Hey Folks, As we started to make our descent into Kabul, the plane became quiet; everyone started to talk in a whisper. Honoring the no smoking sign but ignoring the seat belt warning, people stretched to look out the window for their first glimpse of home which for some had been years since they had last laid eyes on Afghanistan. People held hands, wiped tears and for some realized that this was the moment that they had dreamed of (or dreaded) for a long time. Choosing an aisle seat gave me an opportunity to observe this instead of looking out the window myself. Besides I have seen Afghanistan from the air before. It’s brown with mountains and the occasional splash of green. The two 20 year old men sitting next to me had lived in Hamburg Germany for the last 8 years. When I asked them if their parents would meet them in Kabul they said that they did not know where their parents were. You do the math. I have been a busy boy since I landed. I barely have had time to write in my journal either because of time constraints or because I was just too tired to write. Instead of starting 1st thing on the Mir Bacha Kot project, it was proposed that I head for Ghazni where I could check on last years projects 1st then return to Kabul where those who would be of assistance would be available to help. So the next day I headed for Ghazni by taxi ($100.00). The trip was similar to last years except that they have started to repair the road. There was an extra 25 miles of pavement maybe ten miles of graded road and the rest was a free for all that like last year, puts any road rally course to shame. Still it is a good sign and the hope is that they will have an initial layer of blacktop laid by the end of the year. Several miles ahead of the road repair is the de-mining teams who are out their in the hot sun with mine detectors scanning both sides of the road for any hidden UXO’s that the caravans of sheep, camels, travel by foot, bicycle, and vehicles may have not detected over the years. UNHCR Ghazni had a full house so I was invited to stay with General Cassimi and his troops at their headquarters just across the street from the Great walled city of Ghazni. I am not sure of the age (of the city) but can determine that this is a sight to behold even in its state of disrepair. Any where else this sight would be a historical landmark preserved for all to enjoy for years to come. In Afghanistan it is just another place to live. General Cassimi was a gracious host. I had my own sleeping quarters and he and I broke bread every night I was in town. The next day I took a trip out to Haif-Asiab to get a drink of water from the well we obtained last year. Upon arrival we were told that the plastic PVC pipe had cracked the day before and would be fixed in 2 days. So the next day I headed for Yakhshi in the Narwur district high in the mountains of central Afghanistan. Upon arrival at the school there was a banner in English saying…Welcome to Our School! Before I could get out of the car the girls streamed out of the school, lined up by class and presented me with Bouquet’s of flowers, the singing of songs and even a speech from the local Mullah thanking me for all the work to the school. The school looked good. It still needed glass in the windows but we will take care of that with this trip and the funds ($1000.) earmarked for the school. We also have enough to build 2 latrines for the girls’ school (45 girls) and 3 for the boys school (380 boys). Any money left over will be used for blackboards etc. I also came with 450 pens, 430 notebooks and 6 soccer balls. You know me, all work and no play makes a dull person. Upon my return from Yakhshi I headed for Haif-Asiab again still searching for that elusive drink of water. Upon arrival we were told that they decided to repair the pump, I had to laugh. What else could I do? I was hoping to confirm for all who donated to last years project that the well indeed did work. All I can say is that during both visits I was treated as an honored guest instead of being lynched. I was told that over a thousand people use the well on a daily/weekly basis. People line up from sun up to past sundown to get the daily water. Last year a total of seven countries had donated to the well project and I had suggested that they call it the well from 7 countries to the village of Seven Stones. They prefer to call it the Mr. Jonathan Hoffman well. They also informed me that they consider it my well and land which I assume is to keep the location neutral. Still I have not seen a tax bill, probably because I would have to start hanging a fee for water drawn to pay for the tax bill. Non Violent Bullets: If the horn works the car passes inspection. Burned out tanks make great flower boxes Shomali means winds from the North White shirts dirty easily. You from America Mister?? Thank You Mister Thank you.. The heat kills ones appetite… Need to drink more H2O Girls and boys on their way to school throw yellow roses into the car as we stop to greet them while traveling back from Yakhshi. Very Fragrant! Traveling with 6 other un-bathed men in a Toyota Corolla station wagon makes one appreciate the honored guest front seat. There are an estimated 50,000 children of the street in Kabul. Today is the 4th of July; hopefully there won’t be any fireworks in Kabul! Somewhere someone is watching Yankee Doodle Dandy Ed: If you read this on Sunday morning you can take the week off!
