Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Not much, just a chance

*I have been writing these entries at night but posting them the next morning, if anyone notices the time difference...
I spent the night before holed up in my room, journaling and listening to Pema Chodron. I feel better now, not because I worked all the problems out, but because I let myself sit with the fear. It eased it a bit.

I am going to dinner with friends this evening and I think it'll be a nice change of pace.
There is so much suffering here. So it's frustrating when petty politics, arrogance and power struggles get in the way of actually doing something positive. 
It's not hopeless yet but it's not hopeful either. We're close to falling off of the tightrope. It'll either be a positive fall into a safety net that allows us to bounce back. Or it'll be a free fall onto the hard, unpaved, cratered road.
I wish I could convey how important it is to help Afghanistan. Afghans are not asking for anything special. Just for some chances. A chance to brag about how smart his daughter is because she's first in her class. A chance to take the family out to eat, or maybe to a picnic. A chance to take a long walk, stop and chat with a neighbor, before hurrying home because Tulsi is coming on. Not much, just some chances.


Monday, August 27, 2007

I get that sinking feeling

So, here I am, sitting on my bed, in my PJs at 7:45 pm. I'm listening
to the outside noise, that mix of traffic, helicopters, shouts and
the loud Indian music.

I remember watching a group of Afghan men dance on a street corner,
consumed with the sheer joy of being outside, safe and able to listen
to music. I haven't seen that in a while.

I need this quiet time (well, quiet-ish), but I still feel out of
balance. I don't have the energy to get up and just get my act
together (clean my room & etc). The electricity came on early today
(6 pm-ish), went out about 45 minutes later, came back on for about
15 minutes and then went out again. Good thing I stockpiled on candles.

I wish I could give you all details about my job (it's actually
pretty interesting) but anonymity is freedom, as AKA:OMG says.

But let's just say that I got a sinking feeling (wait, electricity
came back on again, whatever, I'm fine with sitting here in the
dark). Anyway, I got that sinking feeling at the end of the day. It
made me worried for my co-workers, for me and just generally for the
country. There are way too many scam artists in this country and
waaaay too many that are in power. I have to stop my fear from
paralyzing me and my work. I kind of just want to turn around and run
away. But I don't know where else I'd rather be? I've moved around
enough to know that neither a change of location nor keeping myself
so busy that I just come home to sleep will solve my problems. But
what will? What's the answer? Am I depressed? Well, yeah, maybe. If
you saw how bad this place has gotten – well, who wouldn't be depressed?

How will I know when to fight and when to leave?

Oh, and then I came home, spoke to a local relative who very kindly
asked me to not go out by myself (I used to go on long, rambling
walks 4 years ago), at least until I get used to being back. I wasn't
planning on it. But still. It's sad.

As Safrang and Frida said in the comments in the previous post, hope
becomes an act of courage here. But damn, it's hard.

*For more Sunday Scribbling, check out: http://

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Thinking, Good Buddy

Well, it's 3 hours later. After painting in my journal (my craft
bag was the best thing I brought over) and listening to my Pema
Chodron recording - in between mindless fantasies about Afghanistan
being a dust-less country and sillier fantasies about scoring the
winning goal in the Women's World Cup (don't make fun, you know it'd
be cool) - I feel a bit better. Well, I feel more wiling to sit with
the fear.

Pema Chodron, when explaining the need to practice kindness to
oneself, told the story of a person who says, 'Thinking, Good Buddy.'
when a thought pops up during meditation. Ever since I discovered
blogging by email, I've been mentally composing posts more often.
While it's good to think through topics and get feedback from
friends, it's also an easy way to avoid what is happening. So,
'Blogging, Good Buddy.'

The courage to hope.

The courage to face reality.

The courage to be kind.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Rocket Attack

Rocket attack. I slept through it.

I've figured out how to email my posts but that means no hyperlinking
and no tags.

I visited family and friends this Friday, my one day off. It was
probably the first day that I felt okay about being in Kabul. I don't
know why this transition is harder than the others.

