Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Shout-Out to Afghan Chronicles*

or An Ode to Stories

An unexpected welcome and giddy relief is what I felt when I first read Mir Tamim Ansary's West of Kabul, East of New York. His story is different from mine but we share the same yearning to validate and understand our dual cultures.

There’s so much of ‘you have to do it this way or you’re giving up your culture' when you’re growing up as an Afghan. Perhaps it’s our parents’ yearning to not give up everything. Their way of trying to make sure that their children don’t become something they don’t understand. To hold the children close. So they won’t drift away.

It’s not fun though. I wanted to be American. I didn’t care what race; I just didn’t want to be Afghan. I made choices that took me farther and farther away from the culture. I picked a college with no Afghans. I didn’t want to hear about Afghanistan, though, oddly, I did through a friend’s daily news-clippings of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

I wanted to help but didn’t want to be part of the culture anymore. The suffocating duplicity and hypocrisy of being Afghan didn’t seem worth it. I wasn’t planning on ‘being wild’ and then marrying an Afghan and pretending that I’ve been good all along.

I was looking for honesty.

But I realized, as I was running away, I was lonely. The loneliness of not having people around me who understood the culture. Who could laugh with me instead of at my culture.

I didn’t have any books to read then. I only had The Great Game, which was dry and only wrote about the British and the Russians playing with the lives of Afghans – hardly the thing to read when I was already feeling helpless and trying to construct my own identity.

It was a long road towards getting comfortable in my skin. And I was still working it out and trying to get back to Afghanistan when September 11th occurred. Tamim Ansary spoke out right away, giving me strength to speak out in my own way.

Tamim Ansary showed me how to find my way to myself by acknowledging his American-ness and his Afghaniyat. I was blessed to read his book. Through the chronicle of his life, I learned about myself, my family and my culture. Both the American and the Afghan.

We still need to share the chronicles and stories of our lives. The Afghan Diaspora, wherever they live, must maintain their link to Afghanistan. Not as an obligation, but as a joyful blessing. There is so much to learn and so much fun in this link to Afghanistan. I missed it when I let it go – and I know that other Afghan-Americans are searching for their own path.

One consequence of the war is that Afghan culture is even more disconnected than it was before. We struggle to find similarities. Avenues to understand each other and our stories. The misconceptions on all sides, through the generations and over the vast distances, make everyone afraid. The petty judgments come from Diaspora Afghans and local Afghans. Your Dari is terrible, locals are so lazy and corrupt, they don’t know how to be honest anymore, those western Afghans have no manners they don’t know anything, why didn’t he teach his child Dari? We can’t even talk to him anymore. It’s like talking to a brick wall when speaking to local Afghans. Oh, what we had is lost.

If we could find a way to tell our stories to each other, without guilt or pressure – perhaps we can find a way back to each other.

*For more chronicle-related posts, check out Sunday Scribbles.

Yeah, they are but what about the Int'l Development Community itself?

Afghan Police Steal

Corrupt police and tribal leaders are stealing vast quantities of reconstruction aid that is intended to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans and turn them away from the Taliban, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.
A joint report by the Pentagon and the US state department, circulated to congressional committees last month, concluded that the Afghan police force was corrupt to the point of ineffectiveness. One Pentagon official told The Sunday Telegraph that police officers had stolen and sold at least half of the equipment supplied by the US, including thousands of cars and trucks.
Well, duh. But can we also talk about how much it cost to WRITE that report? It may 'technically be legal' but yeesh, the amount of money spent on writing reports makes me so angry.

In fairness, I actually have found the various Militaries to be more helpful than other actors in international development. The amount of money spent on writing reports that take ages to write and aren't translated into Dari or's not called corruption but I think it's just as wasteful.

Oh, and let's remember who is responsible for police reform...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Oh, now we can stop worrying

Commission being formed to promote national unity

I can see it now:

Let's discuss why the tribes hate each other

Maybe it's because of all the violence and murder during the civil war? Which was led by warlords (cough, sitting here, cough) and directed towards other ethnic groups.

Old men start banging on the tables in an effort to drown out the lone voice of reason. Whoever said that is an infidel!!!

Let's talk about raising our salaries!

Wakils (Parliamentary members) clapping in appreciation and shouting 'God is Great'.

Great, the National Unity Commission is established. Let's all talk about how we need more money.
Aaahh, democracy.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Enjoy this while I go underground

Visiting Kabul (NY Times Article)

Good article except for his restaurant recommendations - there is SO much more than his list. Remind me to prepare a list later...

Oh, and what do people have against Ariana Airlines?! You can use Ariana and I think it's just as comfortable as Kam Air (which crashed a few years back).

Thursday, January 18, 2007

update 1.18.07

Flight booked, hotel booked. Still debating the car rental.

I won't be updating for a while. I'm pretty wiped out & need to focus on studying...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


I love it when people, especially doctors, agree with me. I'm tired and I'm still sick. They've upped my medicine and here's hoping I feel better soon.

I'm glad the doctor agreed with me. I was worried that he'd say something about it being all in my head...

Update 1.16.07

I'm plugging away and not freaking out. I do feel like I've got alot less energy now and that's pretty stressful. I don't have time to be tired!

I set aside this morning for apologies. They were the types of silly little things that I've felt guilty about (well, some little, some not so little).

The cat is sleeping on my bed and looks like he's not doing too well. I must remember to tell little brother to take him to the vet asap. He has thyroid issues like me.

But now I think I should shower. Wish me luck on my Dr's check-up.

Friday, January 12, 2007

I won't allow myself to freak out

b/c all of the hotels, rental cars and flights to Albany (New York) are hideously expensive. And that the hotels are booked and I don't know what I should do.

