Afghanistan, Week 9, 10


Afghanistan, Week 9, 10
by bppopkin

Week nine
in a land of now serious dust and optimistic flies, Afghanistan – Saturday, 10 April 2010

WARING: immature, adult, nonsensical, sarcastic and generally crappy language, content, themes

You can be young only once, but you can be immature your whole life.

We had a lovely BBQ on Friday night last, at my Kabul Guest House, with outdoor cooked American food, drink, and even Starbucks coffee drinks. Watching a spring rain settle the Kabul dust, with contraband food and drink. A nice mix of our Brazilian, Middle Eastern and North African music, with the call to Moslem prayer in the background from nearby mosques. Next morning, say from 6 to 9, very chatty birds, wobbling, chirping, calling out, thrashing, splashing, babbling, crooning, cooing, bunting, starling, chewing, tweeting, marking territory, adverting for mates, asking to be fed, etc. You could throw a clarinet and saxophone at them and make some lovely improvised jazz! BTW, all the outside drains at my GH are ABOVE the drainage areas, so naturally, they don’t work!

My Week Eight mishaghas (stories) generated some pushback that I am insensitive to the plight of Afghans. I don’t think so, but it’s a free country, right? Well, not Afghanistan, I mean in general, huh. My list of <Ten things Afghan farmers generally can’t do> is really a needs assessment list of what needs to be done in the agricultural sector to make it work better, sorely needed. Ghesh, I don’t think Phil will ever speak to me again.

Their comments reflect worry about my security. Not to worry. I have lived a wonderful live, come what may. I have reached the ultimate now that is posting my mishaghas. BTW, they have a great web site for free-thinking Iranians and whomever. You might like to check it out.

One commentator questioned my statements about Dr. Laina’s central coastal California llama herd laying eggs. He was right; they are actually those feathered birds that can’t fly and hide their heads in danger, ostriches. He also questioned that if Afghan farmers are so deprived, how come they produce so much of the world’s opium-source crop, poppies? That is a special case as the Taliban has the only nationally functioning agricultural extension service, very comprehensive services and agricultural inputs to poppy growers, like USAID’s Global Development Alliance which partners private sector investors with developing country labor. The result being that the Taliban and the poppy growers are partners in the venture, and the Taliban being very well funded by Iran, Pakistan, and others, well, it works, doesn’t it?

Several commentators, including a US senatorial family, have asked my views about winning hearts and minds, is this US war in Afghanistan winnable, and such. Luckily, I am just a barely adequate environmental engineer, so my insights here are purely amateurish at best. In this barbaric land of pedophilia, incest, honor killings, homosexuality, women abuse, etc., who is to say?

My amateurish sense is that the US cannot win this existentialist, philosophical, religious Afghan war, just as Israel cannot win its war with Hamas and Hezbollah, India cannot win its war with Pakistanian terrorists, Russia cannot win its war with Chechynain terrorists. The best outcome is a prolonged, indefinite more-of-less status quo or containment with ongoing collateral damage on all sides. The alternative is to pull out, as Great Brittan thankfully did to our colonial heroes, and to its empire, as the US did with Vietnam, as Israel did in Lebanon and Gaza. If we pull out of Afghanistan, as President Barak Obama has already promised, that will empower Iran, Pakistan, and of course the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Basques, Chechynains, and other terrorist and insurgent individuals and organizations. Obviously, no Thomas Friedman am I. Maybe Afghanistan is all predicted in the Book of Isaiah? Of course, Isaiah predicted ga-zillions of things to come, so some of them likely come true sooner or later.

Like I said, I am no scholar, a barely adequate environmental engineer, who had only one honors class in High School, Honors English, which focused on William Shakespeare. Nope, I never was even a US Foreign Service Officer, merely a US Foreign Service Limited Appointee as a technical specialist without international diplomacy training or skills.

There were comments about Week Seven concerning unhappiness with some per my female/male comparisons. Let me assure everyone, I am not anti-female. In fact, compare, which is better, men or women? No contest! I hope this clears up that issue, so Leslie and I can still be friends.oo

Seriously though, which is better? Men or women? No contest!

Now that we got that settled, it’s amazing how little things can set one off. I was crunching late one night and early morning to produce a draft agenda and Powerpoints for an upcoming workshop in Jalalabad, and was wearing that odd sporting shirt I have with rubber buttons. (The training will focus on agriculture, infrastructure, and private-sector development, with local field trips, site visits, and evaluation.) There must be some reason for rubber buttons, anyone know? The shirt is a bit loose on me, and my right cuff caught the black “Page Dn” button on my $700 DELL INSPIRON laptop that Patricia ordered for me several months ago when I was still DC-based. The black, flat button cap flew off and left a white, small plastic spike sticking up from the keyboard. How worrisome, I thought. Oddly, this disturbed me through my draft and most the night. Then under bright lights, I was able to simply snap the button cap over the thin button-cap receptor, and voila, good to go.