Safrang wondered if being 'back in the belly of the beast' will
dampen my enthusiasm for blogging. I don't know. It's hard to
synthesize this country into edible blog posts that convey the
overwhelming sadness that the security situation is worse than before
or the fact that people are less hopeful than before. That said, if
the situation gets better and there is tangible progress - I think
the hope will be re-ignited. Here's for hope, right?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

This country

breaks my heart every day.

petty politics
pulling apart
my heart
into tiny pieces
of red tape

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Eagle has Landed

And by Eagle, I mean me.

I took a cold bucket-bath this morning. You see, when people say,
"We've got electricity now!" That doesn't mean 24 hour electricity.
It actually means, "We get electricity more than three times a
month!" I came in to work to find that my office isn't ready and
fended off the chatty security guard's overly personal questions
about my absence.

Aaah Kabul. I'm back.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Dear Diary

I am melodramatic. After writing one journal entry today and comparing it with a 1988 entry, I want you all to know that I am a melodramatic person with no sense of humor (at least in my diary entries). And just so y'all know, I'm an adult, I write in journals now. There is a big difference. I just don't know what that is just now.

August 18, 2007

I’m scared. Another kidnapping in Kabul of a German lady. I can’t rationalize that this won’t happen to me now. I don’t have security.

I’m afraid of getting sick again. I’m afraid of being anxious. And most of all, I’m afraid of bolting up in the morning, clutching my bed cover and waiting silently, scream caught in my throat, at the sound of another low-flying plane.

That is, after if I can manage to navigate my way out of the Kabul airport. I’m trying to think positive but oh, how I hate the Kabul airport. Hate.

Oh well, nothing to do but to deal with it. I should go back and listen to those Pema Chodron audiobooks that I downloaded and then forgot about.

I’m reading Frida’s blog as I write this. It seems that a big part of her year has been about learning to let go. I don’t know what my year has taught me, other than to acknowledge that I can’t do as much as I would like.

I’m tired of writing.

(heart) HiK (yes, I do sign off with a heart and my name)

A page from 1988 (errors and melodrama included). The friend I am referring to was 3 years older and had decided that I was too young to be her friend:

April 9, 1988

Dear Diary

I just thought of something, here I am in America and I want to go back to my homeland and I don’t know how it looks like. I also want to tell you something else, I broke up with E- she is not my friend anymore. I tore up her picture and I threw it away, my friendship goes with it. I just can’t help feeling sad about our broken friendship, but still it can’t be, our worlds our different. I mean I’m so young and she’s so different from me.

You know tomorrow morning at school Shamocka and Quang are going to put a Maxi-pad in the boys bathroom & they are going to put ketchup on it. I am going to be the look out. I’m kind of worried, I mean we could get a check ore even suspended! Oh no! I’m not.

I got to go now, it’s time to go to sleep.

First Initial and last name.
For more Sunday Scribbles, click on the link.

Friday, August 17, 2007



I'm packing.

Why do I have so many black jackets? Sure, they're cute and I need them. But now I'm on black jacket (and black pants) probation.

I have a feeling that I will look like Lucius Malfoy when I get there. Except not a Death Eater. Or blond.

Or maybe like Keanu Reeves in Matrix.

It's so hard to figure out clothing for Kabul. I'll discuss this once I figure out whether all my black pants need to go to Afg with me.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Way to go Democrats!

Congress Approves Surveillance Measures

I agree with the elevator repairman.

Pondering the hijab

Hey there, can we talk about the hijab?*

Yeah, I know. It’s late and it’s a sensitive topic. One where you say that it doesn’t matter and I say that it doesn’t but the fact that I don’t and you do, or you don’t and I might, or we both do but my clothes are tighter makes all the difference.

Listen, though – let’s try to talk about it anyway. Where should we start?

