Friday, March 16, 2007

Women's Gathering

Thursday afternoon, 1 week after International Women's Day, Tilly invited all the women from our office over to our house for a 'party,' but really it was a dialogue about women's issues in Afghanistan. It was really interesting to listen to the women talk about their families, the support or resistance they face from them about working, some of the things they did during the Taleban regime - or didn't do. One of the women talked about how they managed to arrange med school classes for a group of women in Herat, in spite of Taleban restrictions. Another admitted her secret dream to learn Tai Kwon Do.

We held the conversation in a mixture of English and Dari, with different women translating at different times. At first only the bilingual women would speak (although I insisted on constant translation) but by the end all the women were contributing, albeit with some encouragement. One of the women who is a housekeeper at the other staff house said that she works because there aren't any men in her family, but that she loves working and is glad to have the opportunity. Our office cleaner, a fun spunky woman, said that her in-laws talk about her because she refuses to wear the burqa and she works outside of the home, but that she doesn't care. Her husband is an actor, and she said her children also wanted to study acting, but she couldn't let her daughters because of the gossip and problems when they lived in the refugee camps in Pakistan.

Overall, it was a very successful event, and I think we're going to start doing it monthly. It was nice to be able to interact with my co-workers in a more personal way. I've had a very difficult time bridging that gap with most of them, even though I've been here for six months now. I can see I have a lot to learn from them...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

NGO worker Killed

Today a German aid worker was killed in Sar-e-Pul province. He was with 3 Afghan NGO staff in a two car convoy when they were held up by robbers. The robbers took the valuables, then let the Afghan staff go. The took the international NGO worker behind a rock and shot him twice.

My thoughts and condolences go out to his family, friends and coworkers.

Police don't seem to think that the attack was from the Taleban. One of the things that is not reported on enough is the increase in criminal behavior in Afghanistan. Areas that aren't controlled by the Taleban, and where there is little government presence are becoming increasingly anarchic.

Monday, March 05, 2007

NATO Bomb Kills 9 Afghan Civilians

Today US NATO forces dropped 2 bombs on a family's compound killing 5 children, 3 women and 1 man, all of the same family. NATO forces claim they dropped the bomb after 3 men who had been launching rockets at a PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) base ran into the compound. Of course, this is after yesterday's ISAF disaster when 10 Afghan civilians were killed by US troops when they opened fire after a suicide attack. Yesterday, the body count was 16, but today it has dropped to 10. Interestingly, the ISAF troops confiscated journalists cameras and deleted footage after yesterday's shooting outside of Jalalabad.

Thousands of people protested after yesterday's disaster, but things seem to be fairly quiet after today's civilian death toll. The calm before the storm? Tribal leaders from the districts effected by yesterday's shooting are coming to Kabul to meet with Karzai about the event on Saturday - rumor has it that demonstrations will hold off until the results from the meeting are know. If the results aren't satisfactory to the tribal leaders, violent protests are expected...

I heard that the UN declared "White City" today in Kabul - the second time since I've been here. This means UN staff are on restricted movement. Another rumor says that 25 suicide bombers have infiltrated Kabul city, and that their target is ministry buildings. I didn't leave my little neighborhood today, but co-workers said police and military were out in force today. The ministries are off limit for our staff until after tomorrow.

The tension is rising in Kabul, but it isn't anywhere near the feeling in the city Friday before last, when everyone was expecting violent protests. International forces are clinging to a slippery slope, and the events of the last few days have made their footing even more treacherous. Hopefully things will be quiet tomorrow.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

International Troops Kill 16 Civilians

One of my co-workers is a Pakistani man who travels on Jalalabad Rd from Kabul to Peshawar fairly often. He was on his way back to the office today with our new gender strategy consultant when all hell broke loose on the road. Apparently a suicide bomber in a minivan tried to drive into an American ISAF convoy of 3 humvees. There was an explosion, and one soldier was injured. Then the troops opened fire on one of the busiest highways in Afghanistan, shooting indiscriminately at civilians in cars and on foot, according to Afghan witnesses.

Al-Jazeera reports that 16 civilians were killed and at least 24 were injured in the shooting. The ISAF soldiers claim they were caught in a crossfire, but witnesses say there was no attack aside from the suicide bomber. One Afghan man lost 5 members of his family today.

My coworker and the new consultant (this is her first trip to Afghanistan) were on the road, but far enough back that they were caught in the traffic jam instead of the gun fire.

Protests swept through the districts neighboring the incident, with hundreds of people in the street shouting, "Death to America, Death to Karzai."

I feel bad for the ISAF soldiers - most of them are younger than I am, and scared to death, not that they'd admit it. All it takes is one person to pull a trigger for the entire situation to fall apart. That said, the international troops are supposed to be here to make the situation better, not worse. Rumor has it that ISAF is going to close the road between Pakistan and Afghanistan for a few days until things calm down. Interestingly, the area where the suicide bombing happened is an area that has been experiencing the ISAF poppy eradication programing. Something worth pondering...

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Mucking about in Kabul

Darleman Palace

New exhibit at the Kabul Museum

New paint job

Old train on the museum grounds

Anthony in the museum car graveyard

Building on the west side of Kabul

UNICEF tents - this is a school just outside of Kabul

Anthony and Leon

Qarghas Lake

This kid was trying to get me to give him money for burning incense near me - I took his picture instead

The western edges of Kabul were hit really hard during the mujahadeen wars, and a lot of it hasn't been rebuilt yet.

Driving back into the city - leftovers from the 10th of Mahram

Today I went over to HOPE Worldwide for lunch. There's a bit of a back story to this - on my way back to Kabul at the end of my vacation I got stuck in Dubai for an extra night because Ariana Airlines decided not to show up in Dubai for my scheduled flight (they sent their plane to Delhi instead). While spending the entire night in the airport waiting for the flight that would never come, I met Leon, a Briton who was on his was to Kabul for the first time to do a few weeks worth of volunteering with the HOPE organization.

We teamed up and figured out the bureaucratic morass together, and booked flights on a different airline for the following day. I went over to HOPE for lunch on Wednesday, and we made plans to do a little exploring today. This afternoon I went over for lunch again, and then Leon, Jason and Kelly (recently arrived from the US), Anthony (Australian) and myself headed out to Darelman Palace and the Kabul Museum. After that we drove out to Lake Qargha (still my favorite place to visit) and mucked about in the mud. Our driver decided to drive, or slide rather, right to the shore of the lake. There were a few sketchy moments where I wasn't sure we were going to make it back up to the main road, but the four wheel drive won out in the end.

All in all it was a great weekend - dinner with Cory last night, exploring today. I even got up early and did some work before my afternoon adventure. It's amazing how much better I feel after getting out for a bit...

It looks like this month and next month are going to be extremely hectic at work, so my posting may decrease (even more than it already has). We'll see - of course I'll post if anything eventful happens...