I am in another remote agricultural province near Iran this week to train agri-business, cash-for-work, engineering, and horticultural team leaders in environmentally sound design and AID environmental procedures compliance. This new assignment within my assignment came about because the program gender specialist/ environmental compliance officer quit; so I offered to put on a workshop, accepted by my client. I haven’t had direct feedback from her, but I know she was really pissed at the working and living conditions there, in small tin container rooms stacked on top of each other with unreliable plumbing and electricity, awful meals, misplaced laundry, etc. She told me how upset she was there when she inadvertently locked herself in the tiny bathroom in her tiny tin container. The more she turned the handle, the more the screws were stripped, and finally, the handle comes out in her anxious hand. She said she was trapped for over an hour and was going bonkers. She said it was horrifying.

Same thing happened to me there. Afghans are not interested in maintenance, construction, monitoring and evaluation, checklists, etc.; they have bigger everyday challenges, to be fair. And much of their technical, professional, and crafts people have been killed or left the country to the benefit of the west who gained these talented people – the ones who migrated I mean, not the ones who have been killed. Maybe she and I had the same bathroom, different times of course. I had no problem getting unstuck. I lifted the trapping bathroom door upwards, which freed it. Got this from my experiences living in a VW Van with Bavarian closet and tent features, behind Tucson Medical Center for several months in the early 1970s.

In Iraq, all of use KBR people carried small tools for such situations during my 2003-2004 tour there to Rebuild Iraqi Oil for USACE. But I am tool-less here in Afghanistan. I especially liked the Leatherman that I was given for a talk I gave at a 2002 ACHMM national meeting in Portland, OR on <International Environmental Engineering Opportunities and Challenges.> Portland is a very lovely town of friendly people, fine restaurants, flowing rivers, trees, parks, and nude bicyclists.

If you want a quick, safe glimpse of rural Afghanistan, it is more backward than this very charming clip from rural Iran from 1963, //

Say, a pal in Springfield, VA asked for an Afghan prayer rug, and another in Phoenix asked for six Afghan men’s kafiyat, which I assembled and mailed through APO/Kabul last week. It was easy, except we had to go through several check points and was turned back from one as my escort’s security papers had expired and she didn’t want to pay off the Afghan soldier. Happily, he didn’t arrest or shoot us.

My dad, of blessed memory, liked to say, in such situations, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is God.” This is a famous quote from the Dutch author, philosopher and scholar, Desierius Erasmus, as “In regione caecorum rex est luscus.” But I think here in Afghanistan, it would be more appropriate to say, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is soon blinded.”

Erasmus also wrote some cool stuff, like wrote "Handbook of a Christian Warrior" 1503, "In Praise of Folly" 1509 (also "Encomium Moriae"). He was a famous early modern pacifist, who wrote, “Building a city is much better than destroying one.” Erasmus was not particularly anti-Jewish or anti-Moslem. He argued Christianity is the ideal religion and Jews and Moslems should be encouraged to adopt it, because Christianity and war are absolutely irreconcilable. He wrote, “War invariably results in crudelity, whether conducted by pagans or Christians, by common folk or popes and bishops, by the young or the old.” I am a long-term Erasmus fan, as I had a wonder Dutch-American pal; we had a cat named Erasmus to honor her heritage. I wonder what Erasmus would have made of this non-Noahide, barbaric Islamic country?

My Texan logistic chief here in Afghanistan tells when she had similar role in Iraq a few years ago; the Iraqi police arrested one of her clerks. He was caught with a cargo shipment of heart medicine which was stamped with MADE IN ISRAEL. The Iraqi police burned the medicine. They assumed it was Israeli poison, targeted at Iraqis. Hatred of Israel is a common theme in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, all for totally unrelated reasons, I am told by nationals of these countries. Of course, America is hated primarily because it is a non-Moslem country, interferes with their politics, supports Israel until the administration of Barack Hussein Obama, is killing many collaterals in Afghanistan and Pakistan, supports India over Pakistan, etc. I may take generations before Iranians will forgive the US and Israel for supporting, funding, training, etc., the brutal Stalinist dictator, Shah of Iran for his entire adult lifetime over what was democratically elected. God, I am so happy to be just an engineer.

