Thursday, October 1, 2009
We started the day walking the city wall. The city wall is a wall that was built in 460 AD. It now exists on only one of the mountains but offers a commanding view of all of Kabul.
Our hike began at 6 AM and we climbed as high as the monitoring blimp that flies over the city (yes, there is a blimp in the air over Kabul that monitors activities in the city - it can read the numbers on your watch someone said).
It was a great way to start the day and finish our trip in Kabul. From the top of the ridge you could see Murat Khane, the old palace, Babur's Garden and hear the noise and the traffic of the city bounce its way around the valley and make its way upwards.
Judy was a trooper - hiking the ridge despite her fear of heights.
We packed our bags and went to the airport. Getting in is certainly easier than getting out. I was frisked 3 times before boarding the flight (I am on the plane now) and my bags were checked 4 times.
Shoshana and Zia cleared the way for us - negotiating with customs agents (including the one who took the booze on my way in - this time he was going to take my batteries). Once again "Problem".
The rest was negotiated in Dhari - apparently he said "yes, haven't you heard - no weapons, lighters, or batteries"
After Shoshana gave him a whithering look - I left with my batteries. And at the additional check points I ran into no additional "customs fees" and a reduced rate for heavy bags.
That Shoshana is a powerhouse.
Preparing for takeoff - more from Dubai.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
As a foreigner it is necessary to be escorted anywhere you go in Kabul.
Shoshana had a number of meetings with US dignitaries and as a result, Judy and I spent all day yesterday at the fort.
We used our time to pour over the donor list figuring out new connections and ways to get each donor more involved with Turquoise Mountain.
We spent the evening at a film screening at the Fort. A documentary about the nature of creativity as it relates to the Afghan crafts Turqoise Mountain is working to preserve.
A Western point of view to be sure.
Interesting to see the reaction some of the Afghans had to the film. Wondering how these arts were going to be brought to a wider Afghan community - beyond the expats.
After watching a presentation by the TM community development group this morning, where we learned about the demographics of the area, the many services of the clinic, and the school and its programs, we returned to Murat Khane today.
The area has a population that is 80 percent under 17 - most of whom are males. This combined with a large unemployment problem is a factor that is of great concern as it leads to violence and radicalism (not so different than poor teens in urban environments in the US).
Turquoise Mountain's efforts - through construction and trade work, has led to a severe decrease in unemployment. But there is a recognition that this employment is temporary.
Because it was no longer EID we got to go into the classrooms and see the students at work. The minute we walked in there was a rousing "Salame" and the second grade class was fighting to read aloud for us.
The classrooms were mixed with both boys and girls.
We left Murat Khane and grabbed a quick lunch before heading for tea.
Stocky and Judy had hosted an Afghan girl over the summer and we were going to pay a visit to her sister and husband who live in Kabul.
The two are doctors at a Kabul hospital and we sat and listened as they talked about their life here.
They both come from the countryside up North but had to come to Kabul for the training despite the fact that the pay is much less in the city than it is in the country ($150 per month! Vs. $300 in the country).
The talk soon turned to the governement and what is possible for the future of Afghanistan. The husband was disheartened with the government and seemed unsure that there was any strong future for Afghanistan.
"Security is less stable. Many want the international community out of Afganistan - but I am not sure that will be better."
We soon left and dropped Shoshana off for a meeting at the ministry of communication.
Judy, Zia, and I continued on to Baghe Babur. It is a garden that is the burial site for an emperor from the 1600's who wanted to be buried in Kabul because to him, it was the most beautiful place on earth.
A great deal of work has gone into the site in the last 2 years. It is lush and green with trees, rose bushes and a fountain that flows like a river through the middle of the park.
It is a sharp contrast to the dusty streets of Kabul and the sharp mountains that surround it.
We walked around for an hour at sunset - the color was beautiful and the dust filled air glowed golden over the city.
We left around 5:30 and Zia laughed at the thick traffic as we stepped outside.
It was at a deadstop in front of us.
In broken English he offered to take us in the opposite direction from all of the traffic - to drive us by the palace and museum.
We drove and Zia tried to teach us the names of the neighborhoods as we zipped and bumped our way through the streets.
We drove the Darulaman road and passed the former palace - a spectacular building now bombed out - with holes in the side and missing rooftops.
It is spectacular and sad all at the same time.
We asked Zia who had done this - was it the Taliban? the Americans? the Russians? There were so many choices.
It had been destroyed by the warring factions of the Mujadeen during the Afghan civil war in the early 1990's.
As I heard this and looked at the bombed out palace I could not help but think of what our host from tea had said today.
I also found myself thinking of the incredible effort and work being done by Turquoise Mountain to preserve Afghan culture and art.
No one is sure of what Afghanistan's future will be and as rebuilding efforts continue throughout the city there are constant reminders that all of this could be temporary and no one knows this better than the residents of Kabul.
It is hard to know how to nurture this progress and even more difficult to determine how to prevent it from being destroyed.
Monday, September 28, 2009
The custom is to welcome even strangers for tea. And if their enemy happens to be that stranger - so be it.
If their enemy is threatened by an outsider while having tea. As a matter of pride they will fight to the death for that enemy.
Graciousness and beauty has always existed alongside violence here.
Like the kites that the children fly all over the city. They dance across the sky - literally dozens at a time. And while the kites soar - all of the kite strings are equipped to cut down any kite string that gets in its path.
I went with 2 of the women from Turquoise Mountain today to shop on Chicken Street (the main merchant center) and then to buy kites in another area of town.
