Afghan Updates

Hey Folks, O.K. folks, Went back up stairs and found the floppy with my previous e-mails that could not be sent. Better late then never. This should be enough for now though please be aware that most of what I said about the projects have been changed. I will summarize those changes when I do the final edition back home.

$2 billion vs. $400 million.
Ghazni Afghanistan

Hey Folks, Sorry for the delay but that’s the way it goes when you can’t even phone your next door neighbour let alone send an e-mail. There are no internets cafes so I can not say for sure when or if I will get another letter off while here. It was a long trip, but I made it to Kabul on schedule. My 1st two nights were spent at the Intercontinental hotel. Great view of Kabul from there. My room had the added attraction of large bullet holes to give one a taste of the past ten years. I wonder how many rooms are liveable at the moment. In many ways Kabul was as I expected, hot & dusty, no electricity for most. Generators are key. It was cleaner then I thought which isn’t saying much. The main roads have been repaired to a degree that encourages accidents. There is an organized chaos on the streets, cars & trucks do a dance with bicycles and roundabouts that is always showing me new manoeuvres. The women still mostly wear Burkas; unfortunately it appears as if the liberating of women will take some time. It is the same in the countryside where it will take even longer. I landed in Kabul at 11:30 a.m. 7-7-02. By 1:30 I was in a rented car and driver headed for the Indira Ghandi children’s hospital where I met Andreas from the Hammer Forum NGO. He is in charge of the paediatric ward. We set a time to meet on Monday and I was off to locate the Dar-Al-Itan orphanage. Travelling this district was an eye opener. It must have been a major area of fighting because almost everything was rubble or removed already. The orphanage was in good shape and the children seemed to be well looked after. I decided to take my bag of supplies to Ghazni where they could be put to good use. One notable comment about the children of the orphanage. They do not beg for money. They ask for pens or pencils. UNHCR could not leave the city because of security reasons. Instead they assisted me by hiring a local driver who was known by UNHCR. It cost me a $100.00 for a one way trip but in all honesty it was well worth it.
The 1st ten miles south of Kabul are freshly paved. I thought to myself there goes the press again exaggerating the conditions. But then the adventure began. Whatever has been written about the roads here can not describe them accurately enough. The next 3 ½ hours were like doing the Baja road rally race in a Toyota corolla station wagon. I was dressed in local garb to help blend in along the route. At the 1st “checkpoint” we stopped and one of the men stuck his head in my window and said…aaahhh American yes? He chuckled, then shook my hand and waved us on. We knew I would stick out but the clothes would help as we drove along. It was an amazing ride! The area is a brutal place to live. Hot, dry, the entire area is dirt and rock with small shrub like cactus. Along the way we played chicken with the brightly painted trucks from Pakistan that via Kandahar bring in most of the supplies for the Afghanistan region.
I saw lizards scurry across our path looking to be the next entrée in the revised road kill cookbook. I saw camel herders, flocks of sheep being tended by the Quchy nomads who travel the region grazing their animals and trying to exist off their decreasing flock that has been affected by the drought. There were small hamlets that have located next to a source of water. There the contrast between the lush green terraced fields and the wasteland is distinct. There were men making bricks from clay by hand. A couple of kiosk”quickstops” that I’m glad we passed by without stopping.
It must be a tough place to try and live. The only ones who might be worst off are their livestock. Back home we would be arrested for cruelty for animals if we treated them this way. It was good to get to Ghazni. We found a UNHCR vehicle in town who escorted us to the office. Both the office and the Guesthouse are comfortable and secure. I will be fine here. The Ghazni district is in need of lots of assistance as is all of Afghanistan.


Today is my 1st full day in Ghazni. Jeddy has arranged for a local engineer from a Danish NGO to assist us in locating a viable water project. I should state right now that it would be a CrapShoot at best to find water. Obviously the cost of each well will determine how many we drill, dig, repair. At best we might get 3 – 4 wells dug with the money. Jeddy has located several remote sights that we have our eye on doing this project. Often in the past they have been overlooked because of their remote location. Several villages travel 2-4 KM. or more by donkey to get water from a community well.
The staff here is a good one. They work long 11-12 hour days. The only weak link is finding a competent cook for the staff of 10? Not including guests. No I’m not looking for work! The steady diet of rice and beans is keeping the family reputation intact! Need I say more? At the moment the entire staff plays musical chairs with the few computers they have. I’m assuming the requisition for more computers is making its way through the proper channels. I have to send off a few notes before I sign off.
The newly appointed regional military commander, General Ali Akber Qassimi would like me to relay this message. If you want to stop terrorism please focus on education. Thanks C.Z. You already know my opinion.
Lee, lanky, patch Structurally the hospital is sound. It does have many needs in all areas.