I spent an evening commiserating over Afghani political life, mostly listen to Afghan pals disking their elected President for getting too publicly close to the Iranian President. There is of course this surrogate Afghan war theater, played out between US-Iranian conflict, Indian-Pakistani conflict, etc. I would think that any sustainable Afghan leader would want allies on all fronts. One of my Afghan pals says that the US should install an Islamic military strong man to control Afghanistan, under Islamic law, which would be respected by all Afghans and would trump the Indian, Iranian and Pakistani surrogate pressures. He said the best model for this is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and suggests the US should Arabia-ize Afghanistan and with draw. Unfortunately, President Obama’s meeting with President Karzi last week led to Karzi announcing essentially his intention of closer ties with Iran, with the Pakistani press pissed off and naturally the Indian press cheering. Ghesh, I am so lucky I am just an engineer.

An Afghan client of mine came to see me at my Kabul Guest House after dinner one night last week. We drank Starbucks chilled cappuccino coffee and ate Sara Lee cake, not because they were imposed by economists and planners in DC but because the demand is high for such products, including US movie videos, Harry Potter books, etc. He reminisced to me how he was kidnapped by the Taliban and held for ransom, which he paid and was set free. He was held also because he was one of the few Afghans who were building roads when the Taliban felt the roads were threatening to them as they would make it easier for the US military to track them. His Taliban capturer asked him, “Why are you building roads for the American imperialists in your native country, you traitor pig?” My friend told him, “You are too stupid to understand, but your wives and children know well why we are building roads.” The Taliban capturer was upset with my friend, and of course threatening. My friend said he didn’t care, that Allah knew the roads were needed. Finally, my friend told his Taliban capturer, “Look you fool, if your wife was birthing your son and would be dying, she could be in a doctor’s care in a few minutes if there was a good road, your sons could go to better schools, and you would have your choice of mosques…” And finally, the Taliban capturer agreed. Now, of course, the Taliban control most of Afghan roads, have put up checkpoints and kidnap at will; they fade out when they see US military coming, then set-up check points again at their pleasure. When they want some additional funds, it’s the easiest way to raise instant cash rather than depend on their foreign supporters through negotiations and necessary kickbacks

I see on Yahoo news that on April 1st, the very lovely Oscar-winner Anna Paquin declared, “I’m bisexual!” I wonder if it was an April Fool’s Joke. Or not? I can imagine the debate over this in Texas. Does Anna mean she gets laid twice a month, or every other month? If bisexual means she gets laid twice a month, does semi-sexual mean Anna gets laid every other month? I never got this straight, so I usually write, say “twice monthly” or “every-other month.”

When I taught at a Texas college in the late 1960s, they had an inspirational speaker at a college assembly. The motivational speaker was from humble beginnings, and said, “We were so poor and illiterate, I thought manual labor was a Mexican actor.”

I remember when Dick Chaney’s daughter declared herself in public to be a lesbian; the Capital Steps’ George Bush character had routine where the Bush character asks the Chaney character, “Dick, I didn’t know your daughter was Lebanese.”

Everyone loves to make fun of Texans. I love those stories, like the Texas bragging to an Israeli on a plane, “It takes me all day to drive from one end of my ranch in West Texas to the other.” The Israeli says, “Yes, I used to have a truck like that.”

Or the Texan who tells a Jew on the plane, “I own 250,000 acres of the High Plains of the Texas panhandle, richest God-damn farm land in the country. What do you own?” The Jew says, “I don’t own much, not more than an acre.” “Ten acres! Boy, how the hell can you make a living on an acre?” The Jew says, “Oh, it’s in downtown Manhattan.”

Or the story my mother of blessed memory loved, about the Texan visiting Sardi’s Restaurant in NYC. He orders bagels and lox for breakfast. He consumes it almost immediately with great pleasure. The waitress asks, “How did you like your order?” The Texan says, “’Mam, that was mighty fine. I sure enjoyed it. But, which was the bagels and which was the lox?”

Texas Aggie jokes are legend, and Texans love to tell them. Some are simply sweet, like the Cajun Luckier Pierre jokes, others more brutal like Polish jokes. I better not get started; it can get ugly. Okay, I’ll tell a sweet and an ugly, and one in-between.

An Aggie buys an electric lawn mower from Sears. He takes it home, but can’t get it started. Frustrated, he drives madly back to Sears for his money back. The salesman looks at the mower, notices that is has been doused in gasoline to get it started, its paint burned off already. The salesman plugs the mower’s chord into an electric outlet, and the mower immediately starts up. The Aggie jumps back in shock, and says, “What the hell is that sound?”

