Monday, July 31, 2006

I'm in love with this organization

We need so much help in the South but the thought of family or friends going down South fills me with dread, it's so shrouded in violence and fear...But damn, Sarah Chayes is doing it. She's helping run Arghand (mgmt ethos on her website - link on the right, under Righteous Organizations) and I am going to try to help. I'm looking for a shipping agency to take 100 kgs of soap to the Boston every month. Any ideas? Email me at

Perhaps my friends can also help with some retail placement.

Much love,


Sunday, July 30, 2006


Congrats to my friends who took the bar this week!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Friday update

A lovely Friday. We couldn't do the khatem but are doing it this week, Inshallah.

We went to a picnic up in Shamoli (up North) and it was fun. Freshly fried fish and kabobs. Mmm, I'm hungry now.

Oh, and my cousin's baby said my name!!!

But now I'm super busy. Saturdays are my Mondays.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Beirut, Beirut

While living in Kabul, which still evidences the scars of war, I can only imagine what Beirut looks like now. My friend is in Beirut right now, and has been sending these beautifully written but painful emails - I will ask if I can post them.

Paradise Lost: elegy for Beirut
By Robert Fisk

Elegant buildings lie in ruins. The heady scent of gardenias gives
way to the acrid stench of bombed-out oil installations. And everywhere
terrified people are scrambling to get out of a city that seems tragically
doomed to chaos and destruction. As Beirut - 'the Paris of the East' - is
defiled yet again, Robert Fisk, a resident for 30 years, asks: how much
more punishment can it take?

Published: 19 July 2006

In the year 551, the magnificent, wealthy city of Berytus - headquarters of the imperial East Mediterranean Roman fleet � was struck by a massive earthquake. In its aftermath, the sea withdrew several miles and the survivors - ancestors of the present-day Lebanese- walked out on the sands to loot the long-sunken merchant ships revealed in front of them.

That was when a tidal wall higher than a tsunami returned to swamp the city and kill them all. So savagely was the old Beirut damaged that the Emperor Justinian sent gold from Constantinople as compensation
to every family left alive.

Some cities seem forever doomed. When the Crusaders arrived at Beirut on their way to Jerusalem in the 11th century, they slaughtered every man, woman and child in the city. In the First World War, Ottoman
Beirut suffered a terrible famine; the Turkish army had commandeered all the grain and the Allied powers blockaded the coast. I still have some ancient postcards I bought here 30 years ago of stick-like children standing in an orphanage, naked and abandoned.

An American woman living in Beirut in 1916 described how she "passed women and children lying by the roadside with closed eyes and ghastly, pale faces. It was a common thing to find people searching the garbage heaps for orange peel, old bones or other refuse, and eating them greedily when found. Everywhere women could be seen seeking eatable weeds among the grass along the roads..."

How does this happen to Beirut? For 30 years, I've watched this place die and then rise from the grave and then die again, its apartment blocks pitted with so many bullets they looked like Irish lace, its people massacring each other.

I lived here through 15 years of civil war that took 150,000 lives and two Israeli invasions and years of Israeli bombardments that cost the lives of a further 20,000 of its people. I have seen them armless,
legless, headless, knifed, bombed and splashed across the walls of houses. Yet they are a fine, educated, moral people whose generosity amazes every foreigner, whose gentleness puts any Westerner to shame,
and whose suffering we almost always ignore.

They look like us, the people of Beirut. They have light-coloured skin and speak beautiful English and French. They travel the world. Their women are gorgeous and their food exquisite. But what are we saying of their fate today as the Israelis - in some of their cruellest attacks on this city and the surrounding countryside - tear them from their homes, bomb them on river bridges, cut them off from food and water and electricity? We say that they started this latest war, and we compare their appalling casualties - 240 in all of Lebanon by last
night - with Israel's 24 dead, as if the figures are the same.

And then, most disgraceful of all, we leave the Lebanese to their fate like a diseased people and spend our time evacuating our precious foreigners while tut-tutting about Israel's "disproportionate" response to the capture of its soldiers by Hezbollah.

