Journals from Afghanistan


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...

2011 Year-end Letter

Hey Folks I have made it back to Kabul in one piece. For those of you who just want to know I am still alive and have ten fingers to type this letter, here is your proof. The Readers Digest version We contracted 4 schools, 23 classrooms for 40 thousand dollars… Was offered a helicopter ride from Bamiyan to Kabul due to security concerns, not mine, others, but a couple of days in Bamiyan instead of Kabul as well as a chopper through the Hindu Kush made it a no brainer. Digestion is well, but like the security here, that too can change. Peace   The Sunday Times version 2 AM Kabul My phone beeps, indicating I have a text message Good time to be heading out, have you heard that the Intercontinental Hotel is under attack? Suicide bombers and the whole nine yards. You take care and be careful, times are tough. Thanks Jean it gives new meaning to the term Ignorance is bliss.  Sometimes not knowing what is going on is for the best. I roll over and try and get a few more minutes of sleep. A Helicopter is buzzing overhead, and a loud boom are doing their best to keep me awake, it is too early for the morning call to prayer but the Mullahs at the mosques all over town start to sing whatever they sing over the loudspeakers when they are trying to cover the noise of another attack. Trying not to sound to cavalier but I did manage to get a few more minutes of sleep before the sun and my driver...

2010 Year-end Letter

Hey Folks. I have some great stuff to tell you so you might grab your reading glasses when you have time. For those who just want to know that I am safe, well this e-mail should confirm that.   The Short Version: We have contracted the construction of two 6 room schools, one 8 room school, and a 3 room addition in Qarnala.  In nine summers we have  contracted 14 schools and one library. The Mir Bacha Kot library is open and still handing out books in an area serving  a population of  ten thousand people. Look forward to doing the same again in 2011 I have a Facebook page compliments of Paul DAI Facebook Page   The Long Version: The flight from the states to Kabul went smoothly, I spent a night in NYC as well as Dubai where I had dinner with Hamida Gafour and her Husband. Hamida wrote a 4 page article last fall in The National on myself and DAI’s projects . The Kabul airport was a chaotic jam of passengers from three  737’s looking for bags on two small cramped  turnstyles.   After dropping my bags at the Mustaffa, I went around the corner to Chicken Street .After a warm embrace from my father Haji another summer in Afghanistan had officially begun. He is well as is his entire family. It is all up to Allah he says. We sat and drank tea caught up on another year gone by and sold a few carpets .   The 1st couple of days were spent touching base with friends mostly Afghan. Rare to find an...

2009 Year-end Letter

Hey Folks, 2009 was a great year for DAI  I  Hope to fit it all in four pages. The short version We built 26 classrooms in four villages for 36 thousand dollars. We now have built one library and 11 schools for a total of 66 classrooms in 8 years.  July 2009 was the 12th humanitarian trip in the past ten years.  Peace. Tea and a biscuit version. The flights to Kabul were uneventful which is always good. Fly Emirates whenever possible! The new Kabul International terminal was open and the process was smoother then before. It took less then an hour to depart the plane and check into the Mustaffa.   Brick by Brick, Pothole by pothole  The ride to the hotel put into detail the process it takes to rebuild even a small part of this dilapidated city not to mention what it will take to repair a country the size of Texas. Building and road construction abounds in Kabul. Slowly this city is starting to take shape but 5 million in a city for 2 will always lead to overcrowding and complaints that not enough is being done at the local level. The new powerline from Uzbekistan should enable the local media to have a wider audience now to lodge complaints like westerners do. Go on T.V. and complain that nothing is getting done.   Before heading to visit last summers schools I had made plans to travel to Herat and visit Camp Stone Arrangements had been made to meet with General Zawari (Ali Jan) of the Afghan Army stationed in Herat. Ali Jan is from...

Ghazni and Back

Hey Folks, 1st the short version; I made it here safe and sound. It’s hot, dry and dusty. Everyone says hello and thank you. The 2nd version I knew when my flight to DC was canceled and everyone was sent home for the evening that even the best laid plans are put to the test. Nothing different this time around After 32 hours of puddle jumping in 747’s Inshallah (Ariana) airlines served its version of breakfast. A hard roll w/ butter and apricot jam some canned fruit cocktail in a plastic cup, and soft brie and feta cheese with fairly fresh Danish. My strategy when traveling is to eat everything set in front of you, so with little hesitation the meal was inhaled. I was reminded of why I treat myself to a few good meals before I leave after I opened the foil packet to observe A 4 hour old omelet. No worries about weight gain here. The Afghan diet is back! The search for Haji.. Those of you who were privy to my e-mails last year will remember the importance of Haji for my success and subsequently the bond that ensued. Before I left last year I helped Haji put together a resume. It had the usual imagination needed to put oneself in the proper light. When recording his job history we had almost six years where his major accomplishment was surviving the Taliban occupation. I thought that a bit of humor might separate him from the pack. Hire this guy he speaks English and has a sense of humor! Last night with a driver we went...

