Friday, October 30, 2009

Some Progress in Town...Inspite of Problems

We've had an exciting week here in Kabul. Since Westerners were killed, you likely heard about the attack on the Guest House where some UN staff resided. More on that in a bit.

A couple hours later we had a rocket attack. One rocket landed in the lobby of the luxury Serena Hotel in the center of town but didn't detonate. Lots of soiled underwear among the hoity-toity who stay there I'll bet.

We were also blessed with earthquakes this month. We had one on
22 October that measured 6.2, followed by a 5.8 to the southwest on
24 October and last night's 6.0, followed by a 4.2 aftershock.

We've also got a cholera outbreak due to heavy rains that are causing mudslides and soiling the water. Though that is mostly to the east of us, there are cases here in Kabul also.

Add the excitement to the east in Pakistan and the bad guys here trying to disrupt the runoff election and you have "high anxiety," at least among the Western media.

Now about the attack on the guest house. For me the picture below is a strong counterpoint to some asinine comments by a retired Sergeant Major over on "American Thinker" and some cheerleaders there who shared his stilted view. That view being that "all Muslims are evil" they "don't care about human life in Afghanistan" and "they aren't willing to fight." To those sentiments I say, pardon my French, "BULLSHIT!"

In the first place, two Afghan guards died defending the guest house occupants. There was a 10 - 15 minute gunbattle before the police arrived (probably a faster response time than in many US cities). Around these parts the security guys tend to run toward the sound of gunfire. That's a good thing.

One policeman died trying to rescue the UN staffers. As the Reuters picture below shows, an Afghan Muslim police officer is carrying a German on his back to safety. So much for "evil, don't care, won't fight Afghans!"

The weather is also changing more rapidly than last year. I've already mentioned the rains. Well, there's also more snow...a lot more. It's going to be a cold winter!

The snow has reached down near the 9,500ft line.

Now for the lighter side of progress...

Only the richest Afghans throw away anything that might be useful.
You never know when an old empty plastic jug might come in handy.
Yet these scenes are becoming more rare.

There's still some ruins about, but they are rapidly being torn down and replaced... new mansions.

I wonder which Bollywood star is going to live here?

Looks suspiciously like LA.

Even the less-affluent are getting into the building act.
This is one of many "cliffhouses" being expanded.

And the hillsides are getting a bit more colorful too!

And even on a day that saw a shootout and rocket attack
in the middle of town, the balloon guys were out in force.

They even found a buyer.
In a country where the next meal is iffy,
when you can spend money on balloons,
it's a sign that things are improving.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Good Muslims

News Flash!
These guys are not practicing Muslims!

Is it the Western clothing?

Is it the scruffy look?

Is it the smile for the camera?

Is it the cool manly look?

Perhaps it's the dolls?

Nope! You can tell they are not practicing Muslims because none of the above men have beards! The men below are good, practicing Muslims.

Ah, a pair of good practicing Muslims.

Six good Muslims!

These must be good Muslims too, eh?
Well, they could be if they weren't already Sikhs.

We have an new idiot guy on our team. Apparently quite a scholar on Islamic Law, at least in his mind.

You see, all these many years I've been living, working or visiting Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Afghanistan I've been laboring under a false perception.

According to this moron dude, the vast majority of beardless men I've encountered in all these countries aren't really practicing Muslims.

According to this dweeb guy, the Holy Qur'an directs Muslim men to grow beards.

Guess how many times "beard" or "beards" appears in the Qur'an? Exactly one time.

In 20:94 where Aaron, speaking to Moses after Moses confronts him about the golden calf says: "O Son of my mother, seize me not by my beard, nor by my head."

That's it, the one and only reference in the Holy Qur'an to beards.

In case you were wondering, I have no patience with idiots. I especially have no patience with Western idiots who make such asinine proclaimations and do the extemists propoganda work for them.

Rant complete.

For now.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Side Streets

Eid has come and gone. Things are getting back to a normal rhythm and the days are getting shorter. I indulged in kebobs, naan and palau today for lunch. One can only drive past the kebob stands so many times without saying, "enough is enough! I'm hungry!"

