Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Some First Impressions in Afghanistan

A dark joke shared here is that Afghanistan is so poor; they can only afford half a time zone. They are at GMT +4.5. The poverty is certainly obvious. Most have to scratch out a subsistence level existence, but there are signs that things are improving.

You see fewer burkhas on the women. They still wear headscarves, but their clothing is taking a more liberal direction if still modest by Western standards. Many women who do wear burkhas, wear only the headpiece. Their more colorful clothing is clearly visible from the knees down.

Children are back in schools in swarms. Just a couple years ago they attended school in the tens. However, this is mostly in Kabul, Mazar and Herat. Some of the more “traditional Taliban haunts” still have concerns and insurgents regularly burn down schools, threaten the children (especially the girls), and murder teachers. Knowledge is dangerous to the insurgents and undermines the more radical mullahs.

Note that there isn't any "lane discipline". Officially they drive on the right, but...

Driving through Kabul is an exercise in nerves. It would make a great Disney thrill ride. I am amazed that there are not very many accidents. The roads are often choked with cars, buses, trucks, bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians and beggars. It’s amazing that there are not more pedestrians and bicyclists plastered to the pavement. Where did all the vehicles come from? It is positively amazing. They have traffic jams that equal anything found in some Western cities.

Rush-hour traffic in Kabul

Afghans are incredibly industrious, innovative and hard-working. They have perfected making something out of nothing. Education most may lack, but do not make the mistake of thinking them stupid. They are incredibly intelligent and they crave education. Many working adults attend classes at night. A favorite class is English. Some of the Afghans I work with who speak English, double at night teaching English to other adults and children. In Kabul it isn’t hard to find an Afghan who knows at least a little English and they love to practice on us. I practice my Dari and Pashto on them in return.

New construction is everywhere. Beautiful new office buildings are rising in the middle of town. The University of Kabul is rapidly finishing up the student dormitories and there are several brand new high schools. Today they turned on a large fountain at one of the main traffic circles that has not functioned since the 1970’s. There was a huge crowd on hand to enjoy the spectacle…and of course since it was a traffic circle, this had the effect of tying up traffic in every direction.

The Kabul Afghans with whom I have spoken seem to think that most of the surviving Taliban are really Pakistanis and Arabs who can’t go home. These people have experienced about thirty years of war and they are tired of it. The Kabul Afghans I’ve talked with have no sympathy or tolerance for the Taliban. One look at all the bustling business going on in town and you can understand why. They haven’t had it this good in a long time.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

On The Ground in Kabul

Just a brief post. I'm doing some of my in-processing. On the ground at the airport around 11:00 Kabul time. In the safe house by noon. First thing I was issued as I got in the SUV was body armor.

I took some pictures and a couple little movies on the road. Hopefully some will work out and I'll get them posted soon. My cell phone gets better reception in my safe house than I get at home...even from the basement. Back to work!