An Aggie is at the beach in Galveston and notices a lot of pretty gals there. He approaches several, but they show no interest in him and walk away. He notices that several of the gals are hanging out with the lifeguards. He works up his courage and pulls one of the lifeguards aside. “Say, how come you have so many gals around you? What do I need to do?” The lifeguard looks at the Aggie and tells him, “Son, judging from your looks, your best bet is to go home, get a large potato, put it in your swim trunks and come back. That should do it.” The Aggie runs home, finds a large potato, puts it in his trunks, and comes back to the beach. Well, it’s even worse now for him. He can’t even get near any gal. As soon as they see him walking to them, they skip away. Frustrated, the Aggie returns to the lifeguard who advised him. The lifeguard looks at the Aggie and says, “Son, you’ve got to put the potato in the front of your trunks, not the back!”

Finally, the ugly one. A nearly one-liner, like any of my several Uncle Leos of blessed memory would have liked. It goes, “Why do they always have an open pile of shit at an Aggie wedding?” Give up? “To keep the flies off the bride.” I warned you, it was ugly.

Say, odd client behavior. I have a client in Kabul who does nearly exactly the opposite of what I recommend. I suggest and negotiate a deal which would save the client valuable time and limited funding. Then my client, without informing me, takes a path that requires maximum time and money, and involves three other administrative approvals – one in Kabul, one in Almaty, and one in DC. Go figure.

One Sunday, in counting the money in the weekly offering, the pastor of the Granville Presbyterian church found a pink envelope containing $1,000. It happened again the next week. The following Sunday, he watched as the offering was collected and saw a little old lady put the distinctive pink envelope in the plate. This went on for weeks until the pastor, overcome by curiosity, approached her.

"Ma'am, I couldn't help but notice that you put $1,000 a week in the collection plate," he stated.

"Why yes," she replied, "every week my son sends me money, and I give some of it to the Church."

The pastor asked, "That's wonderful, how much does he send you?"

The old lady replied, "$10,000 a week."

The pastor was amazed. "Your son is very successful! What does he do for a living?"

"He is a veterinarian," she answered.

"That is an honorable profession," the pastor said. "Where does he practice?"

The little old lady said proudly, "In Nevada. He has two cat houses in Las Vegas, and one in Reno."


Who is alive that remembers me at 135 pounds? My first wife, my older daughter’s mom, my sister and a dozen relatives, a few hundred students and fewer friends and professors? So, nearly 100 pounds heavier, I collapse the business-comfort chair in my Farah trailer. I slip together two plastic lawn chairs which work well. The next day, Afghan housekeeping replaces my adequate lawn chairs with a thin folding chair with worn-out bolts. Guess what?

Say, Afghan housekeeping found the two oversized sock slippers which were misplaced in Farah when I was here two months ago. I asked the housekeeper why he didn’t send it to me in Kabul. He shrugs and says, “If it were important to you, sir, we knew you would come back to Farah for it.” I am still missing a pair of Travel Smith French-blue boxer shorts, XL, in Kabul…

I completed training 15 Farah managers and staff in environmental procedures compliance per 22CFR216. I inquire, how I might make some business cards, as I have used up all I brought. I was directed to one, then three, then several, and finally one Afghan guy. The guy shows me a film-paper and offers me sheets on which to print name cards. I read the box. It says “For ink jet printers only.” I ask him if we have an ink jet printer. He says, of course. I say, fine, and start to walk away with three sheets. He says mildly, “But sir, we do not have ink jet cartridges.” Okay, I say, can you get cartridges or can you get name-card paper stock which will take the laser printer? He says, no problem, we will have it to you in two hours. Sure enough, two hours later, a very large sheet of thick paper is delivered to me; seems adequate. They guy says he will cut it to printer size. The next day, I am given paper-size sheets!

The cleaning and cooking and laundry gals are lunching in their corner. I offer to take their picture, and one of them tells me I owe them the pictures I took two months ago. I promise to send it to her email address. They allow me to take a few more pictures. I insist to include the cook’s helper. Next morning, I go into the kitchen late, as I was up too late watching a Grade D TV movie starring twin body-builder detective/criminal. I ask the cook’s helper for an omelet. She gives me a pink flower to wear on my laptop bag. Everyone is laughing, she a bit embarrassed. After quite some time, she gives me the omelet. I take it to the table to eat. She comes running to apologize that she did not have cheese, so she added a lot of butter instead. Is that okay? I assure her it is lovely and she is embarrassed and runs back to the kitchen. Meanwhile the paper-stock guy is stuffing the paper-size sheets in my laptop bag, while I am balancing a butter-omelet and hot cup of instant coffee, naturally leaving a coffee trail and puddles behind every step I take. When I finally sit down at the white, plastic table to eat, there is hardly any coffee in my clear glass cup, and of course, my paper-size sheets have a charming coffee stain… Ugh.

