Django Unchained and Afghan Women

Last night we went to see "Django Unchained." One of the most powerful elements is how well it shows the complexity of slavery and oppressed communities. That all is not black and white, good and evil. Sometimes the hero does things that don't sit right, that disappoint us. But he is doing what he must, to protect himself, and to protect who he loves. He is not out there trying to change the whole game of slavery, he is just trying to make his own world better. The audience expects that he'll inspire other slaves to follow his lead, but they are all too frightened, even though we might think they have nothing to lose.

At one point the character of DiCaprio asks why the black slaves have not risen up against the white oppressors, why they put up with the subservient role. We talked together after the movie and got onto the topic of women in Afghanistan. Why do they accept the situation they are in, why do they not band together and demand more rights? This is a question often asked, and has been asked of women in many societies in the past, including those that at some point did manage to move forward.

But the women in Afghanistan have so many reasons to be too frightened, like the other slaves in Django. They don't have spaces to come together and organize, and very few are willing to act alone. Why? Maybe because they have not just themselves to think about, but also those who they love - their children, their parents, their siblings. They suffer because they are strong enough to suffer, in hopes that life will be somehow easier for those they love. The way society is structured exacerbates this duty, with women marrying and having children very young, with ideas of honor within the family that cannot be left behind so easily. Many in the West probably think "but they have nothing to lose," when in fact there is so much at stake, and success is far from certain.

I guess, like in Django, it will take more time and important changes in the structure of society before a revolt can even be considered, before a majority of the oppressed individuals believe that the time for change has truly come.



was watching this TV series "homeland" last night with brandon. i gotta say parts of it are shocking to watch while being here in afghanistan, and knowing the ignorance of islam back in north america. the scene where the main character (the terrorist) enters the garage, and everyone is thinking "oh he's going to build a bomb!" but instead he unfurls a red bathroom mat and proceeds to pray... it's quite eerie the message that that scene conveys. that if someone is in an islamic country for 8 years, previously not religious (we assume by his comment at dinner "we say grace now?"), converts to islam, then OF COURSE dude is a terrorist. i dunno. still like the show though. 


Collapse and go on

welcome back to snowy kabul. away in cambodia for 2 months, then on a nice holiday holiday in australia, and back to this wonderful place. yes wonderful.

snow is supposed to be a rare surprise during a kabul winter. but the ground has been white (well, greyish brown) since i got here. here's a photo i took the other day of some shops that collapsed under the unexpected snowfall. the blue guy is a checkpoint cop that i accidentally got in the shot too.

besides that my days have been filled with sick people (ie. pneumonia), nightly baking by the B-nice and J-dawg duo, annie hall, skating to keep the blood flowing more than anything, chai (green), and lots of great people that i am very happy to know.

the chilblain's are making a late season comeback but i'm fending them off by sitting in a sleeping bag at my desk. seems to be doing the trick.

here's a great quote i came across by khaled hosseini, author of the kite runner, the other day:

“There are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood.”

besides that been checking out rumi and mark twain quotes, the usual. reading a john le carre book and wondering how we're gonna get our hands on the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy movie that just came out and is based on one of his books.

Peace out.


little black cloud. shoo cloud.

Village in Istalif, Afghanistan. Serene and beautiful.

i had "one of those dreams" last night. one of those dreams where your house is being attacked by suicide bombers. i can't remember much, except that there is the predictable ruckus sounds outside, then someone yelling "the car has been attacked!" and i see it careening down our street from the upstairs window and think, "man, if bad dudes follow that car they'll end up at our freakin house!", which of course, they do. so everyone in the house is knocking on doors and telling people to wake up and go upstairs to the Safe Room. instead of having feelings of terror, as one might expect when under a terrorist attack, i had anxieties about repeatedly forgetting to bring everything i "needed" with me to the safe room. now of course if this were not a dream i would probably not go back downstairs first to get my passport, then to get a pair of shoes, then finally to get my laptop so i could maybe watch a movie on it while we're all cooped up in there. and of course, the dream ended with me rushing into the Safe Room dead last, but just in time - which mirrors the reality of my arrival on the front porch for work every morning.

note: due to various factors, i do not believe this would actually occur in real life. so please don't worry about me. i'm guessing there's a higher probability of me getting some deadly respiratory infection from the fecal matter and other junk in the air.


this is mostly about medieval feet.

i am alive. i have spent the better part of the last year living, not writing. there is something to be said for that. but also, without some means of expression or reflection what is the point of the experiences? someone said to me recently that it's unfair for me not to share my stories or myself with others. i love to read or hear the stories of others, it really is an important part of being a human, this exchange. my problem has been a lack of time, energy and unwillingness to prioritize writing, eventhough i truly feel it is one of the most worthwhile uses of time. but i am going to try again. that's all you can do, right?

