Tag Archives: trade

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.

Days 23-24: Rocky Mountain High and Funky Chicken, 12 June 2010

1. CHICKEN STREET. I visited Chicken Street. Chicken Street is the only street in Kabul where we are allowed to walk semi-freely. It is closed to auto traffic so the chances of a car bomb are low and there are more policemen and soldiers than other streets. We went on Friday, which is the Muslim Sabbath, and it was a bit of a disappointment. There were very few people about. Instead of being like a bazaar or souk, it was a bunch of stores along one street. Not to mention that the security wasn’t all that impenetrable. What I found interesting was that there was some bargaining but not a great deal. I went into a scarf store. First of all, there was a little kid hanging out inside asking me to come visit his store across the street. I assume he was related to the owner of this store. Otherwise, he’d have gotten his as- beat. Anyhow, I asked how much for the scarves and the price was $10 apiece. I said 2 for $15 and you have a deal. The shop owner said No. I walked out the door expecting the fellow to chase me down the street like at the Khan-el-Khalili in Cairo. Nope. Didn’t even shout. I bought a few knick-knacks while I was there. Nothing special.

2. BEGGARS: There were beggars on Chicken Street. I was in East Timor last year and was amazed by the lack of beggars in Dili, the capital city, despite the abject poverty. It’s not the case here. There are plenty of beggars in Kabul — male, female, young, old, infirm, healthy.

3. RUSSIAN SHOP. We have Kyrgyz and Kazakh guys on our project. They are great guys. They frequent the “Russian Shop.” The proprietors speak Russian and peddle some paraphernalia from the Soviet occupation days. Although truth be told, they sell a lot more US and NATO t-shirt kind of stuff now. I decided to go the Russian shop. I bought a couple of T-shirts for the kids. I really didn’t bargain hard. I thought the prices were OK. So, the proprietor gave me one of those Pashtu Osama style hats. So, now I am stylin’ and profilin’. When I grow the beard back this winter, I will be sure to attract lots of FBI attention.

4. CEMETERY. I noticed a cemetery on the way up the mountain. I asked the driver if Afghans buried their dead in boxes or directly in the ground. He said both. What I found interesting was that very few graves were marked with an inscribed headstone. Most graves were marked by a plain thin stone. Something like a piece of flag stone with a triangular shape. The density of the graves was not the Prague cemetery but it was pretty close. Very dense. Picture a small plot of arid land, hundreds of pointy stones planted in dirt with a mountain of poor houses directly behind it, separated by a dirt road and a ring of garbage.

5. FOOD POISONING PLUS BROKEN BATHROOM=BAD COMBO. (NOTE: NOT GRAPHIC BUT YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO READ.) I have been shocked that since I arrived I haven’t had a cold, Osama’s revenge, jet lag, nothing. Well, our cooks made a British dinner the other night — roast, Yorkshire pudding, veggies, etc. Four of us got sick. Afterwards, several folks said it looked really bad and they didn’t eat it. Thanks for the warning, buddy. I just assume British food looks bad. (JT: You are the exception.) Compounding the issue, our bathrooms in the basement stopped working on Thursday night in time for the weekend. So, I have been hiking up to the bathroom on the roof deck. All the other bathrooms in the house are private. So, it’s not a lot of fun knocking on someone’s door at midnight and saying, “Hey, mind if I lighten my load.” Finish. And then say, “If I were you, I’d try not to go in there for the next 5-10 minutes.” There is a small public facility on the roof deck. Kabul is a mile-high city. Almost 6000 feet altitude. So, running up four flights of stairs to the roof, high altitude and a case of the trots = not a lot of fun. When I fantasized about joining the mile-high club, this wasn’t it. Maybe all the up and down the stairs to the bathroom in the altitude will improve my wind. (-;

6. JAMES BOND I’M NOT. There was a movie, I think it was a Bond movie, where someone opens a bottle of expensive wine with a long probe or needle. The sommelier just jabbed the needle in the wine bottle and pulled out the cork. I wanted to open a bottle of wine and there was no corkscrew about so I decided I would use this method. My implement: the punch on my pocket knife. I wasn’t so successful and pushed the cork halfway into the wine. So I decided to push the cork into the wine. Too bad I never took physics. Well, a geyser erupted and my pale yellow walls painted only four weeks ago were splattered permanently with red wine in a pattern Kandinsky would be proud of.

7. MUGGED IN LONDON. There’s a new Yahoo spam thing where the spammers get ahold of your Yahoo address book and send spam to all the email addresses. The email says that you have been mugged in London and you have no cash or credit cards and are in tears. It comes from your email address as opposed to Nigeria or one of the other scam locations. When Yahoo discovers the problem, they lock down your account for 24 hours. Thus, you can’t send out a general note telling everyone to disregard the spam. So, I received all kinds of emails from people including a few offers to help. When I responded, I wrote, “Ironically, I survived Kabul, Afghanistan only to be mugged in London!”

8. WORLD CUP. World Cup is a really big deal on the project. Even the Americans are international types, so they all know and love soccer. No one gives a rat’s rear about the NBA finals except the other guy from Jersey. One of our colleagues is taking her R&R in South Africa to go to the World Cup matches. Tonight is US v. UK. There are six folks from the UK on our project plus a few from the Commonwealth. Trouble’s abrewin’. USA! USA! (Most of our security guys are British and they are heavily armed. So, I will be sure to be a gracious winner if the US comes out on top.)

– The Thursday night BBQ was outstanding. One of our colleagues, for his birthday, made fantastic tandoori chicken on the grill and there was a garbage can full of Tuborg beer. Although the most interesting beverage was pomegranate wine. There were some guys from an agricultural support project. They took some of their farmers’ pomegranates and fermented their own wine. Like that old SNL sketch, you could use the wine as a pancake syrup or a disinfectant. Only bad part of the BBQ: I met some really nice guys from the US, big fans of music like Booker T. and the MGs but they were from Dallas and they were … you guessed it … Cowboys fans. Everyone has their faults.
– Bathroom update: The plumber just finished. Wahoo!
– Apologies. I forgot to take the camera. And my camera phone is horrendous.
– Thanks for the emails. Much appreciated. I haven’t responded to all of them yet but they were thoroughly enjoyed.