Global Days of Listening
Clean Water Project Diary
& the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers
hosting the delegation (Kerschner photo)
How can we tell you of the beauty of the Afghan people. Words are not capable.
The Afghanistan Clean Water Delegation, Larry Kerschner, Jody and Douglas Mackey, departed SEATAC International Airport on September 3 headed to Kabul and on to Bamiyan, Afghanistan. We carried with us the well wishes of many, many friends and supporters. We spent a week in Kabul working with the DAnish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR) and with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers meeting with representatives of many points of view. We headed on to the Bamiyan Province to assist with bio-sand water filter training and construction in the village of Paytob Loughman. These two weeks in Bamiyan have included meetings with the Afghan people and a celebration of the International Day of Peace, September 21. Our journals follow below. Please bear with us as we have had difficulty getting to the internet and we ask for your understanding as we post a often as possible.
I now realize how little I have known and still know about Afghanistan and the people who live here. Afghanistan appears to me to be teetering on the brink of collapse despite “the light at the end of the tunnel” talk by the militarist machine. Three and a half billion people on the globe live on less than $2.50 a day-- most of the people of Afghanistan among them. Many people here express the desire that the apparent stability maintained by the military presence continue out of a fear of a return of and the memory of the viciousness of the Taliban.
However it is impossible for America to “save” Afghanistan. The current face of the American Dream, corporate capitalism, is based on an amoral domination of both people and the physical world and thus is totally antithetical to justice in any form. Any hope of a humane future for Afghanistan will require a radical shift in thinking that must arise from the people of Afghanistan. The Prophet Mohammed has said, “For a man to truly live, he must love for his brother what he loves for himself.” The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers are practicing this type of radical living each day. These young people, through some spectacular wisdom which has arisen out of the tragedy around them, ask “Why not love?” They are not Pollyannas since they see every day the real misery of their situation. They have recently seen a murderous war lord placed, in an absurd form of realpolitik, at the head of the highest peace council in Afghanistan only to be assassinated but 'credit' for this kill is denied by the “Taliban” and other groups. A female orator at Rabani's funeral declared that the perpetrators would be found and “we will tear them apart with our teeth”.
We have been told that Afghans are Machiavellian and we have been told that Afghans do not trust one another. These young people know the difficulties they face but with their clear thinking can see that there is no other alternative except love and truth.
Afghanistan is torn by internal forces of racism between tribal groups, the power hunger of the war lords, the corruption of the government, homelessness for many, “night raids” of killing supposedly to protect them, unsanitary water supplies, an education system that is barely literate, a lack of trustworthy political leadership, a broken infrastructure, the brakes on any social change from the conservative religious leaders, insurgents and criminal gangs, and the trappings of an incipient police state. The external forces of the corporate desire to ravage the natural resources of Afghanistan, the militarist knowledge that Afghanistan provides a central position from which to attempt control of the rest of central Asia, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and other minions of the disaster capitalists, the ideas and excesses of western civilization (sic?), the tremors of the beginning of the end of the American Empire, and the current face of “the white man's burden” to show the brown people how to be just like us are putting an incalculable strain on the Afghan society.
Despite the aberration of the past half century, the history of many hundreds of years shows that the people of Afghanistan are resilient. If they can gain the time to shake off the militarism and paternalism of the West and remember their own strengths and begin healing, maybe they can follow the lead of the brave members of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. This may be their only hope.
All of the daily journal entries are just my observations and impressions. I am not a sociologist, historian or any other form of academic. After a little less than a month here I cannot claim to begin to understand all that I have seen and heard. I will be the first to admit that all of my opinions and observations may have nothing to do with reality but I do not think so. Nothing that I have said is to be taken as a position by any of the several organizations that I am connected with. These are my thoughts alone. Peace.
Last night two of the local police armed with rifles walked into my room without knocking. They just looked around and then left. Again they didn't appear menacing. Very curious.
Goodbye to Bamiyan. This was a very sad leavetaking from the wonderful young people we have gotten to know. I became “uncle” to many of them. I can truly say they are now my family.
When we were waiting for a plane ride at the U.N. airport, one of the U.N. media/PR employees came up and talked about how much he is inspired by the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. He stated that most of the young people here have no hope for the future but the Peace Volunteers are showing hope with their lives. He offered to make the fast internet connection in the U.N. office available for future Global Days of Listening. Fast internet could greatly improve the communication which occurs during these events.
The pace, the odor and the noise of Kabul was a sensory shock after the more human pace of Bamiyan. I tried to figure out how the drivers decided who has the right of way. Mostly it seemed to be whoever was the fastest but when a number of cars got to the same point at the same time it wasn't clear to me how they decided who goes first. At one point we saw eleven cars side by side and within a block they reduced to four side by side with slowing down or anyone hitting anyone else. I'm thinking that the drivers must practice Total Mindfulness Driving and the pedestrians surely all practice Total Mindfulness Walking. While we were in Bamiyan we were told that the local hospital gets 160 head injuries from vehicle accidents each month. I wonder what a similar figure for Kabul would be.
We started the day helping the young people pick up trash (22 bags) from the grounds of Bamiyan Peace Park. Many people came by to see what we doing. As volunteerism is not part of the Afghan culture, the first question was “How much are you being paid?” The perusal by the locals however led to many discussions. It is heartening to see Faiz become a leader. He initiated and held much of the discussions about why the Peace Park was formed and why we were cleaning up the trash. These discussions were followed by a spirited volleyball game. Doug and Hakim joined in with gusto. Hakim said that the locals would be curious about what we did and also surprised since Westerners never pick up trash here.
We met with director from the Bamiyan Health Department at our hotel who was intrigued by three foreigners who don't belong to an NGO coming here with a clean water project. He asked for a detailed explanation of how the bio-sand water filters work. He said that he would commit himself to developing a Bamiyan Water Study group to possibly include the Malaysian ISAF unit who are here as a Provisional Reconstruction Team. He says they have been particularly interested in doing water projects. He stated that there is a need for patience as things do not change quickly in Afghanistan and that we need to think in terms of ten years to see real change. He was quite positive about the mission of the Afghan Peace Volunteers and offered to personally intervene with the local religious authorities who have been hindering Hakim and the others. Of course, as soon as the meeting was over the police informer who works here came to ask about the doctor.
We met again with some of the folks from Pentalb Laghman including some women this time. They said that they had been approached by men from another village about the bio-sand water filter. They expect further contact after harvesting is complete. They still are having difficulty with the idea that we are not an NGO and do not have the ability to fund projects. Jody was able to talk with the women about the possibility of the women starting a women owned and run tailoring business for women. They seemed intrigued by the idea and the men of the village were not apparently negative but did appear a little uncomfortable..