I won't I won't I won't let myself freak out.

But the flights to DC are cheap. Would it be stupid to fly to DC and then take a train to Albany?

Please comment while I sleep.

Monday, January 08, 2007


Systems, new systems, I say!

I am going to try this.* Wish me luck.

*Thanks to HijabMan for the idea...

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Politics of Kissing*

Aah, kissing in Kabul. It leads you to think of many sweet things, perhaps of roses, shy giggles or maybe even Indian movies with women in suggestive wet saris, dancing around trees in Switzerland (what, did you think that was filmed in Gujarat or something?)

Nah, this post won’t be about that.

By kissing, I mean cheek to cheek, almost air kissing – it’s how Afghans say hello. But who gets the Afghan hello?

As a young Afghan in the U.S. and socializing only with my extended family and close friends, everyone was kissed. Twice - one kiss on each cheek. Sometimes a person would go in for a third kiss, which makes things awkward, ‘cuz how do you know? You don’t want to be left hanging there, it’s embarrassing… Then there would be the elders who wanted their hand kissed, elders who didn’t want their hand kissed. Elders who did want their hand kissed but had to pretend like they didn’t and so you didn’t and they never really liked you as a result.

Then I got older. And that’s when things got more complicated.

Kiss everyone? Kiss old people only? Which male relatives are you supposed to kiss? Could someone make me a chart?

I finally figured it out, kinda: male cousins I grew up with and are older - okay, older uncles - okay, newly introduced male cousins that are my age – shake hands. Male Afghans that aren’t related and I don’t call uncle - back away slowly dude, my dad is watching.

When I went to Afghanistan the first time, everyone got a nod, not even a handshake. I had to be careful. Coming from the West, I already had ‘ho’ on my imaginary business card.

This time around in Afghanistan, it’s still an issue but now it has become a bit of a rebellion.

I do intentionally kiss the cheeks of my older uncles. They’re Afghan Diaspora uncles but not necessarily related by blood. But they are family. I didn't grow up with them but they know my parents. They remind me of my Afghan-American home, with laughter, food and family jokes. It’s never easy to be in what is ostensibly my homeland and ache, just ache for my extended family.

A few months ago, I kissed the cheeks of an uncle that 1) wasn’t a blood uncle and 2) it was at a notoriously conservative Ministry. I sent him an email and apologized profusely. He graciously responded with, “It was an honor, you’re my daughter and we’re here to teach them manners.”

I don’t know about manners but I think that creating a mini-family across ethnic lines is a step in the right direction.

A local co-worker recently mentioned that before the wars, Afghans often had friends they considered family. This meant that once adopted into the family, your families were bound together. This wasn't a trite saying; you really were family. According to him, this practice went across ethnic lines. He said that friendliness is gone now. I see remnants.

So maybe it’s not completely within sharia but my intentions are pure. These people are my family in Kabul. They are my connections, my bonds to the country and my family’s history and naysayers, you can kiss my-well, never mind. I’m still trying to keep up with my New Year’s Resolution.

*Leave it to the Sunday Scribblings to pick ‘kissing’ as my first post topic, for more kissing, click here. Thanks to Frida for the link to Sunday Scribblings!

Drop by drop, a river is made

"I am done with great things and big things, great
institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny,
invisible, molecular moral forces that work from
individual to individual by creeping through the
crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like
the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if you give
them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man's

-William James (1899)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

"It'd be alright if they stuck to the government's version of the facts"

So, they're angry with the guy who took the video? Sounds like they are angrier at being caught.
THE Iraqi Prime Minister's office has defended the manner of Saddam Hussein's execution and confirmed the detention of a guard who is believed to recorded the moment in a macabre and unauthorised video that has generated world revulsion.

Hmm, Muslims/Arabs/Others vilified as 'animals' and not respecting democracy...and now Muslims/Arabs/Others are fitting their stereotype. And don't give me the 'puppet Iraqi government excuse', they still participated in it.

I have to go put 'Orientalism' by Edward Said back in my reading pile. I tried reading it when I was younger but just couldn't get through it. It's sadly too relevant now to ignore.

In 1980 Said criticized what he regarded as poor understanding of the Arab culture in the West:

So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Moslems and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Moslem life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world. What we have instead is a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression.[15]

I completely agree with this statement but in this instance, the Muslims are actually acting like the 'crude, essentialized caricatures.' Have their caricatures become our self-portraits?

By the way, I know that I'm equating Arab with Muslim in this post. I think that this critique applies to both groups. I'm pondering the comparison to U.S. actions in Iraq and U.S. actions in Afghanistan, which I do think is different. Let me think about it for a while before I write up that post.

Of course, this will all have to be done after I finish studying for the day.

Monday, January 01, 2007

I added a New Year's Resolution

So, here's the recap:

1) Stop cussing like a sailor.
2) Stop being afraid of everything. Though, the firecrackers last night totally made me think of gunshots.
3) Be here now. After I finished writing in my journal last night, I realized that I spend too much time in my imaginary world. There are better ways to channel my imagination than in creating new scenarios of everyday life. Then I read a poem in the book "Love Poems from God" and decided to add the 'Be here now'. I am looking for tips, by the way - on being more present in my life, so feel free to suggest methods and tips.

The poem is by Rumi and since it's the 'year of Rumi' according to UNESCO - I thought it was a good way to start the new year.

Here's the poem:


standing on two logs in a river
might do all right floating with the current
while humming in the

if one log is tied to a camel,
who is also heading south along the bank -at the same pace-
all could still be well
with the

unless the camel thinks he forgot something, and
abruptly turns upstream,


Most minds
do not live in the present
and can stick to a reasonable plan; most minds abruptly turn
and undermine the