April 2004/Afghan New Year
Articles which appear in the magazine
Said Tayeb Jawad
EXCLUSIVE - AN AFGHAN TALE
AFGHANISTAN 2004 - THE YEAR AHEAD
EXCLUSIVE - A PLACE FOR TOURISM IN
EXCLUSIVE - ELECTION YEAR IS HERE
HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESIDENT KARZAI’S CLOSING SPEECH TO
THE CONSTITIONAL LOYA JIRGA,
EXCLUSIVE - NOT THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA
AFGHAN TEENAGER FACES DILEMMA AFTER HER RISE TO CINEMA STARDOM
EXCLUSIVE - A SPANNER IN THE WORKS
EXCLUSIVE - BOOK REVIEW:
THE CROSSLINES ESSENTIAL FIELD GUIDE TO
EXCLUSIVE - THE MOBILE MINI CIRCUS FOR CHILDREN
Maybe you remember
The Survival Guide to
This Kabul Scene Magazine is a one off publication (though it could continue with support and become an eagerly awaited publication) to help the street children earn some more money again (the mini guide was also reviewed as a book which “puts something back into the city it describes”) and to get some latest news about Kabul out onto the streets.
Scene is inspired by a successful publication in
This magazine has a number of exclusive articles never published before from high profile writers. I should like to say a big thank you to all our contributors and advertisers for this first issue of this magazine. Perhaps with your support and interest it could become a regular publication rivaling Time Out!
Let me take this
chance to wish you a safe, enjoyable and challenging time in
This magazine has been paid for and
printed by the advertisers. Copies of the magazine are given to the street
children who sold the original Survival Guide to
By Said Tayeb Jawad
The writer is
In January, President
Hamid Karzai signed
The first cornerstone was
laid by the president two years ago, when he addressed participants at the
President Karzai, with
help from the international community, has turned this war-torn country into a
centre for international cooperation.
The constitution achieves the objective of building a strong central executive branch to keep the country together and rebuild national institutions destroyed by three decades of war and violence, with full consideration of the wishes of the provinces to exercise more authority in managing local affairs.
For instance, while the
constitution is based on a unitary system with a strong presidency, it also
provides for provincial and district-level councils to empower the people to
participate in the local administration. For the first time, the constitution
pays due respect to the cultural and linguistic diversity of a fragile society
and makes official all major languages in areas where these are spoken by a majority.
The new constitution further reveals that the values and tradition of Islam and
democracy are compatible and mutually reinforcing.
The constitution proved
that the relatively little investment that the
But there is more to do. The next challenge for President Karzai is to implement the new constitution.
This is crucial to
successfully holding elections.
Once a newly elected
government is in place, it can work on the broader goals of the constitution:
to build national institutions, strengthen the rule of law, reduce investment
risks, encourage the growth of the private sector and enhance the people's
participation in government. But for this next step, we will need fresh support
President Karzai's leadership
in leading our people towards tolerance and peace shows this is within the
reach of the Afghan nation.
EXCLUSIVE – AN AFGHAN TALE
By Christina Lamb
THE other day I was
sorting out some old photographs, a typical displacement activity for a writer
finding excuses not to write, and I came across a shoebox marked
Inside were pictures from
my first visit to the city, a trip I made when Najibullah was still in power.
Among them were some taken at a café of
For all the recent changes in Kabul - Lalita’s Thai restaurant, the beauty school, the marble and mirrored bar at the Mustafa and the reopening of the weather station (surely the most bizarre of Mullah Omar’s bans) - it is hard to believe that this was really the same city less than 15 years ago.
I stayed at the
Yet in the photograph it is a summer day and we are all laughing and smiling. Looking at it, I wonder what happened to those female students. They weren’t much younger than me – I was 23 at the time - and I remember we were all full of the confidence of youth and hopes for our future.
But while I was pretty much able to follow my dreams for the ensuing years, for them a nightmare was soon to begin. Maybe, as they were from middle-class families, they left the country. If they stayed, they would have endured years of fighting with parts of the university becoming a battleground, followed by a Taliban regime that banned women from working or studying and turned libraries into graveyards.
