the shower head sprung a leak. Luckily, there are multiple drains for the water to find its way out.

My internet is getting better and the bandwidth is to be fixed very soon. I can now at least receive a signal from the wifi router. One small thing to ready for the big day when our equipment arrives and gets installed. We sent a man, flew him, to Dubai to procure and bring into the country the right equipment which I think includes satellite dishes and receivers, etc. Big job and complex, I'm sure. It has been said that if the ANA or ANP needs the equipment, it can be confiscated at the point of awareness. I wish that good man all the best!

Work itself is amazingly fulfilling. I have extracurricular assignments (i.e. not directly cataloging or systems work) that I am delighted to be working on. The local staff and I are getting along swimmingly...of course, I am rather known to try to live and let live and make things work as easily and nicely as possible.

I am just so glad I put myself into this situation. It is not easy. Not at all. But I am not regretting my venture into life on this side of the world.

Friday, February 5, 2010

My Neighbors at the new Guest House

First night at the new guest house. In my back yard, on the other side of my window, is a very tall fence (rises to the second floor). On the other side of that is a squatters camp. An open field full of children, fires, shelters and in the far left corner a collection of mud huts. They were happy and joyfully banging ...drums and tin and whatever they could find in a mixture of laughter and children's squeals of glee.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

At my new place

It is not quite finished. But my room will do just fine.

Internet is struggling.

No fridge. No gas to oven/stove.

No washer for clothes.

I have heat and hot water.

That'll do, eh?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Letter from Laura Bush (AUAf Library)

This letter is on the wall across from my desk. In the reflection, you can see the windows behind me.

The letter reads:

"The White House

November 5, 2008

Dear Friends,

I am delighted to send greetings to everyone gathered for the official dedication of the American University of Afghanistan's Bernice Nachman Marlowe Library. Congratulations on celebrating this great achievement!

Today you honor Afghanistan's commitment to education by opening a vital center for learning. Only two years after the American University of Afghanistan was established, its students have access to the excellent resources and vast knowledge that libraries offer. Young Afghans, especially women, can come here to study many different subjects and read about the courageous democratic leaders of their country. They may even be inspired to follow in their footsteps.

I commend the American University of Afghanistan and all those who work to improve education in Afghanistan. Your efforts help prepare the future leaders of this nation for success in school and out.

President Bush joins me in sending our best wishes for many book-filled years.


Laura Bush [signed]
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Figuring out Koha - first attempts

My work these past few days is to try to bring some systemic order to dealing with 1) Lost and Missing items and 2) Course Reserves.

In dealing with Lost and Missing items, my first attempt showed up in all of our records with the not helpful message: Default. Item not Lost. I must remember to test these things before I go home.

The second project is adding a new module to the system. I am looking forward to that! (More or less).

The Driveway inside my Guest House Coupound

When I am picked up for work, the vehicle drives all the way inside. Then the doors are closed (more or less). I get in and we drive off.

Along the right in this picture is a greenhouse. To the left, but unseen, is the garden/yard space.

I have been told that I am moving beginning this weekend (more or less).
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About a Filing Cabinet

Today, one of the library staff had to get something out of one of our filing cabinets. In doing so, somehow, the top drawer became dislodged and fell in.

The first step was to ask our janitorial staff to assist. When this started to fail, H., a library staff member gave advice and looked at the progress. Eventually it was concluded that the cabinet was broken.

Then our library director dropped by and mentioned that he had fixed that before. We waited a while and when L., another library staff member, had waited enough, she asked him to assist.

We took everything out and sorted the parts and then nearly gave up when I threw off my headscarf and said, no, we can get this fixed!* You just need a little tenacity.

With a little more analysis and a lot of elbow grease (literally, greasy), we put it together following the director's known experience looking for that little switch that allows you to disconnect the carrier that holds the file drawer from the main mechanism. I found it and that was that. File drawers fixed.

Hands washed and all is well.

*I think that I said something like, 'no, this can be fixed! [then threw off headscarf that had been getting caught by the various components] I am an American!"

The Pelican Restaurant (French couple owns this place)

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My work: What I do here in Kabul

I work in technical services and systems in the library at the American University of Afghanistan. AUAf is located on the southwest side of the city closer to the Darulaman Palace ruins than 'downtown'.