Okay, so I find this file as Your browser may not support display of this image. and figure I can print it somewhere, several to a page on several of these thicker, paper-size sheets. I finally figure out how to access the only color printer in Farah, but when I go to print, I learn there is no cartrigde. Not to worry, the Afghan IT guy says he has a special, private place that can print it. I give him four sheets of the paper. He comes back to me 30 minutes later with four sheets, printed, but it’s not the same paper. It’s on regular thiner, paper! I ask him, why? He says, they always use the thinner paper; it doesn’t jam the printer. Oh, I really don’t want to give our business cards on reporting or letter paper. Ugh.

Then, the two Afghan office women offer to cut my four sheets to card-size. They have been cutting for the past several days, headings for files and notebook chapters it seems. I can’t refuse then, so there is goes. They take my four thin-paper sheets and cut away, using a cutting board with a sharp blade. Ugh. They are very prount when the hand me my several dozen business cards, on thin paper of course. I thank them graciously. Ugh, none of the cutting is quite right. Either too much or too little is trimmed, making each thin-paper card looking exactly the right amature-like look I am trying to avoid in a business card. Ugh.


There is something necessary to clean the dust from your eyes and nostrils, water rinse is best when you have access to water. It can look u-g-u-l-y when done in public or at your work desk in a public area. Ugh.

At dinner, I asked my expatriate mates, what is something that everyone should know about Afghanistan, but don’t. One guy said, “If you go to a Christmas party here, don’t make a pass at anyone’s wife!” Well, that’s silly, of course on several counts. First, they don’t have parties, and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t invite expats. And if they did, it certainly wouldn’t be a Christmas party. And if they did, and you went, you shouldn’t make a pass at anyone’s wife, at an Afghan Christmas party or elsewhere. So what’s the point?

We are telling development stories. One guy says, he audited one of the old Soviet automobile manufacturing industry, particularly Lada Automotive. At the time, the Japanese firm Toyota was the world leader in automotive quality. A Soviet delegation from Lada visited Toyota in Japan. They noticed at the end of the Toyota assembly line, a guy was sitting next to a huge set of crates. The guy’s job was to throw a cat into each finished Toyota as a quality control measure. The next day, another Toyota technician would open the Toyota’s doors. If the cat has suffocated, the technician gave the vehicle a “pass,” as he knew the vehicle was air-tight vehicle per their specifications. Toyota’s vehicles were famous for being air tight and quiet from the inside. When my colleague inspected the Soviet Lada automobile plant during his audit, he noticed that Lada Automotive was doing a similar test, with a variation. There was generally a live cat in the vehicle every morning. In these circumstances, the Soviet technician gave the Lada a “pass,” a he thought the idea of the test was to assure that a cat could survive in the vehicle over night. The technician rejected every vehicle that was shown to be air-tight. The Soviet Lada was in famous for leaking, including letting in rain water, street runoff, etc., and being very noisy from the inside. Oop, the cot in my Farah room… collapsed, I was laughing so hard. So tell me, chevarim (friends), what is not to like about Afghanistan?

Week ten
in a land of now serious heat, dust and optimistic flies, Afghanistan – Saturday, 17 April 2010

WARING: immature, adult, nonsensical, sarcastic and generally crappy language, content, themes

You can be young only once, but you can be immature your whole life.

Arabic poet says, there only is one wealth which increases while spending and that is Knowledge.

We had a marvelous Indian meal on Friday night last at my Farah Compound with handmade chapatti, and two kinds of freshly made crisps (pepper and onion), curried vegetables, rice, then topped off with spice cake with coffee, thanks be to our dairy and food production specialist, Shivaji. As our cook is off on weekly holiday, Friday, we fend for ourselves. Plus, the cook is really the cleaner, and not very good at either. He is easily distracted and doesn’t seem to know the difference between salt and pepper; plus, as in Afghan cooking, cooking oil is the dominant food group, which keeps everyone in the country well lubricated in the toilet department. In agricultural terms, the country is rather like a pig sty, which of course is a cultural oxymoron. But it is in many ways. I was thinking, so many of my expat pals have gotten ill here. I wonder if all those promiscuous college years paid off in boosting my immune system. Whadyathink?

If you like to cook, and what civilized person does not, you might like this irresistible dish my long-suffering dish, I mean irresistible if long-suffering wife makes, from a recipe I found in a magazine.

delicious living magazine (feed your body/ feed your spirit), December 2004

Serves 8 to 10/ Following Ayurvedic principles, this pie promotes peacefulness because it doesn’t contain caffeine (found in chocolate) or strong spices. Tart cranberries add color, zip, and vitamin C. Use your favorite piecrust recipe, or use pre-made frozen piecrusts from natural grocery stores. To save time, use frozen, thawed squash.

