Afghanistan, Week 5, 6, 7, 8


Afghanistan, Week 5, 6, 7, 8
by bppopkin

Week five
in a land of snow, rain, mud, conflict, Afghanistan – Saturday, 13 March 2010

From Laura V. Imburgia, October 2009. Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, Department of Horticulture, The Fruit Tree Nursery Industry of Afghanistan, Training Series 1: The Mother Stock Nursery, Manual 2, Sponsored by the Perennial Horticulture Development Project, European Commission – EuroAid/Asie/2006/119984, A project funded by the European Union.
“Neither am I the night, nor the worshiper of the night.

As I am the slave of the sun, all I say is about the sun.”

Balkhi (Rumi)

I love this Afghan poem. It makes me ask my students, “Who am I?” Can you say?
One of my agricultural extension students said, “Teacher, for a man without a beard, you are very smart.” Then, hugged me.
Compared to my first-training venture here in late February in another province, my new province Tier I PERSUAP training-of-trainers participants are more advanced.
Of my 30 or so participants, about 10 speak English and have Internet access, and came up to me with memory sticks to download the infamous crop-pest-disease control Flash Cards. Several are pressing me for more materials, and are very keen on learning how to better manage saline and alkaline soils, saline irrigation waters.
About 15 say they have greenhouse and tube management experience. About 15 say they participate in Good Agricultural Practices and export crops under GAP for a higher price and profit than otherwise. They all say they know about Personal Protective Equipment, but none use it as it goes against their habits and culture. They say they routinely practice several Integrated Pest Management strategies, but none have a Pest Management Plan; everything is ad hoc but based on their memory or past experiences. They say they routinely apply pesticides a few times a year, including fumigants. They say they heat their greenhouses and tubes with small fires, but occasionally lose field crops to frost. They say the remove the tubes in hot months to cool their crops. They like greenhouses and tubes, which they irrigation with perforated hoses, because it is less weeding, less water, less fertilizer, less pesticide, and less labor. None of them measure or calculate anything regarding irrigation, fertilizers, or pest management. None of them use manure for fertilizer. They think the best ways to promote better farm practices are: radio, farmer-to-farmer and master-farmer outreach. They think farm fairs have been a waste.

They all seem uncomfortable with any planning activities, like thinking through from pre-planting to post-harvesting, having a PMP or IPM in writing, or even having on-hand first-aid, spill-response or PPE equipment. They are uncomfortable with contingency planning. They are uncomfortable with equipment maintenance. Farm equipment breakdowns are frequent. Repairs are not. Much farm equipment is used until it becomes junk, then discarded. They do not seem to have a mechanic's sensibility.

We see the same thing in the Guest House Villa, though new, things are put together in the shoddiest and flimsiest ways, doors and windows already falling, electrical outlets already broken, plumbing fixtures already leaking, painted walls already chipping, doors stuck where painted in jams that stick, open holes waiting for future hoses allowing insects and vermin entry, etc. New cloth rather than sheets or pillow cases. Hastily made chairs which are awkward and flimsy. Again, lacking a crafter's sensibility.
They, as with first class, struggled with the Materials Safety Data Sheets, but got better at it shortly. They, like the Farah class, enjoyed the class and small-group exercises, and the skits. A few of the skits turned into some really good farmer-to-farmer experiences.


How I miss Jewish humor here in Afghanistan. An esteemed rabbi has a large following for many years. Before he leads the religious service, he is always seen to unlock a small locket, unravel a small paper, reads it, folds it, returns it to the locket, then leads the service. At 87 years old, he dies in front of the congregation while leading the service. The congregants rush up to him. Seeing him dead, one of the congregants says, “It is a great shame to lose our esteemed rabbi. But now we can see what he reads from the locket.” Surely, they open his locket, take out the small paper, and unfold it. It says, “Hebrew is read from right to left.”

On 6 March, 1120 hours, My windows rattled, no one hurt. Security team at 11:30 a.m. says: <Sources confirm that an explosion occurred behind Camp Phoenix on Jalalabad Road, Fire Engines now in place.

Raining heavily, strong stench of toilet wastes as drains backup. Ugh.
Watching the sun set in the dusty sky to the more-or-less west, mink-oiling my dusty Clark shoe which my wife bought for me, sucking on a Ricola Original Herb which my wife bought for me to moisten my dusty dry throat, thinking of the day’s experiences.

At breakfast, the 300-pound Afghan-American Navy SEAL, MIT-, Stanford-, CalTech- educated guy rolls in with painful look. “What’s up?” says I. “Oh, my god, my stomach is killing me.” “What happened?” “Oh, my god, I’ve been in the bathroom all night with it.” “What are your symptoms? Were you worshiping the porcelain gods?” “That’s one way to put it, throwing up, diarrhea, just a normal evening for me here,” he says.

“What have you been doing? Washing hands? Taking showers? Eating only cooked foods? Drinking only bottled waters? Any stress? Do you get six to eight hours of sleep? Drink six to eight glasses of water a day, maybe more for your size?” I ask.

“Idiot, of course I wash my hands, take showers, eat only cooked foods, drink bottled waters. Do you think the food handler wash their hands, take showers? Did you notice we are in Afghanistan where people are trying to kill us? Didn’t you hear the car bomb the other morning? Aren’t you reading the daily intel reports we get? Stress, are you kidding me?”
“Well, what are you doing about it?” I ask.

