Sunday, March 25, 2012

Afghan New Year, Dogs

Hi Everyone,

Life rolls merrily onwards here in the Kush, especially with the celebration of Naw Ruz, the Afghan New Year. We welcomed the auspicious year 1391 this past Wednesday with a national holiday and lots of people going to mosques and shrines and flying kites and visiting their families. I somehow remember working most of the day, having lost a great deal of my freedom of movement with the new job.

 But! As I was just drifting off to sleep that evening, I was awoken by what sounded like either a mortar or a distant car-bomb. It was in fact a massive firework display just getting started about a mile off, and after  10 minutes of wandering around in the dark mistaking the crackle of fireworks for the crackle of gunfire, I stepped out on our balcony to behold a fantastic 20 minute celebration that lit up the entire sky with gold, pink, blue, red and green flowers and the cacophonous reports that followed them.

I was soon joined by the 2 house guards, our night driver and another expat housemate and we all stood out in the cold with a near perfect view. Apparently no one had informed the police and/or American led coalition forces, because after about 5 minutes we could see a whole convoy of jeeps tear up the hill towards the launching site, lights flashing. Surprise! It's the New Year.

I'm still debating whether to adopt an Afghan puppy from a local shelter-- my house doesn't have much outdoor space where a dog could run around, but it's still a great deal larger than the concrete kennel in which the dogs are currently living. Will probably decide when I finish writing this grant proposal that's been the bane of my existence for the past 9 days.

تا بزودی
(until next time)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Kabul Round II

Dear Avid Readers,

Sorry for the long delay there, I got distracted by the chaotic whirl of life in "the 'Stan." Just a quick update for now, I am back in Kabul after a two week stint in the US to procure a work visa. Yes! I did get a job with a respected humanitarian organization. But no, I won't tell you which one, because then I could no longer write as I please on this blog. You understand.

Great things about the new place I'm living:

1. 360 degree panoramic view of Kabul from roof observation deck.
2. Impending arrival of foosball table and three other guys in the house.
3. 3 cats, all friendly, and potentially an Afghan puppy soon to mix things up.

Life is good, the weather is getting warmer, and while Americans aren't especially popular of late, I'm hoping to keep people guessing with my decent Dari and slowly improving Pashto.

That's it, gotta sleep!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Last week I hopped in the car on a crystalline blue day and traveled 45 minutes out of Kabul to witness Afghanistan’s national pastime: buzkashi. If you’ve ever seen Rambo III (and if you haven’t you are missing out), there’s a scene where Sylvester Stallone is chilling in an Afghan village when a game of buzkashi starts up. Essentially, it involves an unlimited number of horsemen, a headless goat, and dangerous levels of testosterone. As the movie so accurately portrayed, the horsemen battle each other to grab hold of the goat, gallop around a distant flag, and then bring it back and drop it into a ring on the ground. While in Rambo the game is interrupted by a squadron of Russian helicopters that strafe and bomb the village before eventually being shot down by JR’s explosive arrows, my experience was slightly less eventful (but only slightly).
The buzkashi game I witnessed was sponsored by the Afghan Vice-President, General Mohammed Qasim Fahim, who has built his own personal stadium in the outskirts of Kabul.  Along the way to his coliseum of sorts, we passed groups of men on horseback, trotting tranquilly northwards in the freezing weather. Later, as the game wore into its third hour of mayhem, I understood why these men were in no great hurry to get to the stadium: buzkashi is as much a game of attrition and endurance as it one of skill and bravado, and it’s no great loss if you miss the first hour of being lashed by whips and crushed by horses.

A few things made this particular day especially epic for buzkashi play. For one, there was a massive turnout of riders. I counted more than a hundred men milling about before the game started. So it was with some incredulity that I learned the entire group would play at once, all fighting for possession of the dead beast. Also, the stadium was blanketed in snow. This meant that after about 15 seconds of 400 hooves churning about, the stadium had become a giant mud pit, creating a demolition derby effect for the crowd. Thirdly, the Vice-President himself attended the event, which meant we were not only protected by at least 50 heavily armed guards spread out in a 1 mile radius, but he brought along a coterie of wealthy businessmen that showered the players with cash prizes ranging from $60 to $500.
I should also mention that of my perhaps 400 fellow bloodthirsty spectators, there were remarkably few (ie zero) women present. I’m still trying to understand how buzkashi wouldn’t appeal to the female crowd….ideas? Anyway, there was one interesting moment when one player, tired of being smacked by other people’s whips in his efforts to pick up the muddy goat carcass, wheeled his horse and started flaying about with his own whip. This sparked an all-out brawl between what appeared to be the Panjshir crowd (wearing iconic red jackets) and the Kabul team (in blue), but eventually just degenerated into everybody hitting everyone else. Things only calmed down when a group of riders broke off and started playing again, winning cash prizes, and the aggrieved put aside their feuding in their continued pursuit of status and hard currency. If you squint a little, you can see the parallels there with Afghan history…