Tomorrow I will head for Mir Bacha Kot (MBK) to meet with the local Shirra (Town Rep) and other village officials to discuss possible projects. I asked them to come up with 3 proposals and cost estimates. On Wednesday we discussed the possibility of building a library for the high school. The local officials thought that this would be an appropriate way of honoring Mark Ice for years to come. I agreed but thought that we should at least explore other possibilities before we got too far ahead of ourselves. Both officials recognized Mark from the picture I showed them. Neither had him as a teacher but will try and locate some of his former students in the area or who might be in Kabul. We hope to do a ground breaking ceremony sometime next week. I have found a small organization that is organizing a group of afghan street children and older men as well into a traveling circus. Its goal is to become self sustaining within a few years by traveling and entertaining in towns around Afghanistan. We are discussing the possibility of having them help with the festivities by coming to the ceremony with music and some jugglers, making it something for all ages to enjoy as well as support another small humble project. More on that in the next letter. It was a long trip getting here. I left for Montreal at 1 p.m. on Tuesday and landed in Kabul at 9:45-10:00am on Thursday with an 8 ½ hr. time difference. You do the math. I have met some very interesting people from all walks of life who all have their own Gig going. I am staying at the Mustaffa Hotel in Central Kabul, just around the corner from Chicken Street which is Afghanistan’s equivilant to Beverly Hills Rodeo Drive minus the Jags. The place is a magnet for the Independent Internationals like me who do not have a large NGO umbrella to sleep and eat under. It makes for great conversation and observation. The cost of my stay here will be more then previous trips which means that their will not be as much money focused on the projects. On the flip side I have always felt that it is just as important to help support the fledging business aspect as well. So far it has been quite comfortable here in Kabul and I feel moderately safe. I would say with confidence that I feel safe if it were not for the constant reminder from others here and via e-mail to keep my head down. Personally I like to keep my head up and alert.
My diet has changed from last year. I still have not had a dish with beans/lentils. Each morning I begin my day with 2 scrambled eggs, and a cup of coffee. I have had fettuccine carbanara, pizza (Miss my Flatbread) and will be dining at a Thai restaurant tonight. Still my 34’s are starting to slip already which if not careful could lead to embarrassment by the time I leave. I have informed the management here that I am a cook and would be willing to give a few pointers to their staff before I leave. Hopefully I can barter my expertise for an extra cup of Java in the morning or some extra internet time on these XPD computers. A few lessons on sanitation & hand washing and how to make a cheese omelet could prove beneficial to all. I hope all is well in your part of the world.
Khadafis, Solha, Peace…
The crack of Thunder woke me from a not so deep a sleep. It also drowned out the crow of a lone rooster as well as the 1st call to Morning Prayer. It had felt like rain since late the previous afternoon. The signs from Mother Nature indicated rain but one never allows oneself to think in such optimistic terms this time of year. Rain in July in Afghanistan is as rare as a beggar not asking for money as you walk by. The rain that accompanied Mother Nature’s sound & light show was needed and brought the temperature down to a bearable temperature, at least for a few days. Today it is 38 Celsius. The next day the air was clean and everything seemed a little greener. I had to get up and observe this; the lightning would crack and illuminate the entire hillside that is full of new housing in all phases of construction. I also was able to see the beginning of another day as the lone shopkeeper scurried under the awnings as if the rain would cause him to melt; or the donkey led cart overloaded with fresh hay with the farmer under a blanket again afraid to get a little wet from the rain. From my post it appeared as if a free shower might not have been a bad idea.
I have started the main project for this years travels. After several meetings with local village leaders “Shirras” a District Governor and local Dept of Education administrators they decided that the village of Mir Bacha Kot (MBK) would best be served with a local library that would be built on school grounds but would be accessed by the entire community. That was the easy part: I asked the local leaders to get me 3 estimates from local contractors who would bid on the construction contract. Even as I asked I knew this would be a process that would require tact and patience on my part. (O.K you can stop laughing now)… Let me mention here that I have had some help with every aspect of this project from several UNHCR officials and field officers in Kabul. Might as well thank them here as well. Thanks Yumiko, Jens, Paul, Serge, and my father back in the states. Imagine a fry cook trying to write 2 contracts dealing with the construction and then the operation of a “Community” library… This Coming from someone who’s attention to detail goes along this line. You want ketchup with those fries?? Anyway I had to communicate this several time’s over the next 3 days. Each time I received a bid that was several hundred dollars over the cost of the entire project. I had a budget of $6000 for the construction, furniture, bookcases and books. They were giving me bids of $6,100 for a 10 meter by 3 ½ meter building not including books and furniture. I knew that they would try and Milk me for all I was worth but this was a little over the top. I mentioned my frustration with the estimates and told them that if we could not get some price changes I would head back to Ghazni where I know the people would work with me. So guess what. I am the general contractor. Doing this lowered the cost of construction by half. The local governor smiled when I told him of the change in plans. I think it is best if you do the contracting he said, that way they do not take advantage of your good will.
