Tag Archives: trade

Attending New York City Business Events?

If you are attending any of the following events in New York City,

  • Moldovan Chamber of Commerce meeting on February 23rd.
  • United Nations University entrepreneurship and development seminar on February 24th.
  • Wine Expo on February 25th.

Please contact me.

Excellent Article on Economic Diversification from Booz’s Business Strategy Magazine

This article in Strategy + Business makes the case that the economies which are sufficiently diversified will have a quicker recovery from the economic crisis.

About the Thoughts from Kabul, Afghanistan Posts

I was in Kabul, Afghanistan from May 20, 2010 to July 2, 2010. My reason for being in Kabul was a consulting assignment to create a plan increase exports by capitalizing on regional free trade agreements and to develop an international marketing concept for a fruit and vegetable processing company that could be used as a template by the Export Promotion Agency.

While I was in Kabul, I sent home periodic emails describing my work, living in a compound and observations about life in Afghanistan. The blog is an edited version of the emails. My purpose is to inform and entertain not to criticize or offend.


Day 44 – Sami’s Story and Kunduz, 2 July 2010

Not much learned from real interaction with Afghans. Just some more stories and observations. The latest …

SAMI’S STORY. Sami is our head driver. Good guy. He has worked on a number of these projects. Some of the projects in very dangerous places. He is the oldest child and bears the responsibility of supporting the family. His youngest brother is very bright. The kid graduated school and applied to be a flight attendant with Ariana Afghan Airlines. The brother was valedictorian at his school and tested so well that the airline invited him to pilot school. So, the kid is going to India to study to be a pilot. Sami sends his brother money every month to make sure this happens. Sami’s dad is my age. Sami said his father was a high-level bodyguard for important government officials, a real tough guy. Sami and his Dad bought a car together. When the Dad went to get the car, it was a hot day. He was offered some juice. He drank the juice but it was spiked. The guys who offered the juice took the car. They left Sami’s father on a pile of trash in the sun for six hours. Someone called Sami and he took a taxi to his father’s location and rushed him to the hospital. Sami’s father went into a coma for 10 hours and he was in the hospital for awhile. Sami says his father’s mind still hasn’t returned to normalcy. The father works periodically as a taxi driver and has the white hair and beard of a man of seventy. Now, Sami takes care of everyone. They still haven’t found the car.

WATER TRUCK. My last trip up the mountain coincided with my first sighting of the water truck. Since there is no running water on the mountain, they do truck up water. Kids come running with water jugs like American kids go running to the ice cream truck. The truck also sprays a jet of water on the ground to wet down the dust. It seems kind of crazy because the mountain is one giant dustball and there is one wet strip about eighteen inches wide along the side of the road. Nonetheless, the kids love it because they run in the water jet like city kids in a fire hydrant.

DONE. That’s it. I hope you enjoyed these emails.  Assuming my plane doesn’t crash and I don’t get killed on the Garden State Parkway, I survived. So, if you know of a software, professional services or consulting company that is looking for a VP/Director of International Business Development/Strategy or International Public Affairs/Government Relations, let me know. I am available.

BTW, I am in Dubai and on my way home now. Departing from Kabul was a trip. Three body searches before I entered the terminal. The body search in the terminal was pretty thorough. Everything except a direct “package grab”. There was a double back pocket squeeze. I gave the security officer my number and said I might be back.

Mike17 aka Barry

WORK. Work went reasonably well.

WAS IT ENJOYABLE? No, but it was better than I expected. Frankly, I had some three-week stays in other places that seemed longer. I would classify it as “tolerable” or “not unpleasant.”

HARDEST PART. The hardest part was the confinement. I forgot my wallet in my room one day. And I had to wait for a driver to go the 3 blocks back to the house to pick it up. There was a nice shop about 40 yards from the office. If you wanted to visit, you needed a ride. There were a number of days where I just wanted to take a walk before or after dinner but couldn’t.

REGRETS. 1.) My trip to Charikar was cancelled. So I didn’t get outside of Kabul. To get the true measure of a country, you need to get away from the capital.

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? Maybe. It’s not my decision alone. I definitely don’t want to come back for six weeks again. At no time did I feel unsafe. Of course, that’s because of the security bubble.

THANKS. Thanks for reading. Thanks for writing back. Hope you enjoyed. OUT! (MKA: A little Rome-y for you. BTW, I hope you’re doing OK with the Larry King departure.)

Days 35-36 – 48 Reasons to Spend Your Birthday in Afghanistan, 26 June 2010

Today I turned 48 years old. To mark my birthday, my email is 48 reasons to spend your birthday in Afghanistan. So, a reason to spend your birthday in Afghanistan is to:

48. Understand how people can use religion to try to subjugate the most basic human values.

47. Visit the first country alphabetically. Now, all I need to do is visit Zimbabwe and I will have gone A-to-Z.

46. Learn racism and subtle racism is everywhere after watching dozens of TV commercials for skin lighteners on Afghan, Indian and Pakistani TV.