I like to think that perhaps their love of literature actually helped the girls endure. Coming back to Afghanistan in November 2001 after the fall of the Taliban, I was astonished at all the many brave Afghan women who ran underground reading groups and schools during those dark years of the Taliban. For those of us used to taking libraries, schools and bookstores for granted, it is hard to imagine having to risk your life to enjoy the written word.
Perhaps the most
courageous were in the ancient Persian city of
Almost within spitting
distance of Gul crossroads where the Taliban hanged bodies, a group of women
In fact women using literature to help survive repression, even at great danger to themselves, seems to be common in conflicts. In her recently published book ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’, Azar Nafisi, an Iranian professor tells how she gathered seven young women at her house every Thursday morning to discuss works by forbidden Western authors such as Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jane Austen.
"There, in that
living room, we rediscovered that we were also living, breathing human beings;
and no matter how repressive the state became, no matter how intimidated and
frightened we were, like Lolita we tried to escape and to create our own little
pockets of freedom," she writes.
A similar process was underway in Kosovo where Paula Huntley, an English teacher from America, found herself running a reading club for a group of Kosovar Albanian Muslims discussing books such as ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. Her journal, now published as ‘The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo’, shows how through the discussion of books they were able to form bonds and heal wounds of war.
But stories don’t always
have happy endings. Last November I went back to
It looked like the
I found Leila and her friends strangely subdued. I asked if they had written any more stories. “Just one about a crazy man who never stops fighting”, said Leila. “We thought freedom would be better than this”.
Lamb is the author of The Sewing Circles of
By Lyse Doucet
Twenty four Naw Roz celebrations have come and gone since Afghans were plunged into the long war provoked by
Many Afghans remember their last quarter century not in the passage of individual years, but blocks: the time of Soviet occupation and communist rule; the Mujahadeen victory and brutal infighting; the extreme restrictions of the Taliban: and now the time of promises, many still unfilled, of President Karzai's government. Afghans describe those years in different ways. For many, they all brought suffering of a kind. Afghans, says the Afghan film maker Siddiq Barmak, have had to suffer a special kind of pain. He calls it pure pain.
And yet, it never seems to extinguish a capacity for humour and hope. And this year, Naw Roz greetings from
In 1989, Naw Roz came just a month after the last Russian soldier had left. There were New Year parties for privileged PDPA members living in Microrayon and boisterous soirees in the Kabul Hotel. Sweets were bought and exchanged on the streets. For a few days, dusk was no longer punctuated by a lone Afghan soldier playing a haunting tune on his flute just beneath the graceful domed
In 1992, Naw Roz was also marked in a swirl of speculation. Some Afghan friends started to flee
I wasn't in
And in 2002, the first Naw Roz after the Taliban's defeat, I was hoping to return on the special Italian flight to bring home the former Afghan King. But Zahir Shah's flight was stopped at the eleventh hour, ostensibly for security reasons. He ended his exile a few weeks later. And when Afghans from around the world made the same sentimental journey home, for the first time in years, to attend the emergency Loya Jirga, it seemed to be the real Naw Roz -- the bittersweet start of something new.
At this time of year, Afghans I meet in
If I was in
I'm sure some Afghan friends will stroll through the parks which have now returned to life, although I hear some government ministers are grabbing land inside them, robbing Afghans of precious public space.
Will the keepers of the street, the traffic police with white gloves, still be on duty valiantly trying to disentangle the traffic now snarling the roads? And who will take Naw Roz photographs? Have digital cameras replaced those ancient cameras on the pavement that produce extraordinary black and white images?
Everyone can again savour a city without curfew. Until it was lifted in the last few years, most Afghans had never known a
Its always hard to be certain in
Lyse Doucet is a BBC News Correspondent and presenter on BBC World.
AFGHANISTAN 2004 - THE YEAR AHEAD
The lack of security and
the failure of the international community to disburse adequate funds for the
In the early spring of
2004 a bruising battle will ensue over the issue of early Presidential
On the other hand the UN,
many European and NATO states, Western and Afghan Non-governmental
Organizations (NGOs) and many Afghans including at least half the Afghan
cabinet say elections should be postponed for at least one year. However with
the backing of a reluctant
The key issue for the credibility of any such Presidential elections which are likely to be held in September 2004, will be how much participation there will be in the strife torn Pashtun belt. An equally difficult task will be the deepening and broadening of the disarming and demobilization of 100,000 militiamen, which has only just begun. Unless the government and the international community push ahead with this, the power of the warlords and gunmen will remain unchecked.