They are to name a few: New windows or at least some good screens to keep flies out of the operating room and the children’s ward. Plumbing will definitely need to be addressed. Plan on new sinks, toilets, and a few showers would be nice. Several electric hot water tanks are needed as well as several air conditioners. The electricity situation will need at least some new lighting fixtures. I have a list of medical equipment and do’s and don’ts for any project that you take on but feel it would be best to communicate them when I get home. Andreas says hello and thanks for most of the medical supplies as well as the continued interest and support. Almost done! All is well here; I have adjusted to the 10-hour time difference. There is no beer in country and finding coffee would be like finding water here. The people here are friendly, a handshake and a shalom are normally all it takes. When I hit the bazaar for fruit and vegetables, or visit a village I am definitely a curiosity. I normally will have 10-15 people mostly children crowded around me just staring. A smile and maybe an extended hand is a good way to make friends. Occasionally I will get a student who wants to practice his (not her) English. I have been cautious with my camera and camcorder. I.E. no intentional pictures of women in their Burkas I have had several people ask me to take their picture. This means that if I get the film developed here in town I will try and locate them and give them a copy. In the villages they have been amazed at watching the screen of the camcorder while I record the countryside. Once I have gained the trust of one of the villages I will try and get some pictures of the locals in their environment. Part of the city of Ghazni is a bustling truck stop between Kandahar and Kabul. The “oil barons” sit by the drums of gasoline and diesel in the hot sun waiting for the next customer. It is also where a number of the returning refugees stop for assistance from UNHCR and the other NGO’s before going home to their villages. I should mention that some families have come home only to turn around and head back to Pakistan or Iran because of the lack of water. I have met with several of the local leaders in an effort to have their assistance in negotiating a fair price for drilling/digging a well. One was General Cassimi who will travel to the Wagash area in person on our behalf. Wayne, this area is just an hour and a half Northeast of Ghazni, just before Zana Khan. Good luck locating it on the map. It is not the amount of aid that I / we will deliver here as much as the concern and care for the Afghan people that will be our lasting impression. As I have mentioned before I have learned that everything happens for a reason and everything will fall in place in due time. That has been my mantra for the past trips. I would like to add a new one to that. Bring lots of love Jonathan, bring lots of love. These were the last words I heard from a friend as I left Warren village heading for the airport. Thanks Jen, it will not be hard to do. But in this case we will need more then love to make a difference. Hope all is well in your world and if you could send some rain our way it would be appreciated.

Lots of Love, and PEACE!
P.S. a little editorial
I would like to thank everyone for their financial support and encouragement.

If you are up to the task, please try and find a way to encourage your government to not hold back on funding humanitarian projects such as Afghanistan. At the moment all N.G.O.’s and UN agencies are on bare bones budgets that are already spread thin from a global need and presence. In the past 10-15 years billions of dollars have been spent on war in Afghanistan. The U.S.A.? Close to 12 billion in less then a year, over 10 billion more through covert operations in the past 10-15 years. Russia over 10 billion, China over a billion, Pakistan and India the same as well as Iran. All this money on a barren landscape with little to offer except it’s “strategic”? Location. The list is not complete. These are low-ball estimates. I have no numbers on humanitarian contributions for anyone of these countries except the U.S.A. who have allocated ONLY $400.million for Afghanistan this year. You do the math. Maybe it’s me but it seems that we are a little out of balance with our priorities. When I was in school I was taught that we learn from our history. Maybe its time to use what we have learned. If you think you can’t make a difference, well my friend you are wrong!

As I was bouncing along on my way to the Warghaz region I started to smile. How am I ever going to describe the experience I am having? A lone villager or Kuchi (nomad) crossing a barren landscape. “Stani” music sounding like cats making love and fighting at the same time blaring on the radio. It is appropriate music for the land; somehow James Gang’s Funk # 49 would be out of context even when you see a turbaned Easy Rider on his Honda 250 cc spitting up dust as he passes by. Everywhere I go crowds of people gathering to just stare in wonder, with little children who turn and run when you smile at them. I swear if I went BOO! The whole lot of them would scatter like flies on a leg of lamb at the local open-air butcher shop. Needless to say I am on a fairly strict vegetarian diet not to say that flies don’t land on produce here.