Haji Mohammad my trusted translator and guide to the best Home Depots in Kabul have been getting estimates and ordering supplies and generally doing all the leg work while my hired labor and Brick mason concentrate on the actual construction. We make quite a team actually. Imagine the two of us coming up to a local business person selling beams or bricks or stone. I have seen the look many times over the years $$$ Ching Ching$$$. Yea right. It does not take long before they understand that they have a seasoned veteran here that knows how to walk away….
Do you want to talk business or do you want to waste each others time? Or there is one of me and ten of you. I like this one: It’s not like I see another contractor waiting to talk about prices and delivery. It’s been fun. Most of the time I just let Haji work his magic and then Come in when he is happy with the negotiated price or needs help. Trust me he learned from the best. If we are not getting our price I just say that they are wasting my time as I start to walk away and then they seem to be more reasonable. I have instructed Haji that my goal is that everyone is happy and treated with respect. I want them to make a profit but do not want to be taken as a fool who can be overcharged. He seems to be enjoying working with me and has been a great help. I pay him 10 dollars a day regardless of length of time we spend together. He will be paid to watch over the completion of the project after I have left which is less then 2 weeks away. The whole building should be done in less then 25 days start to finish.
One needs the eyelashes of a camel here. Lost a game of chess to the grandmaster of Chicken Street and his 9 advisors. I will be back! Came back the next day and lost again. Mentioned the team aspect, (9 of then 1 of me) we all laughed then I was hooked up with the Heir apparent Grandmaster who was of great help but yet again still lost. If I keep losing maybe I will get a deal on a carpet. Update I have been getting creamed most of the time. I came close today but made one fatal error and lost. Finally was able to pull a draw and decided to call it a day on a positive note a women not wearing a Burka said Salaam to me the other day on the street. I also see more women of all ages not wearing a Burka but this is Kabul. It is still worn by most if not all out in the country. How much for the carpet? For you Mister a special price, just for you…$300 dollars…… Hey mister how much you pay? Hey mister $200. Hey Mister…. Mister… Wait Mister, Mister……. I see Sunflowers growing in gardens as I travel. I wonder how the Seeds of Hope that the Balkan Sunflowers are planting in Kosova, Macedonia, and Albania are taking root. Log onto www//balkansunflower.org Wheat or Poppies? The poppy farmers have no choice in what crop they grow, the warlords choose for them. Watched a bootleg Terminator 3 movie not bad quality The Shomali road heads north out of Kabul to Mir Bacha Kot (MBK) and is the main road for all points north. MBK was one of the major front line defenses during the Taliban war. It has been decimated to say the least. I have not seen destruction like this since my 1st & 2nd trip to Kosova. It would be unfair to compare the two in terms of destruction. The best description I can come up with is that War is a waste of time and energy and lives. The green flags indicating martyrs who lost their lives in battle dot the landscape. There are several former military posts that have too many green flags to count as we pass by. The local men have this motion of their right hand that acknowledges the loss of life and appreciation for those who fought bravely. I can not help but indicate my respect as well. The HALO landmine team is busy in the area slowly and methodically scanning the area for any Un-Exploded Ordinances (UXO’S). Houses and the walls of their compounds are billboards with white paint lettering indicating that the house and area has been cleared. I see children traveling along 1 meter wide paths from the road to their walled compounds as HALO trucks and men work less then 50 to a 100 meters away.
Everything is going well. If this were my 1st trip I would probably be a little nervous about the success of the project. I know that i will not be here to finish what I started. I have to admit that it is the frustrating not being able to finish what I started but then again trying to complete a library in less the 30 days is asking a bit much from anyone regardless of the size of the project. I still get frustrated with the lack of resources available for me to use. I am constantly approached by other people and organizations that, like me, are looking for more assistance than is available. I do not believe that I come across as a big shot. It’s kind of hard to be Mr. Big when you have to walk to every meeting or destination in town. Still people assume that because I am from the United States that I must be connected to large amounts of money. I found out after a meeting with the District governor that one man was asking why I was doing such a small project. How come I wasn’t getting heavy equipment and cement mixers up to the sight and etc? The District Governor stepped in and explained the scenario and basically told him to be happy with what they were getting. To be honest I am fairly used to the fact that people assume that every westerner regardless of financial situation is “”Connected”” to large amounts of funding. Sometimes I wonder of coming here for such a small project is worth the misconception that is raised by my just being here. Here is one for you. I walk the streets almost every day by myself. I am approached constantly by shopkeepers who want me to just take a look. You smile politely and keep moving but after a while getting asked every day by the same shopkeepers gets kind of annoying.