The kite seller had a small store front on a dust covered street in downtown Kabul. Some of the tiny stand was filled with kites - but most of it was filled with different types of string. The shopkeeper showed me the strength of the string and then showed me how it could easily cut another string down. This was its most important selling feature - not how high the kite could fly.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Return to regularly scheduled programming...
Woke up early in the morning on Saturday so we could prepare for our hike in Istalif.
Istalif is an area about an hour and a half outside of Kabul. Istalif suffered greatly in the war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. It was occupied and then burned by the Taliban - trees were knocked down or burned as were houses and parts of the village.
Istalif had long been a retreat from the congestion of Kabul. Very much like going upstate is for some of us who live in New York.
Istalif was an early site of activity for Turquoise Mountain - partially because of the level of suffering and partially because of the history of crafts, most specifically pottery, that exists in the area. Istalif was famous for its pottery and when they began to rebuild one of the first things they repaired was the pottery center’s wheel and the kiln that had been destroyed.
We made our way to Istalif in the car with Zia, Shoshana, Judy and Ollie - one of the folks that works on the project in Murad Khane.
The beginning of the trip took us out of Kabul on a paved road.
About 40 minutes in we turned onto a bumpy dirt road and passed land that was beginning to be farmed and divided into different areas with walls made of mud brick.
The dirt road eventually thinned and we were grinding our way up the mountain on a thin path surrounded by walls of the village (or what remained of them).
We passed people along the way men, women and children walking along the road. They backed up against the walls so we could pass. The women were all wearing burqas and when we first approached they had them pulled back so they could play with their children or watch over them as they walked down the mountain. When our car approached - they turned toward the wall or pulled the burqas down over their faces.
We arrived in the village and went to meet Islam Muhammed - one of the sons of the top ceramics man in the region. He agreed to walk us along the river and up the mountain.
We began our walk along the river on a rocky wooded path - much tree growth has taken place since the Taliban left in 2002.
The river rushes along nicely and Islam points with pride at the rock houses being rebuilt in the mountain side.
We wind our way up the mountain and pass children leaving school and happen upon other children shaking branches for walnuts. Their father offers all of us walnuts and we use rocks to break them on the rock wall.
There are many rock walls throughout the area. They terrace the land for the planting of grapes, mulberries, and walnuts and also separate the land for ownership purposes.
The walnuts are a little under-ripe and therefore moist and chewy but still taste good.
Some of the children follow us for a ways. Hoping to get their picture taken or just interested in the group of strangers that are here.
We walk for a little under two hours and take a break in a shaded area by the river. We watch as one man carries sticks on his back up the mountain and another leads a donkey, weighed down with bags, across the river.
Soon a large SUV pulls up out of nowhere and two men get out and begin to wash the car with buckets full of river water. This is only the second car we have seen today (the third is one we later help to push up the mountain as the car load of 6 men stops to say hello and gets stuck).
We decide to turn back and begin our walk down the river.
Shoshana lets us know that Islam has invited us to tea in his garden. We soon turn and begin hiking up another part of the mountain – we jump over rock walls and duck under tree branches. We continue to climb and eventually come to a dry riverbed and climb another wall. We sit under a tree in “Islam’s garden” which is really much of the land we have just traversed. In front of us is a small patch of land that is a newly growing vineyard.
Islam leaves and returns with a blanket for us to sit on. Following close on his trail are a group of children – 4 boys all between 6 and 8. They stand precariously on the side of the hill watching us with wide eyes.
Soon a slightly older girl comes out with a silver tray with glass mugs for tea. She hands this up the hill to the boys and runs off again. Before we know it we have in front of us cookies, homemade naan, and hot tea.
We sit on the hillside and Islam’s uncle joins us. He is much older with a weathered face, little round hat and watery blue eyes.
Islam says something to the children and the boys all remove their shoes and walk across the blanket to greet each of us and shake our hands. “Salame Malakem.” Peace be on you indeed.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Sorry for the delayed update. Internet access has not been as consistent lately.
Friday, September 25, 2009
We decided to take it a little bit easy today and ease into our Friday. Most have the day off from the building project of Murad Khane. Early this morning there was even a bit of a chill in the air which is nice after the midday sun of yesterday's walk around the district.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
We got up early this morning to leave Dubai. The wake up call came at 3:45 and we were out the door by 10 after 4.
We spent the day touring Dubai yesterday.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Emirates is quite an airline - I love that there is a camera at the nose of the plane that shows take off and landing on the monitors.
I also loved that when they turned down the lights for people to go to sleep - the ceiling lit up with a constellation of LED stars.
We got off in Dubai - and the massive airport is like a Blade Runner Airport as coceived by a vegas review designer. A large metallic space ship that lit up was the first thing we saw when getting off the plane. The airport is filled with huge white columns that glitter and sparkle, multi-color LED walls that light up surrounding a black marble waterfall.
Being surrounded by this crisp, clean, illiminated, over the top environment as the day's final call to prayer came over the speakers made the whole place seem otherworldly while familiar all at the same time.
It is nighttime so we made our way to the hotel - within spitting distance of the airport. Its a resort geared towards business travelers, le Meridian Dubai - with 16 restaurants and 3 pools.
It felt similar to resorts you would find elsewhere - with the requisite over-priced restaurants (French! Sushi! Italian!). I could be in Dubai or Puerto Rico and not really know - except for the number of Sheiks walking around and the arabic writing on each sign (under the writing in English, of course).
Its a good place for transition though - and that was the whole idea. Today we will tour many of the over the top sites in Dubai - indoor snow skiing, Palm Island, etc.
We are going to try to do most of this via the brand new metro which just opened last week.
More after we tour - when I have had the chance to see more than the lights on the ceiling of my Emirates flight.