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.


like a kaleidoscope...

"Kabul is like a kaleidoscope, always changing. People coming, people going..." - Marc (who just left for Haiti after two years here)

obligatory arrival in kabul plane photo

i live near the kabul wedding hall strip.

the frontyard at our guesthouse.

bottle burka?

extraordinary balance and skill!

I can't believe I've almost been here for a full month already. Like the various military and UN helicopters in the skies day and night, my time here in Kabul has been flying by. You'd think that working somewhere six days a week, nine hours a day would get repetitive, boring. That is certainly not the case. Every day is same same but different from the last. The NGO is work for is small and there are only so many people to take care of many, many tasks - which I actually quite like because we have so much freedom to make the school into anything that we (and the kids) want it to be.

Looking at the photos in this post, maybe you think Kabul looks like what you imagined: dusty, mountainous, traffic filled, full of goats and signs of war. But it's also much more than that - from the Las Vegas style strip of wedding halls with bright lights of all colours (as long as there's no temporary power outage!), to the modern shopping malls with any clothes, shoes or makeup you'd find in other major Asian cities. I've seen a young girl (one of our students, in fact) ride a little bicycle (a BMX!), though I'd heard so often that girls here never, ever do such a thing. Yesterday, on our day off, there was a big (wedding?) party at the house behind ours, and this constant drumbeat was accompanied by women singing, laughing, children yelling joyfully... This is not what you hear about Afghanistan. But this is it. Life, family, food, music, glittery high heels and silly mobile phone videos.

There was a bombing in Kabul this afternoon. A suicide bomber, but apparently there were no serious casualties or death except for the bomber himself. And then there was that one a couple weeks ago that killed about 60 people. But I was talking to a co-worker, an Afghan who lived in Kabul as a teenager under the Taliban, and he says that compared to those times, when you couldn't leave the house, even to get food, let alone work, when you hid in the basement and kept glued to the radio in case there was a day of ceasefire to go get some supplies... he said that "now it is like peace... compared to the Taliban times everybody lives like a king."

I wrote this earlier when I heard of the most recent bombing but was unaware on the casualty situation:

"To be here though is to still feel a significant removal from the news that hits the international papers and television sets. There have been a couple bombings since I've been here yet you become, very quickly, somewhat blase - hearing about it and moving on with daily tasks. There was a suicide bombing 15 minutes ago on Jalalabad Road, near Supreme market, which we were just talking about checking out yesterday. Simon told us the news then he came back into the room two minutes later and said he had to go, he couldn't do the classes he usually teaches on Saturdays because one of his housemates was shopping at Supreme and now they can't reach him. It's sobering to think how close to home these incidents now are for me. two degrees of separation to a potential victim. I hope that's not the case, but the fact is it so easily could be."

Simon's friend got hit by some debris and went to the hospital but is thankfully okay.

I really don't want to paint a negative picture, and I hope in the future through this blog to emphasize the positive, day-to-day existence here in Kabul. On the whole I have never had a moment where I felt scared or in danger. It would be easy to feel that, I'm sure, if you so desired, and I know people probably want to freak out and tell me I'm being naive. But I haven't felt I had any good reason to be scared yet, and for many many people, including my new friends, this country is their only home and they don't have the luxury to leave.

the next post will be about a beautiful motorcycle trip from a couple weeks ago to the panjshir valley.


from one dusty corner to the other.

girl in truck, baharaya oasis, egypt.

so i made it to kabul, afghanistan, after a hectic month of planning and getting ready while trying to have as much fun as possible travelling egypt, israel and berlin! i'm going to be volunteering here with an NGO. Since getting here sunday morning (after an overnight flight from frankfurt) i started teaching classes, which run 5 days a week, and am starting to find out more about the media/writing role i'll have while i'm here.

kabul is insane. it's dusty, filled with traffic, and built around foreign money (contractors, big NGOs). it's rained a lot since i got here which i guess is unusual, causing the streets to flood because the drainage is sketchy (as is much of the infrastructure here unfortunately). i saw an SUV that had been parked on the side of a dirt road and when the road flooded it sunk on it's side halfway covered in muddy water. all the women including foreigners wear headscarves, and many still wear those iconic blue burkas. i went into this clothing store the other day to get some long shirts and it's a kind of upscale one so they have gifts you can home as presents. one of the pieces were "bottle burkas" which are mini burkas that you can put on your bottle of wine to hide it! if i bring back any souvenir it will be that one, no doubt about it.

oh yeah, and yesterday i went on an independent afghan television network's cooking show as a guest judge... the other female international volunteer here, sophie, was too busy to make it so i agreed to it despite my aversion to being the one in front of the camera. the other judges were a female member of parliament (mariam something.... ) and local restaurant owner and pal, abbas, who drove me there and showed me the oldest streets in kabul, with cement structures still standing after a couple hundred years.

i don't have any photos yet from kabul on my computer so here are some more from the baharaya oasis in egypt (including the one of us in "explorer stance" below that i stole from erika). more to come soon....