We’ve both been there, the middle-aged Afghan lady sneering at the younger veiled Afghan woman, “So, you’ve certainly wrapped yourself up, haven’t you?”
Should we talk about the middle-aged lady first? How she probably watched the headscarf come and go. Forced to take it off back in the day, forced to put it on again in Kabul after years of living in the US, perhaps enduring the barbs that all Afghan diaspora endure when coming back after our long absences.

Or about the younger, veiled woman? How she decided, on her own, that she wanted to wear the headscarf. And how she doesn’t wear it the ‘Afghan way’ or wear a burqa, but instead wraps her head in beautiful cloth, perfectly matching her lovely clothes? And that she has to endure the same barbs about not really being Afghan.

Or the elderly man who goes on and on about how LOVELY AND ANGELIC I look when I wear the hijab for prayers and MAYBE I SHOULD CONSIDER WEARING IT ALL THE TIME. Or maybe we can talk about the 13 year old who hollered, 'COVER COVER' as I walked into the masjid's basement (in the presence of young men who were watching and laughing)
I don't respond but this is mostly because my parents raised me right. Well, I did ask the little kid who he was talking to but he assured me that he wasn't talking to me. Hey, 13 year old, thanks for ruining the masjid experience for my non-Muslim friend, way to make dawa!
Or maybe the drunken homeless man that called you a terrorist on the side of the street?
I wanted to confront him but didn’t know how. I also didn’t want to get into a shouting match with a man who is drunk at 11 am and lounging by the paint store.

Or the niqabi** who looks down on the muhijaba*** in the long black coat who looks down on the muhijaba in the tight jeans and tight shirt who looks down on the uncovered Muslim girl?
Which makes me ask, when are we going to start looking at each other? Or around us?
Or can we talk about the Muslim guy who’s pretty awesome but scoffs at the sister in the matching veil and tight pants and tight shirt?
Brother, shouldn’t you be lowering your gaze anyway?
Or can we talk about the time that the feminist said that the veiled sisters are oppressed and were probably hiding bruises inflicted by their fathers/brothers/husbands?
You aren't helping.
Or the innocent question by the non-Muslim, “If you’re Muslim, why don’t you veil?”
Or maybe we can talk about – Well, you get the picture, right?

I won’t get in the technical, religious discussion because frankly, I just don’t know. I don’t know if it’s mandated in Islam. There are arguments on both sides. All I know that it is a deeply personal decision. A decision that reflects the spirituality, politics and specific situation of each individual Muslim woman.

One that is either vigorously supported (You’re a good Muslim, yay!) or just as adamantly opposed (how’re you going to find a husband, oh no?!) or just plain analyzed (damn, that’s awfully tight shirt for a veiled woman to wear).

KufiGirl does a much better job of discussing the hijab than I ever could.

Instead of attempting to replicate her work – I thought I’d try to give you a bit of my personal and still evolving attitude towards the veil.

I cover for my prayers because it’s how I was taught to do my prayers. When I do my ablutions and slip on my headscarf (with the balloons on it – my aunt made it for me when I was a teen), I have a sense of peace that I can rarely grasp anywhere else. The headscarf that I wear for prayers prepare me for my conversation with God. Where I pray for a vast multitude of things: patience, forgiveness, understanding, safety for my family, friends and myself, as well as thanks for this rich life I lead.

The hijab, when my bare feet are on the soft prayer rug, never feels constricting or repressive. It’s just another way to focus on my conversation with God.

I cover in Afghanistan for safety and also the general sense of ‘When in Rome...” I find that the headscarf allows me the comfort to walk around and also puts local Afghans at ease. The headscarf, however, makes non-Afghans (read, Internationals) uncomfortable to some extent and some have a harder time taking me seriously (I am not a translator for the white dude I accompanied). My head-scarf wearing also complicates matters because I take it off inside my office, put it on when I walk in the halls and then take it off in big conferences with internationals, sometimes.