And if you think rabbits multiply quickly try giving a dollar to a beggar. Soon ten are there surrounding you, following you, asking for ten afghani or a dollar please mister please. I find myself getting angry at them and then at myself for being angry at them. And whom do you give your not so Spare change to? The cute little girl who could take the place of the National Geographic women who is synonymous with Afghanistan or the little boy who looks like he has slept in the ditch the last two weeks or maybe the man with his wife (in Burka),with child in his arms, or the one legged man who scrambles across the street on crutches through traffic just to head me off at the pass… at least he has crutches which is more then I can say for the old man in Ghazni who a year later still crawls on his stubs cut just below the waist. Can’t some one make him a wheel chair? What about the old man or women to tired to move who find a shady spot and just thrust their arm out hoping for Money/Manna from heaven. Each one has a story and each one has a need. I have several emotions running around inside. One of helplessness, frustration and than anger at myself and at the system. Some system we have going on here in the world! When in NYC if I was approached by a beggar I could justify not slipping them some change for various reasons including that we have social services available for them if all they would do is use them. Here it’s not the case, There are no services set up that can handle the tens of thousands of people who fall through the cracks in a country that is filled with cracks. I am not looking for words of inspiration or encouragement or support… If you were in my place you would realize that it just the way it is at least for now. People keep telling me how they appreciate reading what I am feeling… Feel This! I go to bed knowing where my next meal is coming from which is more then what ½ the worlds population can say. All is well here, Hope everything is the same in your neck of the woods.
FULL MOON OVER KABUL
Even though I couldn’t come up with a creative intro, I thought I Might as well keep with the same concept for titles. The full moon was lighting up Kabul last week. We were kidding that it would be nice if the electricity would go out for a few hours. The Night I spent in Yakhshi in the central highlands was an excellent opportunity to star gaze without the glare of the big city lights. The constellations here are not that different then back in Vermont.
I was in the Mustafa kitchen yesterday showing the “cooks” how to make a Marinara Sauce and how handy a container of hot soapy water with a clean cloth can be. I also was able to slide in there the fact that they should be washing there hands at least 20 – 30 times a day. I will be back in the kitchen several times more before I leave next week. last night I showed the cooks how to make baked ziti, meatballs, Chicken Parmesan, a baked eggplant casserole similar to Eggplant Parm minus the Ricotta as well as Bragiol a rolled up beef roulade with some make shift ingredients. I thought that we would serve them as special for the Mustafa’s restaurant. “Wais’ the owner of the hotel decided to treat the long-term residents to an Italian feast. So all the people who before last night would say hello and go along their merry way each day now consider me one of their best friends… Food is Power! I must admit it was gratifying to see the smiles on the faces of so many people. For some it was one of the best meals they have had in a long time. Prague side note… I can now relate to their smiles…All I have been doing the past 3 days is eating 3-4 meals a day and hydrating myself with beer like I hydrated myself with water in Afghanistan. I am walking most of it off.
It was fun to get into the kitchen for a few hours. I also have noticed an improvement in the cleanliness of the kitchen over the last few days. This should help the guests who sometimes come down with some serious stomach pains from eating here in Kabul. Wais and I went to an ISAF P.X today for supplies and some Bleach. The cooks wait staff and I have become close friends. They appreciate someone giving them useful advice. The kitchen has a wood burning pizza oven that is similar to Flatbreads in style. Minus the ambience. I gave the head cook my flatbreads shirt. He is psyched. I gave Wais the Mustafa owner my Mad River Glen shirt and bumper sticker. Hopefully he will keep up the tradition by pasting the bumper sticker on the wall in the downstairs cafe. By the time you read this I will be out of town. The 23rd was my last day in Kabul. More on that later. This will probably be the last e-mail for sometime. I can tell you that the building will not be finished before I leave next week but it will have a good start. I have completed purchasing all the major supplies including furniture, carpet, and wire for electricity when it gets to MBK, windows and doors. What I am forgetting; is the cloud looming over my brain. I am still trying to figure out where the books will come from and how much they will cost. Hopefully we will be able to obtain them at a reasonable cost or get them for free.
