Archive for the ‘Reasonably balanced’ Category

A bunch of Afghans, shopping in Kabul *

Stacks of newly minted Afghanis **

This is a little thing, but worth mentioning because plenty of well-meaning people get it wrong: “Afghan” refers to the people of Afghanistan.  “Afghani” refers to the currency

This year, it will cost over 119 billion US dollars to protect 28 million Afghans.  But as I type this, it costs just a little over 600 thousand US dollars to purchase 28 million Afghanis.

Bottom line:  As I’ve mentioned before, language matters.  Especially to the Afghans.

* Photo by ET1 Peterson, US Navy

** Photo by Syed Jan Sabawoon, USAID


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Afghan children wait for donations*

An Afghan skater waits for the future**

There are a TON of great charities supporting the people of Afghanistan…I’m hopeful I’ll get many more suggestions.  But for now, these are my favorites:

Afghans4Tomorow – An organization working to rebuild Afghanistan, through health, education, and agriculture projects…such as a training program to make fuel briquettes (as an alternative to increasingly scarce wood) and the first Science Fair in Afghan history!

OLPC Afghanistan – The One Laptop Per Child vision…to create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power computer…is compelling.  The OLPC hardware and approach are less so.  But for now, OLPC seems a good way to move the children of Afghanistan into the digital age.

Pakistan Flood Relief – Pakistan is the home of Al-Qaeda, a strong Taliban movement, nuclear weapons, and now, the largest humanitarian crisis the international community has ever faced.  Much of the country remains flooded, but even when the waters recede, disease, and hunger remain…along with radical insurgents, who are only too happy to take advantage of the chaos.  Support to Pakistani children today–clean water, safe sanitation, vaccinations, protection from violence, and nutrition–will save Afghan lives in the future.  And likely, American lives as well.

Skateistan – The world’s first co-educational skateboarding school, and arguably the coolest charity in the universe.  Their video, Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul, is a great intro…you’ll understand why it earned “Best Documentary” and “Best Photography” awards at the LA Skate Film Festival last month.

Turquoise Mountain – An organization dedicated to regenerating historic urban areas in Afghanistan and renewing traditional Afghan arts and architecture.  Interestingly, it was established by Rory Stewart, Member of the British Parliament and author of my favorite book about Afghanistan, The Places In Between.

Women of Hope Project – Setting women free from poverty and oppression is a TALL order in Afghanistan, but Women of Hope is making progress.  Their embroidery project, for example, gives women the opportunity to sell their embroidered goods at Coalition bazaars throughout Kabul.  The income, though meager, means their children can attend school instead of having to work.

Bottom line:  Charitable organizations are making a difference in Afghanistan.  You can help.

* Photo by an unknown NTM-A volunteer

** Photo by Uggi Kaldan, at Reklamebilleder

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Afghan women line up to vote under Afghan National Police protection*

Workers take ballot boxes to a remote polling station in Panjshir Province **

Within hours, the polls will open for the 2010 Afghan Parliamentary elections

I supported the Afghan National Army and Police forces during the 2009 Afghan Presidential election and was relieved when the parliamentary elections (originally scheduled for May) were postponed.

So with apologies to Clint Eastwood, here’s my take on the upcoming elections…

The good:  People will vote.  It’s obvious, but we tend to forget that an election in a country like Afghanistan is a Big Deal.  Are Afghans racked by war?   Duh.  Illiterate?  Almost entirely.  Discriminatory?  Mostly…especially against women.   But despite all that, Afghans will turn out to vote tomorrow, choosing their representatives on a ballot (like this) with candidate icons and pictures.   And 405 of the 2,577 candidates will be women.

The bad:  There will be fraud.  With fake voter registration cards going for only 23 cents apiece, it might be more accurate to say there will be LOTS of fraud.  But there is some silver lining:  It shouldn’t be as bad as the 2009 Presidential elections, and both Afghans and the International Community are watching closely, so it should get better over time.