We just played tourist toady. A most excellent day. On the way to Band e Amir we stopped at a wayhouse and the proprietor was a very garrulous and friendly man. He gave advice to the young people. “Finish school. Get well educated and when you have a position of influence don't kick the people below you.” The road was paved quite well about half of the time. The rest was the usual dusty kidney cruncher. Band e Amir was established as a National Park in 2007. The park includes seven lakes. Band e Amir Lake has water that is bright green blue. There were many families there. Jody and Hakim and several of the youth rode out in foot-paddle boats. We walked in and had a good picnic and then viewed Paneer Lake. A wonderful day!
I have been working on a series that I call “The Dog Poems”. Viewing the Imperium from Afghanistan lead to this:
Top Dog wants to rule the world
Top Dog has followers
who unlike most dogs
are willing to do what humans will do;
this is the reason the rest of the pack
will go anywhere Top Dog points
Top Dog refuses to breathe the air
coming from another dog;
any other dog is less and
must be kept crushed under the paw
Top Dog is too proud
to even sniff the tail of another dog
Top Dog does not recognize
any other pack;
Top Dog is always
Blood or surrender are the only answers that
Top Dog can hear
Top Dog's language is sharp force
the only poetry is the loud howl
the only music is the clatter
of running nails across the rocks;
when Top Dog does smile
it is only to show more
of his teeth
Top Dog has no history but memory
Top Dog offers no future but death
We met this morning with eight members of the Provincial Youth Council which is a part of the Afghan Youth Parliament. They expressed a variety of ideas. The Youth Parliament meets in Kabul every three months and discusses issues from each of the provinces. The issues develop at each level from the village on up to the province so that in that sense the people have a voice. They feel that having the forum for voicing ideas is important but do not believe that those in power take them very seriously. These young people (all young men) are conflicted about the ISAF military presence. ISAF represents a type of stability and they state concern about the “Taliban” resuming power if there is a swift pullout. One of the youth said his father told him how the U.S. trained the muhajdeen who were responsible for the post-Soviet civil war. The same man told of fleeing to the mountains to escape the ”Taliban”. He stated that there was a Western reporter taking photos of his family living very primitively in the mountains. As the reporter focused his camera on his mother while she was cooking over an open fire he could not understand what the man was doing. Now he understands and is a journalism student. When the family returned to their village they found a man who was still alive two days after having his throat cut in an attempted beheading. He does not understand reports that The U.S. plans to make a deal with the “Taliban”. He talked of transitional justice but stated he could never forgive the “Taliban”. At this time the U.S. supports the war lords and the other criminals who continue the cruelty now seen in Afghanistan. The young people seemed both hopeful and hopeless at the same time.
We later met with a member of the United Nations Environment Program. He is involved in a project to create 30 national parks in Afghanistan. He works with the Afghan government from the highest levels down to the villages so has a different viewpoint than what we have been hearing. He actually is optimistic about the future of Afghanistan “if they can avoid a civil war for the next ten years”. He finds the government workers to generally be functioning well. He also seems to have a mixed view as almost as soon as he says the government is doing well he tells us that Afghans “will tell you what they think you want to hear”. He also told us that President Karzai's father wrote his PhD thesis on Machiavelli and he sees all Afghans as being Machiavellian.
We later met with the director and a teacher at a private school. They currently have 300 students with about half being girls. They emphasize English, math and computer sciences. They are proud of the fact that that they have had this school going for three years now with no NGO funding. They state that the government is corrupt and does little for the people of Bamiyan. Both of them stated that the ISAF being here has given the stability needed to begin planning for a future. Faiz in a discussion was able to get them to consider the possibility that the economic recovery might happen better without the economic distortion of the ISAF.
We hear rumors that fifty suicide bombers have gone to Kabul but this seems so unlikely. More likely rumors like this are part of a psychological ploy to instill fear.
The International Day of Peace and the Global Day of Listening!
Being on this side of the phone calls points out how remarkable this process is. There is very little access to electricity or the internet so even keeping phones charged is difficult. It is amazing that a 24 hour phone call can happen here. If we could capture the power of the enthusiasm for the young people here we would have no problems.
The questions from the callers are commonly a version of “What now?” The path is not clear. What is currently offered (i.e. the status quo) seems to be the least bad of all the bad options. This makes it no option at all. Until the conversation involves the understanding that violence and force have never been a long-term solution to social problems, there will be little effort paid to looking for alternate approaches. As it is said, when a hammer is your only tool, all problems look like nails. The Afghans have a saying “Blood cannot wash blood”. The powers need to understand this.
The boys have pointed out that Bamiyan is a relatively safe province here in Afghanistan directly as a result of the fact that there are no international combat troops here; this should be studied by the international community if they are truly interested in looking for a path to peace. If someone were to propose a plan to bring combat troops to Bamiyan that might be the one thing that would be enough to unite the local people to rise up and complain in the streets.
We have been told that the Day of Peace program at a local school that tomorrow we were going to take part in has been canceled. This because a day of mourning has been called because of the death of Rabani. We have been told that this will be re-scheduled for some later date.
There was discussion of a Blue Ribbon group with a high enough profile to present alternatives to the military solutions. Currently it does not appear that any of the nations in the U.N. are willing to step forward with solutions other than those which are desired by the U.S.
Omar called in from Iraq. His cousin has recently died and his father and brother are in prison there basically because they happened to live near to where an explosion occurred but he is still working for peace in Iraq. He states that what happened to his relatives is a common occurrence in Iraq today and that people do not know if they will live through each day. He believes that it necessary that young people in particular need to join together through the social networks such as Facebook. It sounds as though the U.S. military occupation has created exactly the same situation for the people of Iraq and the People of Afghanistan. When will the powers realize the futility of continuing the military solution?
Mohammed Jan reports that there have been several security incidents in Kabul today which has prevented the young people in Kabul from meeting with internet access at the Afghan Women Skills Development Center. They are making do with a cell phone. Mohammed Jan says that the people he sees have a sense that everything is spiraling out of control.
Professor Noam Chomsky in response to a question from Faiz stated that the people of Afghanistan should not expect much from the supposed planned 2014 withdrawal of U.S. troops as the U.S. is in the process of building permanent bases as they did in Kosova and are doing in Iraq. This is part of the overall plan to militarize the world. He says that we cannot expect much from the U.N. since the U.N. is only allowed to do what the U.S. says. He says the the alternative to the current dominant power structure has to be a growing and informed voice of the public. The collective common people are the only possible “other” power to make positive change in the world.
Despite the many electronic and internet difficulties the Global Days of Listening is again a success. There was impressive and valuable communication which took place.
Today we drove out to visit with Abdulai's family. Ismael, our driver, in commenting, I believe, on the Afghan road situation and how much driving he has done said that he “had driven to every stone in Bamiyan. You pick a stone and I will drive you there while you sleep.”
Abdulai's family lives in a broad valley which appears fairly lush. We saw potato and wheat being harvested as we drove along. Many apple trees were covered with ripe fruit.
Once again we were received into their home as though we were family. The meal was simple but quite delicious. I have now learned several new recipes which I will try after returning home. I will leave to Jody to discuss the conversation that we had with the women. There was much pain there.