45. Realize if you’ve had Montezuma’s revenge, Pharaoh’s revenge and Ceausescu’s revenge, there is no sense missing out on Osama’s revenge. (The corollary is: Appreciate modern plumbing.)

43. Gain undeserved respect and sympathy when you return home and say, “I just got back from Afghanistan.” (Side story: I had a friend who managed to get a baseball cap from the USS Cole, the ship that was bombed in Yemen. He never served on the Cole but he wore the cap and spoke of watching his buddies die during the aftermath of the bombing at local watering holes in the hopes of gaining sympathy “liaisons” from young ladies. I was single once but that might be beyond the pale.)

41. Be amazed at the beauty of language. I don’t understand a word of Dari (similar to Farsi) yet enjoy hearing it.

40. Chuckle when I realize that all the Nestle ice cream vendor cart umbrellas are from Israel including the Hebrew inscription of G’lida (ice cream).

39.-11. Hope your family and friends realize that you wouldn’t really bore them with 48 reasons.

10. Continue to be perplexed how people live by rules that they don’t really believe in.

9. Be glad that you’re not spending your 50th birthday in Afghanistan.

7. Gain satisfaction in finding common ground with people with whom you have nothing in common — whether it’s explaining how a sales letter works or talking about the World Cup.

6. Refresh your cocktail party stories.

5. Receive text messages like: “Update: 12:00 PM. Ref. explosion, no casualties reported (all staff accounted for), remember MoFA road is off-limits for movement.” (That is a text message I received today. There was an explosion near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building. None of us work there.)

4. Earn a living. Work is work.

3. Have the opportunity to send your family and friends self-indulgent but highly therapeutic emails in which you can share your  experience, political opinions, cultural observations and insane ramblings … and hope that they will still speak to you when you return.

2. Try to have a positive impact that will improve someone’s life.

1. Remind yourself why you married your wife and had your kids.
P.S. USA! USA! Tonight’s the big World Cup match with Ghana..

Days 33-34 – “We live to survive”, 24 June 2010

WE LIVE TO SURVIVE. I was having a conversation with an Afghan colleague, admittedly a bit melodramatic, who nonetheless gave an elegant elegy to life in Afghanistan. He said we don’t live for joy. We live to survive. His portrayal was that Afghanistan was the most dismal place in the world. Even the worst places in Europe and the US were better than Afghanistan. He mentioned there were five main pursuits or objectives in life: health, clothes/shelter, food, education and joy. He said we cannot pursue joy because the other objectives are a constant struggle. He turned his attention to the religious extremists and noted that most suicide bombers were not ideologues but desperate people. The fellow mentioned that the religious extremists were crushing the capacity to have joy. His example was that in his stressful life and struggle, a very normal thing would be to take a walk in the park or travel somewhere with a woman. Men and women spending time together is not a religious value but a human value that is denied to Afghans. When I asked how does Afghanistan solve this, surely there are other people that think like him, he said people are too scared because they worry about their livelihoods. He said if he didn’t work for one month that his family would starve. Until people are not worried about basic survival, changes won’t occur.

THE NEXT GENERATION ISN’T ALWAYS WILDER. I was speaking with an Afghan-German woman who is working for the German Government here in Kabul. She mentioned that she would be going to a cousin’s wedding. She said that she was looking at pictures of her uncle and aunt’s wedding (the cousin’s parents) and it was a big blowout party in Kabul with women in miniskirts, big hair, music, fun, etc. Her cousin’s wedding required separate receptions for the men and women, religiously compliant clothing, etc. We talked about the men and women being separate and I relayed the remarks of the fellow who said that it was a human value for a man and a woman to take a walk in the park. She said that a married couple could take a walk in the park but they don’t. Police are around to harass any unmarried young lovers and essentially, the parks are occupied by men only. There is a women’s park. She said there are also very few Afghan women in restaurants also.

– Awesome end to the US World Cup match. USA! USA!
– Flu bug spreading through the house. I caught it yesterday. Bummer. I had been really healthy.
– Lots of work to do. Time to get to it.

Days 29-32 – Sequels and Nights on the Town, 22 June 2010

10 days to go!

SUICIDE BOMBERS 2. Someone was telling me a story of when contractors were allowed more freedom in Afghanistan a few years ago. She was in a crowded marketplace. This woman and a friend noticed a woman shopping next to them. She seemed to be near them an inordinately long amount of time. All of a sudden, she was gone. She was a suicide bomber and blew herself up near a couple of foreign soldiers. She said in all likelihood that she and her friend were being sized up as targets but the soldiers were higher value targets. She said she was immediately evacuated and didn’t know if anything happened to the soldiers.