Bricks and Lime….$ 950.00
Stone for foundation$ 458.00
Windows and doors $325.00
Masons wages. ……. $250.00
General labor x 4 wages… $333.00
Having Haji Mohd by my side….. PRICELESS!
Haji is my interpreter, negotiator, and guide to the best Home Depot spots in a town that looks like one large Home Depot from the middle ages. I have been helping Haji Mohd with his work history (resume) he would like to try and find a job with an NGO (who wouldn’t). I have written Haji a letter of recommendation. Now imagine some NGO getting a letter of recommendation from someone who writes letters like these. My favorite comment went like this. “I trust Haji with my Money and MY life!” He is an honest man with good command of the English language. Hard to find in Kabul. We sat down today and did a draft that actually looks quite nice. He was amazed at what a computer can do. We stored a copy of his resume on the computer as well as gave him a floppy disc for himself. When I explained the purpose of the floppy his eyes lit up in amazement that this thin plastic wafer could do all that. Obviously we did not fabricate anything in the area of Computer skills on his resume. Haji is a title given to a man who has traveled to Mecca. After the Taliban fled, Haji was on the 1st flight from Kabul with his wife to Mecca. I am amazed at the people I meet traveling down this road called life. I have turned over all aspects of the project to Haji. He will price and pay all outstanding bills and be the final approval on most everything unless UNHCR is needed for advice. We have enjoyed our time together. He really is a special man and I am fortunate that he feels the same about me. We will miss each other but will never forget our time spent together. I honestly can go home with a secure feeling that I am leaving the Library in good hands.
For him it’s a chance to be the man he once was before Taliban Times. Groundhog Day: Lately it has seemed as if I had my own Bill Murray movie going. I would get up, shower, shave, and have breakfast. Meet Haji outside the Mustafa. Walk to the Public transportation spot. Jump on a bus/taxi, make a transfer on the outskirts of town, head for Mir Bacha Kot, and talk with the Mason. Head back to town. Negotiate prices, do my e-mail, play chess on Chicken Street, have a pizza, watch BBC news. Go to bed, Wake up the next day and do it all over again. This was the routine for the last 2 weeks I also was starting to second guess whether doing a project at MBK was the best plan. Don’t get me wrong, the library is a good idea, the village will put it to good use and all that. It’s just that I have always envisioned my projects being where no one else was playing Humanitarian. On MBK school grounds there are 2 UNICEF tents and each student has a UNICEF Book bag, they have a well on school grounds. A German NGO is finishing up on a 5 classroom addition, and here I am doing a one room community library. Even as the doubt seeps in I keep reminding myself that everything happens for a reason… It’s all part of my process. This past Sunday after two weeks on the project I finally had a meeting with the volunteers for the library committee. We met in the high school director’s office. The director had Mark Ice as a teacher. I had asked for women to be a part of the committee. The room was full of male teachers and several local village leaders amp; Shirras. Up the stairs come three women, none wearing Burkas! One had a shawl covering her head (Not face) but the other two saw no reason to cover. To me having three women walk unaccompanied by their husband or a close male relative into a male school into a room full of men was something I did not expect. I was then informed that these three women would be the committee and would receive support from the Director of Education and the local Shirra. The Governor meant what he said when he told me that they consider it important for the women to have equal position within the community. (At least on the surface)
I was pleased and informed them that the Ice family and UNHCR would be pleased as well. I also mentioned that I was confident that under their direction, the operation of the library was in good hands. We discussed the progress of the library project, funds available for books and the freedom the village had in deciding what books would be purchased. I was informed that the library would be primarily used for pleasure and research with little emphasis on religious doctrine. Understand that in no way had I made any indication to what I thought would be suitable reading material. I was informed of this decision by the Shirra. I asked if I could take a few pictures of the entire committee (women included) they all saw no problem with this. In two months travel this is the 1st opportunity to not only take pictures but actually have meaningful conversation with a women x 3 outside those I have met within UNHCR offices. As the meeting was coming to a close several (5) of the MBK high School teachers came up to me and mentioned that they had Mark Ice as a teacher. I had met them all before and they had mentioned this fact to me earlier. But not at the same time. All of a sudden I was in a room where this man who I have never met had obviously made an impact on this village 30 some odd years earlier. I couldn’t help thinking that Mark somehow had influenced what career path they had chosen. (He also has had an impact on my life and time spent here). I had to leave the room to gain my composure; they had definitely caught me off guard. Just when I am starting to second guess and become cynical… Great timing and reassurance that once again I was where I was meant to be.
