2011 Year-end Letter Part 2

Hey folks 2011 Part two

After a breakfast of Chai and Nan we thank our hosts and head for our vehicles. It is an hour to Doab and the trip is over before we know it. Upon our arrival the cell phones are turned on, the local cell tower had been out of commission for over a week. From what I could gather a couple of brave Taliban on motorcycle rode under the cover of darkness to destroy the dish that brought coverage to the area.

It sounded like a good tactical move on their part. After all they were in the middle of a “war” and communication is vital. We stopped in Doab to refuel, clean our air filters and determine who was staying and who would continue North. I bought a couple sodas and a few packs of cookies for me and my guys. I had no idea where or for how long we would be gone. Better to have something to eat then wish you had something to eat is my thought. A lesson I learned years back one hungry day.

 

We travel North over the Navar lava domes, a series of 16 domes from another era. You can find them on Google earth. Doab is just south of the domes. It may sound romantic but it is a hard ride. The road is nothing more than the wear and tear of countless vehicles making a path on the same stretch of open plain. As we descend down the other side we put the truck in low gear. The breaks are good but better not to overheat them this early in the day. The trip takes a little over an hour. This is not good actually. We are heading to the battle grounds of the so called Kucchi – Hazara war as the locals called it.

 

A little background

The traditional Kucchi is a Nomad that in this area travels south for the winter, Helmand, Kandahar, Baluchistan, Iran, and in the summer months would travel north to grazing area’s for their livestock of sheep, goats and camels,  traveling as far north as the Tajikistan border and beyond. Now the traditional Kucchi has been doing this probably since the beginning of time or longer. I have seen Kucchi Caravans of all sizes over the years and admire their free spirit and independence.

 

In the late 1800’s Afghanistan was governed by the Pashtun tribe and decided that pushing the Hazara tribe to the central highlands was not good enough. They started to portion off parts of the territory as areas where the Kucchi had grazing rights leaving the Hazaras defensless to the fact that Thousands of goats, sheep, camels and horses owned by the Kucchi could come and graze in Hazarajat razing the locals of their hay, wheat and grazing areas for their own livestock.

 

Over time this was generally accepted and life between the two tribes co-existed even though the Hazaras were getting the short end of the stick. But lately, primarily since the 1990’s when the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, (or tried to) the situation changed. No longer were the Kucchi just coming and grazing but battles were fought and not necessarily over grazing rights. The tactics had changed and the people using the ruling were not necessarily real nomads, they were Taliban in the Hazaras mind, they didn’t come with their camels and sheep, they came with their motorcycles carrying RPG’s and Kalishnakovs.

 

We arrive into a village that looked deserted. No one had to tell me we had arrived. We started to walk through the village. Except for no people or animals around the place looked fine Until we walked around a corner and I started to see some of the destruction. It was simple at first, piles of ashes where the sage brush to keep them warm this winter was burned. This alone would be devastating for a family. It takes all season of gathering this to keep the house warm for the winter. They will not be able to collect enough fuel before snow starts in the fall. We kept walking through the village and came across a woman and her children hiding behind some fresh cut hay, another woman popped her head out from a window and a lone man came over to check us out.

 

We stopped and through translation learned that they had been here during the invasion. Over a hundred motorcycles with two men on each one came roaring into the village. 4×4’s and pickup trucks carrying more men were not far behind. They came after dark and started to terrorize the village. They burned my cow inside the stall the women cried, our children were told to run over there into the hills. They destroyed our homes, our livestock and some of our crops she said. Some crops will die because no one was here to irrigate the fields. All this was true and quite evident. But there was one thing that was glaringly obvious and finding the answer to this would be hard to ascertain.

 

The destruction was selective. Some houses were spared and others were completely destroyed. We walked by 4 or 5 houses that were in good condition, untouched and then find a house or two that had their winter fuel burned and maybe their livestock stolen but their houses were still standing. Then others were completely obliterated WHY? Was the 1st question I asked myself but did not ask

 

We toured several more hamlets with the same observation, most houses were spared and others were completely destroyed. It reminded me of my trips to Kosova where I had witnessed the same sort of  destruction only there it was done with tanks.