Jody stayed to visit with the women while the rest of us drove a ways up the valley and then walked up into the foothills of Kori Baba, the Grandfather of Mountains. High snow-capped peaks surrounded a wide valley filled with running streams, boulders, grazing sheep and donkeys. We walked a while until my knees complained so I spent a wonderful half hour by myself in the sun with a slight cool breeze listening to the burbling water while the others climbed on ahead. As Doug said, tourists would pay thousands to see this place.
The NDS security-types have stepped up their observation of us in the past few days. One of them rudely interrupted a meeting we were having and demanded copies of our passports and visas. It isn't clear what their intent is but it may have to do with the upcoming International Day of Peace. We are hiding nothing so they are welcome to come listen to us all they want.
We heard this evening that former Afghanistan President Rabani was assassinated by suicide bombing in Kabul today. As he was to be the face that the U.S./Karzai cabal was going to use to negotiate with the “Taliban” it isn't clear what his death will mean for peace possibilities.
We had a chance meeting with an electrical engineer from Jalalabad who is in Bamiyan on a project to lay fiberoptic cables. This project is being funded by the World Bank. He says they expect it to be finished to Bamiyan in eight months. Maybe, as in other parts of the Middle East, this could in time lead to an “Arab Spring” for Afghanistan. The Afghan youth tend to be less conservative than their elders and if they can begin to communicate more freely this can lead to opening of society as seen in Egypt and Tunisia and elsewhere.
Nationwide, the majority of Afghan households do not have access to safe drinking water. Because of unsafe sanitary facilities, water contamination is a major issue in Afghanistan. Many water sources are contaminated with harmful bacteria such as E. Coli which sickens and kills many people, especially children and the elderly. Valuable water resources are polluted as a result of the disposal of industrial and domestic liquid wastes. It's common for household discharge and street waste to end up in streams. Moreover, in some bodies of water, the amount of hazardous chemicals fail hygienic standards.
Even in the capital of Kabul, there are places where the water quality is so poor that it is unsafe for consumption. A Water Law has been developed and will hopefully address the pollution, and water quality standards, however, it is only in a draft form and still in the legislative pipeline. The government must put together a plan to ensure safe drinking water for its citizens, as well as assess and develop adaptation plans for the impacts of climate change on Afghanistan's water resources. The most irrigated provinces are Balkh, Kunduz and Jowzjan. The least irrigated provinces are Laghman, Kunar and Bamiyan.
Consider, for instance, the problem of providing access to safe drinking water to rural Afghan communities. According to information from the United Nations, only 11% of Afghans living in the countryside have access to safe drinking water. Safe drinking water has a significant impact on health, including life expectancy, quality of life and infant mortality rates. Life expectancy in Afghanistan remains at only 43.6 years, compared to an average 59 years for other low-income countries. Only 27 percent of Afghans have access to safe drinking water and 5 percent to adequate sanitation.
In Bamyan province, on average only 8% of households use safe drinking water. We have not heard yet from Ali Jumma about scheduling another water filter building time but Hakim keeps reminding us that we are on Afghan time. Faiz will maintain contact with the folks at Peytalb Laghman and will continue to encourage them. It may be several months before we know if this has been successful.
We went to visit the site where the Great Buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban. It is a magnificent site and makes plain the waste in the destruction. It has been my observation that fundamentalists of every tradition are all lacking in a sense of humor and a sense of humanity.
This is part of a message from Alan Grayson. Yesterday, the Commission on Wartime Contracting released its final report. The Commission reported that between $31 billion and $62 billion of the tax money spent on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan has been wasted. It also said that between $10 billion and $19 billion of what contractors billed and received was fraudulent. In fact, $360 million of our tax dollars went straight to . . . the Taliban.
I am sad today. We met at length with three Afghans, of different backgrounds. One man has just finished the paperwork for an NGO that is planning projects to help increase agricultural yield in wheat, potatoes and fruit trees in Bamiyan; another is a worker in a hotel; the third is a director of a relief organization. They all said the same thing. Unless the current situation improves there is nothing but bleak hopelessness for the average people of Afghanistan.
The people are likened to a mouse caught as a plaything between a number of cats. The cats are the international forces, both military and economic, the insurgents, the World Bank, conservative religious forces,and the corruption of the government and, I must add, the indifference of the American people who are paying for much the the misery here. There was apparently some hope for a better future for the first two years of the Karzai government but after ten years of nothing improving that hope is gone. The people hear of billions of dollars being spent in Afghanistan but it is clear that only the rich are getting bloated while the poor see nothing of benefit. There are wealthy who may have ten types of bread at their table even though they can't eat that much while some of the poor are lucky to have bread made of barley. Just as in America, the gulf between the vast majority of the poor and the few very rich increases each year.
The hotel worker says he has seen foreigners come and go for the past ten years with ideas and good intentions to help but nothing has changed for the poor. One of the Afghan Youth Volunteers said that even the Al Quaida has “castles” in Pakistan.
The relief worker spoke of a recent special ops military action in which he knew of a three year old, a fifteen year old and an eighteen year old who were killed while sleeping under a blanket in their home. The many military “night raids” which occur every night in various parts of Afghanistan almost always are killing innocent people. They kill people which they know will cause other people to want to kill them to justify killing more people. There seems no end to this illogical cycle. He said many of the people he knows want to run away but are too poor to go.
They all said that the people are bone weary of the war. They all want all foreigners to leave. This would include the Americans and the other international military, the Pakistanis, the Iranians... everyone. They believe that the people of Afghanistan can sort out their own future if allowed. They all believe that the Karzai government is a puppet speaking the words of the international forces. They believe that if the international community truly cared about the people of Afghanistan this war and its aftermath would never have happened. The forces behind the scenes only care for their own interests and care nothing for the people of Afghanistan.
They all said that if there is any hope for the future it lies with the youth. They also said that if any young person will be willing to speak in public and call for a non-violent solution to the problems of Afghanistan they can expect to be arrested and killed. These are ordinary human beings who are caught up in a deadly game in which they have no say and no part except that of victim.
Hakim has been living here for seven years and can still smile. I asked him how he can do this. He says, “We must find the hope in hopelessness”.
I just came across this quote and thought that it puts a lot of things in perspective. There is no peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war--at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake. -Fr. Daniel Berrigan, SJ
We were invited to the wedding of Ali's brother today. The wedding takes five days. Today is the third day and the bride arrived from her home to his home. She was accompanied and surrounded by many friends and just to make sure we couldn't see her her friends held a blanket over her head. We men were shunted off to a room while Jody was admitted to the room for the women. From the music, ululations and drums, it sounded as though the women had much more fun. Hakim, Douglas and I learned to play “Lions and Goats” , a local Afghan stone and board game, from Faiz and Noor.
A nice slow day in Bamiyan.
Friday is the day of rest. I awaken each morning to the odor of the fragrant smoke from the kebab seller's stand on the sidewalk below my window.