He says, “Work out four hours a day, mostly. Oh, yes, yesterday, before this really, really hit me, I ate some fruit in the street market. Probably a bad idea.”

“Certainly a bad idea,” I say.

He says, “Say, you are the most educated guy here, certainly you can advise a remedy. I swallowed some anti-diarrheal pills. Is that enough?”

“Ugh, my PhD is in Soil and Water Science, and it is an ADB. But you might continue to drink more water, eat softer easier to digest food, do some gentle reading and stretching and relaxing. Take two adult aspirins, and call me in the morning,” I tell him with a grin.

Next day, he comes to me, at breakfast, “Man, I tried that, but I couldn’t drink 68 glasses of water. I couldn’t get much past 15. Are you sure?”
“What,” I say, “I said six to eight, not 68 glasses.” “Ohhhhhh,” he says, and fades away.

Driving to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL, yes Afghanistan is a strictly MALE-dominated society) on Sunday in another spring dust storm, my driver and security guys were stopped by Afghani Police. They were questioned and produced proper permits for firearms, vehicle, etc. The Policeman didn’t like the vehicle registration and confiscated their documents for about 15 minutes, making me late for my 1:00 p.m. appointment – for you military guys, that’s when the little hand in on the 1, and the big hand is on the 12, if you don’t have a digital clock or watch. After some discussion, the Afghani Policeman demanded 500 Afghanis (AFN), which was ultimately negotiated to 100 Afghanis, or about $2 (USD). Then, we were off to my appointment. Ugh. Oh, my two meetings were with Brits and Irishmen, so my pens were… returned to me.


My EU chaps in MAIL ask me, “Were you I the blue car?” I ask my guard, “What color is our car?” He tells me it is green. To me, of course it is merely brown mud and dust, no color at all. When we get back to the car, I show him, “Look, it is blue.” He peels off the brown dust, and sure enough, it is not blue, it is green, just as he said it would be. Okay, I say, “Let’s go, Delta 6.” He says back, smartly, “Yes sir, Bravo 16,” which is my code name or security handle in Kabul.

Doubtless, I should have my head examined. Instead, I’ll take my $700 Dell INSPIRATION laptop to my IT guy and have it checked to optimize.
Yahoo! I have a new interpreter for Helmand and Uruzgan. He has a gmail address. I notice that nearly all of my new Moslem contacts now have gmail addresses, over yahoo addresses. Is it for Jihad (Muslim holy war or spiritual struggle against infidels) or Jamel (Arabic for handsome)? Don’t know, but would prefer the latter. We’ll see. The jury is out.

Such a strange land. The Official Website of the Polytechnic University of Kabul reports to be the technical University of Kabul for the Afghan professionals of tomorrow ( through its Faculties of Construction, Electromechanics, and Geology and Mining. Fair enough, but Construction includes Islamic Culture, Electromechanics includes Foreign Languages, and Geology and Mining includes Sports. Huh?

The Afghan military is being trained by Scotts in the use of grenades. The trainer tells his trainees, “Pull the cord, count on your fingers 1-2-3-4-5, and run life hell.” The first Afghan does it properly. The second Afghan as well. The third pulls the cord, count 1-2-3-4, but is missing a finger on his hand. He puts the live grenade between his legs and counts 5 on his other hand, and Ka-Boom.

Two rural Afghans visit Kabul. They see tall buildings for the first time. They talk among themselves how they would like to push a tall building to their village. A Kabulite overhears them and says, “Yes, you can simply push any of the buildings to you y village.” The three rural Afghans start to push a building, but it doesn’t move. The Kabulite tells them, “Oh, you have too much weight you are carrying. You need to leave you clothes, shoes, belongings on the ground, then when you push, you can move the building.” The three men take off their clothes and put them and their belongings on the ground behind them. The Kabulite gathers up the clothes and belongings and disappears. One of the rural Afghans turns around and says, “We must be making progress moving the building. I can no longer see my shoes…”

One of my students tells me, two Afghans were working side-by-side, one digging a hole, the other going behind him filling in the hole. A passerby sees them and asks, “What are you doing?” One says, “Can’t you see, I am digging a hole?” The other says, “Yes, can’t you see, I am filling the hole?” The passerby says, “I don’t understand why you are doing that.” The first man says, “Well, usually, we work as a team of three. I did, Rahim slips in a tree, and Daud fills it in. But Rahim didn’t show up for work today.”

Bolan Farm in Helmand River Basin. Note Taliban spotter in upper right “Ant Hill” post. (Wendy Thurman photographer, March 2010)

Finally, if you have been unexposed to Black Adder, you might enjoy this rude, irreverent classic British BBC series via YouTube or otherwise (// Its charming theme song is as follows: Ok, as there are loads of versions of this theme throughout the series, so here are the lyrics for the first five episodes of series, one of the best comedies ever made. Enjoy.

The sound of hoof beats 'cross the glade.

Good folk, lock up your son and  daughter.

Beware the deadly flashing blade,

Unless you want to end up  shorter.

Black Adder, Black Adder. He rides a pitch black  steed.

Black Adder, Black Adder. He's very bad  indeed.

Black Adder, Black Adder. His gloves of finest mole.

