Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

Afghans on top

July 20, 2009

Afghan climbers have reached the top of Noshaq. They are the first Afghan’s to stand atop the country’s highest mountain, at 7,492 meters.

Hip hip, hooray!

That’s rather high, and I’m bloody impressed.


Rocket induced hole

July 16, 2009

It’s caption competition time. The writer of the best caption gets a bit of shrapnel engraved with one of rud’s finest bon mots.


To give a bit more detail; this is why it is generally a bad idea to build a health post, school, veterinary clinic or anything else within a hundred meters of a police station. Rockets do not seem to be very accurate.

Often times, when looking for a bit of land, the government will offer something close to one of their buildings saying ‘oh yes, it will be very safe here.’ Yeah right, you just want to shine in our reflected glory. Or the military will see what a nice job we’ve done with the place and want to move in next door.

On the sign outside another of our buildings, also close to a police camp, someone had added ‘Re’ where it read ‘Constructed by…’, so many times had it been damaged in the cross fire and repaired.

The politics of lunch

July 14, 2009

A chap got fired from IRD for complaining about the separation of Afghans’ and expats’ eating arrangements. Culinary apartheid.

In many INGOs I know the expats eat separately from the national staff in Kabul. In my last outfit, we ate together, apart from some expats who preferred to go to a café for lunch or bring in their own from home.

My current gig operates a two-tier system. The expats tend to eat separately, outside the office at home, and pay more for the privilege of marginally better fare.

The food in the office is certainly a sore point, not for who eats it but the quality. Far as I’m concerned it’s not bad – have certainly eaten far worse – but it’s still not good enough for some and is probably the most hotly debated topic at work. The cook nearly caused a mutiny at one stage.

As I’m one of the few who has my team with me in Kabul, I tend to eat with them in the office. But once a week I enjoy leaving them to it and hanging out with my foreign colleagues.

Afghan staff are not invited. Which obviously isn’t fair or nice. But it is nice to have the opportunity to discuss some issues we wouldn’t otherwise, over a cup of expensive coffee.

It would be a different story if we ate separately within the same office, but going home makes the division feel somehow less acute. I’m conscious of the inequity and not always easy with it, but I wouldn’t change it.

What I cannot accept is not being allowed to attend the 14th July celebrations at the embassy with my foreign colleagues simply because of my nationality. Bloody French connards.

Band-e Amir photos

July 7, 2009

A few pics from my recent trip to Band-e Amir.

first sight of band e amir

band e amir

band e panir

I swam in that lake at the back there, Band-e Panir, a lake of cheese. And got a round of applause from the Afghan guys nearby for diving in. Oh yeah.

band e amir 5

band e amir 4


It’s with photos I often find my vague attempt at being anonymous most annoying, as I can’t show you the really cool ones of us pottering about in a pink peddello.

Afghanistan: my part in its downfall*

July 5, 2009

It’s been two years to the day since I first arrived in Kabul. As part of my anniversary celebrations I’ve been dwelling on the impact I’ve had on this country (egotistical of me I know, but then blogging seems to do that to me). Here are ten random things I’ve done to change the world around me:

1.Living in a house modest by many expat standards but that has still helped lead to a huge rise in house prices in Kabul, benefiting a few but forcing out many more from affordable housing in their own city.

2.Tempting qualified Afghans out of service to their own government with hugely better pay at an INGO

3.Failing to build the capacity of those people, in a position that will be filled by another expat rather than someone I have trained to replace me.

4.Failing to even have the common decency of learning the local languages, and having only the scantiest knowledge of a country on which I am experimenting with ill-informed development projects.

5.Taking a large cut of the budget of those development projects as my salary, most of which I will take home with me.

6.Treating my life as more valuable than those of my staff

7.Drinking in an Islamic country and generally being a bad influence as well as an example of the debauchery and gross-oppulance of the West. Not good for long-term cross-cultural understading that one.

8.Flying about too much and demanding electricity from the generators and generally contributing to a lot of carbon emissions in a country that will probably be devastated by climate change.

9.Eating scarce food when others around me starved

10.Bitching about all and sundry, how various policies will lead to the downfall of this country, but doing nothing to suggest better alternatives.

*With an affectionate nod to Spike Milligan for the title.

Eastern summer nights

July 3, 2009

sky at night

The view from my bed in Kunar. Taken with a crap camera. Imagine a sky alight with stars.

Am in the east, where it’s hot. Too hot to sleep inside without electricity, so the beds have been moved out into the garden.

As dusk faded through the trees up in Asad Abad, the serenade of a nightingale was replaced by the buzzing of insects and the loud wash of the river. A rather magical, slightly hallucinogenic night, drifting in and out of sleep as helicopters occasionally thundered low overhead through the warm, heavy air.

Now back in Jalalabad, sleeping out on the roof. The moon shimmering through the mosquito net as it billows in the wind, a stately four-poster sailing bed.

Or maybe I’ve got sunstroke.


June 29, 2009

I’ve just had a little holiday in Bamyan, where I tasted the tears of a dragon and swam in a lake of cheese. It was bloody fantastic, but more of that anon. Having stepped off a plane yesterday I’ve got another one to catch today. I’ve been stagnating in Kabul for too long so it’s good to be on the move again. Should be back online this week somewhen.


June 22, 2009

A jerib is the most common unit for measuring land in Afghanistan. One jerib is 2000m², or 1/5th of a hectare. Which sounds simple enough. Of course, it isn’t.