One glaring problem Afghanistan will have to deal with is the education system or maybe the lack of an eduction system. Talking with Faiz and Abdulai and the other youth points out the difficulties of receiving an eduction here. It seems that most of the teachers are barely literate themselves. Teachers are only paid the equivalent of about $100.00 per month. One of the boys has been passed each year and is now in the seventh grade but only knows his letters and cannot read or write. The end of the year exams are generally considered a sham with much cheating and bribery going on. There are very few schools in Afghanistan where one can actually receive a good education. The U.S. military is known for building schools as part of their happy face for the occupation but a school is just a building. Without competent teachers, books and supplies there is no education. Afghanistan has no public library system. Faiz wishes to become a journalist and yesterday Abdulai stated that he wishes to become a medical doctor. These young people are the future of this country.
We visited the homes of Faiz and Mohammed Jan. These rural communities are nestled in a valley in a beautiful setting near the foothills of the Hindu Kush. As Hakim said, “Why would anyone want to attack this valley. Mohammed Jan's father Andwar, who has lived in his house for thirty years, states he has little hope for a positive future but “like all human beings he hopes for peace for his children”. He also points out that almost all of the Talibs (Students) who were what we know generally as the Taliban no longer exist. What is currently called the Taliban are actually people who respond in the cultural mode of honor which calls for revenge when someone in your family is killed or injured. The NATO forces are fighting insurgents that they have created by their previous actions. This makes the current U.S. military even more senseless. Ryan Crocker calling for “more pain” to defeat the “Taliban” is criminal and self-defeating.
We attended a concert sponsored by the Third Annual Silk Road Trade Fair. I personally preferred the dombura music to the electronic music but apparently the main singer is a well known entertainer here in Afghanistan. Hamid Safizora was the runner-up in a national TV talent show Afghan Star.
I have heard several times that Afghanistan is falling off the map. Hakim has told us several stories about his landlord who had a one-legged crow. The crow used to hop around the house annoying the dog. One day when no one was paying attention the crow was hopping around the kitchen and hopped into the tandoor oven. Afghanistan is becoming like that one-legged crow and will fall into the tandoor unless people start paying realistic compassionate attention.
A trip to the public bath was good. Getting clean for only 40 Afghanis is a bargain. I was looking into store fronts as we walked along the street and saw many small fancy dresses that I would like to purchase for my granddaughter Lexi. When I stopped to ask the price Hakim suggested that he come back later and get it as my asking just increased the price five-fold.
The U.N. plane to Kabul apparently did not fly today because of the troubles there.
We had two, what I call “boy-soldiers” in my poems (they all look so young), knock on the door and come into the room last night, just as another older soldier (or maybe policeman) came the night before making sure we had filled the proper paperwork, and the CID officer visited the apartment in Kabul once. They all appear more curious than anything, not threatening in any way.
We had a good meeting today with Ali Jumma about the future of the bio-sand water filters in his village. We wanted to not have this be a project in the NGO mode but that it will in some small way encourage self-reliance. After much discussion, throwing around a number of ideas, we came to an agreement that the molds and tools will be owned by the people of Bamiyan but administered by the village council of Peytalb Laghman. They will make the mold available for rental by village members who wish to begin a business producing bio-sand water filters. That way the community as a whole will benefit from the rent and the council can maintain overall control for the good of all while those who have the desire to start a business will have an opportunity. This agreement could not have been reached without the help and advice from Hakim, Faiz, and Noor of Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. This seems to be a new model and we will have to watch it over time to see how it works out. We had hopes of building a dozen or so filters while here but that doesn't seem likely in the time we have left. Ali Jumma says that all of the villagers who took the training have other jobs and chores that keep them from being readily available to gather again to build more filters at this time. He will call us when he can arrange a time. He does seem committed to having these filters in the village.
I talked with Barb last night and she was glad we are out of Kabul as she heard on the news that there were bombings and casualties in the Green Zone yesterday.
A moderate walk out of town and up a hill where building materials and water cans are carried by donkeys, with my sea level lungs complaining of the thinness of the air, we came to the village council building where the water training is being held. The building was recently constructed as a gift from the Japanese government. Peytalb Laghman is a village of about 150 homes built on both sides of the crest of the hill, which are very reminiscent of the adobe homes in the South West, has developed mostly for refugees over the past twenty years. Due to our earlier air transportation difficulties the training is already several days along without us. We reached there in time today for the un-molding of the first two bio-sand water filters that they had made. There were great smiles all around. After the filters were cured for half a day they were filled with muddy water and the difference between this turbid water that went in and the clear water coming out convinced all twelve villagers taking the training that they want to make more of these for the families in their village. Shir Habib from DACAAR has done a wonderful job teaching about the filters.
Shir Habib also mentioned to me that there was continuing fighting going on in several parts of Kabul today. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said, “It's no big deal. If this is the best they can do, it just shows their weakness.” This is just as stupid as George Bush saying, “Bring 'em on.” It is a big deal to those Afghans who were killed or wounded and their families.
I was impressed by Ali Jumma from the village council. He strikes me as the reasonable and compassionate type of leader that is needed in Afghanistan. We talked with Mohammed Amin who has many years experience with water systems. He worked with the Soviets in the past. I asked him if it was easier to work with the Soviets or the Americans. Instead of answering directly he said,”There are people who are cheaters who are Satanic. Then there are people who will allow themselves to be cheated and they are like animals. Then there are the people who are neither cheaters nor willing to be cheated. They are human beings”.
Several of the villagers said that if things don't change radically, Afghanistan will be in worse shape than now in ten years time. The thirty years of wars and supposed reconstruction and the many well-meant NGO programs have turned the culture of Afghanistan to one of dependence rather than self-reliance and it is difficult to see a way out of this. I've had several discussions with Afghans and Hakim about whether any of the current political leaders have the vision and integrity to lead Afghanistan back to being a self-sufficient nation. Most politicians have a very poor reputation for corruption and incompetence. One possible exception mentioned is Ramazon Bashar Dost. He is a Hazar who was a distant third in the last Afghan Presidential election but unlike other politicians, who had both more and less votes, he took no money from any interest groups to fund his run. Hakim says he is the only current politician about whom nothing negative is said by the people. Apparently all sides of the political spectrum here have said that they could work with him. He has suggested that the U.N. sponsor a transitional neutral peacekeeping force to help Afghanistan out of the current quagmire. Thus far no nation has been willing to take this suggestion to the Security Council. He believes in non-violence and does not believe any human being should be killed for any reason.
My knees are speaking to me about the trek up the hill so I think I will look for the Naproxen. Despite the fact that I have traveled to a few places, I have never considered myself much of a traveler but I have to say that I am having a great time. I have met so many open, friendly, compassionate human beings that it does wonders for my heart.
Kabul sent us on our way with a refreshing wind and rain storm. As the guard at the airport frisked me , he said, “You have knife?”
“You have gun.?”
With a little twinkle he said,”You have RPG?”
“No. I am a peaceful man.”
He laughed and passed me through.