Afghanistan Triology

SUNNY KABUL PART 1 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...

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. Peace. Jonathan $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...

Journals from Kosovo


Kosovo – Summary

Hey folks, This letter may get a little long, but it should be the last one for some time. Enjoy life and keep in touch. It has been over two years since I started planning my 1st trip to the Balkans. What started out as an idea about the size of a matchbox just kept getting larger. A lot has happened in that time, more than I could begin to describe in one entry. The best way to describe my experience is to say it was like being in a movie without a script, and so far has no ending. What made me go in the first place? Four trips later I still struggle with that question. As another volunteer once said, if you could answer That question clearly I would be a little skeptical. In brief it was part humanitarian, part adventure. The places I have been, the people I have met, and, most importantly, the people we have helped has verified that whatever the reason, I made the right choice. Before I go too far I should mention that even though I enjoy being at the center of attention, I do not enjoy being the center of attention, at least in this case. I feel uncomfortable accepting the praise and accolades I receive for the work we have done. I want to emphasize the word WE. None of what I/we have accomplished would have been possible without the help of literally a couple hundred people here in Vermont, the U.S., and the Balkans and all over the world. To list them all would be next to impossible,...

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Well where do I start? I do not have as much time as I would hope to get this off so I will try and be complete. I must warn you that it will be a lengthy one so save it for later if you have to. My trip over was fairly smooth except for in Vienna. The plane was full and waiting for one last passenger whose bags were already on the plane. When he / she did not show, they had to have each one of us disembark the plane and identify our luggage. This added an extra hour to the delay. YES! The next day Rand, Liriejta and I took a drive into the country to try and locate the Berisha family. This is the family whose last name I thought was “Fala”. Oh well, wrong name, right family. They were still at the same location as last summer. The children are well; mom said that she has not had to take one to the doctor in over a year. Not bad for seven children. They looked well, thin, but happy. They are attending a new school that was built in the village and all are getting good grades. They recognized Rand right off, yes they said, we remember you as they made a motion like throwing a Frisbee. Then they picked up 3 rocks to show him that they still could juggle. As Rand mentioned later to me it helped him realize that all that the Balkan Sunflowers do with children here is not in Vain. They know how to smile, laugh, hug, juggle, and...

Last Message from Kosova

It has been a hot and dusty week, the perspiration dries before you can absorb it in your clothes. I have been trying to keep hydrated; yesterday I was out in the sun and was in a car without A.C. so it was a tough day. I will try and give a run down of events that have been occurring this week. On Monday Rand and I had a social appointment with the director of Xhevedet Doda. We went to his house/flat to meet his family and look at his photo albums. He has had an interesting life. Several times he has been placed in Prison in 1969 he spent a month in jail; in 1974 he started a 5 year sentence. In 1981 another 2 months, 1989-3 months, and 1998 another 3 months. The exact reason was unclear because of translation but I can tell you that this man is of great character and in my opinion did nothing that would deserve such treatment. I suppose that you could say that about a number of people who have similar stories here in Kosova. Basically it was because they did not change with the new system fast enough. It is hard to deny basic Human Nature/ Rights to ask why about something. As Rand and I were walking out the door he asked us to wait one more minute and then disappeared downstairs to the basement. When he came back up he had 2 bottles of 1992 Kosova Cabernt Sauvignon. He informed us that it was a superb year and was a quality wine. We realized that this was...

