Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Opening My Eyes

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.

1 comment:

  1. The focus on the arts in the midst of war, chaos and some would say hopelessness reminds me of Joseph Heller's 1946 Pulitzer A Bell for Adono. Heller was a war correspondent assigned to a tiny Italian village decimated in the conflict. He trailed a young major Joloppo, assigned to oversee the restoration. One of his first acts was to gather some of the townspeople and to ask what they most needed. "A bell, mister...a bell for our church." Joloppo thought they were mad. They hadn't burried some of their dead, they had nothing to eat and had barely the clothes on their backs. He learned though that for 700 years, their bell had sounded the beginning and end of each day, announced births and weddings...even called the men in from the fields. A few weeks before the end of the fighting, Mussolini confiscated the bell and had it melted down for bullets. The bell meant life, and the chance for normalcy. Joloppo radioed a buddy in the Navy and had a ship's bell refitted for the church tower. They broke all kinds of rules getting it off the seas and into the church; but with the ringing of the bell, life returned to Adono. This story took on a deeper meaning for me upon returning from a community development project in very rural Idaho...a town built by the homestead act near the shores of the Snake River. I organized a "vision fair" that had people buzzing about education and jobs and kids and downtown redevelopment. The most concrete outcome, though, was the restoration of the old Theatre where Wild Bill Cote and later some of the greats of vaudeville used to perform...ok, but not the economic recovery my rescue fantasy had me harbor. On the way home, I read the Times obit for the real Major Joloppo and discovered how he had revisited the town after he retired from Con Ed and they'd rung the bell for him every hour for 6 days. He could still hear it in the nursing home, and felt it was the greatest thing he'd ever done. So caligraphy and wood carving in the midst of roadside bombs? Maybe Heller saw something worthy of the Pulitzer even before he wrote it.