My work includes cataloging, acquisitions and systems work. Our integrated library system is Koha and we have a contract with Liblime to make things run as smoothly as possible.

In my first few days here, I have been exploring the current setup and sorting out some particularly difficult sets for cataloging. Most of my time has been talking with and observing the library staff in how they go about their work.

In the near future, I will be installing and testing new modules and working on workflows that provide the library with a few efficiencies in our approach to materials management.

It's a good job.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Front Doors to the AUAf Library

Conversation about a fire alarm

At work on Sunday, I had noticed that the newly installed fire alarm was beeping at regular intervals. I asked a local colleague if it had been reported to facilities and he said that the security office had installed it and said that we got the kind of alarm that beeps. I mentioned that the alarm beeps because it needs a new battery. He said, no, the alarm that we have beeps to let us know that it is working.

So when my other colleague arrived, I asked her if the noise bothered her and she said she would call security to check to see. She did and security staff came over relatively promptly.

I told the man from security that the battery needed to be changed; that the fire alarm needed a new battery, but he said, no, the battery is new. Just some of the fire alarms beep and others just have the light. I said I would prefer to just have the light, then. And so he went and got another fire alarm and this one just had the blinking red light. He installed it and we all said thank you and appreciated his efforts.

I am going to bring in one of my duracell 9v batteries tomorrow. When I look up at the fire alarm now above my desk, it does not seem to be blinking any more.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Kabul - Notes on Technology that I brought along

I have a Dell Netbook that is perfect. It was perfect in India. Perfect here in Kabul. I do not need an iPad.

I have a Samsung camera that has GPS services and wifi. I need to get its MAC address permited on the AUAf network and then will be able to upload pics. Until then I am using my google phone.

My Google phone is already on the network. The few pics that I have posted to my Facebook site are from that. It has wifi and direct connections to Facebook and Picasa so far. I am looking into an app to post to Flickr.

I need a card adaptor for my camera and video recorder. I want to be able to take out the card and dump the photos/videos directly. I hope to find that here or possibly in Dubai later in March or April or whenever I head that way.

The network itself is very sporadic. Sometimes I have no connection at all. Can't get to gmail, etc. So I am withdrawing slowly. I needed to learn to be less tech-oriented and dependent anyways, eh?

For those who want to visit me, I highly recommend your sending to me your MAC address(es) for any gadget you want to have online access for. It takes 2-3 days to get it into the network.

Hugs all!


In Kabul - Fourth Day

Friday was shopping day. And then an evening at Taverna Du Liban and a night out at L'Atmosphere.

Shopping was exciting. I will be able to find anything I want or need. No worries about that. You just need enough dollars.

I signed up for the afternoon shopping tour. We went first to Spinneys. This is the same Spinney's as you would find in Dubai, but without a Pork Room. I was so happy when I found a few Dr. Peppers! I got everything that I thought that I needed and was the first back to the van. I was able to casually observe near the front of the van and on the steps of the Spinneys a man butchering a goat. He was skinning it at first and then lopped off the whole head. While I was coming down the stairs, he tossed it and it landed at my feet. I looked him in the eye and we both smiled. I stepped over the poor goat's head and met my supplies man from Spinneys where he loaded my bags into the car. You do not tip them, this is just their job.

Then we all went to the new Finest. Oh my! This place has everything including Dr. Peppers by the case. So amazing. I will want for nothing. I bought a can of crushed tomatoes and some pasta from Pakistan that I got mostly because the brand name was 'Cock'. I just find that kind of thing funny. Yes. I do.

Once we got back from shopping, I showered up and cleaned up my shoes (It has been rainy/snowy for three days now). I would be going out to an AUAf function/party next.

I was picked up with my friend, Bruce, and the legal counselor of AUAf, Mike. We were driven all over town to get to Taverna Du Liban, a wonderful, if slow, Lebanese restaurant. We joined a group of AUAf faculty and staff numbering about 20-25. There was a smoking end of the table and a non-smoking side. I was right in the middle next to Mike, the lawyer and some wonderful new colleagues.

Our conversation was lively at times. I defended Texas and the south in general. I defended Islam and Christianity to the extent that I was comfortable. I got along with everyone, too. I reminded my compadres that Vermont, too, has a constitutional right to leave the union if they so wished and just because Rick Perry was a big mouth about it, Vermonters have mulled it over a time or two recently themselves.