 

We climbed to the ridgeline where the ANP had strategically positioned men and Humvees to keep the Kucchi / Taliban from coming for another go around. We met up with a company commander who was more than willing to take an American with a camera around to see more. He knew me from previous years but I unfortunately couldn’t place his face. There are many of them and only one of me to remember.

 

We toured 26 villages over the next couple of hours and then took a break for lunch. I had seen enough.

If you Google the Kucchi Hazara battle you will find many stories concerning the conflict. Most are from out of the country. Most are from Australia where there is a large Hazara population of immigrants

Some reported over 650 homes destroyed which from my observation was an inflated number like the women back in the village who said that a few of the children were eaten by wolves when they ran for the hills, both sides can add a little spice to the story.

 

Still the fact remains that considerable damage was done and entire villages had not returned from being displaced with relatives in safe areas of the region. I did see several Toyota buses filled with family’s and belongings making the trek back as I was departing the area several days later but not in large numbers.

 

I heard numerous accounts of the war over the past 6 weeks, on the street, on the web but when I reported this to the local head of the AP who is Afghan, he claimed he had not heard a thing about this? How can a person such as myself hear about this numerous times, even back home, and a local person in charge of the news claims he has heard nothing? I think we have too many journalists here who all run for the same story, Karzi’s brothers death, suicide bombers, snow leopards in Badaghshan etc.. but no one can write a piece about an internal conflict other then the battle going on along the Afghan Pakistan border? I have determined that like the rest of the human population Journalists are SHEEP!

 

This late spring offensive has been going on almost every year since I have been coming here but has grown in size and scope the past three years. Here in Kabul, and Ghazni, and Wardak the elected officials really have done nothing to avert this, even when they know about it before hand. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that next spring several thousand Taliban will gather together and over a 2-4 week period will plunder and pillage selected villagers who have either run for office or strongly support a politician who is not Pashtun. Only after a small contingent of police are placed between the two tribes will the fighting subside and then maybe an official will come and negotiate another truce to the fighting.

 

What I can tell you is this. The destruction is Selective and is not done by a group of Camel Herders

 

We head back for Doab where we will take an afternoon bath in the local reservoir, one of the few projects by the Ghazni PRT done in the region. Time for me to cool off.

 

Barikak

85 students, approximately half are boys half are girls

Grades 1-6 …7-12 attend Alton for high school if they can travel / walk that far

6 Govt paid teachers

5 rooms. $10,000 dollars

The next morning we head north back over the Lava Domes to Barikak. It is a short drive not more than an hour. We take a right off the main road but have to stop due to the new road to town has not been completed. How far do we have to walk? 10-15 minutes they say. Normally this would not be a big deal, even at 10,000 feet, but the watermelon I had for lunch yesterday with the ANP was giving my stomach problems. I had Aziz carry my camera bag which is quite heavy. We made it to town where the village elders and the local children were waiting to greet us. I took some photos and shook some hands and proceeded to head to a room to make the contract with the village. Qasimi explains the contract and everyone agrees.

 

Would you like to see the location of the school? How far is it I ask. About the same distance as you just walked. I was not up for the hike. I was drained. We can get you a donkey they suggest. I still had to head to Jorghai after this visit to document the school project from last year and a Donkey was not on my list of travel options at the moment. Can you get me a Motorcycle to bring me back to the truck? Changese, Jarod, Aziz, and I can visit Jorghai while you work out the location here. So off we went on motor bike back to the truck while Qasimi and others visited the school location. I left my pocket camera with Mazarf to document the location for future reference.

 

 

Changese, Jarod , Aziz and I  hop back in the truck and head towards Jorghai. We pass though Alton along the way. The sight of one of my schools built 3 or 4 years ago I forget. It looks good, still needs glass in the windows but that to will come someday. We don’t even bother to stop.

 

An hour later we arrive in Jorghai and climb out of the valley towards the school. It looks great. This town has been true to its word, a six room school with a courtyard for the girls to hang out in. The school is well built with stone and cement, carpet on the floor, clean and inviting. Much better than a  crowded room in the mosque down the hill.