This trip is different in many ways. You will not hear me describing how to shower with a 2-litre coke bottle filled with h2o that has warmed in the sun, nor will you find me at my “office” having a cappuccino waiting for my next meeting. It is hard to network here because of the security issue. I can not walk out the door and head to town like I have in the past. As frustrating as it is to accept, I respect this. It is only for my safety that I travel by vehicle as much as possible. Unfortunately that and finding a local interpreter has slowed down the process of getting the information needed to make a decision. I will get to that in a moment. I have been introduced to Mr Lounay who is head of the Afghan Intelligence agency for the Ghazni district. Not CIA per say. At the moment they have been given the responsibility of security and safe passage for NGOs as well as the safety of the Afghan people in the region. We have become a team. He is originally from the Warghaz region so he is as motivated to get something accomplished there as I am. He had a 4 x 4 that was broken down. The cost to repair it was $60-$70 U.S. I quickly slipped him a hundred dollars and the next day I had my own personal armed body guard/driver for anywhere I needed to go 24-7. It’s different walking through the bazaar with an armed (Karishnakov?) military man at your side. All of a sudden the crowds have disappeared. Go figure. He speaks no English but I can tell that he would defend me with his own life with great pride and loyalty. I wonder how many life long friends I could say that about. He mumbled one word yesterday in an attempt to communicate something. When I found someone to translate, I found out that he wanted a magazine from the U.S with pictures. Add that to my list. The security issue is one not to be taken lightly; at the same time I feel perfectly safe and have not sensed any reason to feel otherwise. I truly miss the chance to make contact with the locals; they really want to get to know you, as they watch us as we conduct business. It was funny the other day watching UNHCR”s Ms. Betina negotiate the price of an outfit with the male owner while two Burka covered women observed. Whenever we get the chance I open the Front door to the vehicle and close it for her as well. Lead by example. She is my boss I tell them whenever the question arises. The two of us are quite a site for the locals in town throw in Jeddy who is from Tanzania and we would be on the local news if they had any way to report this.

It is time for some results! I have been working on this project for over 6 months now and it all boils down to one man and his machine. I can not help but feel the pressure to come through. Not only for me, or my credibility, but more importantly for the villagers that this well will assist. I have decided to drill a well in Mange Cali Hazlassiab, which refers to the middle village of the seven stones. The seven stones refer to the seven wheels cut from the local granite over a century ago for processing wheat. I have agreed to pay $3000.U.S. to drill 75 meters, pipe, and pump, gravel cement included. I feel like a wildcat well driller in Oklahoma, in other words it will be a crapshoot at best. From other recently drilled wells in the area we should find water between 55-65 meters, the extra 10 meters should insure an ample supply of water that Should not go dry in a year or two. Do one job at a time and do it well. This village is located near the end of a valley where several NGO’s have been drilling wells. For one reason or another, this village has been overlooked and is in desperate need of water locally. Currently they travel 4-5 KM. Roundtrip with donkey (if lucky) to get water from a neighbouring village. This agreement can only last for so long before disputes could arise. That in turn would force the villagers too make some hard choices. I have heard several stories of returning refugees whom after arriving back home turn around and head back for Pakistan or Iran where they could at least have a safe place to live with sufficient water available. If we are successful we will bring much needed relief to over 220 families or over 1100 people within the 3 villages. I should know in 7 – 10 days whether I will go home with water from the well flowing through my veins. We start drilling this Sunday 7-20-02. Mr Lounay has “Ordered” him to drill into the evening until the job is finished. After the well is completed I will then determine what the remaining money will be dedicated too. Obviously I will not be here to see the 2nd project completed. Jeddy, Betina, &Ali from UNHCR and a Mr. Cassimi another Govt official will oversee the second project. I trust them with the money and their decision as you have trusted me. I would rather get the facts necessary to make a decision then to go off wildly throwing money down the well so to speak. We are considering another water project in Nawur that would benefit a school that attempts to educate over 400 students from several neighbouring villages. I have already sent via Ali my bag of paper, pencils, notebooks and crayons and lone soccer ball to this school. This small-secluded village school has sent several students to college in Pakistan, Iran, the U.S. and even one to Oxford. Instead of drilling, we are considering laying a 2-inch pipe approximately 1500 meters from an uphill spring to the schools location. This should be affordable. We would supply the materials and the villagers would have the opportunity to organise and implement the project with their own labour and expertise. This fits in perfectly with UNHCR’s mandate to not make refugees dependent on others. As I have mentioned before the need here is great. The work that all the organisations have started is just the beginning of a long process that will take several years to implement before Afghanistan can stand on its own. Every chance they get one of 2 subjects or the combination of the two is started. One is the great appreciation they have for all the assistance they are receiving. The other subject is the hope that there will be no more wars and that peace has finally come to Afghanistan to stay. I wish I had more money and more time. My dream of ten million dollars could be put to good use here. I would rebuild several schools, take on a few hospital projects, and implement some women’s & children’s rights awareness programs, some job training programs. I would drill that $10,000 U.S. – 200 meter deep 16 inch well that could irrigate an estimated 5000-10,000 acres of terraced farm land that is just begging for some moisture. Imagine fruit trees and pecan trees with leaves as dry as the “Bay Leaf” on your spice rack. If this land does not get some water soon it will take decades to repair what will be lost. The trees will be used for firewood instead of sustainability. I would also get a few backhoes, bulldozers and road graders to smooth out the roads so I would not have to spend $4.95 on some Preparation -H when I get home!

Khodaa Haafez, or…. May God be your protector.
Aaraami, Mir, Peace.

Jonathan I Hoffman
Box 394
Northfield, Vermont 05663