Black Adder, Black Adder. His codpiece made of   metal.

His horse is blacker than a hole.

His pot is blacker than his  kettle.

Black Adder, Black Adder. With many an cunning plan.

Black Adder, Black Adder. You horrid little man!

Let joy fill every Briton's heart,

For now the country's going to make it.
At last a King who looks the part,

At last a Queen who looks good naked.
Black Adder, Black Adder. A monarch with panache.

Black Adder, Black Adder. He's got a nice moustache.
Everything he wants he'll get.

The world is now Black Adder's oyster.
Most Prime Ministers are wet.

But Baldrick he is even moister.

Black Adder, Black Adder. A dog who's got his bone.

Black Adder, Black Adder. A bastard on the throne.

Black Adder, Black Adder. His beard is neatly curled.

Black Adder, Black Adder. He's going to rule the world!

Yahoo! Only seven more classes to teach on this tranche. Too bad I can’t take the students in the field for security constraints to see real live crop pests and diseases. In between these sessions, it great to have online Torah study, several in English and video, so I merely tune in and listen and watch. How cool it that? The portion this week deals with the joy and craftsmanship of building the Temple in Jerusalem. Very cool details therein. Good lessons for architects and engineers as well as crafts persons. Even then, if it isn’t measured, it isn’t managed as Phil Cosby of the Quality College would say.

From Laura V. Imburgia, October 2009. Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, Department of Horticulture, The Fruit Tree Nursery Industry of Afghanistan, Training Series 1: The Fruit Tree Production Nursery, Manual 3, Sponsored by the Perennial Horticulture Development Project, European Commission – EuroAid/Asie/2006/119984, A project funded by the European Union.

Week six
Saturday, 20 March 2010

Happy New Year – Mubarak Mo Shah Nawi Kall!
Nice to hear from friends via email in this God-soaked yet God-less land. My operations manager mentioned at dinner that his Iranian brothers are a snake with its mouth open to swallow Afghanistan once the Americans leave as promised by Obama. Loyalties are shifting fast as it becomes clear to Afghans that the US is not committed for a long-term presence. Watching my security guards pat down my Afghan students each morning and afternoon, gives shocking pause in this uphill, un-win-able saga. More men than ever are growing beards, more women wearing the dreadful burkha. We don’t know if, when, our Afghan security perimeter guards will join the insurgency or stay with us. I suppose it depends on their perception of who will outlast whom. Ugh. I could use a beer...

On my Friday day-off, I sure have been enjoying the online YouTube clips of the Capitol Steps – Sanford and Sins, Midnight Raid to Georgia, Help Me Honda, Brooke Burke Dances with the Capitol Steps, We Only Have McCain, When I’m 84, Hillary Will Survive, God Bless My SUV, A Leader Like Barack, Polonium 209, Who’s Hu?, Bush Defines His Legacy, Super Zealous Radicals, Pack the Knife, Stayin’ Alive with the Supreme Court, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea?, Ain’t No Surplus.

Likely, I am the only one in Helmand studying Torah on Fridays or any days, online or otherwise. Or and So much for gathering mishpucha, or spiritual family.

Say, I learned from my personal security officer that Afghanistan, as several Islamic countries, has strict laws prohibiting men from standing on roofs. Onlookers below are permitted to shoot and kill such me. The idea is that the only legitimate reason for a man to be on a roof is to gawk at someone’s women below, and should be killed! Consequently, many structures in these countries have two-meter high walls on their roof tops, so people can hang laundry, have a smoke, etc., with disadvantage of being shot at.

When you are on lockdown, you read, exercise, surf the net. This week, I read a Cornell University online document on Biological Control: A Guide to Natural Enemies in North America, 2000, for example. I have taken several online readings, classes and webcasts on Afghan cultural symbols, Afghan poetry, livestock management, manure management, dairy farming, and Torah study. Plus YouTube on Allo Allo. Still, I never can find the time to balance my checkbook.

We have had no hot water for four days, and I was ripening, until a chap found me some and I was so happy. So very happy, soaping up and washing that ukk away. I have installed two electrical zappers to kill flies in my Helmand Villa, on downstairs, one upstairs. Unfortunately, the Afghans some and go through the curtain I put up, push it aside and leave the doors wide open for the flies. I wonder if they really like flies, perhaps they represent some deep culture thing that they admire and I am missing. Ugh.

Your browser may not support display of this image.

Afghanis love their insects, use them on postage, welcome them indoors
From: //

Stay healthy

Afghanistan has its fair share of health issues, and it would be wise to consult a travel doctor ahead of your trip about vaccinations and health risks. Respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis and food-related illness are common, and malaria is a risk in many parts of the country.

Afghanistan is one of the dustiest countries in the world, and you should be prepared to be covered in it and breathing it for most of your stay, even in the major cities. Pollution from diesel engines can also make life unpleasant.

Flies are notoriously heinous here, likely due to poor sanitation. Winter brings some relief, but they come back full-strength when spring arrives.

Food should be approached with a discerning eye, hygiene standards can often be lacking. Hot, freshly cooked food is generally safer. Bottled water is also advised, unless you have your own purification system.

Bring any prescription medicine you may need from your home country, don't count on being able to find it locally. You may also consider carrying pain relievers and anti-diarrheals, as they'll be hard to find outside of major cities.