One of the advantages we have in traveling around town is that we drive in unarmored vehicles that look like all the other Afghan vehicles. Which means we often travel where no armed convoys or patrols travel and that means getting to see "ordinary Afghans in their natural environment." We also get stuck in ordinary traffic, like we did last night for two hours getting home. It's often funny when the locals look in our vehicle and suddenly realize that we're not from around here.

So here's some shots of side streets in Kabul that you don't often see unless you leave the more popular/busy routes through town.

A talk by the sewer. Hard to escape the open sewers.

See what I mean? Another open sewer.

Or else one dodges pedestrians in torn-up muddy side streets.

Or, the really old part of town, no sewer at all. Just a dirt road.

In preparation for coming improvements, double sewer!

Then again, there's the dirt ditch in the dirt alleyway.

Ok, the open sewer is out of sight right now,
but it's right by the woman's feet as she inspects pears.
Note the more modern building surrounded by mud brick structures.

The goats get a brand new cement runway up the hill to the cliff houses.

College student emerging from alleyway on the way to school.

Another muddy road without proper drainage.
This one is one of the lower roads into the cliffhouses.

Another improved alleyway. These people must have connections.

Yes, there is electricity these days, even in the poorer parts of town.
Of course driving such roads is an adventure.

Which pretty much sums up the Afghan style of driving.
Yes, taken on the streets of Kabul just yesterday afternoon!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

First Snow!

Ye Gads! Where does the time go? I can't believe it's been almost a month since my last post!

Anyway, to catch up on's been Ramazan (Ramadan) since my last post. During Ramazan Muslims fast, pray, and abstain from tobacco and...well, "bedroom activities" from sunrise to sunset. In a couple days it will be Eid el Fitr, the breaking of the fast, so the town has been busy in the markets as people prepare for feasting and gift-giving.

On a weather note, we had our first snow last night (16 September). I do believe it is still "officially" summer. The mountains west of town saw the last of the snow melt on 27 August. So that means we went a mere 20 days without snow. It's shaping up to be one hell of a winter here.

Peaks to the west of town.
From 31 October 2008 until 27 August 2009,
there was snow on them hills.
After a 20-day break, it's back!

Kuchis on the move.
Kuchi means literally, "those who travel".
They are nomadic herders, primarily Pashtun, who are
regarded in some quarters with the same disdain as gypsies.

Note the dog in the lower left of the picture.
Kuchis rely on dogs for both herding and security.
You rarely see Kuchis without dogs.
This sets them apart from most Afghans.

This group of Kuchis started moving south two days before the snow.
Perhaps they were more attuned to the pending weather change than "city folk."

Lending a hand crossing the street.

Cliff house sidewalk.
I'm often asked how people get around in the cliff house neighborhoods.
This is how.

Wee one pooped out from pre Eid shopping.
Note the reddish hair.

Beggar trying a mark.
Since their vehicle looked more important than ours,
we got by without a second look.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Day After

The Election has passed and votes are being counted.

Somewhere between 40 - 50 percent of the eligible voters cast ballots and that's under threat of dismemberment (the Taliban threatened to cut fingers off) and death (the Taliban threatened to kill people) and under fire (rocket attacks, gunmen and suicide bombers).

Despite all the doom and gloom forecasts, things weren't really all that scary yesterday. The Taliban propaganda machine (the Western media) failed to scare away voters.

So now we wait while votes are counted. We should give a nod to the millions of courageous Afghans who braved death and dismemberment to exercise their right to vote.

The Afghan people are the winners, even if the election was imperfect.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Afghanistan Presidential Election Tomorrow

Tomorrow (20 August) is election day in Afghanistan and these are interesting times. In the last week we’ve have several rocket attacks and two suicide VBIEDs (vehicle borne improvised explosive devices). In both VBIED attacks the majority of the casualties were innocent Afghans, including children.