I walked through the deserted city centre of Beirut yesterday and it reminded more than ever of a film lot, a place of dreams too beautiful to last, a phoenix from the ashes of civil war whose plumage was so brightly coloured that it blinded its own people. This part of the city - once a Dresden of ruins - was rebuilt by Rafiq Hariri, the prime minister who was murdered scarcely a mile away on 14 February last year.

The wreckage of that bomb blast, an awful precursor to the present war in which his inheritance is being vandalised by the Israelis, still stands beside the Mediterranean, waiting for the last UN investigator to look for clues to the assassination - an investigator who has long ago abandoned this besieged city for the safety of Cyprus.

At the empty Etoile restaurant - best snails and cappuccino in Beirut, where Hariri once dined Jacques Chirac - I sat on the pavement and watched the parliamentary guard still patrolling the fa�ade of the
French-built emporium that houses what is left of Lebanon's democracy.
So many of these streets were built by Parisians under the French mandate and they have been exquisitely restored, their mock Arabian doorways bejewelled with marble Roman columns dug from the ancient Via
Maxima a few metres away.

Hariri loved this place and, taking Chirac for a beer one day, he caught sight of me sitting at a table. "Ah Robert, come over here," he roared and then turned to Chirac like a cat that was about to eat a canary. "I want to introduce you, Jacques, to the reporter who said I couldn't rebuild Beirut!"

And now it is being un-built. The Martyr Rafiq Hariri International Airport has been attacked three times by the Israelis, its glistening halls and shopping malls vibrating to the missiles that thunder into the runways and fuel depots. Hariri's wonderful transnational highway viaduct has been broken by Israeli bombers. Most of his motorway bridges have been destroyed. The Roman-style lighthouse has been smashed by a missile from an Apache helicopter. Only this small jewel of a restaurant in the centre of Beirut has been spared. So far.

It is the slums of Haret Hreik and Ghobeiri and Shiyah that have been levelled and "rubble-ised" and pounded to dust, sending a quarter of a million Shia Muslims to seek sanctuary in schools and abandoned parks across the city. Here, indeed, was the headquarters of Hezbollah, another of those "centres of world terror" which the West keeps discovering in Muslim lands. Here lived Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Party of God's leader, a ruthless, caustic, calculating man; and Sayad Mohamed Fadlallah, among the wisest and most eloquent of clerics; and many of Hezbollah�s top military planners - including, no doubt, the men who planned over many months the capture of the two Israeli soldiers last Wednesday.

But did the tens of thousands of poor who live here deserve this act of mass punishment? For a country that boasts of its pin-point accuracy - a doubtful notion in any case, but that's not the issue what does this act of destruction tell us about Israel? Or about ourselves?

In a modern building in an undamaged part of Beirut, I come, quite by chance, across a well known and prominent Hezbollah figure, open-neck white shirt, dark suit, clean shoes. "We will go on if we have to for
days or weeks or months or..." And he counts these awful statistics off on the fingers of his left hand. "Believe me, we have bigger surprises still to come for the Israelis - much bigger, you will see. Then we will get our prisoners and it will take just a few small concessions."

I walk outside, feeling as if I have been beaten over the head. Over the wall opposite there is purple bougainvillaea and white jasmine and a swamp of gardenias. The Lebanese love flowers, their colour and scent, and Beirut is draped in trees and bushes that smell like paradise.

As for the huddled masses from the powder of the bombed-out southern slums of Haret Hreik, I found hundreds of them yesterday, sitting under trees and lying on the parched grass beside an ancient fountain
donated to the city of Beirut by the Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Hamid. How empires fall.

Far away, across the Mediterranean, two American helicopters from the USS Iwo Jima could be seen, heading through the mist and smoke towards the US embassy bunker complex at Awkar to evacuate more citizens of
the American Empire. There was not a word from that same empire to help the people lying in the park, to offer them food or medical aid.

And across them all has spread a dark grey smoke that works its way through the entire city, the fires of oil terminals and burning buildings turning into a cocktail of sulphurous air that moves below our doors and through our windows. I smell it when I wake in the morning. Half the people of Beirut are coughing in this filth, breathing their own destruction as they contemplate their dead.