RENAISSANCE MAN. Our night driver is a college student and a part-time actor. He was recently in a movie about suicide bombers. We asked him if his character was a good guy or a bad guy. He said he was a bad guy. He also remarked that the movie was supposed to be fictitious. After the filming, some events came to pass that were almost identical to the plot of the movie. So, reality imitated art. When we asked how we could get a copy of the film, he didn’t know. He said that the movie would be released in the US not in Afghanistan.

LUNCH IN THE DUDE RANCH 2. In an earlier note, I mentioned that I had lunch at a government agency office and everyone was silent for 5-7 minutes. I went down to the conference room, where only the men eat, a second time for lunch. This time, I was less of a surprise and I arrived in the middle of lunch. All the laughing and talking continued. I sat next to a fellow who spoke English and we chatted a bit. The dish was like a caponata/tomato, eggplant, okra thing over rice. The group even tried to joke with me. Apparently, the Dari translation of okra is “lady finger” but since we were all guys, they joked maybe it should be “gent finger.”

ITALY, UK AND MEXICO IN ONE AFGHAN WEEKEND – ITALY. Even though there is a list of nine approved restaurants, I have been out very little. This weekend, I went out Friday and Saturday night. Friday night, I went to Boccaccio. It was down a non-descript street in Kabul but there were lots of trucks and SUVs with armed guards parked in front. They were the security details for all the Westerners. You walk in through a gate in thick cement walls. You are greeted by an armed guard where you asked to pass through a metal detector and your bags are searched. You then walk through a short hallway with armed guards until you approach the restaurant door. Once you walk inside the restaurant, it looks quite normal. Nice even. It was all foreigners. I noticed that there were uncovered women as waitresses. They were Russians and Ukrainians. There was tuna filet on the menu. It would have been frozen but I didn’t care. When the fish arrived, it was tilapia not tuna. But it was a fish, it began with a T and it tasted OK so I was fine with it.

UK. The next night we decided to take the other Jersey guy out on the town for his last night in Kabul. We went to dinner at the Gandamak Lodge which is a British style hunting lodge with antique rifles on the wall. The best part of the Gandamak is they have tables outside in a pleasant garden where they serve alcohol. Technically, alcohol is illegal in Afghanistan. Period. (“Full stop” for my European friends.) But the Government turns a blind eye to certain establishments that cater to foreigners. They are not allowed to serve any alcohol to Afghans. I assume they pay a ton of money in both fees and bribes. We ordered a $35 bottle of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo that was a $6.99 bottle back in the States. It wasn’t bad. I had a steak au poivre (pepper steak) that wasn’t shoe leather and I didn’t get sick. So I was pretty happy.

MEXICO. After the Gandamak, we headed to an expat bar called La Cantina. It is technically a restaurant but most people don’t go there to eat. It looks likes a poor man’s versions of Chevy’s or Jose Tejas. But not bad. It is also behind a maze of security. It was quite amazing to be there. It was the first place I have been in Kabul where I could have been in the US. (I didn’t check out the restroom.) The crowd was all foreigners, mostly Americans and Brits of all different ethnicities, colors, shapes and creeds but some people from other donor countries too, having a good time. The women wore casual clothing. (Tank tops and jeans – a big no-no out on the street.)  I assume they uncovered when they arrived. There was a live band of British folks playing popular cover tunes. The place is owned by a Canadian fellow. A can of beer was $7. A double gin and tonic was $13. Now, that’s not so much compared to New York City hotspots but when you think where you are, it seems expensive. However, the laws of supply and demand hold true. There aren’t a lot of places to go out in Kabul and have a drink and a good time. Also, there are a lot of single people making a great deal of disposable income so they spend the money and enjoy themselves. I bought the first round and then one of our compatriots got sloppy drunk and was unable to pay/figure out his bar tab. The driver was waiting and we were approaching curfew so I threw in an extra $20. It was $60 for 3 beers. But it was a fun evening.

– Enjoying the World Cup. Everyone is into it. We need a US win over Algeria to move on.
– We have a dog on the compound named Dutch whose two favorite activities seem to be terrorizing Afghan house staff and taking a dump on the basement floor between my room and my floormate’s room. He never craps near our rooms. He likes us and knows us. We have three empty rooms between us. Maybe he is marking the territory of the vacant space between us.
– Today (Monday) is the kids’ last day of school.
– My incredibly wonderful family provided me a manila envelope with a Father’s Day gift to open on Father’s Day.
– Sorry I missed the family get-togethers this past weekend. I was thinking of everyone.
– Once again, I didn’t intend to leave anyone off the list. If someone wants to receive these emails, please have him/her let me know.

Days 21-22: Halfway Home and Quick Hits, 10 June 2010

Just a few quick hits before the weekend. I am looking forward to the BBQ tonite and maybe a night out over the weekend.