As in most parts of Asia, squat toilets are the norm, and toilet paper optional and sometimes scarce. Western-style toilets are seen occasionally in newer buildings and some private homes.>
My room cleaner had me on his list this afternoon, and swept and vacuumed my spacious bedroom with its burgundy carpet. I indicated that I could use some toilet paper, which he didn’t understand until my crude pantomime. So he left me a fresh roll, in the wet bathroom sink. Hmm. No, he didn’t clean the bathroom, nor disturb the living and dead insects therein. Unfortunately, although he brought me liquid hand soap, he doesn’t use it. Unfortunately, he is also our cook. Ugh.
I suppose if your relatives, friends and neighbors are shooting at you, blowing themselves up with your other relatives, friends and neighbors, you might not give a damn about flies as carriers of disease. Who thinks they might live long enough to catch one of these fly-borne diseases? Ugh-ugh.
Like the Iraqi PM who had medical exam for the post. The doctor told him he has cancer and only one year to live. The PM was ecstatic; after all, in Iraq who gets one year?
My operations manager tells me, when a man comes to a position of authority in Afghanistan, he comes with nine empty sacks to fill with plunder, and leaves office with ten; nine he filled himself, one was a gift for not doing his duty.

Glass elephant in my room, Helmand Villa
When you are on a long lock-down, there is much you can do, like read the Lives of the Saints, take online classes, study Torah, improve your chess, read Shakespeare and Chaucer. I like Shakespeare. A lot. So here is my reading, FYI, per All the Twittered Shakespeare Synopses.

CofE: It takes a surprisingly long time for two sets of twins to figure out they are being mistaken for each other. One family is reunited.