The December Loya Jirga which will ratify a Presidential style Constitution has already done much to change the ethnic imbalances that existed in the country after the war against the Taliban. The LJ has seen the return of the Pashtuns, as monarchists, democrats and fundamentalist Pashtuns rally around a Presidential system and a powerful central government, which they equate with a resurgence of Pashtun political power. The Tajik Panjsheris have lost considerable clout. Unable to dominate the LJ, they are divided amongst themselves and do not have the degree of popularity that existed for them after September 11.
Karzai will face the tough decision of either including Defence Minister Mohammed Fahim as Vice President on his ticket for the presidential elections or dumping him in favour of a more popular non-Pashtun and creating several Vice-Presidents to maintain ethnic harmony.
The December LJ has demonstrated that the non-Taliban fundamentalists led by Burhanuddin Rabbani and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf are still powerful due to the intimidation they exercise and they will continue to push on Islamic issues by using the highly conservative Afghan judiciary to support their pro-sharia demands. This will prove to be a major hindrance for progressive Afghans to push ahead with democratic and human rights reforms and create embarrassing moments for the government also.
At the December LJ, a powerful block of non-Pashtuns in northern and north-eastern Afghanistan have become untied around their common demands for more provincial autonomy and greater checks on Presidential powers. The common ground found by Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmens and Hazaras has surprised both the government and the Americans and this block will continue to push for greater recognition of their demands, albeit in a peaceful manner.
Although the government
would like to see a Tokyo Two conference in the spring of 2004, in a pledging
conference, which Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani says must raise his new
estimate of US 30 billion dollars over the next 15 years for
The lack of funding for
reconstruction and the continued emphasis on
If Pakistan carries out such measures in good faith, its relations can improve with the Karzai administration with the added incentives of playing a more prominent role in trade and reconstruction contracts. However if Pakistan drags its feet on the much needed policy turnaround, Afghan anger and suspicion at Pakistan which is already at an all time high, will only be reinforced, allowing India to make further headway in Afghanistan and ensuring that Pakistan-US relations remain on a roller coaster.
The refusal of NATO which
now controls the International Security Assistance Force in
This was published in the Daily Times on
EXCLUSIVE - A PLACE FOR TOURISM IN
The 1970s marked the
heyday of tourism in
At first glance, many
people working in
Bamiyan was once the jewel
On the bluff near the
Governor's office in Bamiyan sits the ATO's sole hotel in
'We would have 150 or 200 hundred people a night staying here. People came from all over the world to visit Bamiyan,' he said, recalling the mid-1970s.
Old photos show groups of happy tourists relaxing on deck chairs outside luxury yurts. Abdul Khalil isn't harking back to a golden age however. He is determined that tourists will return to Bamiyan. At the end of the compound, labourers were working hard to finish six new yurts for visitors. A high wall currently surrounds the compound, but that too will change. "It must be knocked down," said Abdul Khalil, "because it blocks the view of the valley. No good for tourists."
Tourism in Bamiyan - and
indeed the rest of the country - cannot proceed in a vacuum. It must follow
other solutions to the area's problems. Upgrading the road to
Four hours west of Bamiyan
are the lakes of Band-e Amir, possibly
Visiting the lakes is
already popular with Afghans. It is not uncommon to see middle-class Afghan families
at the lakes, as well as NGO workers with time off from Bamiyan and
The majority of visitors
content themselves with visiting Band-e Haibat (the suitably named '
Visitor numbers to Band-e Amir can only increase, but there is little infrastructure in place to cope with tourists. On a recent visit it was possible to see empty drinks cans floating on the lake. What measures can be put in place to deal with garbage disposal and sanitation? There are two boats with outboard motors on the lake, raising potential pollution concerns of the pristine waters, and also erosive action on the natural dam walls of the lake. It is essential that factors like this be addressed to safeguard the status of the lake, while making it possible to attract visitors there to benefit the local region as a whole.
