Greetings from Kabul

Mai's 2005-06 trip to Afghanistan to do a mental health study.

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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Greetings from the Road

Greetings from the Road:
Hi folks...this blog server has been "down" for three days :-{ but the posts may show up in your box all in a string at any time now. Cheers, Mai

Sunday, January 22, 2006

forget Jet-lag...

I've got Century-lag. I feel as though I've been time-traveling from the 15th century (a few weeks ago in the villages) to the 21st Century here in the land of skyscrapers as far as the eye can see...and soon to the terminally-hip San Francisco. I have this odd feeling that in a few weeks it (Kabul) will feel like a dream..."Afghanistan, the movie"...I fell into and managed to wander out of at some point...but that the heart-connect will fade in significance... not sure about that though - as it feels like the women I met have left an indelible shadow on my heart. ("We'll see" as my friend D. says).

I will be signing off now on the "Greetings from Kabul" blog - with many thanks to you all for listening. Love, Mai

P.S. Kira here, she left Hong Kong at 7:45 am this morning (my time) and I will pick her up on her arrival to SFO at 7:40 pm on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2006. (Tonight!)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Kudos are in order...

As this blog draws to a close in the next 48 hours, I feel compelled to make a confession: I, tech-nummy, am eternally grateful to the WebWizard Genie behind the curtain...none other than my own sweet gifted blogmaster, my daughter Kira, who has received my emails each day with content only and attached photos and through the magic of her websavvy has turned them into the blog you've been faithfully reading for the past 3 months. Thankyouthankyouthankyou, Kira. (and runner-upto my tech-savvy sister Gina who took over for Kira while she was in Mexico straightening out the Lunamar disaster - thanx, Gina)..wheww, now I feel better. Wouldn't want to perpetuate the myth that I could have done this alone.

In 8 hours I will be checking in at the Cathay-Pacific counter for the long night of the living dead getting home...about 24 hours :-{ to quote the G.D.: "What a long strange trip it's been..." and thanks to you all for being right there beside me thorough the blog (what a great invention blogs are, it has to be said). Love, M

Friday, January 20, 2006

Serendipity...

Left my hotel this morning to discover it was "Day of Prayers" (Fri.)..all shops and services closed. I ducked into an Ethiopian beauty salon (amazingly open) and spent a delightful few hours with the owner and her daughter and daughter-in-law getting a fluff and buff (much needed after 3 months in Kabul, trust me) and sharing stories of life in Ethiopia vs. Dubai and of Kabul. They told me about the problem of "human trafficking" from Ethiopia right here in Dubai (who knew..please read Campaign to Stop Human Trafficking to Dubai). They are kept on permanent "guest worker" status here unless they become jobless, at which point they will be deported. They invited me to join them for lunch at their friend's Ethiopian cafe. The prospect of a boring day serendipitously turned quite interesting and enjoyable.

File this under "how pathetic": walking to my hotel after dinner last night I was followed by a young Thai boy who asked me if I wanted to enjoy a "Thai Massage"...(thanks but no thanks). Only in Dubai sighting: In the food court at the Mall, a mens prayer room and women's prayer room (presumably one can conveniently beg Allah's forgiveness for eating that Big Mac with fries? or for having that Thai massage?)

Is it tomorrow night yet? Can't wait to be winging my way home...not that the good ol' US doesn't have its own evils...but it's the devil I know... Love, M

Thursday, January 19, 2006

I feel lost...

In a strange land where no one knows my name. It has to be said I miss Kabul already...it was so down-and-dirty real it forced you to reevaluate everything.

My first clue this wasn't Bev Hills?...sitting in a cafe drinking an Arabian coffee and hearing about 11 different languages around me. This is the hub and axis of Big Oil Money...sheiks with white robes/black headband stroll the well-manicured avenues..their trophy brides in tow, carrying multiple shopping bags and spending barges of money. (Forget "privilege shock"...more like "sticker shock"...everything is monstrously pricey - esp. after Kabul!)...but I didn't come here to shop so that's fine with me.