Air transport was with the U.N. Humanitarian Airway Service. We dashed to Jalalbad in their Bombadier Dash-8 which seated about 20 and then bumped through the clouds to Bamiyan. I was disappointed that the safety instructions for the passengers was in English and French but not in Dari or Pashto. I credit their humanitarian work but this seems to me to be one of those small signs of who is in charge.
We saw on Afghan TV at the airport that Human Rights Watch has issued a report documenting how foolish and counter-productive the David Petraeus military approach currently being used has proven to be. I also noted a statement from Paul Wolfowitz about the necessity of staying in Iraq and Afghanistan and I admit my first thought was “Who cares what Paul Wolfowitz has to say?”
a certain type of American artist
uses a chain saw
to sculpt the wood;
another kind of American
would use a chain saw
to sculpt the world
the young Hazar told
of how the soldiers
mistook his father and his grandfather
for a tree
now those branches lie
beneath the ground
Landing in Bamiyan and meeting the boys with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers was like coming home. The terrain reminds we somewhat of Colorado or parts of Arizona. From the air fingers of green farming valleys can be seen between the tall ridges. Nine or ten of us squeezed into a van and drove down Bamiyan's main street to the Zuhak Hotel Second floor, Room 8 (500 Afghanis per night per room, shared squat toilet down the hall, meals not included). We met around a table in a large room with the boys. I won't remember all the names...Faiz, Abdulai, Ali agha, Hamat, Noor, Ali, Zekullah, others. We shared greetings and picture taking and then checked into our rooms. The boys took pity on my old bones and brought in a bed so I wouldn't have to sleep on a mat on the floor. After a brief rest we walked to the Bamiyan Peace Park for more visiting. This has a small town feel as many local people came up to talk and find out about us, A pleasant cool breeze came up as the sky darkened with lightning in the distance. Under a full moon we walked back into town and shared a fine meal prepared by the youth.
Welcome to Bamiyan.
~ ~ ~
Our First Week In Kabul (September 5 - 13)
Do I begin with stories of hope or hardship? Let's talk of the harder realities first and save the sweetness for last.
Expressions of despair abound on the streets of Kabul... amidst the rubble and sewage on most streets raggedy children rush up to us sweetly hoping for money... the Internally Displaced Person's camp of mud and dung and burlap pictured below is back-lit by expensive new apartments on the far side of the street. Taj Mohammad, a truck driver who invites us to tea while the kites fly overhead shows us his old bullet wounds that hurt all the time and says, “If the U.S. pulls out soon Afghanistan will be a 'field of blood.'” His job sometimes takes him to Kandahar where he is 100% certain someone will be killed on each journey and also certain that it is the only job available to him. The chai seller stands with the myriad of boys eager to be with us. Hakim asks him if he's in school. No, this is his job. Hakim tells him he knows what will happen, “You'll create a little restaurant right here.” Young chai'ster says it wouldn't be allowed, but he's smiling. Then we walk down the hill overlooking the infamous Olympic stadium known for public executions that is now a field of green before the dusty expanse of Kabul.
Childern of Kabul play (Kershner photo)
We're hearing that city folk want the U.S. to stay and the country folk want us out. Conditions are degrading quickly though so even more people are afraid of us leaving. The road to Bamiyan is now considered to be as dangerous as the road to Kandahar. Daily we hear of kidnappings and murder. A previous delegate who was kidnapped in Iraq, and survived by a ransom, researched and found the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan is that almost no one survives an abduction here. It's to increase fear and control, not to make money with the kidnapping. It appears the 'talib' make money by taking bribes from our military and other large organizations that want to move around in safety. We've had talks of the difference between bribes and extortion and which to pay (extortion was the money to get regular work done, bribes were to curry favors and were not paid by that non-profit.)
Two years ago President Karzai met to detail a restorative justice plan but instead passed full immunity for all past and future Afghan war crimes – an amnesty law. The US State department simply stated they “were concerned.” When most Afghans speak of justice it's in a vengeful way. Take the perpetrators to trial and then kill them. So the people of Afghanistan know that even these murders happening this very day will never know justice. While I believe in a very different form of justice I wonder - how do people heal and rid themselves of anger and despair without any type of process. The amnesty law obliterated the traditional methods of restoration and replaced it with emptiness.
It's so quiet when the power goes out. The ever-present fans slow, the light shifts and I notice the windows and the flash of a plane overhead. Less than 20% of Kabul has electricity. We're the lucky ones. We only lose it a couple of times a day, usually for a few minutes each – more reliable than I expected. We hear and feel explosions in the distance. During the daytime some of those are construction sounds but in the middle of the night Larry says they sound like howitzers. If you live in Thurston county they would remind you of Fort Lewis's cannon fire and I bet they shake us dozens of times each hour. I'm living in this city that was once known as the Paris of the middle east. A city in which 98% of the buildings were bombed in the last 30 years. Oh, and the best word I've heard to describe the traffic is 'insane.' Imagine no street lines, no traffic lights and almost no road repairs for decades. Douglas and I once counted eleven cars across which narrowed to four in half a block and our cabby barely slowed. Imagine those 11 lanes with an ancient firewood cart pulled by two old men and another car driving the wrong direction! I have great respect for Kabuli drivers and it is always thrilling part of our day.
Do you know most embassy workers never leave the compound except to board the plane for home? How do you make good decisions for the people of Afghanistan when you live behind those walls? And, what a loss, to miss out on these beautiful people.
For I am also in the presence of such grace. Hakim and Mohammad Jan maintain their humor through such scenarios as to make me cry. They lead us to non-profits like this... Mary Akrami began the first women's shelter in Afghanistan and has converted many in the government towards more humane policies. You would be so inspired by their workers' shining faces as they detail the community changes. When they first brought trainings into one community they needed 5 locations because the women from different mosques could not be with each other. Mary's group brought the men together for a four day training. The first day the men said, “We don't have time for this.” The second day the men said, ”When is this over?” the third day the men said, ”Can we extend this?” and now the women in that community meet in one center. As we walk in Mary and her workers exclaim over our illustrious guides and the work they accomplish as the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. They brainstorm and offer assistance to Hakim, and this is often the reception we receive. This is Hakim. He gets all of us to laugh a lot..
He inspires trust, and we hear no one in Kabul trusts. Except the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. As we get out of the van, Hakim, who had been joshing with the driver Imam Daud along the way, told him he cared for him and with tears in his eyes Imam Daud returned the blessing. It's not usually done in Afghanistan, but Hakim shows he cares for these people and everywhere we went we saw the connections he's created among people of good will.
Tiny outdoor shops and rubble lead up to DACAAR, a Danish Refugee Relief organization with 27 years working with Afghan refugees. Guards swing open the gate, mirrors check under the cars and smiles welcome us. Beautiful flowers and people greet us. It has the feel of Traditions, with purpose, commitment, and transparency. They work for clean water, refugee assistance and incredible women's projects. Shakila from the women's resource project shares details of 500 women in a center learning of carpets and weaving, literacy and tailoring. .. and it's working. DACAAR only supports a center for two years and then they must make it on their own. They've got five centers going and two more in the making.
