Here a 'stan, there a 'stan, everywhere a 'stan 'stan
March 22, 2007

The faces of Kabul... that's been a surprise for me. They are all sooooooooooo different. There is no typical Afghan face. I knew Afghanistan had a lot of different ethnic groups, but I did not know just how unique each would be as far as features. Every country that surrounds Afghanistan -- all the other 'stans, as well China and Iran -- has ethnic groups here. There is a HUGE minority of Hazara in Kabul -- they look like they could be from China or one of the 'stans (other than Pakistan). They are day laborers and cleaners... very discriminated against. Other Afghans... some look Arabic, with black hair and strong features. Others look like Indian Bollywood movie stars -- I don't know how to describe their features other than to say that -- and if they lived in the US, they would probably be models. Some have blond hair. I've even seen a few red heads. I've seen men with light brown, tight-curly hair and blue eyes. Many men are bearded, but many young people are clean shaven. I work with one Afghan guy who even has his head shaved -- he looks like a short Afghan Kojak. I've seen round faces, long faces, button noses, huge noses, sharp features, soft features, pale skin, light skin, dark skin. I've seen about half a dozen different shades of blue eyes, as well as all sorts of hazel eyes. You can't assume someone is Western nor local just by looking at his features. We have a driver that they call the German because -- well, you'd just have to see him. Ofcourse, I have to be careful -- just as in Jordan, I catch myself staring out the window and right into these people's unique faces and eyes, with an intent look on my face, and that's a no no -- 'cause they are all men. I guess the women are just as varied, but as I haven't seen that many...

There are a lot of Africans working here -- all international workers. The make up of the entire international UN workforce here is, IMO, truly international. I like that. I think it sends a message to the Afghans about the world concern for their country. And opens up their eyes to the world's diversity, something many of them might never understand otherwise. The only countries that seem incredibly under-represented here in Afghanistan? Those in Latin America.

Many believe Persian Farsi originated here in Afghanistan. The Afghans do. The prominent language in Kabul -- Dari -- is not only the Eastern dialect of Farsi, many believe it's a much more pure form of the language than what is spoken in Iran, where so many Arabic words and other language's words have been adopted. I've heard the Persians love poetry, and according to Wikipedia, Afghans love it even more. I'm looking into taking some Dari classes. It would be nice to know how to say just a few things, at least. My office mate, by the way, speaks German, English, Dari, Russian, and I think Tajik.

This is not the Middle East. This is Asia. I get that now.

The Afghani is the local currency, and it's tied directly to the dollar -- 50 to 1. So, whichever you have in your pocket will be accepted -- the price doesn't change. But if you are a foreigner, ofcourse, you are going to pay more in most places. That's fine with me, believe it or not -- they need the money. It's obscene how little local people make here, even if they work for the Ministry or the UN. OBSCENE. It would be different if they could buy a lot with a buck -- but that's not the case. As I've mentioned, it's REALLY expensive here, no like, say, Egypt.

I have to completely revise my description of the Kabul airport terminal... because I found out I didn't come through the main Kabul airport terminal when I arrived back on March 1. I found this out when I found a photo of the main terminal, and saw it wasn't at all where I had been. It looks reasonably modern -- as modern as, say, Amman's airport. What I came through was some kind of sad, barely-there sub-terminal, far from the main terminal, for UN employees. But I've been reading the bulletin board at the Survival Guide to Kabul and it sounds like it was a blessing not to go through that airport, that you have to pay backsheesh -- or out-and-out bribes -- to everyone, from customs to people at baggage claim to passport control to random people just walking up to you demanding it.

Every day, as we drive to work down Darulaman Road, I see before me the massive ruins of Darulaman Palace, the building I said looks like the Reichstag (spelling?). We turn right before we reach it, but as we go along our virtually-private road to the Ministry, we end up being parallel to it. The Kabul Caravan says:

"In the early 20th Century, Amanullah built a new palace on the south-west outskirts of Kabul at Darulaman, and would drive his Rolls Royce down the 4km avenue to the city. The palace is an emblem of the destruction visited on Kabul during the civil war, and the stands broken and devastated by artillery. In front of Darulaman Palace is the Kabul (National) Museum, which suffered even more greatly in the war. The museum was regularly on the frontlines of different factions, and was comprehensively looted, pillage that continued under the Taliban. In early 2001 an edict by Mullah Omar led to the destruction of almost all items with figurative representation, from painted bowls to Gandharan Buddhist sculpture. Once one of Asia's greatest museums, it is thought that around three-quarters of its stock has been stolen or destroyed. The Kabul Museum has undergone restoration with the help of UNESCO, and opened with limited exhibits in mid-2004."
A group of us from work are planning on leaving early one day and going to the Kabul Museum (the National Museum), since it's so near by. But I have no idea when the thousands of artifacts just back from France and Switzerland will be on display.

A place I will NOT be going is the Kabul Zoo. It's supposed to be heart-breaking. I can't believe countries donate animals to it, given the horrific conditions in which they live. The Survival Guide to Kabul has this note about it: "In January 2002 the most famous resident of Kabul Zoo, Marjan the one-eyed Lion and veteran of so much fighting, died. Marjan, the only lion in the zoo, was a gift from Germany 38 years ago and was estimated to be forty years old. Half blind and almost toothless he'd survived all the fighting in Kabul, especially in the 1990s as rival Afghan groups fought for control of Kabul. The zoo was on the frontline and in the direct line of fire from rocket attack from the nearby hills. Marjan lost his eye in an act of revenge by the Taliban: when a Taliban fighter climbed into the lion's enclosure, the starving Marjan killed and ate the man. But the man's brother returned the next day for a revenge attack and threw a grenade into the cage, leaving Marjan blind and lame. In his last few weeks of life Marjan enjoyed a heated cage and plenty of food and medicine."

I haven't really talked much about the dogs and cats here because... because I'll cry. But I've seen so many puppies I want to take home. They won't let me approach them. They run away as soon as they see me looking at them.

((if you want to help regarding the stray dog and cat situation in Afghanistan, please make a donation to the Mayhew Animal Home and Humane Education Centre, and tell them you want your gift to go to their efforts in Afghanistan. They are working to help spay and neuter dogs and cats there, to train Afghans regarding veterinary medicine, and to change Afghans' cultural practices regarding dogs, which have no basis in the Koran. I have spoken numerous times with a representative of this organization; they ARE making a difference, and your support will help them do even more!))


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Comments are welcomed, and motivate me to keep writing --
without comments, I start to think I'm talking to cyberair.

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