Friday, February 23, 2007

Vacation Pics

I've posted a bunch of pictures from my holiday, and I'll let them tell the story. I had a great time - it wasn't very 'restful' but it was exactly what I needed. I got to walk a lot, join in political protests in Beirut, see firsthand the damage from the Israeli bombing of Lebanon, explore Damascus and spend time with friends and family. There is one part of the story that is missing - my camera wasn't working when I went to Dahiya, the suburbs of Beirut. The damage I saw there was more overwhelming than anything I've ever seen - even 6 months after the fact. I wish I could share those images with you...


Amal and I at breakfast

The hotel I stayed in in Dubai

On the way out of Beirut - heading south

Rebuilding a bombed out bridge just outside of Beirut


Hizballah flag at the top of Fort Beauford in southern Lebanon - a strategic spot that has been controlled by the Lebanese, Palestinians and Israelis at different points.

Marcy and I took a wrong turn and ended up in an area with cluster bombs. The road was clear, but the red and white tape marks dangerous areas.

poster warning civilians about cluster bombs

Private home in Southern Lebanon

Sunset - we had to move fast because the roads were too bad to drive after dark

Children playing in the rubble

Southern Lebanon - there used to be a house behind this gate...

Mosque in Southern Lebanon

Damascus - One of the oldest covered souq's in the world

A khan in the old city. Khan's are places were merchants would stay overnight

This is where unprepared women go to get a brown cloak that covers their hair and bodies before entering the mosque. I looked like one of the sand people from Star Wars...

Courtyard view

Courtyard of Al Ummayed Mosque

Woman praying inside the mosque

Mosque interior

Storyteller at a traditional Damascus coffee house


View from a Damascus rooftop in the Old City

Bob, my host and guide in Damascus

The interior (and I do mean interior) of a beautiful Damascene style home, in the old city

Lebanese citizens returning from the rally on February 14, the anniversary of Hariri's assassination

Balloon with a picture of Hariri

The wrecked building in the background is where Hariri was assassinated

Girl holding the Lebanese flag

Minivan full of patriotic young Lebanese guys

Enormous lebanese flag, with the Hariri mosque in the background, Martyr's Square

Billboard of Condi - the part you can't see has a snake. In arabic it says, "I am Condi" under both pics...

Hizbollah encampment next to the Parliament. They are demanding a new government.


Yesterday was extremely tense. We kept receiving security emails warning us about the demonstration scheduled for today. Each email was more urgent than the one preceding it. It started with notification of a peaceful demonstration, and a recommendation not to travel around the city today. Next came a suicide bomber warning because of the demonstration - the more people gathered in one place, the bigger the bang, so to speak. Then we started getting notifications that the former warlords were busing in supporters from the provinces, and that the demonstration could have between 30,000 and 300,000 participants - many of whom would be armed. Movement restrictions for us were moved up, our lockdown began yesterday at 6pm instead of today.

We took some security precautions besides staying in which I won't detail here, picked up a case of beer and settled in for a long night. We heard rumors that the UN and US government staff were preparing for evacuation if necessary. We talked about grab bags (pre-packed bags in case of emergency evacuation) although none us have bothered to do that. Nathan, Scott and I stayed up late watching movies, and the first thing I did when I woke up this morning was check the news and my email. There was nothing about any of this on the international news. I guess it's only a story is something blows up.

Text messages were flying between internationals all morning, and there has been a lot more air traffic than usual. I hate hearing the airplanes flying low - it creeps me out even though I know they are international planes. The demonstration is over now, and initial reports say about 35,000 people attended. Nothing has happened so far, although we are under lockdown for the rest of the day. I'm relieved, of course, but also frightened by how quickly the environment changed. Practically overnight my feelings about security here went from tolerably unstable to scary as hell. My boss described today as feeling like we are in the eye of hurricane - things are happening at an alarming pace all around us, even though it is quiet where we are. The worst part is the feeling of helplessness. We are dependent on other people to provide us with information, to protect us and to get us out if necessary. Of course, I'm lucky. As an expat and as non-essential staff, I'll be one of the first evacuated in the situation gets too unstable - our Afghan staff won't.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Waiting for Spring

Two days after returning to Afghanistan, I went to the ISAF base with Betsy to talk to them about selling Women of Hope products there weekly. We took a public taxi (which I was informed later by my boss is completely off limits in the future) and drove through the city. It had seemed like spring was approaching before I left, but Tuesday proved us wrong with dark gray skies and slushy snow. We stopped at a traffic light, not because the light was working but because traffic was backed up, and I was looking out the window, as usual.

