Days 8-9 – Weekend #2, 30 May 2010

1. CHARIKAR. I was supposed to travel about 40 miles outside of Kabul to Charikar to a food processing facility. I was a little nervous about traveling outside of Kabul. I was asked to travel outside of Kabul earlier in the week. I was relieved I had another commitment. As I pondered the second invitation, I realized that to be effective I need see things other than Kabul and I couldn’t be a wuss. Our security would not let me go if it was not safe. Besides, my colleagues travel all over Afghanistan — except to places that are Taliban strongholds or war zones. Many other places are often safer than Kabul. So, I said Yes. Little did I know that the requirement for me to attend this visit was a driver and and a security man in an armored SUV with me plus two “shooters” in an accompanying SUV. Just standard policy.  All I needed to go was some decent information about time, place, people attending, etc. My contacts basically said, “Drive on up. We’ll meet you there. Call us on the mobile when you leave.” That stuff doesn’t fly so I didn’t get to travel. On one hand, it makes me feel good that they do everything they can for my safety. On the other hand, the fact that they feel such an inordinate amount of manpower, expense, time and planning for a short visit is amazing.

2. PEACE JIRGA. We will lose three days this week to President Karzai’s peace jirga. This is a period of national reconciliation. A large council or assembly will convene to settle disputes. It is a Pashtun custom. The jirga is not a specific negotiation with the Taliban or insurgents but all citizens of all viewpoints are invited to participate. During the jirga, we will likely be confined to compound.

3. NEWS. This weekend, we learned that the 1000th US soldier died in Afghanistan and there were “lapses” that caused Afghan civilian deaths in February. We came here in 2001 and the lack of progress on all fronts in nine years is frightening. It’s time to think about a different way of doing things.

4. SMALL WORLD. A friend of my brother-in-law is an Afghan-American living in NJ with business interests in Afghanistan. We had breakfast this weekend in Kabul. He lives in Montville, NJ and takes his kids on summer Sundays to the ice cream shop in the town where we live (Denville). It’s a small world. When I first started doing this type of consulting, I had commented to a friend that is was sad to make close friends and not see them again. He replied that in this business you will see them again down the road. Today, a colleague who I worked with in Ukraine five years ago walked in the door of our compound. Since I saw him last, he has two more kids and 30% less hair but he’s a familiar face.

5. GANDAMAK. I went to my first restaurant in Kabul, the Gandamak Lodge. It is an old hunting lodge with antique rifles on display that the Brits frequent. Its most charming feature is they have a “plaque of shame” for people who haven’t paid their bills. I clearly have not been here long. When I returned to the compound and said I wasn’t particularly impressed by the Gandamak other than having a nice courtyard and good coffee, my colleagues basically thought I was a “fussy britches” looking for five-stars. When I said that all I was interested in was a clean table and decent service, they basically responded, “That’s about as good as it gets, FNG.”

– You know how people say, “I used to be pretty good at …” You can fill in tennis, golf, poker, dancing, etc. Well, I was never good at pool and I still stink at pool. I have been playing more ping-pong.
– I bought a bogus copy of Rosetta Stone French for $10 figuring this would be the perfect opportunity to study French in my spare time. And then I realized if this bogus CD/DVD trashes my PC, I am screwed. So, no French study.
– Watched the Incredible Hulk movie with Edward Norton. Thumbs down. Very funny how they don’t censor the foul language on the soundtrack but censor the closed captioning. So, someone says, “Bullsh–!” and the closed captioning reads “Bullcrap!” Lots of Bollywood channels on the satellite feed here.
– 25% done. Woo-hoo.

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