The anger that any human soul should feel at such suffering and loss was expressed so well by Lebanon's greatest poet, the mystic Khalil Gibran, when he wrote of the half million Lebanese who died in the 1916 famine, most of them residents of Beirut:

My people died of hunger, and he who
Did not perish from starvation was
Butchered with the sword;
They perished from hunger
In a land rich with milk and honey.
They died because the vipers and
Sons of vipers spat out poison into
The space where the Holy Cedars and
The roses and the jasmine breathe
Their fragrance.

And the sword continues to cut its way through Beirut. When part of an aircraft - perhaps the wing-tip of an F-16 hit by a missile, although the Israelis deny this - came streaking out of the sky over the eastern suburbs at the weekend, I raced to the scene to find a partly decapitated driver in his car and three Lebanese soldiers from the army's logistics unit. These are the tough, brave non-combat soldiers of Kfar Chim, who have been mending power and water lines these past six days to keep Beirut alive.
I knew one of them. "Hello Robert, be quick because I think the Israelis will bomb again but we'll show you everything we can." And they took me through the fires to show me what they could of the wreckage, standing around me to protect me.

And a few hours later, the Israelis did come back, as the men of the small logistics unit were going to bed, and they bombed the barracks and killed 10 soldiers, including those three kind men who looked after me amid the fires of Kfar Chim.

And why? Be sure - the Israelis know what they are hitting. That's why they killed nine soldiers near Tripoli when they bombed the military radio antennas. But a logistics unit? Men whose sole job was to mend
electricity lines? And then it dawns on me. Beirut is to die. It is to be starved of electricity now that the power station in Jiyeh is on fire. No one is to be allowed to keep Beirut alive. So those poor men had to be liquidated.

Beirutis are tough people and are not easily moved. But at the end of last week, many of them were overcome by a photograph in their daily papers of a small girl, discarded like a broken flower in a field
near Ter Harfa, her feet curled up, her hand resting on her torn blue pyjamas, her eyes - beneath long, soft hair - closed, turned away from the camera. She had been another "terrorist" target of Israel and
several people, myself among them, saw a frightening similarity between this picture and the photograph of a Polish girl lying dead in a field beside her weeping sister in 1939.

I go home and flick through my files, old pictures of the Israeli invasion of 1982. There are more photographs of dead children, of broken bridges. "Israelis Threaten to Storm Beirut", says one headline. "Israelis Retaliate". "Lebanon at War". "Beirut UnderSiege". "Massacre at Sabra and Chatila". Yes, how easily we forget these earlier slaughters. Up to 1,700 Palestinians were butchered at Sabra and Chatila by Israel's proxy Christian militia allies in September of 1982 while Israeli troops -as they later testified to Israel's own court of inquiry - watched the killings. I was there. I stopped counting the corpses when I reached100. Many of the women had been raped before being knifed or shot.

Yet when I was fleeing the bombing of Ghobeiri with my driver Abed last week, we swept right past the entrance of the camp, the very spot where I saw the first murdered Palestinians. And we did not think
of them. We did not remember them. They were dead in Beirut and we were trying to stay alive in Beirut, as I have been trying to stay alive here for 30 years.

I am back on the sea coast when my mobile phone rings. It is an Israeli woman calling me from the United States, the author of a fine novel about the Palestinians. "Robert, please take care," she says.
"I am so, so sorry about what is being done to the Lebanese. It is unforgivable. I pray for the Lebanese people, and the Palestinians, and the Israelis." I thank her for her thoughtfulness and the graceful, generous way she condemned this slaughter.

Then, on my balcony - a glance to check the location of the Israeli gunboat far out in the sea-smog - I find older clippings. This is from an English paper in 1840, when Beirut was a great Ottoman city.
"Beyrouth" was the dateline. "Anarchy is now the order of the day, our properties and personal safety are endangered, no satisfaction can be obtained, and crimes are committed with impunity. Several Europeans
have quitted their houses and suspended their affairs, in order to
find protection in more peaceable countries."