1 9-inch piecrust 2 cups cooked and mashed butternut or acorn squash

3 eggs ½ cup of fresh orange juice

½ cup of low-fat sour cream ½ cup of sucanat or granulated fructose

Pinch of salt ½ cup of fresh cranberries, roughly chopped, or ½ cup of dried cranberries


½ cup of pure fruit strawberry jam 1 cup of fresh cranberries

½ teaspoon of honey or fructose, or to taste Low-fat whipped cream or crème fraîche, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350o F. Fit piecrust into a 9-inch pie dish; flute edges and prick sides and bottom with folk. Bake, unfilled, for 15 minutes, until golden. Cool.
2. Combine squash, eggs, orange juice, sour cream, sucanat or fructose, and salt in a large mixing bowl; blend until smooth. Stir in chopped cranberries. Pour into cooled piecrust and bake for 75 to 80 minutes or until set. Cool.
3. For topping, melt strawberry jam in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add cranberries and cook until barely tender and just beginning to burst, about 5 minutes. Adjust sweetness with honey or fructose. Cool completely. Spread over cooled pie. Garnish with whipped cream or crème fraîche.

PER SERVING: 286 calories, 33% fat calories, 11 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 82 mg cholesterol, 5 g protein, 43 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 242 mg sodium

I wonder where cuisines come from. Mostly, people can agree there is Chinese, French, Italian, Indian cuisine. Maybe Mexican and Vietnamese cuisine. But English, German, Canadian, American, Portuguese cuisine? I don’t know. Whadyathink? What makes something cuisine rather than food?

I have been pressing my armored vest for upper-body exercises. It weighs, I am told, about 35 to 50 pounds, depending on which of the two I press. The helmet weighs from 15 to 25 pounds, depending on which one I roll to keep my shoulder from slipping inward after the back overhead presses. Not a pretty sight, but if I do the rolls after the presses as a Navy SEAL showed me, and rub my arms as my Geo. Mason Univ. economist pal showed me, there is no pain afterward or the following day. My security officers lift free weights and do UK fitness-for-duty exercises in Farah, Helmand, and Uruzgan. In my Kabul Guest House where there are staircases, my guards run up and down the stairs for 30 minutes, some in body armor. They also punch and kick the bee-Jesus out of punching bags. These guys are tough. They have to be tough to wear those tattoos on their arms and necks. When I am on the treadmill in Kabul, I look out the window at Afghan security officers firing weapons in mock drills against LESCO security barriers. I can’t hear the weapons fire through the coated glass which protects from shatter if pierced by incoming projectiles and dampens outside noise.

The life of an American crop-pest-disease control and 22CFR216 trainer in Afghanistan is not a pretty one, but… I was able to pay off my wife’s root canal work easily with money to spare. And received charming kudos from several of my students by email and Skype, of their presumably own free will. My Vallejo CPA did as usual a wonderful job; I never met him. He bought out my previous CPA when the older guy retired. We stuck with the new guy who my wife likes. He’s done good work for us, with a complicated tax package, with me mostly abroad with lots of expenses.

My exercise regime is making me heavier, as when I gained weight from water aerobics at the San Francisco YMCA in the late 1990s. Felt good doing it and afterwards though.

I am developing the unpleasant habit of waking up every two or three hours. Not to use the bathroom or catch my breath, just plain and simple waking up. This is will be tough on a wife, as one of the major advantages of marriage is… sleeping with someone who looks and smells better than you. Wonder if I can make a list of the things you can do without a wife?

Ten things you can do without a wife on temporary duty and short-term technical assistance assignments

1. Wake up every two or three hours at night without disturbing anyone

2. Wear the same clothes for several days

3. Keep away from soap, water, and the tooth brush and razor for several days

4. Scratch any time, part, and place, even places you didn’t know you had

5. Spill food and drink, and eat and drink anywhere and anytime you want, including raw meals-ready-to-eat

6. Use your laptop, watch TV, cut the hooves growing out of your toes, and trim back your calluses with a pruning knife whenever, wherever you like

7. Take excessively long showers and sing yourself silly without complaint

8. Read or write in bed or sing silly songs all night or whenever you want

9. Pick your nose and throw it at flies and empty glasses and bowls

10. Not take vitamins, mineral supplements, and health foods

11. Have your friends visit you whenever you and they like

12. Listen to music that you like.

13. Not have to visit anyone you don’t want to visit.

14. Complete or not complete your own sentences and random thoughts, as you chose

15. Leave dirty dishes and utensils, and unfinished food and drink, wherever you like for however long you like

16. Break out in prayer whenever without seeing rolling eyes

17. Yawning, humming, whistling, burping, belching, farting and making other noises and bird calls at will without restraint or criticism

18. Finding things where you put them

19. Giving yourself a haircut with your electric razor without comments

20. Exchange rude, insensitive, sexist, racist, and otherwise irritating and improve and incorrect thoughts, poetry, limericks, stories, experiences, and jokes without prejudice

I lied. There are way more than ten. Sorry.