None of this was unexpected, but the suicide VBIED attack in front of ISAF (International Security and Assistance Force) Headquarters was probably preventable and the result of lax security, or non-existent security, along one road leading into the "Green Zone."

At least one news outlet talked about how the Presidential compound was “targeted” in a rocket attack early yesterday morning. Let’s set the record straight. The safest place to be during a rocket attack is to be the target. Anything within about a 2 kilometer circle is a little iffier. Getting hit by a rocket is rather like the old Monty Python joke about the chances of having a 16-ton weight hit you in the head. You can’t worry about it.

Last night passed peacefully, but we are all expecting a little more excitement today and tomorrow. Despite the threats, the UN monitors are expecting a pretty solid turnout. A good turnout would be psychological victory over the Taliban. Time will tell.

UPDATE Afternoon 19 August:
The media are really spinning this one up. Today three guys tried to rob a bank downtown. The MSNBC post online described the area as "still in ruins" from the Civil War. Clearly the writer has never been there, I drive past the area on most days and it isn't in ruins. In fact there are three hotels and several government ministries near that bank.

They then connect the Taliban claim that there are twenty guys with suicide vests in town to the three because a Taliban spokesman said five of the twenty battled police. Well, the Taliban have a habit of claiming any violence as their handiwork, even when it's just ordinary criminal activity. By doing so it makes them look like they have more "soldiers" than they really have.

So if these guys at the bank were wearing suicide vests, why didn't any of them detonate when the police stormed the building? That would have been the perfect time to cause a lot of casualties.

It's far more likely that these were just ordinary thugs trying to capitalize on the fact that most people were home today since it's Independence Day. Had they been aiming for a big bloody splash, they would have hit yesterday when there were more people around.

Important note: The Afghan police don't let these scenarios drag out for very long and they aren't squeamish about a fight. Any such attack is a suicide attack because the police aren't interested in taking prisoners.

Election Billboard
Assuring the populace that the Army and the Police will protect voters.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Faces of Kabul

First, let me thank all of you who've stopped by while I've been "silent" and inquired about my well-being. Doing fine, but I needed a break. I went home on leave where I thought I'd have more time to blog...NOT! My last day at home I hauled 6.5 tons of mulch, but I left it to my dear wife to spread.

While there I did all my medical checkups. When next I return in December, I've got knee surgery scheduled...on Pearl Harbor Day.

As you may notice, I'm in Afghanistan past the one year mark. Right now it looks like I'll be here until the end of April 2010 or beginning of May 2010.

Weather here has been much milder than in many years. There is still snow on the peaks west of town. We hit 99°F yesterday, but for the most part the temps have stayed around the mid-90's for the hottest part of the year. We still have not broken 100°F for the year in Kabul.

We're expecting next week to get a little more dicey with the election. So far the town is quiet, but we doubt the bad guys are going to let the elections go unchallenged. They've certainly made their hostile intentions well-known.

Today I'm just posting a bunch of pictures I'm simply calling "The Faces of Kabul." Some you have seen before, but since they are among my favorites there here again.

You frequently see men and women with their scarf or burqha clenched in their teeth.

Old man begging in the middle of the road.

Ladies out shopping.

Telling a story.

Baker done for the day.

Another very talented woman.

Are you talking to me?

Yep, something stinky nearby.

Six Pashtun men.

Day laborers waiting for jobs.

Pashtun goat herder.

What's this? Boys, talking to girls! In public!

Walking home from the bus stop.

Begger boy.

Ok, there's a little bit of a story to this one.
The hottie on the left is my "girl friend" (it's a joke with my driver).
She frequently flashes me -- drops her veil and smiles when we see each other.
I almost caught her here.

For the guys, note the sexy eyes on the one in the pink shawl.
It's incredible how sexy a woman can look without revealing much.

Homeless old man.

Same little guy from the earlier picture, different day.

Woman begging in the middle of the street.

Crossing Guard.

School Girls.

Cool hippie dude. Note the shades.

Old woman begging.

Fashionably pink.

Blind man eating outside a mosque.