10 Million Dollars

I hope that the last message did not Rock your world to much. Just a little frustration on my part. It is still slow going here, like I have said several times before it takes 3 times as long to get the simplest thing accomplished here. I was in the field yesterday doing some more observations and assessment. For some at UNHCR they look and wonder if I am the new guy or something. Today I went with Alina a Russian field officer for UNHCR who works primarily with the minority populations here in Kosova. Serbs mainly. Today we went high in to the hills past Podujeva to a small Serb hamlet called Sekiraqa It required an escort from the local Czech KFOR troops. The local villagers have a 3 K.M. walk to catch a Serbian Bus into a Serb town. That is how close we were to the Border. Beautiful country. as I told the elder as I left you can almost touch the clouds from here. They treated me warmly even though Americans are considered an enemy of the Serbs. We drank “Sjivovica” a Plum ROCKET FUEL! In situations like this it is my duty to drink and toast, drink and toast. Even if it is only 12p.m. Pretty potent stuff. In the few experiences (yeah right) where I have had to drink so much so early I am normally done for the day by 5 p.m. this stuff actually does not have that effect. I was fine until my normal bed time. I guess that the training before/during my trip helped! I was there for several...

Made It

Hey everyone, Sorry that I haven’t been able to get a message to you, have had problems with my#$%^*&&^hotmail account! The trip here went as smooth as it possibly could. It pays to do your homework. I have found that if you don’t push things to hard it all will fall into place. My contact for this project has been delayed in Zurich Switzerland and I still have not been in touch with her in person. So Plan B was?? Good question. So I went to UNHCR yesterday and told them of our project and they have been most helpful! Today I had a field officer named Trim take me to Plementina; it is just west of Prishtina. There is a small Kosovar Albanian village that has been pretty well wiped out. They are sandwiched between a Roma camp on one side and a Serbian village on the other side. From a safety and comfort aspect it was not a wise decision to put them (Roma Camp) there, The Serbian village is about the same as the Kosovar village in the amount of destruction, this was retaliation on the part of the Kosovars. Remember that I plan on staying out of the whys and want to concentrate on the Need! For My personal safety and the Balkan Sunflowers safety I have decided to only work with Kosovar Albanians. I have found a place that is in need. I have also found an N.G.O that will help me with assessment and purchase and distribution. They think that what we are doing is great! I have for the moment concentrated on...

Prishtina of Bust

Good Morning, The trip here went as smooth as it could. Stayed the 1st night in Skopje Macedonia, got a chance to visit Balkan sunflowers Headquarters there and see what they are up to. The 70-80 kilometer trip from Skopje to Prishtina took 4 hours, not bad compared to the horror stories of 6-8 hours. Imagine a 2 lane road trying to be 3 1/2 lanes! Tractor trailers lined up on both sides of the border for miles waiting to get inspected. Weather yesterday was a balmy Global warming 55-60 degrees! 5 minutes after I got to the apartment in Prishtina the electricity came on. Someone must have known I was coming! So far I have visited our sister school, delivered the photo album and nicnacs. Very happy to see me. I will take pictures for ETC. During the rest of the week. I was hoping to get to Vushtrri today but doubt that it will happen. I will try tomorrow. My friend/ contact Xheri was delayed in Zurich because of fog in Skopje, hopefully she will be here today. If you haven’t noticed yet I will point out that I had to use a different e-mail server. You can mail me messages there but please keep it to a minimum. Hotmail is not connecting. Everything here takes 3 times as long as normal. Patience Jonathan, Yea right! Anyway I do not have my entire e-mail addressee with me so this is going out to ETC and Sharon at MRG. Sharon could you hook up with Chris and Mandy and start the e-mail tree again for me? Just forward...

Finally Online

Family & Friends, This will probably be the last e-mail for the near future as at this time the communication in Kosova is not that good. Hopefully that will change and I can get word back to you. I am headed for Prishtina on Tuesday or Wednesday. Hopefully a W.F.P. World Food Program from Tirana to Prishtina, and if not by flight, then by minibus. There are 6 of us who will then split up into groups of 2 and proceed to Sunflower stations in Prishtina, Peja and Gjakova. I will stay in Prishtina at first, 3 weeks is a long time so who knows. I may head to Mitrovica where it is a hot spot between Serbs and Kosovars to see what is happening there. If you are worried about my safety, don’t be. Reports are that it is safer is Kosova than here in Tirana. There is food to buy, beer to drink and smokes to smoke, no I have not quit! Can you blame me? The time spent in Tirana has been rewarding there is truly a need for more of what we are doing right here and now. Still I need to get a more accurate idea of the need in Kosova for both you and me. Our mission is to set up safe areas for children to play so that the family can work and the children are not playing with land mines. It seems like every land mine team on the planet is headed for Kosova. It’s good to see that everyone wants a piece of the action. This week I have attended...