Yeah, I don’t get it either but it makes me feel better, alright? The headscarf in Afghanistan irritates me when I get inordinately praised for it. Irritates me when I am scolded to just take the damn thing off. Irritates me how people change how they act, just by the sight of my headscarf. Of course, being told by a random passerby on Chicken Street that my coat is ‘too short’ irritates me the most BECAUSE DUDE, IT IS HOT AND I HAVE 4 LAYERS OF CLOTHES ON AND SHOULDN’T YOU LOWER YOUR GAZE SOMETIME?

Sorry, lost control. Anyway, it’s different for everyone, right?

I’ve considered veiling but wonder about my motivation. I consider the profound and the mundane: Whether it’s the right thing to do, would it make me a better Muslim? Would I be pretending that I am something that I’m not? I really like skirts and shorts (I do, I admit it!). Will I become sanctimonious and self-righteous when I put it on? Should I be a better person before I start wearing the headscarf?

But I also think about what an acquaintance once related to me. She said that a sheikh once told her, “Everyone focuses on the veil when really, its just one brick in the house of Islam.”

Then I think, how have I built up the rest of ‘my house’?

So, the answer is, I don’t know about the veil. I don’t think I ever really will.

But I do know that KufiGirl’s final point about the veil is the most important: ignoring the politics of the veiled/unveiled split in favor of interacting with the human being inside.

*I will be referring to the hijab as the headscarf or veil.

**A niqabi is a woman who wears the headscarf and also covers her face.

***A muhijaba is a woman who covers her hair with the headscarf.

Friday, August 03, 2007

8 things update

I was tagged by Frida to reveal 8 previously unrevealed things about myself. Since I like to share and talk too much, this will be difficult. So, I will use this as an opportunity to provide an update as well as illuminate the public about my mysterious existence...

1) Harry Potter. I took the exam and immediately purchased the final and 7th Harry Potter book. I jumped right in and emerged hours later, teary-eyed but satisfied. (Don’t worry, no spoilers here, I’m an obedient muggle.) My tears started when I read the dedication. I cry, it's what I do.

I used to work at a bookstore in college. When I asked a 10-year-old customer whether Harry Potter would be a good book to buy for my baby brother, the little kid launched into a detailed explanation about this kid, right? Who’s a wizard but doesn’t know it and he lives in a cupboard and then he finds out and it’s the best book ever.

Harry gave me a chance to bond with my brother, despite our big age difference and also allowed me to jump into a new world. Thanks Ms. Rowling.

2) Travel. I’m gearing up to go back to Kabul. I’m excited, hesitant and anxious. I have lots of other feelings but don’t feel like dealing with them right now. I’ve pulled out all the Kabul-specific clothes I’ve purchased over the past year on my bed. I’m trying to decide what else I need to buy. Or not. I’m feeling a bit weighed down by the amount of ‘stuff’ that I have. I also can’t remember what I have over there. Or what will be left, people like to help themselves to my stuff when I’m not there.

3) Ramazan. Speaking of Kabul, Ramazan is coming up. I’ve been told not to fast. Which is difficult, since you know I’ll be judged. Afghans love to judge. And I’m particularly susceptible to what other people think (it’s why Afghans like me!). And I want to fast (ahem, since last Ramazan was a spectacular failure). I feel like I need that particular brand of mental and physical rejuvenation that Ramazan gives me. We’ll see. I don’t want to get sick again.

4) Hissy fits and patience. I’ll be working really hard to be assertive but not aggressive. What is it about Afghanistan that allows me to have these tantrums? I’ll be honest, it’s a satisfying feeling: jumping into the self-righteous anger – but it is not nice and not productive. Does this happen to others who work in post-conflict countries? Or is it just Afghanistan that brings out the crazy?

5) Copying, I mean, being inspired by others. I’m a copycat. Frida says collage, I collage. Dr. Knit says knit, I order knitting for dummies (well, not yet but I am seriously considering it).