Most of you know one reason we're here is to bring water filters and training. One quote on water from DACAAR, “Lack of sanitation kills more than lack of water, and lack of good hygiene kills more than lack of sanitation” and water issues kill more in Afghanistan than violence or starvation. So, this training brings all of this knowledge to a village around Bamiyan with the hope of it blossoming into many regional trainings. I am grateful to be working with DACAAR.
Then there is Zenda, 'Life'. (the 5th door on the right in Wood Sellers Street by the river). With many years of creating fortified flours for much better nutrition among the Afghan people. They share a compound and the ever present scraggly, protective dog with 3rdeye, Afghan photography of hope and transformation. They focus on women and men working together, hardship, natural beauty and tradition. Photography is so new to the people of Afghanistan that some are afraid of it. Amardala talked of her wish to be a photographer even though she is threatened and her cameras get thrown to the ground, so it's a courageous journey to detail the lives of Afghans with an eye towards peace. They speak of making a difference through pictures, because photos transcend words. Everyone can see the truth. USAID will help them tour the U.S. because of their message of beauty and peace if 3rdeye gets the contacts... if you're inspired to help here is their website www.3rdeye.af
So, we've visited many wonderful businesses. We've been to fair trade carpet shops, transitional justice meetings, learned about civil societies and talked with refugees from Iran and Pakistan. We've also shared our apartment with inspiring youth gathering and planning for peace through marches, music and radio advertisements.
Today we're off to Bamiyan for the water training and I hear we get to attend a wedding! And yes, I have an amazing new love story to share and I've gotten many hugs.. I've also realized how fortunate I am to live in our community with so much trust and love, so much assistance to bring us here. Some of the hardships are difficult for my mind to make sense of yet it is good to be a witness.
Sending each of you love. Thinking of you and our community through the days.
At the root of all war is fear, not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves. --Thomas Merton
As slow as I am, I begin to glimmer that there are social subtleties here in Afghanistan that I don't even see let alone understand. I can easily understand an occupied people trying to take advantage of the occupiers, even self-described benign ones like NGOs, but it makes me sad when I begin to see the racism and classism between the peoples of Afghanistan. Mary Akrami, yesterday, stated that there was a time in the not too distant past when the pride of being Afghan trumped differences of tribe and class. Members of a family may grumble and fight but at the base they are still all family. I wonder how much any current social distortions are directly a result of our brutal, ignorant and indifferent intrusion into this thousand year old culture. I hope that we, with the directions of the Afghans themselves, can find a way to withdraw our military and economic occupation without unleashing a new round of fear and fatality. Afghanistan clearly has a culture that can heal itself if we don't get in the way.
The Independent Institute recently issued a report which states that total fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan were higher in 2010 (559) than they were in 2008 (469), the last year of the Bush administration. This is largely because of the Obama administration's tripling of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and its more aggressive strategy here, which has in turn led to more than three times as many fatalities there in 2010 compared with 2008. Another good reason to remove our troops.
Khalid is an editor at a television station in Kabul. There are 37 TV stations, 137 radio stations and over 400 magazine and newspapers in Afghanistan however there really is no independent media voice. He states that in preparation for an upcoming program on September 11, he was told that any discussion had to show the U.S. efforts in a positive light. He is also involved in starting a radio station in Bamiyan which he hopes may be able to have some independence after the first six months when USAID is no longer involved. He says that there have been two recent religious centers (with Iranian connections) started in Bamiyan. The leaders of these centers have been spreading the word that the radio station will be spreading the message of the infidel. He has some hope that in ten years Afghanistan will be somewhat more free and open but realistically he knows it won't take much to set any such movement back.
today is warm and dusty
the bottle of coca cola from your store
I don't know enough Dari
at home I do not buy any coca cola products
because they kill poor people in Colombia
your smile is sweet
and I drink it in
We met today with three impressive women at the Afghan Women Skills Development Center.
The Director, Mary Akrami, states her optimism about the future of Afghanistan, She and two others who work with her have seen much improvement in the status and treatment of women over the past ten years. She states that they started the first safe house for women in Afghanistan. Even President Karzai now proclaims the value and need for safe houses as the status of women changes. It was good to meet with people who are realistic but still expect positive change in the future, Mary stated, “We have no option except to be positive.”
Being in Afghanistan on September 11 seems odd to me. Here I am in the midst of a society that was destroyed by the U.S. military and power structure as a result of a lie as to who was responsible for the attacks on the U.S. We have killed thousands of innocent people as a result of U.S. hubris and arrogance.
Jawid was 19 years old on September 11, 2001. He has vivid memories of the events of 9/11; he saw the photos on TV and heard the story. I understand that very few Afghans know about what happend on September 11; and I believe this to be true.
I am learning that many Afghans know quite a bit about the complexity of the security concerns in Afghanistan. There are few quick responses about pros and cons of the 'presence of outsiders' from the people I've been working with at a respected NGO in Kabul.
Each relationship deepens as we talk and move across the cultural space between us. There must be a way to share the laughter of Afghan children playing in the courtyard next door. So that it will never be stopped.
A rock has been tied to my heart
and thrown into your river
I may have finally switched my body clock to local time as I awoke at 7:00 a.m. Yesterday's meeting with the young people was refreshing. They are the first people we have talked with here who have some sense of hope for a positive future. Their enthusiasm is infectious.
We met with Basir Seerat, a photo-journalist, who is planning a the photo show which will be in Bamiyan in a week or so after showing in Kabul. After that the show will go to the Netherlands and Bonn, Germany. He says they have a commitment from USAID and from a Swiss group for funding a tour of the show in the U.S. and he is looking for connections that would lead to venues for a show in various parts of the U.S. Basir has an interesting personal history in that he was kidnapped by the 'Taliban' at one time. He discussed the frustration of seeing the international community funding large but ineffective projects related to his area of expertise when he cannot find the funding he needs to be the teacher he wants to be. He describes a lot of the funding sources as “mafias” in that a lot of them require kick-backs for their support in seeking funding.
Mohammad Jan came by with another electronics student from his class. Shafiq is an Uzbeck. Thus far we have met with Hazar, Tajik, Pashtun, and Uzbecks and despite their differences all of them want the same safe and hopeful future. Shafiq says that people in Kabul are less formal or respectful compared to the people back home. He also states it is too hot for him here and he will return home up north to Faryab Province when he finishes his classes. Shafiq complains of fairly common occurrence of a headache although he has no real associated physical symptoms. He thinks that his headaches may be either from some medication he took several years ago or from disappointment when the girl he loved married someone else four months ago. He states he finds himself crying and awakens feeling very sad often. He is concerned that in the long run these feelings may negatively effect his mind. I suggested daily journaling may help. I also pointed out that his emotional and physical responses are actually normal reactions to the unhealthy war-torn society that he lives in. The Afghanistan nation has to be suffering from PTSD as a whole. I'm not sure this thought helps Shafiq much.