On my dining-room wall, I remember, there is a hand-painted lithograph of French troops arriving in Beirut in 1842 to protect the Christian Maronites from the Druze. They are camping in the Jardin des Pins, which will later become the site of the French embassy where, only a few hours ago, I saw French men and women registering for their evacuation. And outside the window, I hear again the whisper of
Israeli jets, hidden behind the smoke that now drifts 20 miles out to sea.

Fairouz, the most popular of Lebanese singers, was to have performed at this year's Baalbek festival, cancelled now like all Lebanon's festivals of music, dance, theatre and painting. One of her most
popular songs is dedicated to her native city:

To Beirut - peace to Beirut with all my heart

And kisses - to the sea and clouds,

To the rock of a city that looks like an old sailor's face.

From the soul of her people she makes wine,

From their sweat, she makes bread and jasmine.

So how did it come to taste of smoke and fire?

Friday circus

It’s gratifying to be asked for new posts, okay by 2 people. But still nice. I’ve been really busy lately and also struggling to adjust. I expected the first few months to be my ‘honeymoon’ period, but it started out difficult...It’s getting better now though.

I didn’t post the below entry (re imagined missiles and coups) because I didn’t want to worry anyone but also because I am tired of thinking about it. I think my shaking may have to do with anxiety but I’ve been doing breathing exercises and etcetera and my shaking has subsided.

Another thing on my mind is that my good friend’s young daughter has been diagnosed with a serious kidney disease, so please pray for her and her family. We’re having a khatem (prayer round) for her on Friday. Perhaps I’ll do a post on khatems. Inshallah, our prayers will work. ☺

I went to an MMCC (link on the right) production last Friday and it cheered me up. I really miss working with kids. The little head in the picture is my cousin’s baby. He heard the music from MMCC’s production and started moving his head back and forth. I’m spending the night over my cousin’s house on Thursday to help prepare for the khatem on Friday and I’m super excited to see the baby.

I wrote this earlier this week.

I’m having a hard time adjusting here, if it’s not already obvious by my posts. This visit is so much more different. Everything isn’t fresh and new, and the novelty of being in Kabul has worn off a bit. Perhaps because it’s not a visit.

Today, I heard a (very) low-flying plane and thought – missile. I didn’t hear a crash, so I don’t think it’s that

Then, about an hour later, I heard loud chanting. It was coming from behind the building and I thought, Coup d’etat.

I started to tremble, put on my long black jacket, stuffed some Afghanis and my phone in my pocket, cursed the fact that I wore my slippery black scarf today instead of the one that stays firmly on my head, sent a skype to my mom saying I had a meeting and bye, opened the door, walked out into the hallway, slipped into my neighbor’s office, where we all seem to congregate during times of crisis, and exchanged pleasantries with a lady in a lovely peach outfit.

It ended up being the same guys who were protesting last week. They were protesting either being fired or not getting their pensions. The U.S. Warden message said something about 800-1000 people but I saw less than 200.

I’m being bitten up by some insect as I write this. Yuck.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Thanks for the birthday wishes. I really enjoyed last night. It was a lovely party, with lots of laughter and happiness. It made me a little sad though, it's so hard to be away from my family and friends. My aunt and uncle took a picture with me and I nearly started crying, I miss my parents and brother so much.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


I wrote this yesterday:

I’m writing this in advance of my birthday, which is tomorrow. I’ll be 29 and I realized that tomorrow, I will be the age my mother was when she became a refugee. She was the mother of a fat, bossy, black-haired 2 year old (me) and her life became something else, something she never imagined or wanted.

And here I am, back in Kabul, at the age that she left.

Today has been a great birthday morning. This morning, I spoke to my mom and dad on the phone. They're the only people that HAVE to remember my b-day. Everyone else, I remind. I've been having some health problems lately, headaches, tremors in my hands and generally feeling kinda lousy...but today, I feel awesome, Shukur. I'm feeling energized and I keep humming, "It's my birrrrrrrrthday, it's my birrrrrrrrrthday!"

AND, I met a new cousin. She's a co-worker of mine and she asked, which *homeinkabul* are you. I explained and she knew my aunt and my cousins. What a nice b-day present!

Lunch with my cousins and a b-day party tonight at my cousin's house in my honor. It was supposed to be a surprise but because I am the Surprise Party Ninja, they could not pull it off.