The big news is that I am halfway done. I am looking forward to seeing Debbie and the kids in a few weeks.

Other quick hits: I’ll preface this one by saying that I’ve seen people pray in the streets during the Muslim call to prayer but not in our office. Yesterday, the officemate who is mourning his brother returned to work. A group of six people gathered around a table and prayed together. The nice young fellow who gave me the apple led the prayer. The mourning fellow made some comments after the prayer.  I had lots of questions but it was a somber occasion so I just watched silently.

I had mantuh yesterday for lunch. All my Afghan colleagues were excited. It’s kind of like food Mom used to make. It was a dumpling not unlike a ravioli but closer to a kreplach.

If you feel like writing, please feel free. Mundane ramblings from NJ, MD, Bucharest or parts unknown are interesting to me.

More in a few days.

Days 27-28 – Much Ado About Nothing, 17 June 2010

Howdy. Two weeks to go. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The emails will probably be coming less frequently. I am in report writing phase which means that I will be in front of the PC instead of out and about. Not to mention stressed to meet deadlines.

1. THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME. I’ve encountered an Afghan gentleman here in his 70s with perfect English. When we asked him how his English was so good, he responded, “University of Michigan, Class of ’58.” He has a house in Mission Viejo, California. Yet he spends his time here. I can’t even contemplate it. But it’s home to him. I remember traveling to Belfast to check out a business opportunity. (Glad, I didn’t do it. The company went belly-up less than a year later.) I met an energetic, young man in his mid-20s. He told me he had a great job in the US with one of the automotive manufacturers. He was working in a much less responsible, lower paying job in Belfast. When I asked him why he returned to Belfast, he looked up with an expression that was 25% a look of resignation and 75% a wink and a smile, and he said, “Home is home.”

2. THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION. (SWW: Mr. Mojo Risin’). One of the interesting customs here is that everyone closes their office door but anyone who wants to enter knocks on the door and walks right in. They don’t wait for a response. What’s the point of knocking? I guess you have three seconds to stop whatever you were doing. A warning shot. I have had many meetings where I arrive at an office and an assistant knocks on the door of my appointment and escorts me right in to whatever previous meeting may be happening. There could be four people talking. I sit there for awhile. When they finish, we start. Eventually, someone will walk in on me and wait until I am finished. Kind of like being at the deli counter.

4. CASTLING. Apparently, there’s this show on ABC called Castle. It’s about a murder mystery writer (man) who tags along with an attractive female homicide detective. I never heard of it. I have no idea what’s on TV these days. Anyway, this show is somewhere between Remington Steele (better than) and Moonlighting (worse than). They show it on Star TV here and I find myself looking forward to it. I am worried if I stay here much longer that my brain will turn to mush and I will start watching Glee, The Hills, Ugly Betty and all this other stuff that I’ve never watched. By the way, speaking of castling, a few of the guys play chess. I am not very good but I played once. I left my bishop exposed and one of the guys kept calling me Kasparov because he couldn’t see the trap I had laid for him. What he didn’t realize was that I had no idea my bishop was exposed, there was no trap, and I was simply an idiot.

5. US EMBASSY. I visited the US Embassy here today. The entry to the Embassy was a maze of concrete barriers, checkpoints, blast walls and armed guards. It was OK once you were on the Embassy grounds. But entering the compound is really depressing.

– It will probably get worse here before it gets better. Violence is escalating in some parts of the country. I still feel quite safe here.
– I must say Afghan apples are good. The cherries too.
– The marketing concept I prepared for the fruit and vegetable company that my clients asked me to prepare even though it wasn’t really in my scope of work was very well-received. Even if our project is not supposed to help individual companies, I am glad I did it. With the morass of politics and bureaucracy here, I can leave knowing that I helped a real business that is hiring people to work real jobs.
– Debbie is a working gal. Over a week at the job.
– Kids are starting flag rugby season and school is almost over.
– It’s not unique to Afghanistan but they use tissues at mealtime here instead of paper napkins. My kingdom for a Marcal 2-ply dinner napkin!

Days 25-26: Errata, 15 June 2010

Not much to report.


* You may have read that 90 girls in Afghan schools were hospitalized because extremists poisoned them with gasoline. The girls were ages 9-14. I get that people have different beliefs that I may not understand nor have the cultural capacity to understand. But if your tactics are poisoning children, then you are the lowest pieces of excrement.
* I brought my 3 worst suits here thinking that I would just leave them here. The combination of aged materials and rough conditions has caused me to tear one jacket from one suit and the pants from a different suit. So, now I am sporting the suit jacket with the khaki pants and mismatched suits. It’s a good look for me. I am now a fashion trendsetter.
* Lots of report writing ahead.