Oh! I thought I had escaped the 5am "call to Prayers" but no, just the tinny low-tech version in Kabul which one can learn to sleep through. Here in Dubai it is more like a clear, loud melifluous sonic prayer boom reaching every corner and cubby of the city....unbelievable.

I'm going out for a civilized dinner in a nice reataurant this evening... See you soon, Love, M

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Greetings from Beverly Hills (on the Red Sea)...


Heaven: taking a hot bath in a room where you can't see your breath. AAHH, warmth,a divine thing. My popsicle toes have almost thawed out and my room is a splendid oasis...reliable electricity, a mini-fridge, well-stocked and all the comforts of home-away-from-home...l could get used to this. My first thought flying in over Dubai was, "My God, they could power up the entire State of Afghanistan with the electricity on in this one city"..a bit like Las Vegas (aack) but I'm not even sure I want to leave my room just yet. It's a bit of an overload to say the least. More after a good night's sleep..sweet dreams, M

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Oh well, change of plans...

Due to a visa screw-up beyond my control (too stupid to go into right now)...I could not get my flight to Delhi...I simply had Indian Airlines call The Ambassador Hotel and explain that it was their fault I couldn't arrive and to cancel/forgive the reservation...

Instead I am going out tomorrow to Dubai ("the Jewel of the Arab Emirates!") to stay at the Palm Beach Rotana Hotel and sightsee before I fly out on Cathay Pacific Saturday to Hong Kong/SFO...I'll just have to catch the Taj Mahal when I come back in April (will fly into Delhi first, then on to Kabul)...with the refund from Air India I'll enjoy myself in Dubai instead. (The weather is 70 degrees there...can't complain about that!)

C'est la vie...or as John Lennon said, Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans...Next stop, Dubai. Love, M

Dubai's famous Creekside Park

Monday, January 16, 2006

I can uncross my fingers and toes...

...and thanks for the well-wishes. The storm has moved on and I awoke to an icy sparkling clear day...so by this time tomorrow I will be winging my way to Delhi. Also making a stop at the AIDS Health Network's joint project: Antiretroviral Therapy Clinic in Delhi...to evaluate the possibility of a future humanitarian project for your plucky reporter here.

Went to the American Embassy today for the first time since arriving here 3 months
ago...wow. Another naive assumption bites the dust. I had promised my interpreter Nadiah I would help her get her CV/application in to the personnel office there (she is fluent in Dari, Pashto and English...and is an excellent interpreter). I naively assumed that was doable. I must be living in an alternate universe where American citizens are able to walk into their own Embassy abroad. Wrong-o. We were halted a quarter-mile from the compound by seriously armed/flak-jacketed American guards who take their job seriously. After being frisked we had to hoof in through the ankle-deep muddy snow slush to the "Reception Window" (bulletproof glass)...only to be halted again. "No foreigners allowed" and "Not anyone allowed without an appointment with someone inside who must come escort them in"...Nadiah called her friend Dr. Najib who wasn't in his office...I then insisted they call someone from the Personnel Office to speak by phone with me...who did so and told me they only accept applications online and gave me their website address...end of adventure (without having ever made it into my embassy) and back through the slush to hail a taxi home...I learn something new every day here.

Next stop, Ambassador Hotel, New Delhi..(I may go into "privilege shock" after the deprivation here)...'til tomorrow, Love, M

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Life in suspended animation...

The Hindu Kush from my guest house...covered with snow

...as deep snowdrifts pile up and fresh snow continues to fall. I have finished my proposals, run through all my books, sorted and packed all my belongings...now to keep fingers and toes crossed for two days that my flight to Delhi isn't snow-downed Tuesday!

A painting I took a picture of in Herat...