Happy B-day to Harlem Mama and Will and Nelson Mandela!

Monday, July 17, 2006

A hope for a ban on bullhorns

Every morning and every afternoon, during the Kabul rush hour, I hear a traffic policeman chastising the driving public. It’s not like the U.S., where you rarely hear a police officer on the bullhorn. But here, you hear the officers scolding and shouting into their bullhorns, the way some fathers scold their children. It’s a continuous speech, not orders – as if someone just gave the officer the bullhorn so he can vent, and perhaps talk about his feelings. It made me laugh at first, but now it just irritates me and makes me anxious.

Three years ago, I watched an ambulance, in a futile attempt to move past the block of standing cars, say, “Az baray khoda, khoda mesharmanee.” (“For the love of God, you’re shaming yourself!”). It didn’t work then and I doubt it works now.

At the end of the day, are the police officers irritated by the sounds of their own voices?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Advice for Afghanistan

I sent this to a friend of mine before she went to Afg for the first time...The spacing is really odd, I'm sorry about that.
* This isn’t comprehensive but more of a ‘wish someone had told me’ list. Afghanistan is a fun country, full of warm and hospitable people. If you go with the right attitude, you’ll not only learn a lot, you’ll get to know a beautiful culture. Have fun!!!

I. Traveling to and from Kabul
a. Luggage.
i. Ariana Airlines weight luggage limit is very low. Be prepared to pay.
b. Dubai.
i. Your flight will land in Terminal 1 and you will have to get to Terminal 2 to get to your Ariana flight. If you pick up your luggage, which I personally recommend, you’ll have to take a taxi. I recommend getting to the Ariana gate early. I’ve heard that they leave early sometimes (mine didn’t). Be assertive. ☺
c. Kabul Airport
i. There is a departure fee of 500 Afs. Make sure you get a receipt.
II. Kabul
a. Dress
i. Men should not wear short outside of the practice area.
ii. Women should NEVER wear shorts.
iii. Women & men should err on the side of caution and dress more conservatively.
iv. The physical discomfort, if any, will be outweighed by the hospitality of the people (who will feel more comfortable inviting you to their homes if you respect their culture).
v. Women: I like to wear long pants, long shirt (which covers my butt) with long sleeves. There are nice embroidered shirts in Afghanistan that are made out of cotton and are quite comfortable. I also cover my hair with a traditional scarf.
vi. When taking a walk in Kabul, I try to blend in. The situation matters here.
b. Gestures
i. No thumbs up
ii. If you’re sitting on the floor, don’t point the soles of your feet towards anyone.
iii. Apologize if you have your back to someone
1. Hint: They will probably say, “A rose has no front or back.” You can reply, “Neither does a potato.” Enjoy the shared laughter.
iv. No Pointing
v. No Beckoning with one finger
vi. Stand up when an older person comes in. I generally stand up for everyone, it makes them happy.
vii. Don’t shake hands with the opposite gender unless they make the first movement.
c. Speech
i. Don’t call any new acquaintance by their first name without a ‘jan’ at the end.
III. Useful links
a. - Survival Guide to Kabul. I strongly recommend you visit this site!

***I would also suggest learning one or two words in Dari, such as Salam (Hello) and Tashakura (Thank you)

City Jaunt

I went for a walk this morning in the city and it was nice. Our servant, M, advised me against it. I was so irritated that I commented on E’s blog about this and didn’t see the response until after I came back from my jaunt. I can’t live in this city if I can’t even walk out by myself during the day. I called H, a family friend, and he said not to worry about it, to go ahead.

So, I did. It was no big deal but I was nervous. I covered my face when I saw groups of Afghan men but most didn’t say anything. I walked around for about an hour and a half. I bought nail polish remover, some chocolate and breakfast stuff (Nutella!) and looked around for pantyhose and thin scarves…

I stuffed a number of ten afghanis in my pocket and I slipped it to beggars, when asked. You have to do it quickly and walk away or dirty hands that grab at your sleeves and murmur, ‘please please’ surround you. It’s not a pleasant experience.