As I reread what I wrote, it gives me greater respect for authors of great literature, Slaughterhouse Five, The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea, Howl, and Travels with Charlie.

My friend Key-Lime Carl notes his concern: Barney, as I said before I think you should come home before you forget you are a Jew—note following.

"On a bus in Tel Aviv, a mother was talking animatedly, in Yiddish, to her little boy -- who kept answering her in Hebrew.
And each time the mother said, "No, no, talk Yiddish!" An impatient Israeli, overhearing this, exclaimed, "Lady, why do you insist the boy talk Yiddish instead of Hebrew?" Replied the mother; "I don't want him to forget he's a Jew."

You also may be losing your sense of reality. Read following:

Vun day Chaim vas valking down da street. Ven who did he see vas driving a brand new Chevrolet?
It vas Moishe!
Moishe pulled up in front of him vit a vide smile!
Chaim asked, 'Moishe ver did you get dat car?'
'Rochel gave it to me.' said Moishe.
'She gave it to you? Vell I knew she vas sveet on you, but dis?' exclaimed Chaim.
'Vell let me tell you vat happened. Ve vere driving out on da #6 county road out in da middle ah'novere, and suddenly Rochel pulled of da road into da voods! She parked da car, got out and trew off alla her clothes! And den she said, 'Moishe take vatever you vant!' 'So, I took da car!'.
'Moishe,' Chaim said, 'You are such a smart man, dose clothes voulda never fit ya!'

But this one takes the cake—Good luck on week 10 in Afghanistan.

"An older Jewish gentleman marries a younger lady and they are very much in love. However, no matter what the husband does sexually, the woman never achieves orgasm. Since a Jewish wife is entitled to sexual pleasure, they decide to ask the rabbi.

The rabbi listens to their story, strokes his beard, and makes the following suggestion. "Hire a strapping young man. While the two of you are making love, have the young man wave a towel over you. That will help the wife fantasize and should bring on an orgasm."

They go home and follow the rabbi's advice. They hire a handsome young man and he waves a towel over them as they make love. But it doesn't help and she is still unsatisfied. Perplexed, they go back to the rabbi.

"Okay", says the rabbi, "let's try it reversed. Have the young man make love to your wife and you wave the towel over them."

Once again, they follow the rabbi's advice. The young man gets into bed with the wife, and the husband waves the towel. The young man gets to work with great enthusiasm and the wife soon has an enormous, room-shaking screaming orgasm.

The husband smiles, looks at the young man and says to him triumphantly, "You see, THAT'S the way to wave a towel!"~~


Woke up one early morn in Farah, heard no noise, no one around. Crept into the kitchen, no one around. Checked the dining area, no one around. Drank some water and wet to my office, no one around. After awhile, it was 10 a.m., and still no one. I thought, did a bomb go off killing and vaporizing everyone but me? Finally, the Chief of Party came into the office complex. He reminded me it was Friday, the Moslem day off. On the white board in my box room, I had still posted my to-do-list for Thursday, and thought, silly me; it was still Thursday when I read it on Friday morning!

Subject: Fw: Opportunity - From Shelia in San Francisco:

Over 5,000 years ago, Moses said to the children of Israel, "pick up your shovel, mount your asses and camels, and I will lead you to the Promised Land".

Nearly 75 years ago, Roosevelt said," Lay down your shovels, sit on your asses, and light up a camel, this is the Promised Land".

Now Obama has stolen your shovel, taxed your asses, raised the price of camels, and mortgaged the promised land.

I got so depressed last night thinking about Health Care Plans, the economy, the wars, lost jobs, Savings, Social Security, retirement funds, etc...I called the suicide hotline.

Got a call center in Pakistan.

I told them I was suicidal.

They got all excited and asked if I could drive a truck.

Say, when I say my morning and evening prayers, I start with “Dear God, I thank you for your blessings and seek your guidance.” Then I break into Hebrew. Now, back in Kabul, week ten, my prayers have been answered. I was assigned a room… with the bathroom drain below grade rather than above, so the drain actually, actually drains. I have taken three showers in two days, to test it out! Yahoo YHW!