As a country whose recent
history has meant that it has sat outside the development of mass tourism,
With a little foresight,
Encouraging tourism is
clearly not a panacea for
EXCLUSIVE – ELECTION YEAR IS HERE
the recent signing of the new constitution by President Karzai,
the role of women in the politics of
Political party law - this law was formally decreed in September 2003 and set out the conditions that political parties were required to meet in order to achieve formal legal recognition. Recently, the Ministry of Justice registered the first five political parties and is in the process of reviewing close to twenty more applications. Estimates are that by the time the elections take place some fifty-plus political parties could be registered.
Elections law - at present, a law is being drafted that will provide the framework for the holding of elections. A decree was recently signed that set out the requirements political parties must meet in order to accredit observers to the voter registration process. Additional decrees will likely be signed in the coming weeks that will deal with such issues as campaign financing, regulations governing the role of media in the election and the role of domestic election and international election monitors.
registration - officially launched on
Candidates for the Presidential election - at this point in time four individuals have announced their intentions to campaign for the Presidency - Sayed Ishaq Gailani, Dr. Massouda Jalal, President Hamid Karzai and Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq. Several other candidates are currently testing the waters in order to determine potential support. Already the subject of much speculation is the naming of potential candidates for the positions of 1st and 2nd Vice President on the different Presidential campaign "tickets". Given the multi-ethnic and linguistic composition of the country as well as the new formal role of women in politics, these "ticket" combinations offer some interesting possibilities.
Another important development that has not received much attention but will be an important stakeholder in the voter registration process and elections is the role of domestic election monitoring groups. Often known as election monitoring organizations (EMOs), such groups typically have their roots in civil society. Currently, a number of afghan civil society groups are collaborating to create an indigenous EMO and are optimistic about the positive role they can play on monitoring these two important process.
these events and developments point to is an increasing interest and engagement
by many different political stakeholders throughout the country. As we get closer to the election date, voters
HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESIDENT KARZAI’S CLOSING SPEECH TO
THE CONSTITIONAL LOYA JIRGA,
Today, praise be to God, we witness the achievement
of a tremendous success by the Afghan nation, made possible through your hands,
the true representatives of the nation. I never doubted this success, because I
believed in our nation, and I believed in the friendship of the international
community, who are with us in building the
Of course the constitution is a document that can be amended. The constitution shall be respected. Its implementation is essential, and requires strong determination by the nation. But the constitution is not the Quran. If five or ten years down the line we find that stability improves, proper political parties emerge, and we judge that a parliamentary system can function better, then a Loya Jirga can at a time of our choosing be convened to adopt a different system of government.
My vision for the future of Afghanistan is of a country with big political parties, where anyone aspiring to become the president will depend on all the people of Afghanistan, and strive to build an inclusive political party as a platform. A platform in which any individual, from whichever corner of the country he may happen to originate, can ascend to the top of the ladder. My vision is that in Afghanistan anyone aspiring to achieve the post of president will depend on his own persuasion, capacity and competence, and the backing of a national and inclusive political party, not on an ethnic group, a region, or affiliation with a minority or a majority.
I want an
This country has seen cruelty and injustice. Our past history is witness to injustice done to certain qawms (ethnic groups). Our recent history has seen a lot of injustice too. Foreigners have subjected our land to injustice. Invaders, with filthy collaborating hands from inside, have subjected this land to injustice. We have seen much, and we have grown more hard-bitten.
Take this sincere promise from me that, for as long as I am here as the President, and until there are elections that bring a new president, I will be obedient to the law, and obedient to the national desires. I will not bend or swerve, and if I did, you will, I expect, show me the door.
If today you have laid the foundation for this
A quick glance at the ‘online advisories’ issued by the US State Department shows that Washington is just as strict as London when it comes to all things Afghan. Their equivalent world-watcher warns of “suicide operations, bombings, assaults or kidnapping”, even in the capital.
Of course, it’s all good advice and one really ought to take heed of it.