We were privileged to watch two films by Farhat Rezai. The first film was about women and work in Afghanistan, Two women were interviewed in a market and asked what they wanted from Allah and the future. One women said, “to survive!” and the other said that her “children would have bread”. One of the women interviewed was killed in a suicide bombing in a The Finest Store. The bombing was aimed at foreigners but she and her family were killed. The second film was a short set in Iran in which a young boy who has to work pushing a cart to pick up trash tries to find a way to get into school. Both films were very professional and the second was quite touching. I hope to obtain a copy.
I have to say that I have no facility or ear for languages so be warned that almost every name I have written is probably misspelled.
We had hoped to be able to hitch a ride at no cost on the UN helicopter to Bamyan on Sunday but that isn't going to happen. We have booked seats on the UN helicopter for Hakim, Doug, Jody and myself on Tuesday at a cost of $500 each round trip. We plan to return to Kabul on Sunday 9-25-11.
We went to a hill in Kabul that is known for kite flying, The cab driver complained of how difficult life is. He stated that all politicians are only out for their own needs and not for the needs of the people. We met with and had tea and discussion with Taj Mohamet who is a truck driver. He states that on some of the routes he drives it is 100% sure that someone will die but he needs the work to support his family. He showed us his many bullet wounds from when he was in war. He says when the U.S. troops first came they were seen by the people as liberators but now the troops are seen as the source of a lot of the problems. He also said, however, if the troops left precipitously there would be a “field of blood”. He said any hope for the future lies with the children as our generation “is finished”. He thinks that education is a key for the children but the current education system has little to no support from the current government.
We hosted a meeting in the apartment for six young people and Hakim. There was wide ranging, passionate and emotional discussions about how to bring peace to Afghanistan. They plan to hold meetings between the youth of various ethnicities, possibly develop radio messages or a theater group to spread the possibilities of peace. There was general agreement that tackling illiteracy with an effective educational system which esteems teachers and learning is necessary. Plans were made to take part in the next Global Days of Listening. The meeting was filmed and will be available. I can easily see myself looking back in a few years and recognizing the importance of this meeting in the future of Afghanistan.
Turns out the phone was smarter than me and worked just fine. I just had to ask.
Went to the local baker this morning for naan. I politely stood in line and awaited my turn but people kept pushing in front of me until I figured that I needed to push forward myself and pay the baker first. I love the smell of fresh bread still hot out of the tandoori-style oven in the morning.
We met with Randy Paul of Rastagar Carpets (which apparently translates as Righteous Brothers Carpets www.hazaratraditions.com) which is a carpet manufacturer which spun off an NGO about six years ago. They buy wool yarn in the market and dye it on site. They use all natural dyes with the exception of blue. They develop their own designs based on traditional Persian designs. They are looking into the possibility of growing indigo or some other form of natural blue dye. They set up looms in the weavers homes and provide the yarn. The weavers are paid by the square meter; a bonus of 15% if carpet is of export quality (95% of their carpets are); and another extra bonus “anytime there is extra cash available”. Most of the weavers are Hazar who were Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Weaving is one of the lowest paying jobs so done by those who have few choices. Randy states that they received grants for the first two years but haven't needed any capital infusion since. He says that they hope that in two more years they can step out and leave a successful business to the workers.
After lunch we met with Engineer Achtar who works for an NGO which is part of the Transitional Justice Group. Their work revolves around developing ideas of justice that are appropriate for Afghanistan as the nation transitions to the future. What does justice consist of when Al Quaida committed war crimes and the “Taliban” committed crimes against humanity (genocide etc.)? I asked him if justice could be reparative and reconciliatory and he did not think it could be in Afghanistan's context. It would be too difficult to ask people to essentially forget the grievous wrongs done to them. It would be especially difficult since the “Taliban” and Al Quaida were Pashtun and the current government and, too a large extent, the military are controlled by the Pashtuns. Karzai and the other “zais” are Pashtun. Engineer Achtar is Hazar. He believes that the Pashtun are the most likely to have allegiance to the tribe while other ethnics would be more open to a national allegiance. He is afraid that if the U.S. military pulled out precipitously the “Taliban” would resume control. As bad as it might be now for some, he feels that for most it is currently far superior to life as it was under the “Taliban”. He would consider the possibility of a U.S. military presence for 20-30 years if necessary in order for a truly just society to develop in Afghanistan. He did suggest that a peace-keeping force from Islamic countries might be adequate for the role.
Still adjusting to the time change. Awoke at 3:00 sure that it was 9:00. Power went out 5-6 times for brief periods last night. We are cooking on a propane single-burner using a pressure cooker and I did manage to cook the beans without burning them. We didn't find much in the way of spices in the local store so beans and rice was flavored with salt, garlic, onions and green chili sauce. Hakim says Afghan dishes are usually not too spicy but do tend to be oily.
We met with a young couple Farhad and Farzana for several hours today. She is a photographer and he is a film maker. They both lived for many years in Iran as refugees. She returned seven years ago and he returned two years ago. They met on a film set. He was the camera operator and when she came into the frame his heart started to beat fast and he forgot about the rest of the cast and could only see her. She is the only daughter of a traditional family and would be expected to marry someone in the extended family. She was courted by many men but none seemed suitable to her heart. She was aware of Farhad's interest and confided in her mother who was supportive of her. Part of the problem was that he was ten years older than her and also had some prematurely white hair. The main problem, however, in not being part of the family, he was a “stranger”. One does not marry one's only daughter to a stranger. He died his hair black and they had some of his family who were traditionally religious speak for him and with her mother's help, they were married seven months ago. As a team, through photos and film they want to show a true view of the reality of Afghanistan. They both agree that unless something changes, in ten years, Afghanistan will be even worse than it is today. They believe that there needs to be a revolution in thinking especially among the young people for the necessary changes to occur. They have joined with the Afghan Youth Volunteers in whom they see the form of the peace-seeking changes in consciousness that will be necessary for a peaceful future.
Visited the local internet cafe to check e-mails. I was able to talk with Barb for a few minutes over Skype. The cost for both Jody and I using their service was 50 Afghanis which is just over $1.00.
As we were walking down the street, I was pleased to meet up with Asif whom we had met yesterday. There is something about an unplanned meeting with a friend in a foreign place to give some sense of being home.
We found out today that there may be some difficulties with catching a ride on the UN helicopter to Bamyan this weekend. Tomorrow we will have to sort this out or make other arrangements. It is currently to dangerous to make the drive from Kabul to Bamyan. The bodies of two German aid workers who had attempted the drive were found just two days ago.
Adjusting the body clock. Can't easily sense what time it is yet but I crashed soundly last evening and awoke about 2:00 a.m.
Note to self: put enough water in the pressure cooker and don't burn the beans next time.
Shequila is the Director of the DACAAR Women's Resource Center Project. She spoke of a number of projects involving hundreds of women. The projects varied from carpet making, food production and storage, greenhouses, embroidery and other handcrafts. What seemed most important was the fact that these groups and projects gave women a safe place where they could meet with other women without men present.