Yet, in Farah, the laundry gals do your laundry daily and return it presumably clean but nearly always damp. They returned a pair of large brown over-sock-slippers to me, which was missing from my earlier trip. In Kabul, I am missing a pair of XL French blue, Travel Smith boxer shorts. I mentioned it, and perhaps the unmentionable will show up. Must be careful of reporting missing things, as if the police hear of it, there will be repercussions, maybe even hand cutting!

In the early 1980s, I did some work for an international engineering firm in Houston. We had an incident, terrible story. I’ll tell you. Our Chief of Party in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia couldn’t find his Rolex watch as he prepared for Relax and Recreation Leave to his home in the UK. He reported it to the police. Upon his return to the Kingdom, he found that the police had tortured his house staff; his man servant admitted to the theft and his right hand was cut off. But the COP found his Rolex as he unpacked, and angrily complained to the police that they had de-handed his manservant. Of course, the police arrested the COP for false reporting and were prepared to punish him by de-handing him as well, according to Islamic law in the Kingdom. Only high-level diplomacy was able to extract, hand-in-tack, the COP, but the poor manservant had lost his right hand, and the house staff severely tortured by the Saudi police to extract a confession. Ugh.

My new room in Kabul now has an electric water-boiler for coffee or tea making at any hour. There was no such thing in my room, but I asked several servants for such, and finally found one who spoke enough English to accommodate me. Try pantomiming a few things, if you like, such as requesting toilet paper, soap, electric water-boiler, change of towels or bedding. Might be fun. Oh, scientific observation: If you use a tea bag and make a cup of tea at 1 p.m. on or about 12April in Kabul, drink the tea and leave the tea bag in your cup, by 6 p.m., the tea bag will be nearly dry. Go figure.

Courtesy of Arthur the Younger

Monday, April 12, 2010 (SF Chronicle)
Park offers women in Kabul some freedom
Emily Wax, Washington Post

(04-12) 04:00 PDT Kabul --
On a recent day when the sun was finally strong enough to dry the Afghan capital's muddy streets, Habiba Sarwe sought her husband's permission to visit a spot that her daughter and all the neighborhood wives were talking about: a park, with swings, benches, flowers and a gazebo. A park for women only.
"Please, let me go," begged Sarwe, who is 44 but whose tired eyes make her look far older. "It's a good place."
Her husband decided it would be OK. So that afternoon, Sarwe put on her favorite fitted gray wool suit under her shapeless, head-to-toe burqa and set out with three of her children for the dusty park on the edge of Kabul.
Once inside the two metal gates, she pushed up the visor of her burqa and stood still, the sunshine warm on her face, while her two daughters and youngest son raced to the swings. She smiled as they soared higher and higher.
"This is the one place that's ours," said an out-of-breath Fardia Azizmay, 19, Sarwe's older daughter, as she jumped off a swing and looked over a pile of a dozen blue burqas, tossed off by women as they entered. "For us, home is so boring. Our streets and shops are not for women. But this place is our own."
The small park, protected by a half-dozen gun-toting guards, has become a favorite destination for Kabul women wanting a safe, quiet place to meet with friends, complain about their husbands, discuss their kids, line one another's eyes with black kohl or just shed their burqas and play, female activists here say.
But play is not the only draw. The park, paid for by India, also feels like a miniature college campus. India's Self-Employed Women's
Association, or SEWA, which runs it, has set up a training center on the grounds for mothers and daughters who may never have been to school.
In classrooms overlooking the park, women learn embroidery and organic farming. They pickle tomatoes, bottle jam and sew at a row of new machines. It is all part of a $1.3 billion Indian aid program for
neighboring Afghanistan that includes building roads and power plants as well as reaching out to women and girls through clinics and classes.
Although women make up more than half of Afghanistan's population, fear of fundamentalist militant groups has caused them to nearly disappear from public life, especially in the rural south, where U.S.-led forces are trying to root out Taliban fighters. Some of those insurgents still pressure women to cover up and to avoid schools and workplaces, defying the Afghan constitution's guarantee of equal rights for both sexes.
"Our classes and our park are so busy - but only because India went to the Kabul slum areas and talked to the women about coming," said Tamana Ghaznewil, 19, an Afghan who works at the park. "For many women, having someone come from another country and offer this little garden was really new. Some asked me, 'Why would they see me, an Afghan woman, as important?' "Copyright 2010 SF Chronicle

Tonight is my last in-country day for my current 10-week assignment. I have another starting immediately, in Jalalabad for another firm. I have had several nice calls and emails this week for assignments in Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, Georgia (country), Indiana, Tajikistan, etc., even a mobile phone and a Skype interview. I submitted an agreement to a local design/construction/logistic firm and may have a private assignment here as well. Go figure. You try to get away and they pull you back ;)


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