Saturday, August 29, 2009


Many Afghan homes are surrounded by a wall as is the pictured guesthouse where I'm staying. This one, however, has armed guards at the gate and the wall is topped with razor wire.

The wire doesn't bother the pigeons - or the many neighborhood cats who stroll through the coils in their search for food.It has a garden with magnificent roses.

And a watermelon patch.

One of the guards underneath our grape arbor.

A green roof - Afghanistan style.

Mountains (which surround Kabul) and a flying kite seen from our balcony.

A little cutey-pie!

The University has several guesthouses. Everybody has their own room and bathrooms are shared. There are seven in our house: five women, two men. Four bathrooms, two kitchens and two TV rooms. Lots of space.

The shower curtains regularly detach from the walls, but the hot water is really really hot! Washing machines, but no dryers. Right now it's no problem to dry the clothes outside. We'll see what happens in the winter.

I have lived by myself for many years and was fearful of communal living. It's not so bad. We all work in different areas so there is not the problem of living and working with the same people. Everyone has a good sense of privacy and most of us share a fondness for alcohol. It's working.

There are heating/AC units in all the rooms and we have a housekeeper who even does our dishes.

Considering that I'm not in the States with my two kitties, living conditions here are not too shabby!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Kabul from the plane.

Monday, August 24, 2009

On the way

After two long and relatively sleepless flights, I arrived in Dubai. My luggage didn't.

I met up with D, another new teacher at the University. Her luggage also was a no-show.

We were loathe to leave for Kabul the next day without our luggage so we arranged to stay another day in Dubai to 'sightsee. ' We hired a driver to give us a tour and then take us to the old souk (bazaar ).

Dubai is a city under construction, hotels and apartment houses -- few trees and fewer birds. I had to take two obligatory building pictures:

The 'sail' hotel - the only 7 star hotel in the world.


It is Ramadan, the month in which Muslims fast - nothing to eat or drink from sunup to sundown, not even water!

We arrived at the souk just after Iftar - the time when the fast is broken and Muslims pray and eat, thus many of the 'shops' were closed. But we walked around a bit and not much else.

Again, since it was Ramadan, the restaurants were all closed during the day. At night the only places to eat - and drink - are hotels. Ours was the Renaissance (a Marriott). We had a superb buffet, albeit expensive. In fact, the overall service we received could not have been better. They treated two complaining, tired and luggage-less Americans with great sensitivity and endless patience.

Enough here - on to Kabul.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Before the trip

In four days I will be on a flight from Charleston to Washington, DC, to London, to Dubai and then to Kabul, Afghanistan. I will be teaching there at the American University of Afghanistan.

This journey started many years ago when I met someone in DC who was from Afghanistan. I thought at the time 'wow' and 'sounds exotic' and 'where is Afghanistan.' I'm still thinking 'wow,' but now I know it's not only 'exotic' but rugged and filled with fierce peoples. And I know it's located at the start of a great adventure.

I've thought about exotic places since, including Afghanistan, and dreamt of going and doing my part to save the world. In fact, I studied Arabic for two years in preparation for going somewhere 'Arabic.' I was also part of a mini-study group reading up on the Middle East, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Islam.

And then, in April, I went to a rug show put on by Arzu - a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to provide sustainable income to Afghan women by sourcing and selling the rugs they weave. Education of the women and their children is part of the program. I saw the rugs, wondrous designs and colors, but more importantly I heard the stories. One woman finally earned enough so that she could buy a veil; in her village without a veil she could not go outside. I asked about the men: how supportive were they, what did they think about their wives and children attending school. The response was one that I hear over and over again. The men (as well as the women) want better lives for their children and they all realize that only through education is a better future attainable. (Arzu means 'hope' in Dari.)

Well, that was the hook. And what was I going to do about it? Just when was I going to go to Afghanistan?

Nothing like a good talk to oneself.

I emailed Arzu and offered my services. I may have gone a bit gaga with my enthusiasm for their efforts and my proposed contribution to said efforts. Anyway, I didn't hear from them.

I knew there was an American University in Afghanistan so I went on line and found their web site. And, they needed someone to teach Physical Science. I have degrees in the sciences and have taught Chemistry for some years; I sent off my resume. I did not expect to get a reply.

But I did. They wanted to talk to me over the phone from Kabul.

Omigod, omigod. My office mate, I'm sure, thought I was having either a heart attack or an orgasm.

That was in late April this year and I was hired a few weeks later. Probably because I was the only one who had applied. I'm guessing there weren't a lot of people clamoring for the chance to go to a war zone.

And I've had over 3 months to try and get used to the idea that I'm going to Kabul, Afghanistan, for 10 months to live and teach. Omigod.

Enough of that.

I want to share some of my experiences in Kabul, but also some stories about the country and its people.

Here's rugged and fierce:
Ahmad Shah Mahsoud

Mahsoud was a genius of guerrilla warfare, drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 1980's and was his country's last defense against the Taliban onslaught (Junger, S., The Lion in Winter, National Georgraphic Adventure, March/April, 2001). He was assassinated September 9, 2001.

Panjshir Valley

The Panjshir Valley was never captured by the Taliban.

Oops! The importance of air power.
(The Spanish Army in Afghanistan, courtesy of the Air Force Association.)