Awoke thinking about a play and went online to discover there was a recent live theatre performed in Boston ("Homebody/Kabul") about life here!...did anyone out there happen to see it? With all the other life-compromising priorities here, it's small wonder there is no Opera/Ballet/Symphony/FineArts museum (or precious little "live theatre") here in Kabul (Please read: Risky revival of Afghan theater puts women center stage)...still I can't help wondering what the long term effects of an absence of the "Fine Arts" is on a culture with little to no respite from the bleak hardships. Even during the worst of the 3rd Reich, the Jewish folk kept their Fine Arts flowing (albeit underground)...not sure what it would take to get a movement started in that direction here. Well, electricity for one thing....4 hours every other evening wouldn't quite cut it.

Think sunny clear sky thoughts for me? Love, M

Saturday, January 14, 2006

'Shame"...a morality play

...played out in its many permutations here in Afghanistan. I am seriously considering writing a fictional play on the subject. .. a distillation of the many stories I've heard. Imagine your father, on retiring, separates from your family to live "elsewhere"...the bulk of his resources going "elsewhere"...but returns when anyone comes for dinners/holidays to avoid the "shame" of anyone knowing things aren't as they appear...your mother, an intelligent, loving woman, a teacher, is anxious/depressed about the "shame" of failing to nail down suitable husbands for her daughters who are now well into their 20s...(past their prime - oh the shame)...and your sister is on the verge of a nervous breakdown as the engagement her parents arranged with an Afghan working in Canada has fallen through causing no end of shame and severely limiting her future possibilities...and your brother has been shamefully begging father/mother/older brother for money to escape to Iran or Pakistan to look for work as he is shamefully jobless and without prospects here in this broken economy...and your married sister has shamelessly moved back home with her son and told her husband to get another wife as she is pursuing her medical education at University...but all this pales in comparison to your secret shame: you are 25, unmarried, and have been secretly seeing a boyfriend! ...and that's just the opening act... More later, Love, M

Please read: Culture in Afghanistan

Winter produce for sale...the beginnings of potato-onion soup...

Three burqas going somewhere...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday the 13th...

But it's Day of Prayers here in Muslimistan so that should protect me from bad luck?? I just finished the budget proposal for Phase Two of what hopefully will become the Mental Wellness Pilot Project for Tangi Saidan...Janet and I are quite pleased with the proposal...only about $8K to train a number of village women to become Community Mental Health Workers! They would be trained to identify and work with women with serious mental health issues ...I would return in April to begin the trainings and return every 6 months for a few weeks of evaluation and "continuing education" courses. It's never been done but feels "doable". PARSA (ngo) has invited me to guest at their guesthouse in April, which makes it even more inviting to return (Marnie and Phillip are great folks).

I'm invited to a "Bon Voyage/Farewell" dinner at my interpreter Nadiah's family home tonight...an Afghan feast I'm sure....gotta run, Love, M

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The down days of Eid continue...

Even Kabul is beautiful in the snow...

Greeting the dawn...


Just a quiet day in Kabul (that's a good thing)...took friends to the airport and encountered a large team of young African men from Zimbabwe arriving to do de-mining here (de-activating landmines) - a job Afghans would rather not do. (Please read: Landmine Victims Find Hope in Kabul Rehab Clinic.)

Went to the UN Compound and used for the first time since being here Afghanistan's only US$ATM...it was like breaking into Fort Knox
- multiple layers of security to hurdle (passport checks, bomb-wanding, etc) before being allowed entrance...wow.

Actually started packing what I'm taking home. (1/3rd of what I came with as most of my clothes are going to the refugee camp. Can't think of a use for my "bag la
dy from a convent" wardrobe back home.) Will be home in 14 days...10 lbs heavier than when I left! Now I know why poor people are frequently overweight...in a word: cheap starches (rice, potatoes, naan)...oh well, this too shall pass. Love, M

The all-carb diet?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

One cold and wintry day...