 

It is late in the day, all the students and teachers have left for the day. One lone teacher is around and tells me everyone is pleased with the school. I tell them they should be proud of what they accomplished and please tell them that I am extremely happy with the school. A couple more photos and a hope that next year we will see the school in action and we head back towards Doab. As we come into Alton an ANP green Ford Ranger is parked by the mosque. One of the policeman waves his hand indicating we should stop. We will sleep here Aziz tells me. Mr. Qasimi made the drive and is visiting with the village elders. We hang outside the mosque for over an hour talking amongst ourselves and waiting for dinner to be served.

 

The next day it is time to say good bye to Mr. Qasimi. He will head towards Doab eventually after several more stops to talk with his constituents, and we will head North to Bamiyan where I have to check in on the Bamiyan Eco Tourism project that we supported with 9 pairs of Tele-mark skis and boots. Before we go our separate ways he tells me that in Bamiyan I must take a flight to Kabul. The road is too dangerous. A respected elected official was brutally murdered on the Bamiyan Parwyn road two weeks ago which is making everyone edgy.

 

Last summer the VNG was in charge of the Parwyn province and had good success keeping everyone safe in the area. Personally the ride would not been of much concern to me, but I have to respect those who are in charge of my safety, we have many schools to build. No time to be a hero.

 

The ride through Behsud is uneventful and we make it to Bamiyan in good time with only one flat tire and a rest for the vehicles at the base of Hajigak mountain, considered the sight of the world’s largest Iron Ore deposit. Once we get to the top it is downhill most of the way to Bamiyan.

 

Before reaching the city limits of Bamiyan we have to pass through Kalo a village we had contracted a school with. Long story short with 86 NGO’s working in Bamiyan Province the villagers decided that they would rather wait for funding that did not require them to contribute the 1/3rd that we ask of each village in the form of labor, beams and mining the stone for the construction of the school. In some ways I don’t blame them, but with the list of schools still not started and the Transition being implemented they might have missed their chance. Barikak received the funds to build their school

 

Bamiyan is one of the most peaceful places I have visited except for the Nawur region where our schools are located. Both locations have several spots on the road in and out that can be dangerous but once you are there it is safe and peaceful. The difference is that in Bamiyan there are 86 NGO’s and the B&B’s for all who need to stay there to support their work where as in Nawur there is basically only myself and a Care office that I only heard about this past trip. I only learned they were in the area after we played a couple of volleyball matches in their courtyard in Baahi. They do no educational projects to speak of except some paper and pen handouts every once in a while.

 

I settle up with Changese and Aziz and tell them to enjoy the evening. I should be fine on my own here. I have a place at Camp Budda. Hadi, my father Haji’s son has a small B&B located there and I will be his guest there for the next 4 days when my flight is booked. I settle in and take a well deserved shower then take the 5 minute walk to the Bazaar to just get out and about before dinner.

 

I have two small projects in Bamiyan, one is a small private school that I have supported by request from one of my donors who is familiar with the school and wanted to help it keep its financial heads above water. The second is an Eco Tourism project that along with Eric from Mad River Glen we shipped 9 pairs of Tele-mark skis and boots in time for last winter and the possibility of Ex-pats working in Kabul who might venture here for a weekend getaway. They had 49 skiers which isn’t bad when you think of the Logistics involved, as well as getting the word out, and the lack of snowfall early in the year.

 

I had four days in Bamiyan, documenting the project’s would take a day at most. The rest of the week was filled by traveling with the Governor and Mayor of Bamiyan to Band Amir one day for a picnic on the far side of the lake with the Turkish Ambassador. The ride use to take 3-4 hours on a good day. With fresh pavement it is now done in an hour tops. Another day I was again invited to visit the grand opening of a new café near the 1st check point coming into Bamiyan city. It looks and feels nice but might be a bit far to attract enough Expats stationed in Bamiyan to make a go of it. My days were full but not rushed. I had time to visit the bazaar but never did stop by the Budda Statues except when driving by.

 

On Saturday morning a Helicopter ride with the Kiwi PRT was arranged for me to hitch a ride back to Kabul. It does a loop from Bamiyan to Panshir, to Bagram and then Kabul picking up and dropping off NGO workers and soldiers at their desired location. It was fun to be traveling through the valleys flying below the 12-14 thousand foot mountains of the Hindu Kush. The ride was smooth and uneventful and I was dropped off at the Kabul Airport where I was bussed to the Airport road where I flagged down a Taxi.