COMMENTS MADE ABOUT MARK ICE;
He was a great person, a great teacher. He wanted to connect with the people. He cared for the people of Mir Botcha Kot. I taught with Mark Ice. He was a strong man, a great teacher. The one that made me lose it… 1’st Mark Ice and now you…Thank you for coming here Mr. Jonathan After the meeting I was asked by a group of students to come and talk With them. They started off by asking me if I could get them some computers. When I said no, they then started in on how and why they needed them. This started me on a dialogue where I encouraged them to take matters into their own hands. It took a while but hopefully the concept of organizing a student run organization in MBK would help them get consideration from an NGO in Kabul. I also set a time frame of several years. Nothing happens overnight! Where do you want to be in 5 years? And more importantly… How will you get there? Several students looked like they were getting it. All I needed was 2-3 out of the 15 to understand. Let’s see what happens in the next year. This also brings up a thought that I have started to talk about on a small scale. Remember how I had a hard time when Beggars approached me or how several groups like these students asked me for help or money assuming that it would flow from my pocket? I want to put it on a larger scale. Imagine how it must be for the LARGE NGO’s. It must be difficult when it appears like they have unlimited funding to just flat out deny someone or some organization, or Government official without even looking at the project. I think in a way this needs to be addressed or the animosity will continue to grow among those who do not understand. One group who (can fuel the fire) should be better informed on this aspect is the journalist and broadcasters who when they have no story can always find a way to criticize those with multi- million dollar budgets….It works both ways.
THE PUBLIC BUS SYSTEM:
Or as I like to put it…A Sardine can on wheels. Imagine a metal box w/ windows in 100 degree heat, packed and stacked with people of all shapes sizes and “cleanliness” stewing in their own sweat and oils. Sometimes the smell inside the bus is better then outside the bus… No lie! Combine the smell of rotting watermelons, burning garbage, bad diesel and open sewers. I remember in Tirana Albania a colleague mentioning that it smelt just like Brazil. Same smell here.
For an extra 25 cents a day we can take a taxi. Smaller version of the bus but with open windows. We also buy an extra person’s space (another25 cents) so that Haji and I share the back seat with only one more person instead of 2. A luxury indeed. If you are concerned about my personal safety here, forget about the Taliban and start worrying about the driving habits (or lack of them) with the public transportation system. I am surprised that we did not have a fender bender or clip a person on a bicycle. It’s a game of centimeters here. I tip the ones who are careful and tell the ones that are not that they missed out on a tip. I check the tires before jumping in. There are some really scary vehicles here that could be used in a Mel Gibson, Tina Turner “Mad Max” sequel. I noticed one day that the passengers (and driver) all say a quick prayer and motion of their hand just as the Taxi takes off. In other words they pray that god will protect them on the trip. You would too…
On the Shomali road heading North out of Kabul Just before MBK, on the right and side is a broken down tank. On that tank is a “Mad River Glen Ski It If You Can! Bumper sticker. Eric I got photos as well. Every time Haji and I pass by we smile. Yumiko keep your eyes peeled. Think of me when you spot it… and smile Maybe an ISAF soldier will get a kick out of it.
I have been winning more then I have been losing lately. It seems that the “Committee” has taken a liking to me. Bought a couple chess sets for the library. I told the school if I come back next year, (Inshallah) I want to take on the best players. 7 homemade explosive devices have been found in Kabul in the past 36 hours. One was found on Chicken Street yesterday. I decided to skip playing yesterday, but had to play today. It’s my last day.
Driving down the Shomali road today for the last time…some things seemed to stand out that I hadn’t seen before. A field of wheat, a new tank, a demolished house. It gets easier to leave after each trip, especially when you think you will be back. This hotel needs another Journalist with an opinion or agenda like America needs another lawyer… Hi mister can you give me a dollar? Hi Raypa how are you today? Fine… have you made a lot of money today? No mister I am broke. You’re Broke? Yes mister .no money I am broke. You can’t be broke (With such a pretty face) you must of made lots of money today. I am sure that you have at least ten dollars… No Mister…. I am broke one dollar please. Did you go to school today?