Shahir is a 36 year old Hazara who works for an NGO in Kabul. He states he is among the 20% of the Afghan population who does not want U.S. troops to leave because the power vacuum that would be left would either be filled by the Taliban (who he says would kill him for working with foreigners) or by a civil war. He states he has little to no hope for the future of Afghanistan. He states his life revolves around his 3 year old daughter. He wants a safe world for her but doesn't see how it can happen.
Asif is a young photojournalist (www.3rdeye.af). He has hopes that in ten years Afghanistan will have a society in which no distinction is made between ethnicity, tribe or gender. He will be presenting a show of his photographs next week in Bamyan. He works mainly in digital.
Medela has been a photographer for five years, She talks of the difficulty of being a female photographer. Photography is relatively new in Afghanistan and not readily accepted, being female in a patriarchal culture only makes it worse.
Zarif is a twenty-something Pashtun electronics student. He recently returned to his family home West of Kabul to visit his family for Eid. He was attacked and beaten unconscious by the 'Taliban' because he is a student. They asked why he studied and he stated that he just wants more opportunities in his life. He expects the young people to begin developing a free and open society. He also is concerned about chaos that could result with U.S, troops leaving but does not see a role for U.N. or similar peacekeepers. He expects Afghanistan to divide along tribal lines and each district will be responsible for its own security.
Last night we were serenaded by low flying helicopters and what sounded like howitzers in the distance for several hours. Tonight we could hear some explosions, again not particularly close, for an hour or so. Most of the population of Afghanistan are under 25 years of age and the majority have never lived in a time without war.
For a while I was alone in the courtyard. I’d been stopped by the image of a kite above the building next door. It was just after 5 pm; the offices closed an hour earlier so only a few people we out in the adjacent yards of the NGO.
On crutches, I had to move slowly with a soft briefcase slung across my back, I wanted to hurry but could not. I’d seen another kite. My slower pace allowed the scene to expand gracefully before me as I moved into the open lawn and could now see half the sky. Nine kites for a while. A distinctive diamond at the tip of each diamond-shaped kite said something about those below - & I would never know.
Two women and each of their toddlers slowed too. A couple of children arm in arm pointed skyward.
Azeem joined me quietly with a smile. Friday is the day to see the kites; there is a part of Kabul where they have their, . . . fights. He’d look for a gentler word perhaps= we had been together in conversations about peace earlier today. He'd stayed late to finish up a status report to UNICEF.
We parted ways for the day in the street. He headed toward the dusky shade of buildings and cars; I slowed before the corner to the guest house yard.
The children still watched the sky. All of us connected to each other by string and the wind.
The other thoughts streaming in and out had little space to stay - till I later as I watched the kites draw down, & remembered: nine children collecting wood, the special kite my sister gave me for my college graduation, the communities we're all part - is there a child that has not flown a kite? Days of Listening kites?
Dubai airport has Citibank well represented in wall hangings and other ads. I thought the Starbucks latte (small) was $16.00 so didn't buy being basically cheap. Doug later pointed out that it was probably 16.00 dinars which would actually be about $5.00. Apparently you can pay an extra $140 to get two extra inches of leg room on the 12 1/2 hour flight from Dulles to Dubai. Half way here I began to think it might be worth it. I tried calling home with my earth phone and the phone kept calling itself. While it doesn't cost me any money that way I'll have to find someone with more smarts or phone experience than me.
good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is the Captain speaking
our trip this morning from Dubai to Kabul will take about
two hours and thirty-five minutes
we will be cruising at 39,000 feet
just about a decade ago the B-52s cruised
not so politely at 39,000 feet over Kabul
carrying death, violence and hatred
to the innocent people below
When coming to Afganistan have written out the local names, addresses and other information about your trip to fill out the form for the Afghan ID card. After a mind-numbing day in the air is not the time to try to come up with the info you need.
After a little Laurel and Hardy trek between several airport parking lots, we were met by Hakim, Mohammed Jan and the driver from DACAAR.
Engineer Hassan of DACCAR explained how the water system of Afghanistan does (or does not) work. He has put his life, and clearly his passion, into developing an integrated water system for the people of Afghanistan. They have hundreds of test wells and reporting sites in 17 of the 34 provinces. He has filed many reports. Nothing changes. Ground water safety, pollution runoff, declining aquifers, biological contamination, natural and man-made contaminants like fluoride and arsenic are all controlled by separate Ministers. Afghanistan has no Clean Water Act and no one member of the government with a vision for clean water and all that that would mean for the future of the country and the country's children. The life expectancy has dropped by two years in the past few years and is now in the low 40s. Dirty water is the leading cause of death for children in Afghanistan. So many people have moved to Kabul in the last ten years that the water table level has dropped 20 meters. Those on the political Right who say that government is the problem can look at a real life situation in today's Afghanistan. Five story apartment houses are being built with no connection to a sewer system other than ditches along the side of the roads because there are no government regulations requiring it.
The air in Kabul is a hazy brown. There is a fine gray-brown dust covering everything. There is rubble and stacks of stone and bricks everywhere. Apparently Kabul was 90% destroyed by Mujahadeen rocket attacks mostly on each other after the Russians were driven out. There was some rebuilding and then along came the American bombing. Garbage lies along all the streets with the odor of the open sewage lines redolent. There are young boys stand along the roads holding what looks like small buckets of charcoal begging for money. Hakim impressed me with the gentle way he spoke to one of these boys telling him that instead of begging which is not good for his dignity and is not sustainable he should get some small product which he could then sell to passing cars. Also there are a few opiate addicts seen begging for money. Traffic seems quite chaotic to me even worse than in Seoul. There are no stop signs. Occasional police directing traffic but mainly it looks like pedestrian beware and the first or fastest car there gets the right of way. Cars don't look dinged up so obviously they know what they are doing.
Naan purchased at neighborhood bakery is 10 Afghanis. 2 liter bottled water is about 20 Afghanis.
Figuring out the squat toilet is hard on creaky old knees that don't want to bend very far.
Except near the airport I have seen no U.S. troops. There are Afghan soldiers with AK-47s on the streets of many neighborhoods.
A bit lost for a while at the Kabul International Airport. We were behind schedule to get to our driver. An hour after the meeting time passes we're walking out from the mass of people in a waiting area for Lot C and I see Mohammad Jan. Then Hakim. I have not felt such light stream through my heart. We and they are here. ~dm
Incredible hospitality = Afghan.
The Afghanistan Clean Water Delegation, Larry Kerschner, Jody and Douglas Mackey, departed SEATAC International Airport headed to Kabul and on to Bamiyan, Afghanistan. They carry with them the well wishes of many, many friends and supporters. They will spend a week in Kabul working with the DAnish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR) and with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. They will be in Bamiyan Province assisting with bio-sand water filter training and construction. These two weeks in Bamiyan will include meetings with the Afghan people and a celebration of the International Day of Peace, September 21.