TotS: There is no clear winner in this battle between the sexes, but at least one couple probably ends up having good sex.
TGoV: Two guys overcome both temporary exile from somewhere and their impulse-control issues and marry their long-suffering sweethearts.
LLL: Men make a big deal out of the life of the mind & living rough, but court pretty women anyway. The women say “Maybe” and leave.
AMND: A love potion straightens everything out and several couples end up happily together. Rustics are mocked. Watch out for fairies.
MoV: A greedy lender loses out due to a poorly-phrased contract, women practice law in drag & w/out licenses, and lovers are united.
MWW: A physically unattractive freeloader gets what he deserves for trying to sully the virtue of happily married rich and clever women.
MAAN: Trickery breaks up 1 couple and makes another. Love prevails, with a wedding and public shame for faithless lovers & jealous meddler.
AYLI: Exiled rich people live in the forest and fall in love with each other. Later, the deposed duke gets his dukedom back as he likes it.
TN: Shipwrecked sister dresses as a man. Bizarre love triangle is resolved when identical brother is found and genders are disclosed.
T&C: A Trojan man doubts his Trojan lover, Achilles eventually goes into battle, and Hector is defeated.
AWtEW: A doctor’s daughter saves a king and gets an unwilling husband. She tricks him into bed, gets pregnant, and then he comes around.
MfM: A lazy duke puts a pious jerk in charge. Things get out of hand, the duke takes the reins, the pious jerk sees the error of his ways.
HVI1: King Henry accidentally starts the wars of the roses and gets engaged to a French girl. Incidentally, Joan of Arc is captured and killed.
HVI2: King Henry marries his French girl. Royal catfights end in impasse. The men battle at St. Albans and King Henry’s side doesn’t lose.
HVI3: Tension over succession, Queen declares war on Yorks, graphic violence ensues. Lancasters fall, Edward IV weds unwisely, takes power.
RIII: Edward IV dies, a caricatured villain usurps, murders innocents, & dies on a battlefield in sore need of a horse. The Tudors win.
KJ: King John won’t back down from King Phillip nor the Pope, nor many confusing goings-on, dies of poison. Magna Carta not mentioned.
RII: Richard banishes noblemen and then seizes dead uncle’s property. Banished son of uncle comes back in force and becomes Henry IV.
HIV1: Henry spurns supporters, who then side with the Scots. His no-good son makes good and kills the rebel leader. More Yorkists threaten.
HIV2: Prince Hal works on his kingliness. Falstaff droops poignantly in-between exploits. Henry IV dies, Hal becomes king & spurns Falstaff.
HV: Bad-ass Henry V kicks France’s butt with a rag-tag army, many long-bows, and excellent speeches. Henry then marries a French princess.
HVIII: Queen Katherine is justly & legally divorced, Anne Boleyn is legally married, the future Queen Elizabeth is born. Courtiers suck.
TA: TA turns down empire, is surrounded by horrible violence, tricks his enemy into eating her sons’ flesh, kills and is killed.
R&J: Boy meets girl, boy kills girl’s cousin&gets banished, girl fakes death, boy thinks it’s real, kills self, girl wakes & kills self.
JC: General with anxious wife gets assassinated for seeming ambitious. Opinion turns against the assassins, but stage is set for empire.
H: Mommy issues are just the beginning for a prince with a murdered father and new Uncle/Step-dad. Most everybody ends up dead.
O: Great man is tricked into killing his wife. Trickster is exposed. Great man kills self in remorse. Trickster is hauled off.
KL: Old king learns too late that two of his kids only wanted power. He and most main characters die. One just gets his eyes gouged out.
M: Kingship is just not in the cards for an ambitious and superstitious Scotsman.
A&C: Glamorous lovers take on the world and lose, then welcome death.
Co: Elitist Roman goes over to enemies & threatens Rome. Rome sends his mom to make treaty, he does, then enemies kill him for it.
TofA: An overly generous man is let down by his “friends.” He subsidizes rebellion & whores w/VD & dies a bitter man, cursing society.
P: A prince on the run is separated from his young daughter in dangerous circumstances. Wise and virtuous, they are reunited in time.
Cy: A guy believes lies about his girl. All kinds of mistaken ID & silliness go on, followed by peace between Britain and Rome.
WT: A king who regrets causing the supposed deaths of his wife & baby daughter is joyously and improbably reunited w/ them years later.
T: Noblemen are shipwrecked on a magical island. The proper succession to the rule of Naples and Milan is settled. Everyone is set free.
TNK: After falling in love with the same woman, cousins become rivals. At combat, one wins but dies, one loses but gets the girl.
Say, vomit with me or not? At a tea-break in one of my Helmand training sessions, one of my Pashto translators asks, “Sir, do you have children?” “Yes,” I say, “I have three: two girls and a boy.” “How old is your son, sir?” I say, “Kamran was born in 1966, so he would be about 44 years old. Do you have children?” He says, “Yes, I have two children. Boys, sir.” “Oh, that’s great, boys are great. I am fortunate to have a boy and two girls, as girls are great too,” I say. He says, “Sir, I also have two girls. Two boys and two girls.” I say, “Oh, so you have four children then?” He says, “We don’t count the girls; girls are useless.” Ugh.
Reminds me of a discussion between a Rabbi and a Priest. The Priest tells the Rabbi, “Rabbi, it is too bad you can’t eat pork. Pork is really good.” The Rabbi tells the Priest, “It may be, but girls are much better that pork.”
Reminds me of a Capitol Steps routine where the George Bush characters say, “I just visited with Ariel Sharon and learned two things. I learned that Rabbit is plural for Rabbi. And that Yasser Arafat will die on a Jewish Holiday. You look surprised that Ariel would know this. Ariel told me, confidentially, that when Arafat dies, it will be a Jewish holiday.”
I suppose, in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, wondering if his most talented excellency James Joyce were of Kabul instead of Dublin, how he would have drafted Ulysses, Finnegan’s Wake, the Dubliners? Helmand River run past Abdul and Rahim…a she goat was rambling by the stream, when this she goat who rambled by the stream met the nicens little boy you ever saw, named baby Osama… who apologized, apologized as the Russians came to pull out his eyes… and he said to the Americans, no, no again no…
Like the old story of the man who says, “My wife and I are very compatible. We have headaches the same days of the week.” My training of 100 Afghan ag extension workers ended in complete harmony; the construction crew finally turned off the generators and quite the @$&^#?< hammering just as I gave out the certificates, and my laundry finally showed up, even dry! Now that we finally have air conditioning in the Villa, we have brown outs which shut down our computers; so we have generations which belch out hydrocarbons and make deafening noise. The cleaning people who don’t clean, but cook, are getting better. No one has been sick for at least three days. It would be a blessing to introduce the consistent use of hand-washing, fresh-food washing, Gheese Louise, any kind of washing…
I have 30 more to train, in yet another province. Flights cancelled, delayed, security issue. My students bring me picture of their farms; it is too dangerous for an expatriate to visit their farms. Taliban are everywhere. Road bombs, unexploded ordinance, rocket propelled grenades, improvised explosive devices, random shootings even at the demonstration farms… ugh. I personally have killed over 200 in a week, and began feeding them to the spiders around the sink in my Western style bathroom… flies that is. You can call me Juan sin miedo, if you like, “fearless John.” Ugh.
Wednesday morning. Took a hot shower across the hall – no hot water in my bathroom, and breakfast of instant coffee, over-hard eggs, and that pull-apart Afghan bread. Then, online reading of for best source of biological control of crop pests and diseases. Oops, specific threat alert to my villa in Helmand. Suicide bombing at contractor compound nearby, initially three dead but unconfirmed later, possible more suicide bombers coming to our compound. My go-to bag and I are ready to evacuate at any moment. Glad the insurgents waited for me to complete my two, training-of-trainers sessions for crop-pest-disease control in Helmand. Perhaps they are agriculturalist at heart. US Apache helicopters flying over head as scanners and combat responders. Ugh.

Latest report reads: <Two gunmen wearing suicide vests burst into the compound that houses the IRD office. The first was shot by security guards and the second returned fire and was killed in the ensuing gun battle.

One foreign employee and one local national female, was wounded in the attack on the office of International Relief and Development (AVIPA Program) in the town of Lashkar Gah, in Helmand province. Lashkar Gah is the closest major town to Marjah, where thousands of NATO troops have been fighting to oust the Taliban from their largest stronghold and operational hub in Helmand province. The personnel conducting training at the other compounds  in Lashkar Gah are safe, and accounted for.