6) Family and friends, loneliness & time for myself. Jeez, I’m going to miss them. The transient nature of Kabul ensures that I won’t have all of my much-depended on friends when I get back (Bakhair), and I think that I will be lonely. I don’t want to be lonely. But. I also can’t keep up the hectic pace of socializing that I did last time. I hope to find space and time that will keep my calm, comfortable and allow me to think. I think my frantic pace was just another way of running away from my worries. I don’t know where I got this but I think that this is a particularly beautiful Bible verse:
"Stand in awe and sin not. Commune with your own heart, and in your chamber and be still. Selah." Psalm 4:4
7) Korean missionaries. I feel sorry for them and I don’t want to blame them. The Taliban should not have kidnapped them. Should not have killed the pastor, and my prayers go out to their families.

According to this article, they were here for a non-evangelical aid trip. Seriously? Is Kandahar an 'extreme' vacation for missionaries now?

I have a deep respect for social justice movements that are rooted in Christianity, as well as the humanitarian work of many Christian organizations. These missionaries make me angry though. The last time Christian South Koreans came to Kabul, they came for a rally. A rally. They put local Afghans at risk, local Afghans who do not have the ability to leave as easily as they did. It reminds me of those American missionaries who came during the Taliban years. The Taliban didn’t hurt them but the local Afghans who worked for them were taken away and never heard from again. The American missionaries, they wrote a book. Oooh, that’s helpful, thanks.

Afghanistan does not have the resources to protect actual humanitarian workers who are trying to help people – and look at all the work and resources that are going into saving these folks.

I hope the Korean missionaries come out okay. But then I hope they leave Afghanistan and don’t come back unless they are offering something other than their version of eternal salvation.

8) The passing of the Father of our nation. I have never been a royalist and have often been critical of hereditary leadership but I was sad to hear of his passing. I cannot judge him too harshly. Afghanistan, myself included, had so many expectations of him, so many hopes that he would fix the country somehow. It's alot to expect from just one person. I think he tried and I hope he rests in peace.

These Bones Are Not My Son.


Or perhaps they are. If not mine, they maybe these bones are someone’s daughter, father, mother...or any that make up the fabric of our lives.

I hesitated to write about this. The layers of Afghanistan’s wars and violence are so intermingled, so complicated and yes, so painful, that it is hard to pick one scab without ripping off all of the flesh completely.

I grew up on these stories. I met them again when I went back to Afghanistan. I hear them all the time.

His father was taken in the middle of the night, on his way home, at school, at work.

I remember waiting for my father, as I always did, by the front door. One day, I waited until the night came. He never came.

They won’t hold a funeral for him. They think he may be alive in Russia.

I waited by those prison doors until the last person walked out. He never came out. I went home. My young cousin, who had put on his blue suit and slicked his hair down in a wet part, didn’t wait for me to speak. He just started to cry.
15 rooms of dead bodies. Bound and gagged. Shot to death.

Each dead body holds years of quiet desperation. Of not knowing where he is, of not having a grave to weep over.

This is where justice comes in. The 15 rooms of dead bodies tell me that we need a functioning justice system. If punishment is necessary, let it be out in the open.

Maybe redressing old wrongs is too much to ask just now. Though I don’t know how to ask the families to forgive. Forgiveness will be the bravest act Afghans will ever attempt.

But stopping this from happening again, to stop secret killings, this is why the law exists. This is why we have a court system in the U.S., albeit imperfect.

This is why the Gitmo prison must be closed down and the prisoners transferred to the American justice system. I am not saying that the US has committed anything similar to the mass killings in Afghanistan. BUT, the level of secrecy around the ‘enemy’ prisoners is appalling.

If they committed a crime and must be punished – it should be out in the open. If the US has ‘security concerns,’ put reasonable safeguards in place.

The Gitmo situation frustrates me because the US is better than this. It may sound corny but I fervently believe in the US justice system. It’s hypocritical for the US to argue the ‘prisoner of war’ vs. ‘enemy combatant’ distinction. If the prisoners held at Gitmo are dangerous, let them go through a military tribunal (which has safeguards in place) but why create a separate system?

Every time I go back to Kabul, the need for justice is highlighted. We need more justice in this world, not less. This isn’t going to get anyone on our side.

*Picture taken from Yahoo! News Photo