Then after dinner, our big group split up between those going home and those going out to L'Atmosphere. I joined the latter. And enjoyed a bit of scotch to wash down the kebbe.

L'Atmosphere or L'Atmo is the expat hang out. To enter, you welcome a pat down and a bag search. There was a man, not of our party, who felt comfortable joking about 'having everything they are looking for' during his pat down. He then listed those items off; "knives, guns, IEDs"... and no one smiled at him. You go through several locked doors before you enter the compound. They do not open the next one until the other is closed and locked. Yes, I felt comfortable enough.

The bar was very crowded. Lots of young expats hoping for a good time that night. I got my rounds of scotch and followed the leader to a more quiet room where we all just grooved quietly with a spattering of conversations. It was just a shared moment of ahhhh. Relaxation, Kabul-style.

Then I shared a taxi with two AUAf women colleagues and was back at the guest house by about midnight. That was my first Friday night in Kabul.

In Kabul - Third Day (Thursday)

I got up to no power and took another darkly lit shower. Readied myself for the day in the dark and definitely was fighting a cold.

I was determined to go to work, follow-up on the technology issues and the power issue.

I accomplished my goals and then had lunch with new colleagues and met with my new boss in the afternoon until a 2:30 shuttle was available. I was driven home to a room that still had no power.

So I took a nap.

Then around 4:30, there were all of a sudden men in my room that I surprised by waking up and saying hello. The blankets on my bed must just look like a big mound of covers with me inside. They gracefully apologized and flipped off the lights. Once they closed the door, I flipped them back on and jumped for joy. Let there be light! I said over and over with a giggle.

Nap over, I proceeded to catch up on powering up my various tools and toys.

The cold was still present, but I would get through that.

Life is good!

In Kabul - Second Day

I woke up my second day in Kabul with no electricity. This was to be my first day on campus.

I had not turned up my heat enough in my room overnight and I was quite cold. I took a shower in the bathroom, enjoying only the light from the rising sun through a 1' x 1' window. I readied myself for the day.

I arrived on campus on the regularly scheduled on the hour shuttle. I was greeted by Mike and began a quick tour on the way to the Human Resources offices on the AUAf campus. I was swept through with a tour by the Director of HR. I visited all of the major administrative offices: Finance, IT, the President's office, etc.

Then to the library where I met my colleagues, Laila and Hamayoun along with Mike. We had lunch together and shared some good conversations.

This is Wednesday and I tried to get as much done as possible with regard to technology and paperwork.

I came home in the late afternoon, but before the end of the workday. Power had been restored, but within half an hour it was out again.

It is raining and cold.

I was starting to feel a cold coming in to my sinuses. It was starting to feel like Kabul was a very uncomfortable place. So when the sun went down, I put myself to bed. Not pouting, but feeling like I wanted a little more control over my environment and health. Neither was coming very quickly.

In Kabul - First Day, Part 3.

When I think about the shopping day, I am confronted again by my first struggle with poverty. As soon as I exited the blue van (I was out first), a burka clad woman asked me for money. I said, 'ney', no. She then touched my arm, pleading with me. I said, ney, ney and walked into the store where I proceeded to spend $27 USD.

How will I deal with this? My only consolation is that her grip on my arm was strong and she moved fast and no one hurt her in that moment. I am rich. I need wisdom in this area. I will be working with the rich of Afghanistan, not the poor. I do not understand what, "the poor, you will always have with you" means.

When we got back to the guest house, I started in on my room. My bags had basically remained zipped up. After a little bit of work, I knew that I needed a short nap. I lay myself down on my newly made up bed, enjoying the comforts of flannel sheets, a wool blanket and two afghan covers (so heavy you can NOT lift them in the air and toss them to make the bed; you rather roll them over the bed until they lay where you need them to be).

I was immediately called for by my neighbor Bruce who wanted to order a pizza and then by Mike on the phone who was checking in on me. I agreed to the pizza order and told Mike I was a-ok. The pizza arrived at 6:30, but I was too tired by then to enjoy it, so off to the freezer it went. [I finally got to it on Saturday, several days later.]