Week seven
Saturday, 27 March 2010
Barney with fly-vector-control bag behind FEMALE Latrine & Piss tubes behind same with fly-vector control bag

(Popkin, March 2010 at Provincial Reconstruction Team compound, Afghanistan)

Say, those of you looking forward to Pesach, but far away from home, here is an abbreviated Seder from my cousin Debra in Baltimore - Happy Passover from Israeli robots
Neil Young - Heart Of Gold: Harvest 

I wanna live   I wanna give 
I've been a miner for a heart of gold.  
It's these expressions I never give         
That keep me searchin’ for a heart of gold
And I'm getting’ old.        
That keep me searchin’ for a heart of gold
And I'm getting’ old.    
I've been to Hollywood
I've been to Redwood
I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold
I've been in my mind, it's such a fine line
That keeps me searching for a Heart of Gold
And I'm getting old.

Keep me searchin’ for a heart of gold

You keep me searchin’ and I'm growin’ old

Keep me searchin’ for a heart of gold
I've been a miner for a heart of gold.

I am wondering, the value of our efforts? Per William Wordsworth in his unfinished The Prelude, “midst the wreck of is and was, things incomplete with purposes betrayed.” University of Cambridge scholar Ruth Abbott, who has studied Wordsworth’s notebooks, comments, our progress is based on “exploration, sweat… failure and refinement.” She says, “what we see in art can seem set in stone, strange seas of thought lie beneath.” - //

If you check out University of Cambridge’s Cambridge Ideas online, you will see it claims to be “transforming tomorrow.” I see little evidence their research is transformational, except perhaps from a study of how ants can walk upside-down, vertically up and down, and horizontally, on smooth surfaces. As my nephew Mitch of NYC points out, as his dad, Morty, of blessed memory would say, “From this they make a living?”
From my Geologic controls of Agricultural production in Afghanistan: Flyover photographs from 2009-2010 are shown below. They and many others indicate numerous steeply dipping, rock-mountain ranges which may imply that “megawatersheds,” or very deep, fresh groundwater reserves are directly recharged from such ranges, and deeply underlie alluvial valleys. A 2005 USAID-internal review (Popkin 2005) of potential Afghanistan megawatersheds included discussions with water-resources specialists at Chemonics, DAI, U.S. Geological Survey, and megawatershed proponents (Bisson and Lehr, 2004). The 2005 review recommended further review of geophysical, oil and gas exploration data, and mass water-balances; and limited deep drilling to verify this potential, large fresh groundwater resource.

Last Saturday night, I had a delightful, roof-top cookout at the Seldom Inn, an expat engineering support guest house in Kabul. I met a hydrologist (me too) there. And a should-know-better know-it-all contract officer who shamelessly thinks there is no fraud or fleecing in government contracting or donor initiatives… hah-hah-hah! The hotdogs and pecan pie were tops; steaks too burned on open flames for my taste. Friday night, we had a nice outdoor cookout with ca-gillions of soldiers at my special forces camp; very nice as well. But in general, food in Afghanistan simply S U C K S! Did I mention, it SUCKS!

I am being hosted by a special forces military unit, Southern Afghanistan. I teach at nearby Tribal Liaison Office (TLO). The military compound has cheerful signs; “If it bleeds, we can kill it!” In body armor, I think, “If if bleeds, I can fall on it!”

There is also this popular expression, “Winning the hearts and minds – one in the heart, two in the mind!”

After just a day at the TLO, I invented the six-step, expat Afghanistan weight-loss diet: Step 1, Come to Afghanistan for ten weeks. Step 2, Travel to several provinces. Step 3, Eat local foods. Step 4, Visit Afghan crappers often. Step 5, Digest less, eat less, avoid food to avoid stand-up crappers. Step 6, Lose 30 pounds.

Several stories about Polish, Dutch, and Belgium security guards who were fired for sleeping on the job. What happens to them? They come back as security managers at three times their pay because… they can claim valuable experience.

I don’t know, but I’ve been told. The U.S. military is pretty bold.

At my military camp, most of the male GIs have beards. It is such a pain to shave with cold war. The few female GIs I’ve seen don’t seem to have facial hair. Incidentally, commodes in MALE and FEMAELE latrines are only 12 inches high, though those for the gals are raised upon a six-inch pedestal. It is impossible to use commodes in MALE latrines without getting your shoes, socks, pants, and draws wet. Impossible.

I would hate to run into the FEMALE GIs with me coming out of the FEMALE latrine, only a few yards from my cot. The MALE shower/latrine is several 100 yards from my cot.

We have the famous PISS TUBES. These are three-sided, plywood-walled shielded bays, hiding two or three, four-inch diameter, open-ended polychlorinated vinyl pipes, fetchingly sticking out of the ground at 45 degrees, daylighting somewhere below your waist and above your knees. You guessed it! Piss tubes are for guys to, well, no need to say anymore. The pipes are each about four feet long. I feel like a failure. I can only get that special male organ down three feet of the pipe ;) Just kidding!

Of size, Simon of Tucson told me once of a young French Foreign Legionnaire, who, after spending a grand time in Paris, had the letter “S” tattooed to his member, to commemorate his affair with Suzette. Later, the young man was assigned to Algeria. One morning, as he was relieving himself in the Legion’s equivalent of a piss tube, a rather tall gentleman came to the adjacent tube. Noticing the letter “S” on the big man’s member, the young man questioned, “Suzette?” To which the tall man responded, “Non, monsieur, ‘la société pour l'avancement de liberté, l'égalité et la fraternité!’”