I saw an older man, he looked to be in his late 60s but was probably only in his 40s, lying on his side on the sidewalk. A dirty turban was wrapped around his head and he was wearing lightweight pants and had a thin sheet thrown over him. His eyes were closed and he was rocking back and forth a little, his mouth stretched wide as he moaned. As he rocked the sheet slipped down to expose the nub where his left arm should have been. He skin was stretched so tightly across his thin frame it looked as if his bones would break free at any moment. Pedestrian traffic continued on the sidewalk around him, although I could see that kind Afghans had left money on the ground in front of him.

I can't get the image out of my mind.

Eventually the street unclogged and we continued to the base. While we were waiting for our military escort, Betsy picked up a copy of the ISAF newsletter to read. The lead story was about how ISAF had underestimated Taliban capabilities and that they are anticipating the spring to be the worst since 2001.

You can feel the tension in the denseness of the air. Attacks have been picking up in regions outside of Kabul and we are all waiting for the spring to reach us in the mountains. Four rockets were fired into the Jalalabad Road area of Kabul last week - aiming for a military base and getting pretty close, I guess. My NGO upped our security restrictions and we're talking about having a lock down on Friday. I guess the Mujaheddin are going to protest on Friday - I assume they are marching to pressure Karzai into signing the Amnesty Bill which has already been passed by both Afghan Parliamentary houses. The bill grants amnesty to all people who committed crimes during the Mujaheddin Wars - including the many warlords in Parliament. If Karzai signs it he will lose the support of the international community, but if he doesn't sign it the former warlords will not be happy... There have been many protests and demonstrations in Kabul since I've been here, but people are whispering that this one has the potential to turn into riots like the ones this past May. I've heard three different expats in the last 2 days say that they think evacuation is a possibility this year and if the international forces can't get control of the country by the end of 2007 it will be a lost cause.

Of course, these are all rumors - people were saying that the Taliban was planning a winter attack that was going to take everyone by surprise, but it never materialized. What is unnerving is to read ISAF newsletter and talk to some of the soldiers who are saying they think this spring is going to be very bad. I get nervous when the military and the NGO community agree on anything...

Betsy got permission to start selling her stuff at the ISAF base on Mondays. Unfortunately, I can't help out because I'll still be at work when she heads over. But, once the warmer weather arrives I will be able to help out at Camp Eggars again, which will be good. Volunteering my time to help Afghan women, even if it at a military base, makes me feel a little better about being here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Holiday Countdown

Tashi, on the way to the vet

Tashi, in the sideview mirror

Dogs boarded at the vet

Well, life in Kabul has been fairly uneventful. We took the dogs to the vet - there was an adorable little puppy there that I wanted to bring home with me, but I resisted...

Things are heating up in the south, but have stayed pretty quiet here. Two exciting things happened on Monday (1) Betsy came back from her 6 weeks in the US (2) my mom sent me a care package!

Honestly, Monday was like Christmas day for me. Santa Betsy somehow telepathically knew about my desire to try yoga, and she brought me a yoga mat and a dvd, and no, she doesn't read my blog. My mother defied all the laws of physics and somehow managed to send me 3 sweaters, 5 shirts, a pair of jeans, winter boots, medicine and a variety of other things in one small box. She practically doubled my entire wardrobe (keep in mind I originally came here for 3 months, and they were not winter months). I've been making due with 2 long sleeved shirts, 1 cardigan and sweaters I borrowed from Betsy.

The package came just in time because I'm leaving for Dubai on Wednesday. I'm going to spend two days there with my dad who is flying over from Kuwait and then I'm heading to Beirut and Damascus to see friends (and drink and go dancing and get a hair cut). I'm beyond excited - I can't wait to walk around, to go places by myself, use my Arabic and wear scarves around my neck instead of my head! Just keep your fingers crossed for me that nothing happens in Beirut - at least not until I've already entered the country... This will be my first break in 5 months, and I've been counting down for the last two weeks at least. If Hizbullah screws this up for me I'll track Nasrallah down myself and express my displeasure!

So, stay tuned for pictures from my mini-break.

Still no news on the job - I probably won't find anything out until March.