Sunday, December 28, 2008

Almost a New Year!

All quiet here in the big city. So, as we transition to the New Year, here are some more street shots and a couple nicer scenery shots. I'll let the pictures speak about the yucky inversions that occur in Kabul this time of year. Most people heat their homes by burning wood and old tires. They use wood and charcoal for cooking. This can have some bad effects. Lung ailments are common here.

On clear day the views can be spectacular.
Old ruins on the south end of Kabul.
The Hindu Kush (literally the Indian Killer) to the west.

This fortress south of the zoo is home to the noon gun.
In better times the cannon fired at noon.
This is similar to the one o'clock gun in Edinburgh, Scotland.

If you look closely, you might see the mountains in the distance.
They are not obscured by fog or dust, but by smoke.
A disadvantage of relying on wood and old tires for heat,
is the pollution. Remember that Kabul is in a "bowl."
While the surrounding mountains shield from the worst weather,
they also trap the smoke during inversions.

It's usually worse earlier in the morning.

On a really bad day it reaches up to Darulaman Palace.
I took this shot at a distance of about 200 meters.
The smoke almost totally obscures the palace.

On a better day, a bad immitation of Micky Mouse
advertises for an ice cream shop.

Afghanistan has a literacy rate of only about 20%.
And yet there is hunger for books. In some households,
the parents buy the books for the more literate
children to read outloud at home.

This book vendor has two carts, the one in the previous picture
and this one. The most common titles are English/Dari dictionaries
and English phrase books.
Only a handful the books on these carts are fiction.

A white ninja!
Supposedly nicer than a black ninja.
She does have incredible eyes!

I Love Kabul!
Me too!
Gotta get me one of them stickers!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas All!

Or, Happy Feast of Helios, or Happy Hanukkah, Chanukah, Hannukah, Hannukha (pick your favorite spelling) or choose any other greeting you desire. I'm sticking with Christmas.

My Afghan translators wished me Merry Christmas yesterday as I departed work. We wish them Eid Mubarak (Happy Eid), so they reciprocate. See? It isn't really very hard to get along.

My thanks to all who've visted here for the past several months (whether or not you post comments). I hope this blog as given you a different perspective of Afghanistan than that perpetuated in the mainstream media.

My Christmas wish is that this long-suffering country somehow finds peace so that the wonderful people who live here can finally have something like a normal life. I'm suspecting that it is a wish that will take years to achieve and I hope the countries who've made commitments here have the courage to see it through.

So I guess a secondary wish is that the West develop a spine to see through a very tough job. Believe me, it's worth it!

We've had threatening skys and promises of snow.
It always seems to hit the mountains surrounding Kabul.

So our white Christmas is a bit distant, but at least visible.

Ironic symbol in an Islamic country.
Cross on an old guard tower near the Afghan Army base.

Is that what I think it is?

Yes! An Afghan florist selling Christmas Trees!
His shop is conveniently located near the Western Embassies.

My tree is a bit smaller.
Perfect fit for the wee room.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Visiting Afghan Schools

Another week without much going on in terms of violence. School is currently out except for the teacher's college and the University. Most schools have no heat or electricity, so the vacation that our kids get in the summer, happens in the winter here.

Schools in Kabul are well-attended and crowded. Don't think for one minute that the Afghans have no desire to learn and have their children, including girls, go to school. Over 6 million children are currently enrolled in school -- about 2 million are girls.

In spite of some acid-throwing incidents in Khandahar province a few weeks ago (girls going to school were targeted by thugs on motorcycles), attendance is way up across the country. Villagers apprehended the acid-throwing thugs and turned most over to the police (they were "roughed up a bit"). A few recieved summary and terminal justice at the hands of angry fathers. The Taliban, suffering a bit from poor PR at the moment, denied all responsibility for the attacks.

A typical elementary school in a poorer neighborhood.

Always curious kids swarm around the strange visitors.

School officials and children pose with a British visitor.
All the NATO forces do this sort of good will visit.

Teacher overcome with emotion as kids get new notebooks.

Posing with their new "Gringo" friend.
We jokingly refer to all Westerners as "Gringos."
Guns are nothing new with these kids.
Their fathers probably have AK's at home.
They were more amazed with his communication system.

Warm welcome to a girl's classroom.
Note the lack of desks. Nor is there electricity.
The only light is what comes through the window.