so since last august, almost one year ago today (my last blog entry!), what has happened? i stayed in afghanistan until the end of october, spent a few weeks being restless and unpleasant in scotland at my mom's place, though i enjoyed walking around and going to cafes. then i took a last minute trip to canada to see the rest of my family and my friends who i missed more than ever before in my life. it was a splendid time, full of hippie food and skateboarding and art and music and bicycle riding.... some wine and a nostalgic movie with a good bud. all that fine stuff. i wish canada was a country in the vicinity of afghanistan. maybe a stan. like canadastan? i would for sure take a weekend trip there from time to time, to remember who i was, and what that means for who i am now and tomorrow.

then a one month trip to south america. motorbike riding mostly, small crash that set me back $450, deathly fear of sand tracks, fondness for llama meat.

and back to kabul, round 2. well good and bad, highs and lows as always. me, very productive and determined to make things work, to overcome the daily trials of accomplishing ANYTHING in this context. seriously. have i mentioned before what oliver told to me the first week i arrived, and which kept me and many others going at the toughest of times? basically, that to accomplish anything, no matter how small, in afghanistan is a huge accomplishment, what we do in each day to day is actually an unbelievable feat. anything on top of that is incredible. being away from afghanistan right now for a month, i can clearly see how true this is. it seems like an exaggeration, aggrandizement but it is a simple truth. 3 weeks ago i was in cambodia, helping to set up a new project similar to the one in afghanistan, and i don't want to discount the work of others in any way, but it was like a dream compared to kabul. logistics, security, social conventions, infrastructure - you name it - things were so different and so much simpler.

but back to kabul round 2. in the first month i dealt with "monitoring and evaluation" for a government grant, revealing just how deep the sea of bullshit in the aid industry is, the waste and inefficiency and the game that is played but we refuse to play. i also contracted "chilblain's" - which as far as i can tell is some disorder that people regularly had in 18th century europe. the constant cold and lack of proper heating anywhere in kabul meant that my feet were too cold, and due to my poor circulation i ended up getting swollen toesies and nasty blisters and pretty soon i couldn't fit my feet into any shoes except some castaway size 11s. teaching skateboarding wasn't an option, i wore flipflops in -20 celsius and i guess probably fit in a bit with the many afghans who wear sandals year round. so given the local propensity to also have cold feet it's not surprising that i found my solace and cure with an afghan doctor, not a western one. the grumpy, curt lady at the german clinic gave my feet a quick peek and proceeded to prescribe me a couple antibiotics, a painkiller and some anti-inflammatory. didn't work. the feet got bigger and redder. i got sad and crazy and winter in kabul was hard, so soon. then mama m saw my eyes and my ridiculous feet in ridiculous cheap flipflops that were starting to break from wear and said "i know a doctor, and afghan skin doctor and he can fix your feet" - well to that effect but her english was limited (i never had a problem communicating with her despite this, and honestly i miss her, but you can only keep a corrupt and aspiring tyrant, who happens to also be an inspiring lady, around for so long). so mama m brings me that afternoon to this fantastic doctor. his office is close to our guesthouse, it's on a street full of other doctors, such as a foot clinic directly across (i remember thinking if it was better to go to a foot guy or a skin guy for my particular problem) and pharmacies galore. we walk into a narrow cement hall, dungeon-like, but full of people. then behind a curtain is an overflowing waiting room, burka ladies and burka's brought back over the head and small babies and just moms wanting to sort out whatever myriad of skin problems are affecting them. being the lone foreigner (quite possibly ever) in that waiting room i get to jump the line (mama m will gladly use my foreigness to advantage, even though i feel bad about it). the doctor is great and speaks good english. he takes a considerate glance at my feet, which are now purple and ballooney, and tells me i have chilblains, i need to always wear warm shoes and wool socks, keep my feet warm. so i feel very silly having worn sandals for the past 2 weeks, this has undoubtedly made my condition far worse (the cold helped me deal with the itchiness however). that's it. no antibiotics or painkillers. just wool socks!

hm, after that the following 5 months were very tiring. i was quite stuck in my head and didn't feel great some days (understatement).

so this time, after my holiday, i am determined to be happier. to be positive and take more enjoyment from the moments. there is only so much within one's control. and it is far far far less control than i'd like to believe i have. there is a girl coming to live and work with us who is into meditation. i should try to get some tips from her, although when i took yoga classes during lunchhour in college i most often fell asleep, to the chagrin of the teacher. maybe i am ready now?