But what’s this? An e-mail
arrives from a good friend who has lived and worked in
He reports that Wais
Faisi, the legendary custodian of the Mustafa Hotel in
Those who frittered their lives away at university might recall that, partly as a reaction to the horrors of the First World War, the French invented the theatre of the absurd.
In it, the likes of Albert Camus and Samuel Beckett imagined a universe where humanity is permanently out of key; a lunatic world where nothing is quite what it seems.
Those who prefer travel to
reading books (and who doesn’t?) will tell you that the Afghans have created
the 21st century equivalent. It’s called
Let’s start with the smallest of small absurdities. Pop over to the excellent Shah M Bookshop at the Intercontinental Hotel to buy one of their maps of the city and you’ll find that they’re all in Polish.
No matter. They still sell
like hot cakes. They’re “Printed in
Nip down to the shops close to the Salang Wat and you’ll find a guy who would like nothing more than to show you his stuffed cheetah. He’ll even let you stroke it; a filthy pleasure that I managed myself on my last visit.
And what about the banner
above the entrance to the
He would have enjoyed the
advert that’s splashed across the Kabul International Hotel, dominating the
whole street, too. It features a huge pack of cigarettes floating as if by
magic above a gorgeous tropical beach. “Enjoy the taste of
This is what happens, of course, when people try and get on with life, make an honest buck and do the best for themselves and their kids in a country that has been pulverised by three different kinds of war: war of occupation, civil war and the war against terror. If you can tune in, it’s a sort of ‘East meets West’ thing – a ‘culture shock’.
But absurdity like this is also a kind of ‘work in progress’ sign: a notice that says things are getting back to normal, however slowly. Just live with it and smile. Won’t be long now.
So when another Russian pushes to the front of the line at the Supreme PX and buys a box of frozen pork chops, you’ll know that it’s just the way that things work here for the time being.
Same goes when you next walk past the “Alcohol Strictly Prohibited” sign at the airport customs area with a litre of Irish whiskey in your hand luggage.
After all, you’ve seen it
in other countries like
But there’s another level
of absurdity in
Where else would you find
a market to compare with the Titanic Market, spread out across the bed of the
It’s a thriving centre of commerce – as long as it doesn’t rain. A sudden downpour in the mountains surrounding the city and the market, its stalls, produce and customers are all swept away.
Where else would you find motorists willing to avoid road humps (or ‘sleeping policemen’ as we Brits call them) by driving around them and into a minefield? The humps are there to slow drivers down and stop the awful tide of death that is Afghan motoring. The minefields, on the other hand, are there to kill. Nobody notices the irony.
One morning in the city we heard an ancient, ex-Soviet helicopter struggle into the sky like a big, fat bee. It was one of those choppers that you’d be happy to photograph, but would never, ever want to hitch a ride in.
It circled for hours
trying to gain height and then someone kicked thousands of leaflets out of the
door. They fell across most of
Eventually the pages fluttered down to earth near us and we asked what they said. “Say No To Drugs”, apparently, was the timely message. God knows how many people were run over across town trying to grab armfuls of these things. Why would people want to collect so many?
The next day – the very next day – I got my answer as I watched a kid launch a kite made expertly out of these leaflets into a beautiful, bright, blue Kabuli sky.
EXCLUSIVE – NOT THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA
Less than a year ago I was
a BBC correspondent. Now I own a little hotel in
“Let’s design a guest house”, he said. Fours hours later we’d found a house and signed on the dotted line. We’ll be open in six weeks we said. That was six months ago.
The early days were the simplest. The negotiations with our Taliban supporting landlord.
He watched in horror as
Rahim took a blow torch to the window frames and ripped out his best Pakistani
marble tiles. “Mr Rahim you crazy man!” became his favourite anguished cry as
the designer from hell (as we named him later) brought his perfectionist touch
to every last tiny detail. “Why you like these old things you crazy man? I
bring good things from
Taking me aside he
He couldn’t grasp why we had chosen to lovingly create a house filled with Afghan crafts and design, from the team of Hazara stonemasons who hand-built all of our bathrooms to the designer rugs adorning our walls.