Yes mister. Good get an education and stop begging on the streets. Here is a dollar. It is the last one I will ever give you. This girl is as cute as button and I wish that she wasn’t out there begging but she is… She and the other street children stop working long enough to watch us play chess. I also found out that they have their own territory and do not allow other entrepreneurs to work Chicken Street. I was not their long enough to figure out if they have someone monitoring them like a pimp does his women, but I have suspicion that it might be so. Raypa is always looking around nervously when she is around me. I also was walking by an old woman who has a big wad of money she was organizing and putting back under her garments as I walked by… It wasn’t like this before they tell me. You never saw a beggar in Kabul before the Taliban. But now some have no choice. They have no Family (or legs) and they have no possibility to grow food. So they have resorted to begging.
Several suggestions I received in Kabul concerning beggars.
1: Give the children a pen or pencil or notebook.
2: Support one or maybe two families while in Kabul.
3: Buy the person a meal or some clothes
4: Don’t just give money to beggars on the street. .. Easier said then done…
Inshallah….. If it is Gods will
Khadafis…. May god be your protector?
Ariana Airlines or as the locals call it “Inshallah Airlines” is a real trip. If there is one good reason for me not to come back to Afghanistan it is because of Ariana Airlines. I have a bad taste every time I fly with them and I am not talking about the food they serve. (Yet again another story… but I digress…) Everything is recorded by hand…carbon copy. I saw one old typewriter being used among all the staff at the several offices I had to visit to sort out my return trip. They informed me when I stopped by to confirm my flight out that all flights were booked until August 15th and that I wasn’t on the list. I had decided to stop by at 2 P.M. on the warmest day of my trip. I was hot and tired; they were hot and tired as well. They had the power! I was calm, polite, and smiled the whole time, I finally was sent to the Presidents office. He listened and introduced me to his sales manager who told me stop by 2 days later at 9 A.M… Long story short I brought extra paper work (as asked) confirming my side of our previous conversation. He just took my ticket, made a few changes and told me he wanted to help me and was doing me a favor. I smiled, thanked him and kept my thoughts to myself. Upon boarding and flying out the other day there were over 25 empty seats. My trip to Prague went like this. 5 A.M. Arrive Kabul Airport for an 8 A.M. flight. 9A.M. Fly via Islamabad, Istanbul. Finally arriving in Frankfurt at 8:15 P.M. turn the clock back 2 ½ hrs… 11:30P.M. Board an overnight train where I am in a cabin with 4 Koreans and 1 Czech who barely speak English. The neighboring compartments are full of young German Males who are ready to go on holiday and drink beer and sing songs all night. I asked, and the steward promptly informed them to keep it down. 3 A.M. Czech police rap on the door and stamp Passports. 8:30 A.M. arrive in Prague. 9:30; shower in hotel room. 1 P.M. beer and sausage at an outside cafe. Czech this out! Sorry I stole the pun from a t-shit
Now this is my kind of War! Budweiser which is originally from this region claims to be the original Pilsner. Pilser Raquel also claims to be the original Pilsner. I am looking into some kind of peace accord between the 2 companies but this might take some time to sort out… I came to Prague for 2 reasons. 1st A.P. Jen mentioned to me several years ago that I MUST VISIT here. 2nd I thought that after the flood last year they could use a few bucks. Prague is definitely a nice town… but not for me in July. The crowds, literally waves of people here are enough to send me packing early. At least the Beer is fresh. Well enough about travels in Europe should save something for the Saturday afternoon show on Public Television. Whets next? I am not sure except that I / We should probably give this DAI organization a chance to see if it can go somewhere. So unless someone can get me into North Korea we should probably plan on doing one more trip next summer to Afghanistan. This time regardless of what security issues are being posted I plan on following my heart and travel to a region that most will not. If I can combine a project north to the Bamian region that would be nice. I also have hopes to visit the Gardez—Khost area. I realize that MBK was where I was supposed to be and we agreed early on that I would be spreading myself thin if I had several small projects all over the country. What did we accomplish? We are well under way in completing a humble one room community library with books and furniture. We also have provided the funds for 5 latrines in Yakhshi. 2 for the girls school, 3 for the boys. We also will have supplied each student with a notebook and pencil which to them is a lot! They also will have a few new blackboards and glass in the window frames because of the money donated. In two trips and two months in Afghanistan we have built a 3 room school w/ doors and windows plus doors and windows, and now latrines, for the boys’ school. Don’t forget the Blackboards, notebooks, & soccer balls. We also made a small donation to a small school in the central highlands for notebooks and pencils. A well that hydrates over a thousand and some say closer to 2 thousand local people in the Area called the Village of Seven Stones. I also can take pride in saying that I was among those I was here to help. I didn’t sleep in their houses (yet) but have played chess on Chicken street, packed myself on the public transportation system here and have enjoyed the many opportunities offered to break bread and make contact on a personal level. For most who work here it is either impossible or not a concept for them.