There is no need for a sleeping bag. Sheep, shleep, who can sleep with low-flying Apache helicopters overhead? 

Driving to the TLO in the early a.m., seeing Afghan kids, from along the dirt roads and paths, some with wet plastic pacifiers strung to their shirts and blouses with a thin rope or thread, some launching small dirty cardboard boxes or worm aluminum cans in thin, stenchy, open muddy sewers. I wonder if any have explosives in their dirty cloth sacks for dad, brother, uncle. Even at these young ages, little boys play separately from little girls, who they will likely trade as currency or property when they are older, according to local custom of gender and domestic culture.

In a four by four non-ventilated room, three meters high, moldy carpeted concrete floor with 35 barefoot Afghans who haven’t seen soap the TV program or the bathroom product in weeks. As I am lecturing on crop-pest-disease control, I see bugs crawling out of their turbans and sheets, from between their toes into the carpet, then meandering towards me. Pretty butterfly, be careful of pine needles in gusty wind.

To be fair, the Afghans have suffered greatly under the Russians, Taliban, and now liberation occupation. Afghan middle and upper classes have frequently fled the country. Their everyday persons as well. Afghan craftsmen, educators, health-care specialists, engineers, technicians, etc., with any skill and professionalism are as rare as an honest politician here. That is to say, just about everything designed, built, operated, and hah-hah-hah maintained by Afghans in Afghanistan fails quickly. Such stuff is hastily and recklessly put together with slip-shod materials, adulterated chemicals, rejected source materials often marked “FOR EXPORT ONLY,” etc. Where you find reasonably good craftsmanship, it is usually put together by expatriates, even from Pakistan, Tajikistan, China, India, Turkey, Iran, Russia, etc.

Week eight
Saturday, 3 April 2010

WARING: immature, adult, nonsensical, sarcastic and generally crappy language, content, themes
We are now enjoying the change in seasons. I don’t mean spring, Pesach, Easter, or my birthday. But the natural Afghan evolution from snow, rain, mud, dust, and now flies. I have been cutting up small plastic water bottles and trying various concoctions to trap flies. Keep it sweet and poisonous, like in the Wicked Vane Queen/Step Mother of Snow White, I say!
They ask me how I knew, My true love was true. I of course re-ply, Som-e-thing in-side. Can not be de-nied

They said some day you'll find, All who love are blind. When your heart's on fire, You must re-al-ize. DUST gets in your eyes… Flies get up your butt…
Several colleagues suggested these random immature to adult, and offense sometimes, notes of mine could make a nice newspaper series. I have from time to time written and published notes in California and Texas college newspapers, and even Arizona, New York and Indian commercial newspapers. But I think I lack the skill for a serious effort.

In 2003-2004, I was in Iraq as a contractor. A Golden Gate University history and human rights professor and journalist pal offered to edit my Iraq notes, which I provided. But she remarried and took to raising llamas in Central California coast for their meat and eggs. We lost touch. Plus my LSW was upset I was paying Dr. Laina too much attention.

When I was retired as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer in 2008, I wrote and copyrighted Guerrilla Government Contracting. I offered training courses in federal contracting. I taught half-a-dozen workshops, and barely broke even. I was encouraged to draft a book manuscript, which I did. A very well-known NYC publisher perused parts of it and my detailed outline. They decided GGC for Dummies wouldn’t have a market of more than 2,000 buyers. So I dropped the non-commercial adventure. A pal recommended a self-publisher, a vanity publisher. I investigated that with a small vanity press in Austin. The Press reviewed my manuscript and liked it. After all it would be my money, so why wouldn’t they like it. They offered to edit and publish my notes on GGC for… $60,000. No way!

I have pals who write English poetry, translate Spanish and Portuguese poetry into English and vice versa, write fishing books, and self-healing spiritual books. God bless them. We are cut from different cloths. “Allah loves a patient man,” says the Holy Koran. Allah must hate me.

Finally, in 2009, I thought to write a children’s book series about three American kids abroad, their cultural challenges, and innocent mischievous ways, etc. I called the series TAKA; Yiddish for “really” or “reality,” in case you have a Jewish mother and didn’t know. A historical book publisher in Missouri seemed interested, and encouraged me for a while. She had many, many comments, like too much violence, not enough dialogue, broaden the grade-level vocabulary, don’t use those stories because every kid knows FU means… and not ‘have you” (from my FUNEX? YSVFX. FUNEM? YSVFM. WFMNX!), don’t say that because it is socially insensitive or politically incorrect, read and copy the style of such-and-such. In short, it was too much for me. Too many revisions to please her. I lost my characters, my story. My integrity. Finally, I said, pooh-pooh; I meant to say FU, but of course, I am too cultured for that.

That being said, if any of you think we might make a go at a commercial venture with my notes, let’s talk. I am not looking for vanity here. I don’t like to volunteer my time aimlessly. It’s against my religion. I received little advice from my dad, of blessed memory: Don’t use bad words in front of girls. Don’t disrespect your mother. Don’t hit your sister. Don’t make fun of the rabbi, shamus (sexton), cantor, and president and board at the shul (synagogue if you didn’t have a Jewish mother). Be nice to my mother (his totalitarian mother who lived with us and ran the household). Dress British, think Yiddish. Remember always, Jesus saves, Moses invests. And never volunteer.
Okay, so here is some Afghan poetry I have been using in my crop-pest-disease control training-of-trainers. Ready?