Some people from the guesthouse and I were invited to take Eid Tea with the Malik's family at the Refugee Camp ...They were so warmly gracious and hospitable in the midst of the most dire straits your mind can conjure...He even said they would be happy to have us adopt one of their little girls to bring back to America... what can I say?

Just for the contrast, went with Erin (guest from Dubai) and two Filipina friends to the famous Chicken Street (must-see tourist bazaar)
for one last look-see for mementos to bring back...and to a rousing Afghan Eid lunch at "Taste" restaurant...then grabbed a taxi home to huddle by the bhukari and read. That was my big day...what's new with you? Love, M

Chicken Street scene and Vendor


"Take your picture, ma'am?"








Let's catch a taxi!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Eid Mobarak! (happy Eid)

Busy day at the bazaar and the sheep wool vendor's...

Winter Eid in full swing... All over town there are trucks transporting the family bull/cow/sheep to slaughter for the winter Eid ceremony of portioning out the meat to family and close friends for preserving/drying during the freezing winter for the lean times to come. (Our neighbors to the right of my guesthouse have eliminated the middleman and slaughtered their livestock in the driveway...eeek, Nightmare on Carte Seh street).

Had a very warm and productive meeting this afternoon with the PARSA person, Marnie and her husband, Norm (a psychologist) re: my assessment findings and what can be doable as far as Phase Two. They were encouraging that this really was a ground-breaking project. Marnie also is coordinating trainings for the new women Parliament members...wow, big job.

Now to finish proposals/budgets this week while the city shuts down for the 3 days of Eid. Gratefully, there is at least another guest here this week to chat up....and India next week to look forward to. Eid Mobarak...go have some beef or lamb (or not) and think of me far far away...Love, M

Monday, January 09, 2006

Women to the World...









Widows and children first...
War veterans.
Refugee camp.







I was invited to go along today on an emergency winter food rations distribution to the largest/poorest refugee camp here in Kabul ...funded by the ngo Women to the World (WTW) (delivery assisted by my ngo Morning Star Dev.). In a word, wow. These 300 men, women and children live in two large bombed-out soviet bloc apartment bldgs with plastic over missing windows and doors (in the snow) without running water or electricity. The packages brought heating charcoal, rice, beans, wheat, cooking oil, sugar and tea. Will download photos soon. I know I've said it before, but if I EVER complain about non-essential things again, just slap me upside the head.

Oh...oh... a new guest came to the house today! A pretty, young American woman teaching English to Arab women in Dubai...visiting Kabul for a few days...so nice to have an American woman to chat with for a change (the walls have heard all my stories already). And soon I'll be retelling them to friends at home...can't wait. Love, M

Sunday, January 08, 2006

between the idea and the reality...

...falls the shadow. While presenting my findings and proposals to the clinic staff at Tangi, I was reminded (more than once) by Dr. Salleh why a one-size-fits-all approach to addressing the mental health needs of 28 disparate villages would never work (he's right, of course). The Uzbeks and Tajiks mistrust the Pashtoon, the Hazaras mistrust both and the Kuchis mistrust all and vice versa...the same tribal jealousies song.

After much back-and-forth input, Janet wisely led them
to a point where they could accept our proposal for training one mental health worker from each of the larger villages. Whew, first major post-survey hurdle leaped. It looks like I will be coming back to Kabul in April for a few weeks to train the women chosen to become the "mental health workers." This is breaking new ground for these villagers and I am heartened that they are embracing this proposal.

I have purchased a flight to Delhi on Air India for next Tuesday to celebrate the completion
of my project. I will take the train from Delhi down to Agra to spend a day or two at the Taj Mahal and sightseeing, then back to Kabul for my flight home. The work is coming to a close here very soon..(note to self: must get a grip on these mixed emotions). Love, M
This poor tree feels like I do about now...

Leftover picture from Herat...the beautiful frozen pool at the Blue Mosque.





Please read: Orwell could have a case against Bush

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Yet another Eid celebration is upon us...


Me in the guesthouse yard...brrrrr!