my life in five paragraphs...

darulaman palace, bombed out and wasted.

i say it every time but i am so bad at posting regular updates. i just get overwhelmed because there is so much to say and share, where does one begin? i realized the other day that what makes afghanistan so beautiful is its complexity, nothing is black and white here, everything takes 10 times as long to get done (if at all) and day-to-day life is full of paradox and obstacles and surprises. as erika pointed out a couple weeks ago, just about the only thing that's faster to do here than in the west is buy cigarettes (you can pull over to the side of the road and buy from one of cigarette stalls strewn every few blocks, drive-up style). but it's learning how to maneuver this chaotic place that really brings satisfaction. uncovering little secrets to social conduct, or a part of the city you never would have imagined existed.

last week i went to do some clothes shopping zahra and mama mumtaz, who is the toughest lady in afghanistan. mumtaz is one of three women i've seen driving a car in kabul, she taught women how to be teachers during the taliban regime, was visibly disgusted when i asked about the burka years, and doesn't take shit from anybody. we first went to one of the women's bazaars, which are run by and for women, with hand-embroided tops, cosmetics, jewelry. the bazaar lines one side of the women's park, which is large and quite beautiful, apparently full of women eating and talking on a friday. mumtaz's husband is a traffic cop, so she basically owns the city, parking wherever she damn well pleases (middle of a roundabout? why not?) and not asking, but ordering one of the cops to watch her car for her!

the rainfall started i had three nights in a row where i thought it would be almost like camping to sleep on the roof. i had a toshak (afghan mattress), water, music and blanket. it was amazing to just lay there and watch the stars, reflecting before sleep hit me. much cooler temperature too than my room.

today i read about a medical expedition being ambushed in the north today. there was a friend of my colleagues on the expedition, a female surgeon from the UK named karen woo, and i'm afraid she was one of the people shot. there is only one survivor and no names have been released. it's just another reality check that even if it doesn't always feel like it, this country is an unstable, dangerous place. i remember before the expedition left my roomates were talking about how the province of nuristan is notoriously dangerous, no foreigners go there etc. but you still never imagine something like this will happen, because, well, you don't want to think about it. the people, 10 of them, were all surgeons and doctors, wanting to access the people and kids in this remote area who need treatment. but the people who killed them, i'm sure even if they knew this they didn't care. hatred, fear and ignorance, when combined are much stronger than common sense.

it's weird to be in a place where every few weeks or so you hear of someone dying, but then i think back to canada, where people i know have died of cancer at 29, or a brain aneurysm in their early 30s, and realize life is fragile no matter where you are, so you have to do whatever good you can in this world. while you have time.

a day hike to istalef.

the view from our rooftop

kabul contemporary art show at babour garden

patrick was right when he said the best piece at the show were the sunlight covers

appraising a new top that mama mumtaz bought me for my birthday

our trip to a little village named arahan. we went for a strenuous hike.

there are plenty of gems and minerals in afghanistan. let the pillaging begin.

a sheep was sacrificed for the villagers and us to eat.


how green was my valley.

Friday is the weekend in Afghanistan. One day, that's it, so you have to make the most of it. Get up early, pack up a motorcycle, take off with local friend on bikes at 6 a.m... Stopped at first checkpoint and almost got bikes confiscated for having no registration papers. Out of the city before the crazy traffic hits. Stop at one of the little side stands for some yoghurt that tastes like its turned but is apparently a delicacy here. There's this greasy fry-bread here that's the bomb though, with potatoes and leek in it.

Rode up into Panjshir valley, one of the most amazing places for so many reasons. Probably one of the very few regions of the world that can say it has never successfully been invaded by foreign occupiers. They know who's coming or going into their green green valley. And they're leaving those dilapitated, destroyed Russian tanks around so everyone knows they ain't messing around. This dude Massoud is from Panjshir and he's one of Afghanistan's biggest heroes. He led the resistance against the Soviets and the Taliban both. His image is everywhere, and is a striking resemblance to Bob Marley (they probably consumed equal daily amounts of hashish). We stopped by his tomb on the ride.

Life here is insane. It goes by so fast you barely have the time for anything except living itself. Reflecting, appreciating, bitching, writing, no time for any of these things. I'm very glad to have a camera, because it saves me typing out all those extra words. So take a look. The beauty, the sheppards, pieces of history strewn alongside the road, a picnic along a river, and kind people. There's riding motorcycles, and then there's riding motorcycles in Afghanistan.