I slept then until about midnight and then checked online. They had finally fixed that for me in the afternoon, assigning my netbook's MAC address to the network. I tried to call my sister on Skype. She could hear me, but I could not hear her. I further tested the network and concluded that my internet access here is poor. I am way too far away from the wireless router.

I emailed my sister and told her I tried, but worried that she would think something was wrong. She could hear me, though, so knew that I just could not hear her.

Then I Live Messenger'd the family house and reached both mom and dad. We chatted a while successfully and included a video chat. Again, I could not hear them, but they could hear me just fine.

I went back to sleep about 2 a.m. Sometime during then and 7 a.m., the electricity to my room and bathroom went out. I now had no lights or power for my computer, etc. I still had hot water and power for my heat source. I just took a shower in the mostly dark bathroom. I was glad that I had already set it up and knew how everything worked.

That was my first day/night in Kabul.

In Kabul - First Day, Part 2.

The roads are dirt. They have trash littered in the street crossing areas. I observed a dog eating the discarded head of a long-horned beast. There were few people encountered. 99 percent of them were men. Some of the buildings were more new, others old with the adobe/mud style that is so common here. All were gated. I learned later that you know the street from Darulaman Road and then count the gates to your building. That's how you navigate.

My house is not brand new, but it is definitely not old. There is a pleasing guard house and guard bath, then the 'big house' where I live. In the back are at least one additional building where the higher admins live. The grounds are planted with roses and I observed birds tweeting and finding things to eat all around. The yard even has a swing set for a child. The house does have a young child living amongst us. He is four years old and named Henry. Lovely young man.

My room is near the front entry and my bath is not connected, but adjacent. I have to remember that it is completely public space when I want to run to the restroom! I must remember to procure a bathrobe when I return to the USA in July.

Two of my four walls are floor to ceiling windows. I get LOTS of natural light. In the top of one, the heating unit has its wires and cabling tunneled through the glass. Which means there is a slight, quarter-sized gap in the pane that lets in fresh air. There are four sections that are able to be opened and they are screened.

I have a queen-sized bed that my flannel sheets and wool blanket fit perfectly on. I have two regular sized, locally made pillows. The bed is more or less hard as a rock. Which means I am in heaven. I am so not a cushy kind of gal. The locally made pillows are stuffed with maybe a mixture of feathers and fabric leavings. I am not sure. I hope to replace or add to them before any guests arrive! They serve their function which is to prop me up to read my books.

My storage area is a floor to ceiling built in with various sections having locks and mirrors or just windows. I share a door with a woman (my neighbor), but it has been firmly locked and paneled. My front door has a basic locking mechanism that promises me that I will lock myself out at least once during my time here. I have one key to that door and three to my bathroom.

The floor is an industrial strength brown carpet. I have a sitting chair, a desk with lockable drawers, and a desk chair. The final pieces of furniture are two very short, but practical side tables. I moved one near the front door for my keys and cell phones charging station and the other next to the bed.

My bathroom was a bit filthy, but I expected that. I donned heavy gloves and cleaned everything up before I had to use it. I have a shower, western toilet and a sink. The lighting in both the bath and the bedroom are minimal, but serve their purpose.

After spending a few hours looking around and exploring the house and meeting a few new neighbors, I was picked up at 1 p.m. to go shopping. My new neighbor and colleague, Bruce, joined us. Mike coordinated this little excursion. I picked up some noodles, peanut butter and bread. I also got some washing detergent and other necessities.

The place that we went shopping was nearby and for locals more than expats. The driver stayed with the car and our handler accompanied us inside.

When I exited the van a local woman touched me and asked for money. She touched my arm and grabbed my elbow for my attention. I said, ney, ney (no, no), but my heart is still struggling with it. The women who beg will be something I will have to come to understand and to forgive myself that they exist and there is little I can do. I struggle with what 'the poor, you will always have with you' means.

In Kabul - First Day, Part 1.

I am have a semi-eventful week. Starting on Sunday, January 24th, when I headed out from the USA on an American Airlines jet to Frankfurt. On time and baggage accounted for, I headed straight for my connecting terminal and put my baggage into storage. I would wait approximately 10 hours for my connecting flight to Kabul on Safi Airways. Other than paying too much for everything in Europe (come on American Dollar!), I had a completely acceptable day.