I dropped some money on the ground and a man yelled “Khala, Khala” I ignored him but he was persistent, when I finally turned around, he handed me my 20 Afghani bill. I thanked him and gave it to an elderly lady who was begging and told her that the khairat (charity) was from him.

Security is so hard to gauge here. I panic when reading the security notices from the government or listen to friends who only travel by car and then get frustrated with my caution when I see local women walking around in shorter shirts than I would ever dare wear outside (their clothes are still conservative.). I can’t live my life in hiding. I don’t go out too late at night; I stick with people I know well, but I can’t, just can’t live a life where I can’t walk around. Well, I can – I don’t want to.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Earthquakes or Bombs

Conversation with R

Me: Earthquake
R: Really?
Me: Yeah, I thought it was a bomb again, there are protestors outside and I figured...
R: You live in a place where you say, “I thought it was a bomb again.”
Me: I guess I do.
R: That’s cool.
Me: No, it’s not.

As an aside, my friend S went running out of his office because of the earthquake. You’re a PANSY! It lasted 15 seconds!

Monday, July 10, 2006

World Cup Lounging

Aaah, the World Cup. Last night was one of the times that reminded me how blessed I am. I’m in Afghanistan, I’ve got great friends and family and we have fun.

Oh, and my team won after Zidane lost his mind. I just picked Italy for this match – I was supporting the U.S. and Brazil but they crashed and burned early in the tournament.

My friend, H, put out an Afghan rug and cushions in her yard, set up a white sheet against the wall and my cousin, H, set up the projector. We watched the game outside in the cool, night air. I fell asleep during the first half.

We saw flares in the distance but my cousin, the expert, stated that they were flares used as firecrackers. I don't know about that but I didn't have the energy to figure out anything during the game.

I lounged on the rug, argued with my cousins about the game (it was not a foul) and who was taking up too much space on the rug (he was), laughed, ate way too much, hooted and hollered during the game.

Yay, fun.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


I’m fine. There was a second round of bombings the next day but I didn’t hear any of it. I spent yesterday (Friday) visiting friends. I made a new friend. My Khala is leaving next week, which is good for her but sad for me. My Momah H is coming this Sunday, so I’m excited about that. And that’s the little update about my life.

Nothing special to report other than mosquitoes are biting me at night and my legs were bleeding this morning when I woke up. Yeah, ew.

It’s 10 am and I want my lunch right now. At least some things don’t change.

I realized why the stuffed tiger was propped up by the water fountain. A photographer uses it as part of its set-up and takes photos of people with it. I’m going to try to convince my co-worker to take a picture with me tomorrow. Or maybe I’ll just take one by myself…

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Well, alrighty then

Well, that was scary. I was writing a report and heard a HUGE explosion behind me, then shouting. I got up, and my two colleagues motioned me to get down. I crouched down and then got up to walk to the hallway. We all crowded in the hallway and just stood there.

I was trembling.

I ran back into my office to grab my phone, in case my Madar called.

I went into my neighbor’s office and looked out the window. They were carrying an Afghan guard to a car. My colleague said, “There’s a man whose legs were blown off.” I didn’t see that, thankfully. I walked out of her office and said, they’re killing innocents. They’re killing people with families.

In the span of 10 minutes (or longer? Shorter?), we all went back to our offices and tried to settle down.

I received phone calls from friends. I tried not to cry as I told them about the Afghan man being carried to a car. I called my Khala who is here in Kabul. I called one friend who I thought might have been out there. I did a little prayer and thanked God that I am okay. Please pray for those hurt.

Then I went back and typed up the rest of my report.

I heard a number of conflicting stories, and finally, that the explosion wasn’t that big. I just looked out the window and the little old lady that peppered me with questions is outside and obviously interrogating a police officer. They are pushing a hatchback, with its back blown out, to some location.

This morning, I saw a stuffed tiger (a doll) perched on the fence that surrounds the circle’s water fountain. I shouted, “I love this country! Someone put a fake tiger up and fake rose bouquets by the water fountain, in celebration for turning on the water fountain (that was my next planned post)”

I still love it here, but I’m not going to lie, I was scared.