Stayed in by the fire catching up on Afghannews.net (Please read: "The extraordinary folly of Britain's new opium war"- couldn't have said it better myself)...meanwhile at Kabul airport, security personnel have been caught colluding with the opium smugglers...and the beat goes on.

While poring over my paperwork, I had a brainflash that what the older women in these villages need is a Victory Garden! A shocking number of these women report they have "no further responsibilities at home"...they leave the burden of running the family compound to their daughters and/or daughters-in-law by the time they are my age. This cultural expectation of inactivity and the end of usefulness in their later years is simply accepted. When asked how they pass their day, they say they sit, all day long, and worry...about their poverty or their losses, their children's and/or grandchildren's future, etc... Meanwhile they complain about bodily aches and pains (arthritis/rheumatism). It seems to me much would be gained physically and mentally by a little purposeful work (exercise in the fresh air) like...a victory garden...a small plot of beans, herbs, flowers to tend to each day. (of course the goats/sheep/cow would have to be kept out...hmmm, it's an idea)..though they may simply be worn out by a lifetime of burdensome work...who am I to say. These are the thoughts that keep me busy in the absence of radio/TV/music or movies... More later, Love, M

A snowy winter walk for the kids....me in my guesthouse yard.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Home again home again...

...as sweet R&R ends. Flew in from Herat to ice and snow, rendering the Kabul traffic even more hairy-scary than usual...fender-benders right and left..solved by some (a whole lot of) male posturing and some AF's exchanging hands and they are back on their way...something to be said for that I must admit.

Janet, Alex and I continue to huddle up to our Bhukaris from dusk to dawn as life as we know it fairly ceases after dark in this icy/snowy world far far away..

I am reading James Michener's pulitzer prize novel Caravans about the world of Afghanistan in the years following WWII...(late '40s) and am stunned by how little has changed from
his descriptions of the life here 60 years ago...although it was pre-bomb rubble, the Islamic state of affairs was/is the same...women in Burqas, men in power... Thinking of the U.S. post-WWII and the radical social changes that took place since then makes me appreciate Democracy in a whole new way. Our system may be deeply flawed in some ways but it beats the pants off anything on this side of the globe...but that's just my opinion. Love, M

Herat girls on their way to school....a burqa'd snowgirl

Thursday, January 05, 2006

One lovely day in Herat...

...I was invited to lunch at the sweet apartment of the Finnish head of nurses training, Kirsi Jokela...we became instant friends over a home-cooked (non-Afghan!) meal, sharing our trials and joys of working here in Afghanistan. I'm finding it difficult to imagine walking away from all this - quite soon - to resume my so-called life...it has been such an intense experience. And doing my best to remember it's not over 'til it's over and staying present for what each day might bring.

Walked to the Blue Mosque this morning (enduring the evil stares of the good Muslim men who had decided I didn't belong there)...and Herat is famous for its hand-blown blue glass...spent a fisftul of Afs on your souvenirs at the blue glass bazaar :-}...Photos to be downloaded on return to Kabul tomorrow.

I have presentations to give next week to various agencies on "Findings of the Afghan Mental Health Needs Assessment" so back to work on return to Kabul tomorrow. It's been a blessed respite. Love, M

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Dateline: Herat...

Spent the morning sitting in with the Dr. Vida Aminy at the Herat Mental Health Clinic as she saw patients. Many of the same presentations as I saw in the villages - but without the utter hopelessness - as they do at least have the ability to treat/medicate and counsel here in this clinic. Sadly, many of the prescriptions may go unfilled for lack of money, public health dollars for meds being largely nonexistent. The Finns are very dedicated to this population and have been at it for three years now, so have definitely made some progress. They are currently in a substandard "Public Health" bldg but are nearing completion of their fine new Mental Health Clinic.

I will download photos of this trip when I get back to Kabul - sending this from a shackfront "internet Klub" near my guesthouse... Love, M