The ugly:  As Joshua Faust points out, there will be blood.  According to the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, Afghanistan has deployed 52,000 Afghan National Police and 63,000 Afghan National Army personnel across the country to provide election security.  Additionally, NATO forces stand ready to provide emergency security, medical and logistical support.  But voters are a VERY lucrative target for the insurgents, and the Taliban is both ruthless and effective…

Bottom line: For good, bad, or ugly, Afghans will choose their representatives tomorrow.  Like Rat, in Stephan Pastis’ comic Pearls Before Swine, I expect the best…

* Photo by Tyler Hicks, of the New York Times

** Photo by Shah Marai, of Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

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Luncheon at the Communication Support Unit headquarters

SSgt Jara, USAF, eats lunch with Afghan security guards in Panjshir*

Ramadan — known in Afghanistan as Ramazan — was a bummer, mostly because I’d really grown to love Afghan food.

When meeting with Afghans, we ALWAYS had chai, and usually also had a tray with tidbits like yellow raisins, dried yellow peas, almonds, pistachios, and rock candy crystals.  Often we  shared more exotic tidbits too…strange commercial candies, simyan (kind of like thin, curry-flavored chow mein noodles), laddu (honeyed balls of chick-pea flour), or almond meringue chunks.  And sometimes, we enjoyed a full-blown luncheon…shishkabobs and fresh naan, exotic soups, fruits, and vegetables, and sometimes even khabili, a traditional Afghan rice dish.

Except during Ramazan.  Most Afghans fast and refrain from drinking during daylight hours, and Coalition members go out of our way to not eat or drink around Afghans.  Which means neither chai nor fun Afghan food.

Most interesting though was talking to Afghans about the Coalition perspective on fasting.  My Afghan friends found it hilarious that we referred to ‘not eating food’ as ‘fasting’…to drink while fasting was almost inconceivable.

Bottom line:  I was embarrassed to forget that for most Afghans, not eating food during the day isn’t part of Ramazan.  It’s just a normal day…

* Photo by SGT Teddy Wade, US Army

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Kids near the airport: My final view of Kabul

My last evening in Afghanistan

I left Afghanistan late on 22 April, returning to Okinawa for a brief period, then moving to Texas and a new assignment.

My last image of Kabul was a small group of kids with big smiles…the girls were waving and the boys were giving us the “thumbs up.”  I like to think they believed things were getting better — slowly of course, but better — and appreciated our help.  But to this day, I wonder.

In Afghanistan, a “thumbs up” is notoriously hard to interpret.  Those who wish us well use it, because they’ve learned it means “excellent” in America.  But those who wish us ill use it too, because traditionally, it’s an obscene gesture.

Maybe they were just being ironic…

Bottom line:  To the kids of Afghanistan, farewell.  And fare well!

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From the posh courtyard of Headquarters ISAF...


...to a shallow pit in Helmand, this country has it all!*

A few folks have stumbled upon this blog while searching for “Poster Experience May Vary”…you may even have been one of them!

And though they found a bunch of cautiously optimistic posts (and a few snarky ones), they never found the poster they were looking for.

Until now.  Here it is, the official Afghanistan: Your Experience May Vary poster!

This poster is also available on a light background, if you prefer.  Both are protected by a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence.

Bottom line: Thanks for reading!  Hope this was the poster you were looking for!

* Photo by David Guttenfelder, from Time magazine.

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Mourning and night

Mourning and night...Memorial Day at Camp Eggers*


A Jewish chaplain speaks about 1Lt Schulte and Mr Pine**

Memorial Day will never be the same for me again.

On 20 May 2009, 1Lt Roslyn Schulte and Mr Shawn Pine were killed in an IED strike, while on convoy from Camp Eggers to Bagram Air Field.

1Lt Schulte happened to be Jewish, and by an amazing coincidence – some would say Providence – the one Jewish chaplain in all of CENTCOM arrived at Bagram Air Field the morning of the 20th as part of a tour throughout the region.  So he was there to participate in the ramp ceremony, where 1Lt Schulte and Mr Pine were slowly and formally loaded onto an aircraft for their final trip home.

And he was at Camp Eggers five days later, on Memorial Day.  1Lt Schulte and Mr Pine worked with the Afghan National Army as advisers, so scores of Afghan officers attended the ceremony.  Like me, they heard a Jewish chaplain’s prayer in Hebrew, followed by a Muslim general’s eulogy in Dari.

Bottom line:  At Camp Eggers last Memorial Day, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all wept together.

* Photo by Stephon M. Sterns.

** CSTC-A photo.

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