Both the DFW to FRA and the FRA to KBL flights were over half empty. I had a row to myself to Frankfurt and a window seat/aisle to myself to Kabul. I slept quite well.

My arrival in Kabul was at the break of dawn. You could see the sun cresting over the mountains and the valley with its farmlands waking up with color. It is winter here and mostly shades of brown. Landing in Kabul was easy and the bus taking us to the new terminal clean and efficient. The plane was full of what looked to be ex military and businessmen. Only a few men wore local garb.

At the airport arrivals we first went through immigration. My visa was in order. The men had to get their photo taken. The women get to endure barely a glance and a quick stamp. Nothing to it. You exit immigration hall to the right and approach the baggage claim area. I was greeted warmly by a young Afghan man asking me to hire him to help with my baggage. I gladly did so. I would hire him for 5 dollars (and a tip) to carry my four heavy bags. He communicated with his handler about the transaction and nods were shared. Then we waited for the bags. My first of four arrived early and the rest were not the last. We then piled everything onto the cart and got in line with many local men all in traditional garb. Their luggage was tightly tied blankets that were white with woven belts to fasten them safely. We cut in line ahead of them. It was a kind of 'merger' but they were definitely there before I was.

All of our luggage had to be scanned. I could not tell that anyone was actually watching the scanner. The guards were blissfully chatting about something funny to them. As soon as we were through the scanning, my bags were loaded back on to the same cart and we headed towards the front of the terminal and out the building to the parking area.

I was to be picked up at Parking Lot C. That is the farthest from the terminals. You walk out front and to the left. There is a sidewalk that dips ever so often for drainage. The sidewalk is smooth and the effort to roll a baggage cart with about 200 lbs of weight did not seem to be a problem for the young man. Periodically, especially after a dip in the sidewalk, the luggage would need to be adjusted as it was piled nearly as high as he was tall.

You walk along the path with the old terminal on your left. The old terminal has a now closed, u-shaped road. You walk past the old terminal and approach an active road, which you must cross. Once you are across the street, you approach the first guard gate. They make sure that no one without a boarding pass gets through. And they are in ANA uniforms (dark green) and armed. This is Parking Lot P. You walk all the way through Parking Lot P to a narrow passage approaching the gate for Parking lot C. Parking Lot C also has a guard gate, a guard house and a more narrow passage way where people are coming in and going out. This is interesting with a baggage cart heavily loaded, but we passed without incident. There are good reasons to be a woman in this country sometimes! Just past the guard gate are those waiting for you to arrive.

My new boss and our handler were waiting there for me with a sign with my name and the emblem of the American University of Afghanistan. I greeted them and alerted my baggage man. We then walked together another 50 yards or so to the 4x4. We loaded up the bags and I paid my baggage man 5 dollars as promised plus a dollar tip. I have been told that you can get away with about 3 bucks in negotiations, but after the distance we traveled, I was glad we were all untoppled and all together.

We went straight from the airport to the guest houses. A professor of Mathematics was with us and he was dropped off first. Then I got to see my new, albeit temporary digs.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Nancy Dupree's love affair with Kabul

Nancy Dupree, 83, is an American living in Kabul who has devoted her life to studying and archiving Afghanistan's culture and its people.

Kabul Daily News

United Nations Development Programme - Afghanistan

United Nations Development Programme - Afghanistan

Living in Kabul - Without Constant Fear

"While it may be difficult for many Americans to think of Afghanistan as much more than a faraway, giant mess of a war zone, I feel relatively safe in Kabul, contrary to the fear I had conjured up in my mind before I arrived. Though I would not categorize Kabul as a “safe place,’’ for many expatriates working in Kabul offices, living here is less of an exercise in dodging bullets than in dodging annoying security restrictions placed on them by the companies they work for."

Kabul Sanitation Department Initiates New Project to Remove Solid Waste as part of USAID Program

"Kabul, Afghanistan, December 30, 2009 - The US Government is supporting Kabul Municipal Government's Sanitation Department to clean the piles of solid waste throughout the city that has not been removed for the past several years via a $60 million cash-for-work program.

The project will remove more than 80,000 cubic meters of solid waste from the city, contributing to the overall aesthetics of the city and reducing the hazards of diseases borne from the waste."