But first, a Jewish, what else, story:

    A widowed Jewish lady was sunbathing on a beach at Ft. Myers Florida. She looked up and noticed a man her age had walked up, placed his blanket on the sand next to hers and began reading a book.
    Smiling, she attempted to strike up a conversation with him. 'Hello, sir, how are you today?’
    'Fine, thank you,' he responded, and turned back to his book.
    'I love the beach. Do you come here often?' she asked. 'First time since my wife passed away two years ago,' he replied and turned back to his book.
    'I'm sorry to hear that. My husband passed away three years ago and it is very lonely,' she countered. Do you live around here?' she asked.
    'Yes, I live over in Cape Coral,' he answered and again resumed reading.
    Trying to find a topic of common interest, she persisted, 'Do you like pussy cats?
    With that, the man dropped his book, jumped off his blanket and on to her, tore off her swimsuit and gave her the most passionate ride of her life!
    When the cloud of sand began to settle, she gasped and asked the man, 'How did you know that was what I wanted?'
    The man replied, 'How did you know my name was Katz?'

 Afghan Poems by Balkhi (Rumi)

Dari Persian poet, jurist, theologian and Sufi mystic, 13th century

Neither am I the night, nor the worshiper of the night. As I am the slave of the sun, all I say is about the sun.
Why should I seek? I am the same as He. His essence speaks through me. I have been looking for myself!
When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.
I died as a mineral and became a plant, I died as plant and rose to animal, I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying? Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels bless'd; but even from angelhood, I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul, I shall become what no mind e'er conceived. Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence. Proclaims in organ tones, To Him we shall return.
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Afghan stamp, honors Mawlana Jalaluddin Balkhi – Rumi
I am the lion, in this world there is no one braver than me.

In India, in Sindh, in Takkha, in Kabul, nor in Zabul.

There is no one braver than me!

Amit Kror (The world’s best wrestler, from Helmand Province, Afghanistan)
People of knowledge are the light of the world.

People of knowledge are the leaders of the world.

In the presence of academics, they will turn into red-gold.

Rahman Baba (Pashto Sufi poet, 18th century)
Ten things Afghan farmers generally can’t do     Consequence
Read, write, watch TV, web search, play and exchange DVDs, take online training     
Travel to and participate in agricultural conferences and workshops
Write and evaluate integrated pest management, agricultural business, cash-flow, and marketing plans
Learn about agriculture from friends, neighbors, relatives, and farm associations, cooperatives or unions
Access knowledgeable agricultural extension workers, specialists, laboratories, venders and suppliers
Obtain certified and resistant horticultural seeds and tree rootstocks
Test and amend their soil to improve drainage and chemistry
Test soil moisture and make good irrigation decisions
Improve irrigation water supply and its quality
Deep tillage to reduce pests
Test their crop nutrients and make good fertilizer decisions or obtain good fertilizers
Monitor and evaluate the status of pests and crop diseases
Get good quality, non-adulterated pesticides
Get biological pest control products
Get bank loans or credit to make purchase farm inputs
Protect their fields and orchards from inclement weather
Buy flood, drought, inclement weather or crop disease insurance
Harvest crops when optimal and store yields when the markets are best
Process their crops for high-value products
Plan around upcoming markets and export to high-end markets
Sorry. I lied – there are more than ten things Afghan farmers generally can’t do!

I get notices several times a week. They read like…

17 March. Two gunmen wearing suicide vests burst into the compound that houses the IRD office. The first was shot by security guards and the second returned fire and was killed in the ensuing gun battle.

One foreign employee and one local national female, was wounded in the attack on the office of International Relief and Development in the town of Lashkar Gah, in Helmand province.

Lashkar Gah is the closest major town to Marjah, where thousands of NATO troops have been fighting to oust the Taliban from their largest stronghold and operational hub in Helmand province.

The personnel conducting training at the compound in Lashkar Gah are safe, and accounted for.

25 March. President Karzai is due back from China today, this afternoon I believe. Expect the usual traffic jams on Airport road. US Undersecretary of State is due in country through the 26/30Mar so again there will be no-notice traffic stops.

These VIP (very important person) moves come on the back of an increased threat stream of 2xVBIED headed towards KBL (Kabul). We are also entering the 4/6 week Complex attack cycle (CPX)
Given the situation and indicators, I am raising the threat level in the city to MED/HIGH and we will minimize movement for all personnel, and avoid the usual target areas.
On 27 March at approx 15:10 hrs a partner convoy was returning from Lashkar Gah when it came under a complex attack by suspected insurgents. An IED (improvised explosive device) destroyed the lead vehicle and then the convoy was attacked with small arms fire. Partner security personnel returned fire and suppressed the attack and extracted one wounded occupant of the lead vehicle and the bodies of the deceased. Three security personnel were killed. One was wounded and is receiving treatment at PRT (provincial reconstruction team) Lashkar Gah.
28 March. Following specific threat information, the Lounge Restaurant, is out of bounds with immediate effect UFN (until further notice).

In the words of Mad Magazine’s memorable Alfred E. Neuman, “What me worry?”

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So tell me, chevarim (friends), what is not to like about Afghanistan? 


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