He wasn’t alone. The
artistic stonemasons aside, not a single one of our workers could understand
what we were doing or why. “No it’s impossible” was their standard cry when we
asked for the simplest things to be done differently. Four poster beds in the bedrooms made from
reclaimed wooden pillars? “No way”, said our carpenter who hated any wood other
than chipboard. Beaten copper bowls
inside of ceramic basins? “They’ll leak”, said the plumber. Mahogany stained
doors instead of standard Afghan white gloss. “Terrible” said the painter.
Nothing is impossible we said and we were right, but only after a battle of
wills bigger than the
There were the tiny things. Like the decorators who painted the outside front of the house but not around the back thinking we might not notice, or the plumber who only realised what an overflow pipe was for after three successive floods, the last one bringing down the upstairs ceilings.
If you have ever doubted that plumbers are the same the World over, you’d know it after seeing the lovely Fawad stroking his little goatee beard and saying: “It’s a ten minute job but it’ll cost you”. After three months of watching him say: “It’s a ten minute job missus”, then taking ten days to change a washer, I flipped and threw him out the house. He left but only after waving a screwdriver in my face. A vicious fist fight (and I would have decked him one, believe you me) was only averted by the decorating team holding us apart with their paintbrushes
During the major construction all the workers lived on site in what became a little microcosm of ethnic division. I’d arrive early mornings to check on them before going to work at the BBC, to find bloodied noses and black eyes. The day the stonemasons told me the Pashtun painters had threatened them all night long with a piece of live electric cable was not a happy one.
Every day was like a mini-soap opera. For weeks our new plumbing failed us. When we tested the flush the water came back up. One by one we brought back all the plumbers (we’d gone through 5 of them by then). One by one they blamed each other. Till we got to the truth. The workers had used our bathrooms, but instead of using paper they’d been wiping with soil and pebbles in the traditional Afghan way. Environmentally friendly in a communal hole in the ground, but not down the best Iranian sanitary-ware hard-earned dollars can buy. We gave all of them a ration of toilet paper. For days it kept them amused. “Nadene, paper, bottom”, they’d guffaw waving the pink sheets at me in greeting.
Amusing enough, until I discovered that after having built them a lovely new toilet of their own in the guard house, the novelty value of western bathrooms had worn off and they’d taken to shitting in my rosebushes instead. It was only after we caught the electrician with his pants down did the smell give it away.
Afghan teenager faces dilemma after her rise to cinema stardom
Former beggar Marina Golbahari found sudden stardom for her role in the movie "Osama" but the 13-year-old might not escape the rigorous life of a young veiled and secluded Afghan woman for a career in the movies.
"If it was up to me I would chose the
"But my father, my mother and my family will decide about my future, I can't do that myself," the young actress said.
Afghan director Sidiq Barmak spotted her
when she was begging in the streets of
Barmak said he was out searching for street boys to take supporting roles in the movie when he spotted the dark-eyed child.
"I had someone before me that I was looking for," he said.
She repeated the same before Barmak.
"When I looked at her, her eyes told me a story of pain and suffering. I told myself that she is the person I was looking for," Barmak told AFP.
"Her eyes told me the story I wanted to tell the world in the movie -- tears, fear and pain. She could play these things better than anyone else because she had physically experienced all these things."
She had seen television only once in her life at a restaurant and she was suspicious about the cinema.
"But once he explained to me the sort of film he was making, I agreed," she recalled.
The girl in Barmak's film dresses as boy and gets a job at a milk shop in Kabul, where the Taliban's feared religious police patrol, lashing men for cutting their beards and women for not wearing the all-enveloping burqa.
She changes her name to "Osama" to scare off boys who are teasing her.
Her gender is exposed when she is forced to attend a religious school by Taliban police and she ends up in prison. In a Taliban-style judgment she is forcibly wedded to a man six times her age.
Despite the fame the movie has brought her, life has not changed drastically.
She is set to move to a new house which Barmak has bought her, with her father, illiterate mother, six sisters and two brothers. The new house is also made up of mud-brick in the same impoverished neighbourhood, but is more spacious.
A SPANNER IN THE WORKS
Having failed miserably in
my quest to convince a skipper to smuggle me into
Weighing not more than 200 grams, she couldn’t have been more than two weeks old. Alone and vulnerable, she sat mewing in the middle of a pier, dwarfed by the enormous oil tankers astride her. I tried. I really did. But I simply couldn’t leave her there. Regal (although not quite of Romanov lineage), courageous and a survivor, I named the kitten Anastasia.