Girls getting new notebooks from a friendly Brit.
This room was large enough that two classes occupied the same space.

This room was roughly 15x12 and held 35 girls plus the teacher.

Passing out backpacks.

Headmaster accepting some teaching supplies.
An Afghan Major does the honors.

A BIG supply of colored chalk.

Posing with new backpacks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Doggie Doings

For blogging buddy Ello, I had to start this out with the disclaimer that since my last post, Nothing Happened! There was no severed head in a bag by the bush at the end of the driveway. No ontoward shootings or blowings up. In fact, the week was pretty bloody...well...not bloody at all! There were threats of planned dastardly doings, but no, nothing materialized. Mornings have been crisp and the weather cool, skies clear. The roses are still blooming in the courtyard.

So let me talk about dogs.

This the sign on the gate where I work.
Pretty scary, eh?"

Here are the ever-vigilant guard dogs inspecting an intruder.

Gee! He didn't even stop!
He went right on into the people cave!

Ok, if the pack didn't scare you, how about Bob?

We call him "Bob" because of his tail...or lack thereof.
He's a pretty good daddy.

The Alpha pup hanging out with Dad.
Ever since the pups have been weaned, Bob is the primary care-giver.

Nothing like a nap on a warm dirt pile in the sun!

These two are almost always together.
There is a third white pup, but he hangs with the Alpha.

The Alpha pup!
Confident, fearless and the most vocal.
My favorite, but I always like the dominant dogs,
as my wife can attest from my own dogs at home.

The runt...the shy one.
She's sweet and cute, but hangs back.

Dreaming of goodies!
This is one of the "neighbor dogs" at Camp Dubbs.
He resides at the guard shack.
He's fond of Westerners, but not Afghans.
The guards provide him with his own food and water bowls.

Most of the feral dogs around the camp have become socialized. Which actually comes in handy, because they are a great early warning system. The dogs tend to be cautious approaching Afghans they don't know, but they don't hesitate approaching Westerners. They seem to speak English -- clever dogs!

They get plenty to eat via the French, Italians, Americans, Aussies, Ghurkas and the occassional Afghan. The Afghan officers in our building typically put their left-over food in the lid of the trash can and leave it out for the dogs. The dogs near our office don't even need to drink from puddles because they have a big bowl that gets refilled with fresh water all day by the Afghans and Ghurkas.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program

Earlier this week a suicide bomber BBIED (Body Borne Improvised Explosive Device), blew himself up near Habibia High School which is located about two hundred yards from the Afghan Parliament Building. He managed to splatter all over the armored German Embassy SUV, injuring the driver (the only occupant) and killed two nearby street workers while wounding three other bystanders.

The postive of this event is that since the kids were taking term-end exams and school had let out three hours earlier, the sidewalk which normally would have been packed with kids leaving school at the time the bomb went off was largely empty. The bomber was a Pakistani...again. Any wonder as to why Afghans are not very fond of Pakistan right now?

If not for foreigners, there probably would not be many suicide bombers in Afghanistan because:

a. Afghans consider it cowardly (they are more prone to give you a good old-fashioned stand-up gunfight).

b. Afghans consider it a violation of God's law as laid down in the Holy Quran.

On the day of this bombing it took almost two hours to get across town due to all the diverted traffic, but that made for some better photo opportunities.

On the brighter side, my new Tajik rent-a-wife housekeeper, is making life a little more pleasant. I get home to clean clothes folded and ironed on the bed. I'm one of the lucky rent-a-wife housekeeper is VERY easy on the eyes!

The bomb went off right about from where this picture was taken.

The scene would likely have been the same one hundred years ago.

Big sister mans girls the pump. Meanwhile...

Little brother is lost in the clouds.

While big brother hauls the first load up the hill.

Pomegranate Vendor.
The Kabul International Pomegranate Fair was 20 November.
With the current demand for pomegranates in the West,
there is potential here.

Apple Vendor.
He was pushing his cart to a new location.

Old Hazara Woman

Women at the cloth merchant.
I bet that if we transported ourselves back in time 2,000 years,
the picture would be the same.

Conspiracy in progress.

Blind man having dinner on the street.
This is near a mosque called the Shrine of the Two Swords.
Many invalids get their food here.

Dad/Grandad and wee one.
Can't assume anything in these parts.
It is not uncommon for an old guy like this to have a very young wife.

A couple of cuties!

An ever-present beggar.