Just a side note here about how everyone here has to think. Regardless of how much you start to trust someone or some group here, there is always the constant reminder to proceed with caution. I agree but only to a point. Some (outside UNHCR) mentioned that my plan to give almost total control to Haji might not be a wise move. Maybe not but I really disagree. He had no idea what my last minute plans were. If he was going to try and take advantage of my finances he would have done it early on in the process. I also like to think that I am a good judge of people. Besides we must start empowering the local community and its leaders to be held accountable and fiscally responsible. This was a compromise on my part between what the village asked and what I had originally planned on doing. That was to have UNHCR have more control over the purse strings. The money is still in a UNHCR safe but with little responsibility on their part as to how it is spent. They were willing to take on the added tasks; I decided to give the responsibility to Haji. I have to end this letter somehow. Once again I have had a great trip. I have met amazing people from all Over the world who are doing amazing stuff with the talents they have developed. (Here I am one of many) Some for money (and rightfully so!) and some not for money. Noble gesture but in all honesty if I could get paid to do what I do every July I would do it in a heartbeat!
Still looking for that Ten Million Dollar account! There are way too many people who need to be thanked… UNHCR. In Geneva and Kabul, Nasir, Haji, Friends, Family, colleagues, Students past and present. Numerous donors in Vermont, USA, and several other Countries I have and have not met. B.S.F…M.R.G….BFP, Northfield News. Valley Reporter, the Vermont Journal. W. World. WVNY, WPTZ. Thanks Steph, Jen Staff, parents, and most importantly the students of The Richmond Elementary school, Flatbreads. For helping teach me how to Bring Lots of Love! I still have a lot to learn…. Gen. Cassimi, The people of Afghanistan, Mark Ice and his Family… Hopefully you can all see why I never feel that I travel alone or do these projects on my own. I know what I have accomplished and yes am quite proud of it. But as you can see I could not do it without the support of literally hundreds of others who give me their time and money. It is an honor to have your support and Trust.
I’ll be in touch. Peace, Mir, Solha Jonathan
I must admit it’s nice to get the occasional e-mail from family and friends. I received several this trip from some who I have not heard from in several years / trips. It’s good to know you are still alive and well where ever you are. I hope you enjoy receiving these letters. Feel free to forward these but please paste and post them onto a new letter before doing so. If you wish to stop receiving these let me know and I will take you off my mailing list. I am not one for sending chain e-mails forward but this one fits. Here is an e-mail that I am sure most of you have received before. This one has a combination of 3 separate e-mails I have received in the past. It has some good food for thought. Peace… Some good thoughts……. I don’t know if it’s bogus that this is “National Friendship Week”, but I thought I’d send this on. We are all indeed very, very, lucky especially I, to have such fine people in my life. If the world contained 100 people: If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following. There would be: 57 Asians 21 Europeans 14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south 8 Africans 52 would be female
48 would be male
70 would be non-white
30 would be white
70 would be non-Christian
30 would be Christian
89 would be heterosexual
11 would be homosexual
6 people would possess 59% of the entire world’s wealth and all 6 would be from the United States.
80 would live in substandard housing
70 would be unable to read
50 would suffer from malnutrition
1 would be near death; 1 would be near birth
1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education
1 would own a computer.
When one considers our world from such a compressed perspective, the need for acceptance, understanding and education becomes glaringly apparent.
The following is also something to ponder… If you woke up this morning with more health than illness… you are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation… you are ahead of 500 million people in the world. If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death… you are more blessed than three billion people in the world. If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep… you are richer than 75% of this world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace…you are among the top 8% of the worlds wealthy. If your parents are still alive and still married… you are very rare, even in the United States and Canada. If you can read this message, you just received a double blessing in that someone was thinking of you, and Furthermore, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world that cannot read at all.
SOMEONE ONCE SAID:
What goes around comes around.
Work like you don’t need the money.
Love like you’ve never been hurt.
Dance like nobody’s watching.
Sing like nobody’s listening.
Live like its Heaven on Earth.
It’s National Friendship Week.
Send this to everyone you consider a FRIEND.
Pass this on, and brighten someone’s day.
Nothing will happen if you do not decide to pass it along.
The only thing that will happen, if you DO pass it on, is that someone might smile because of you.
Jonathan I Hoffman
Northfield, Vermont 05663