Six months earlier I had
traded my blossoming legal career and the beachfront home/ convertible BMW/ 1.8
child neatly caged future towards which I seemed to be hurtling for a grubby
backpack and the glittering allure of adventure.
So, safely shielded from the vodka-sodden anthropological horrors of Azerbaijan in the papoose I had fashioned from a fluffy Russian hat and a beach sarong, Spanner (as she had become affectionately known) accompanied me on my wild and wicked adventures in the eastern Caucusus, the most remote region of what is quite possibly the least-known country in the world.
We traversed raging rivers and snow-covered mountains on horseback, negotiated rocky mountain tracks on an ancient Russian motorbike, dodged rogue bandits’ bullets, shared meals of salty fetid cheese and hard stale bread with passing shepherds and the kind villagers who took us in from time-to-time, and basked in the silence and aesthetic wonder of nature in all her naked glory. We had an absolute ball.
We returned to
I truly believe that nothing in life is impossible to achieve if one wants it badly enough. Nonetheless, I soon realized that the successful execution of this illegal transboundary exercise would be a challenge, to say the least. In this particular instance, however, my resources were not put to the test.
Some two months earlier, I
had spent a month traveling through
It was some weeks after our arrival that I had no option but to come to terms with the harsh reality that Spanner was not the sweet angelic little girl I had thought she was. Spanner was a boy.
The biological evidence
was incontrovertible. (I rather suspect
that an Afghan gender fairy paid her a visit to increase her chances of survival in
But even boys get
lonely. Spanner and I – swashbuckling
adventurers extraordinaire – had, until our arrival in
Screwdriver, a rather
petite (some might say scrawny) ginger tabby, seemed the perfect match. Although not quite the Afghan beauty I had
had in mind, I promised her that if she survived the physical injuries she had
sustained before her rescue from a
Notwithstanding their relatively young ages, indications are that Spanner and Screwdriver intend to start a family. In the absence of a vet to perform the necessary medical procedures to prevent it, who am I to stand in the way?
Spanner, Screwdriver and I, soon to be joined by a litter of Afghan-Azeri kittens, are now happily settled into our new home, replete with a plethora of warm woolen carpets, irresistible swaths of shimmering red, orange and pink silk and organza, antique wood scratching post accoutrements and a number of rather inviting blossoming saplings.
Notwithstanding that we are awoken from time-to-time to the chowkidor’s dawn cries of “Screw… Screw… kojast?”, we are the picture of domestic bliss.
EXCLUSIVE - BOOK REVIEW:
The Crosslines Essential Field Guide to
Second Edition -- Fully
Crosslines Publications, 2004. 544pp.
By far the most difficult aspect of
Many international professionals try to
evade this indispensable labour of understanding by taking an icily
technocratic approach. Like the fabled nurse who was heard to declare, “I don't
want to know anything about
Though nothing can substitute for an
intensive course of reading and a sincere curiosity to test this knowledge in
the field, learning has to begin somewhere, and one would be hard-pressed to
name an authoritative, up-to-date, one volume "Afghan encyclopaedia"
that doubles as a handy manual. Long-time Afghan hands
A stunningly expanded revision of their well-regarded, Taliban-era first edition, this carefully prepared book goes far in helping to gird both veteran and newcomer for the challenge of the present Afghan historical moment.
Well-structured into broad sections entitled "Overviews", "Info briefs", "Travel", "Essential A-Z", "Contacts", etc., the volume places a cornucopia of Afghan facts and realities at the fingertips of readers while providing ample references that enable one to test any shortcomings in the text.
Perceptive introductory essays by such
authorities as Girardet,
Historical data, ethnic characterizations and statistics, regional guides, detailed travel information, security tips, advice on accommodations and food, health warnings, Dari and Pashto phrasebooks, communications aids, good maps, political summaries -- all this is only the beginning of what this book has to offer. Extensive, up-to-date information is provided on NGO's, diplomatic missions, United Nations agencies, and media organizations. Long bibliographies and the addresses of relevant websites enable the readers to further expand their horizons -- and check on inevitable changes.