 

So here I am on my last day in Kabul sitting in my room at the Gandamack Lodge, a popular place for the Ex-Pats working here in Kabul. The place is clean and well run. It has lodging and a restaurant that offers a place to relax and have conversation in an outside garden with a cold beer or glass of wine.

 

Peter and Hassina have welcomed me to stay here every year for a few days before I head home for free. It is several steps up from the flea bag hotels I have patronized over the years. I do miss the closing of the Mustaffa where I knew everyone and the staff always enjoyed it when I arrived. The same can be said of the Gandamack. Over the years I have worked in the kitchen with the Chefs and had a few sessions with the waiters giving them advice on how to please the over worked and over paid staff of internationals here in Kabul.

 

It is my 10th summer here, something that most who have been to Kabul cannot say. Some come for a contract or two for their resume and then move on to Sudan, or Bangladesh or Brussels. Do the math.

I have had an opportunity to get a snapshot of the progress made or the lack of progress made. Its difficult to put in a few paragraphs what I think or have seen but will try and put it in perspective.

 

I also live outside the self imposed bubble that they live under. I walk the streets, ride the roads, sleep in their houses and I used to eat their food. For the most part those working here have gotten to know their driver, housecleaner and cook and have never left Kabul unless by convoy or by air.

 

Back home we live in a Mc’Donalds minute. In the west we live with microwaves that can cook a dinner in 3 minutes and we didn’t have to grow the food. We have clean water, refrigeration 24 -7. The roads are smooth though lately that is questionable back home. Even our most dilapidated schools would be considered one of the best here in Afghanistan. We live in a world where we expect and it is expected of us to get our task done.

 

Here everything is just the opposite for the most part. There is electricity in Kabul (but at a large cost) but not in most parts of the country. The roads have improved but the road is long, new hospitals and clinics have been built, water is still questionable but more is available for crops and village life. We have just scratched the surface here and it will take another decade or two to get this ship moving on its own. We forget that they have had 30 years of wars that the locals did not want or ask for and with that we have a population that is considered 25% literate and I am being generous with that figure.

And after 10 years of observation I have grown tired of both sides (Afghans & International sect) complaining about the other and their lack of progress. I am especially tired of both sides saying

“But this is Afghanistan”

 

I am also tired of us focusing on the military to measure our success here in Afghanistan. They have done their part and done it well with one arm tied behind its back. If the development sector had been put under the same microscope as the military we might have had a clearer picture of what really needs to be done to achieve the stability we are looking for.

 

Is it stable here? You see the headlines but then headlines are made to sell papers, advertisements. As Peter said the other night no one writes about the good things is just doesn’t sell. Unless of course someone like Greg Mortenson goes off track a bit and a school closes, or he makes too much money from his book do we take that opportunity to bash him down.  Best to keep my head below the radar.

 

But what about the salaries of the head of the various branches of the U.N. or our own USAID? Why doesn’t Steve Croft spend some time looking into that Fiasco. That’s where the true problem lies. In the development sector. The UN, the E.U The USA they have made this problem and let’s not forget the media who like sheep head for the copter with a helmet and bullet proof vest to be transported to the next hotspot. You can’t really get a sense of things from 10,000 feet.

 

Do I have hope? Of course I do. You don’t think I really like coming here do you? It’s hard here the way I live, no driver, no vehicle, no security, cheap hotel rooms, and questionable food and water. You feel like you are being watched, and maybe I am, but that all doesn’t measure up to the Tashakors I receive from the people, the real people like you and me. They give me food, shelter, security, give me advice and a hot cup of tea. And that is where my hope lies, with the people.

 

My hope is that over time, one by one, family by family, the lives will be improved and the literacy rate will grow and the people will determine what needs to be done. But like Jeddy use to say it will get done when it gets done. In other words it will take time, and when I say time I mean decades, generations. This problem will not be solved with a 30 second sound bite and the snap of our fingers.

I hope all is well in your world, all is well in mine

Peace

Jonathan