Ask a farmer in Ghor, as one example, how much land they farm, and the answer will probably be along the lines of eight man. Ask a farmer in Behsud the same question and you may be told four seer. Both these farmers would be farming, in theory, one jerib.

A seer is usually a unit of weight. One seer equals 4kg. Or 7kg. Or perhaps somewhere in between 4 and 7 kg. It depends which part of the country you are in. A man is also a unit of weight. This also varies on which part of the country you are in. 7kg in Kabul, for example, 4kg in Herat and 14kg in Balkh.

I thought I would try to ham things up a bit and make this all seem as complicated as possible in a desperate bid to garner sympathy but heck, I really don’t need to bother.

Both seer and man may also be used as units of area. When a farmer in Behsud says he is farming four seer of land, what he means is the area of land he farms is the equivalent of four seer’s worth of seed sown. This should equal one jerib. But, maybe it doesn’t. The area of land one bag of seed may cover depends on the land being farmed. The land may be your standard four seer per jerib kind of land, or it may be five seer per jerib land.

If instead of planting wheat seed the farmer is planting potatoes, the unit of weight to a given area will, I think, be very different again.

In Ghor, we’d be talking about man per jerib. In theory, we have eight man per jerib. Trying to pin this thing down there one time and cross checking with various people, I got so many different formulas of x number of man per jerib I gave up all hope of ever getting reliable survey data on harvests and yields and decided I may as well just make the numbers up back in the comfort of Kabul. With no reliable conversion between units my carefully designed study, beautiful database and pain-staking analysis may have been as good as nought (or would have been if I hadn’t added an extra six page questionnaire to the original one and combined it with analysis of satellite images just to figure it out).

Maybe not quite, but remember this next time you read the results of a survey of wheat or opium yields carried out across several different provinces. Conversions aren’t easy. Lies, damned lies, statistics and statistics in Afghanistan.

By the way, I’m writing this from memory so anyone after the facts would do well to double-check.

Rambling return

June 15, 2009

So I’m back in Kabul. Rest and Relaxation (or is it Recreation?) was both, and much needed.

Actually I’ve been back for a while but trying to write here feels too much like a chore at the moment, and not worth forcing. Other things to be getting on with, but one event worth mentioning.

There was a US air strike in Ghor last week. It missed its intended target and killed a few civilians so nothing unusual, apart from the fact that it happened in Ghor – a favourite haunt of mine in the past and a province usually devoid of such excitement. I was almost proud seeing the province highlighted on international t.v. for the first time.

The intended target seems to have been Mullah Mustafa, a chap who has occasionally, obliquely, featured on these pages. He has been described as a Taliban commander on some news outlets but to me is known as a local warlord in Sharak district who’s just a pain in the arse for screwing up a couple of my plans before now. So reading the first lines of a report saying he was dead, I cringe to say it, I was almost pleased.

A few lines further down though and he was reported as phoning someone up an hour later to say he was still very much alive, though several of his family members were not.

There have been a couple of other incidents in Ghor the last week that haven’t made the news but don’t make for cheerful reading, especially as I want to get out there before too long. What has been in the news is that there have been more Taliban attacks in the last two weeks than at any time since 2001, which ain’t great news either.

Kabul though remains remarkably calm. So much so that there was even an article in the latest Afghan Scene magazine commenting on the fact and comparing the sunny situation now to the dark days of last autumn. From such an august publication it must be true. They’ve even re-introduced the ‘Be Scene’ section: pictures of drunken expats gurning at the camera at all the hottest parties, previously discontinued due to a lack of parties and reluctance of Kabul’s beautiful people (I’ve never been in it. Can you tell from my bitter sarcasm?) to be publicised for fear of the Taliban using it to draw up an illustrated hit list.

The level of security in Kabul has certainly been notched up in recent months. I was stopped at police checkpoints twice just on the way back from the airport to my house. Which reminds me of the conversation I had with my driver on the way to the airport: “Check, check, check! So many checks!” I complained as we were stopped and searched for the third time. “Yes. Check, check, check, BOOM!” That had me laughing all the way to the Ariana plane, the sight of which quickly put a stop to my giggles.

airplanes in chagcharan

Enough rain already

May 14, 2009

I glanced at the reports about the damage done by flooding in the last few weeks (41 killed, hundreds of homes and thousands of acres of land destroyed ), but none of it was in ‘my’ areas so I didn’t really need to worry.

Flood map

After last year’s drought, I was welcoming the weather systems that have been sweeping over the country, dropping more rain than usual across the north and central highlands and giving us some short but sharp thunderstorms in Kabul. It was beginning to get a bit boring, but I told myself it was for the best.

But no. It’s gone too far this time.

Floods have hit a corner of one of ‘my’ provinces. Nobody killed but from the reports we’ve had so far, over a hundred jeribs of farm land destroyed and some 100 houses, plus roads wiped out and animals killed. Piddling compared to other disasters, but try telling that to the folks up to their arses in mud. Some people have lost every little thing they had, with nothing left for them and their families to live on and no hope of a harvest this year.

We’re doing what we can in response, though the roads are so bad getting enough food aid there is no easy task. Then there’s Mullah Troll-Under-the-Bridge, ‘taxing’ trucks that pass by. And the one small plane in the whole country that can reach the area is still being repaired after it crashed the last time it tried to land there. The usual fun and games.