Occasional factual errors and questionable interpretations by the individual contributors pale in comparison to the wide perspective that this guide provides. Afghanistan is one great adventure -- the greatest adventure of our time -- and one can use this indispensable volume as a starting point for one's own unique experiences, efforts, and conclusions.
Putting Laughter, Learning, and Creativity Back Into Afghan Children's Lives
On a bright Kabul autumn morning a play is being performed for a large crowd of rapt and delighted children in an outdoor setting in the south of the city, loomed over by the war-devastated ruins of the once grand royal Chilsitoon palace, high up on a nearby hill. A dirty man is engaged in a struggle with a huge, equally dirty felt hand which is, well, manhandling him. The boys and girls laugh with wild abandon at the antics of the two, which culminate in the man clutching his stomach and moaning about severe intestinal pain. For all of the levity of these proceedings intended to capture the children's imaginations, the subject of the play is no laughing matter, as they will soon learn.
Suddenly another man, well-groomed and well spoken, comes forward to explain the vital importance of personal hygiene to the kids with the aid of a series of pictures painted on cloth. The procedures for washing and the price that is to be paid for not doing so are calmly explained to the now hushed audience, which has the painful fate of the dirty man vividly in their minds. Finally, a spanking white hand holding flowers emerges, accompanied by the now clean man wearing a white T-shirt, in the bloom of health and happiness. A group of people close with a tuneful song extolling the benefits of washing, framed by the bouncing hand and the equally bouncing children.
The Mobile Mini Circus For Children has
imparted another valuable life lesson to the children of
Active since the immediate aftermath of
the fall of the Taliban and the renewed international engagement in
Explaining the troupe's self-help
"We don't 'do' anything for them", he says. "They do it all. We simply help them to do it by themselves."
A self-described "child protection project" consisting of Mason and eight Afghan artists recruited from the country's different ethnicities, MMCC integrates health and peace education, landmine awareness, and creative self-help into their adult performances, workshops, and children's performances. Always mindful of the vast potential of this great nation, the players seek to awaken the Afghan spirit rather than imposing anything from outside.
don't bring anything culturally", Mason affirms. "We discover and
develop things from here. We do things on a level approachable for everyone in
Although it’s delightful adult performances are MMCC's staple and the aspect of their activity that they can be called upon to perform at any time, its true engagement with the hearts, minds, and futures of
Spread out over a five day period which culminates in the kids actually practicing what they have learned, the workshops--child performance program is at once focusing, fruitful, and fun. The eight Afghan artists each take a group of 10-40 children and instruct them in singing, painting, acting, dancing, acrobatics, papier mache, sewing costumes for puppets and acting with puppets. But the emphasis is always on acquiring skills -- the ultimate creativity is left to the kids themselves.
"For the puppet show we don't tell them what the story should be", Mason explains. "We let them make it up themselves. The same is true for acting. We show them how to make an angry face, employ facial muscles, etc. We don't dictate the narrative. We just show them how to tell it."
In a refreshing contrast to the focus of
so many NGO's on
"We have rented buses until now when we have gone out to the provinces", he explains. "But our great dream is to have a bus to call our own, a permanent means to reach Afghan children whenever the opportunity arises -- a real mobile circus."
That Afghan children have their own
stories to tell and that bringing out even the most painful stories can be both
therapeutic and liberating is illustrated by the anecdote Mason tells of a
child he encountered just north of
"For three hours we managed to focus him on painting", he relates. Instead of fighting, he was sighing. I asked him what he was painting. On the sheet of paper before him were coffins and dead bodies. He had seen it all, even losing family members. In painting there is an element of therapy, as in the puppet show and other activities. They can say things through art that they couldn't say in the real world. I later heard from the teachers that he was much better behaved after that."
MMCC's potent value to the Afghan
reconstruction effort has been highly praised by the gamut of international
NGO's active in
Perhaps the ultimate testimony to MMCC's
continuing mission to the children of
"Yes", the man replied. "But you are ours."
Mobile Mini Circus For Children: www.afghanmmcc.org