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 Post subject: Urgent Prayer Request
Post Posted: Jul 25, 2004 8:28 am 
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Date: Sun, 25 Jul 2004 00:27:13 -0500

Dear friends,

I am sending this email out to you with the hope that you will pray for me
while trusting that God is in control of my time here in Afghanistan.
Yesterday SFL received a call from the State Department informing us that
the Taliban have made a new threat against humanitarian aid organizations in
Afghanistan, and specifically listed SFL on the list of targeted agencies.
This is coupled with two rocket attacks on Kabul and several attacks on
Afghan military personnel during the last two weeks.

SFL is meeting with the US Embassy and other security agencies today to
determine what will be done. At this point SFL international staff are
restricted to the office, our houses, and very limited non-routine
activities outside of the office. We have removed SFL signs from all
vehicles and are not allowed to walk anywhere. If more concrere evidence
becomes available beyond this threat or if the security situation grows
worse, SFL will evacuate international staff to Pakistan. All staff have
secured a Pakistan visa and have been instructed to have an emergency bag
packed in the event of evacuation.

The work continues and for the most part I am doing well. Staff remain in
good spirits but there is still that threat hanging over our heads. I am
not sending this out for people to worry, but rather that you will continue
to pray for me, SFL, and the security situation here. Thank you so much.

Blessings,

A

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 Post subject: Just FYI
Post Posted: Jul 25, 2004 9:13 am 
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Afghanistan is actually not an Arab country, its Persian so its a different culture. Its a completely different culture and history... persian is very distinct from arabic culture. Afghanistan and Iran are persian... I think Iraq is more a mix of people from Arabic, Persian, and Kurdish descent. Most people lump anyone from central asia or the Middle East together as Arab, but that is totally incorrect. Afghanistan is actually located in Central Asia, not the Middle East.
Women here in Afghanistan wear punjabis similar to those in India except very plain and very baggy. Women are treated as second class citizens unless they know that you are some sort of boss. Then they refer to you as "sir"... which is so funny. Women wearing burkas are ignored and have to defer to men in all instances. Women with their faces exposed are openly and constantly stared at. Its quite disconcerting actually but I'm getting used to it.

A

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 Post subject: Re: Urgent Prayer Request
Post Posted: Jul 25, 2004 6:51 pm 
wildiris wrote:
Date: Sun, 25 Jul 2004 00:27:13 -0500

I am not sending this out for people to worry, but rather that you will continue to pray for me, SFL, and the security situation here. Thank you so much.

Blessings,

A


You are in our thoughts and prayers.


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Post Posted: Jul 25, 2004 8:41 pm 
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I have you on my list of people to pray for, wildiris! I tend to that list carefully and lovingly...Take care of yourself.

sara


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 Post subject: Third World Medicine
Post Posted: Jul 27, 2004 5:04 pm 
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Here is the latest journal entry from my cousin in Kabul.

July 24, 2004

Third World Medicine

My co-worker Tanya has been sick since I arrived in Kabul. She has lived
the majority of her life in third world countries and grew up in war-torn
Colombia where her parents were missionaries. As an adult she has traveled the globe working in over twenty countries for various humanitarian aid organizations. Tanya is as brave and strong of spirit as they come. She will always eat anything that is offered to her, and pretty much considers nausea and vomiting an inevitable part of the job. So for the last couple of weeks Tanya has been running off to the bathroom
after every single meal. We all assumed her sickness was caused by some nasty stomach bugs, which she so fondly referred to as ?the boys?, as in ?ohhh, the boys are feeling a little better? or ?oh oh, the boys are acting up again?. Of course, we all find ourselves laughing at these sorts of things, as humor tends to become the best coping mechanism when faced with living in an environment like this. At dinner we decided that she was indeed carrying some guests around in her intestinal track, which we declared to be twin boys whom were promptly named ?Ralph? and ?Chuck?. One of the Afghan staff went off to the market to buy some antibiotics, which you can purchase over-the-counter here for just a few dollars. Tanya soon began taking her medicine, imagining herself to be on the fast track to health and vitality.
But a week and a half passed and she finished a course of the very strong antibiotic. She was still sick, but now with progressively worse symptoms: fever, chills, stomach and kidney pain, blood in her urine, and continued vomiting and nausea. Through all of this Tanya had continued to work her normal twelve hour days and somehow maintained her good spirits, but today decided she would contact an American doctor who lived here in Kabul. We suspected giardia and maybe a kidney infection. The doctor told her that she needed to go to the local hospital and have a series of lab tests done, and then we could come over to her house so Tanya could be properly diagnosed.

So I volunteered to go with Tanya to the hospital, as she was looking pale
and was doubled over in pain at this point. We arrived at the hospital and
made our way to the door with a sign saying ?laboratory? written in magic
marker and taped to the wall. I?m thinking that the place looked a little
primitive and hardly looked sterile while Tanya commented how nice this
facility was compared to some of the others she has seen. There was a line of miserable looking people, some sitting on the floor, others leaning
against the wall. Women covered in burkas with kids in tow passed us by,
and the line of men in turbans blatantly stared at us as we attempted to
figure out the procedure for having the lab tests completed. Finally the
desk clerk who spoke some English took Tanya?s information, which consisted of her scribbled notes that the doctor had given over the phone. No questions were asked, with no prescription or doctor?s signature required. I started to feel uneasy as the clerk and someone who may have been a nurse appeared to be having trouble translating the notes. The clerk told us it would cost one hundred and forty. Tanya asks, ?a hundred and forty dollars... or afghanis?? A hundred and forty afghanis equals about three dollars and is also the equivalent of two full days of work for an Afghan. The clerk informed us that the price was in afghanis and was indeed the correct cost of the several blood tests she was about to have done. So we handed over a few bills and waited in the not so clean room for Tanya?s turn.

The one chair available we gave over to a sickly looking woman who came into the room with her young child. The woman has a very large growth on her neck and looked like she was not well at all. Meanwhile Tanya asked me whether or not I thought she should throw up in the garbage can sitting by the desk or if she should make a run for the bathrooms. We both laughed and then she went off running, only to return a little while later informing me NOT to go to the bathrooms as they were enough to make anyone sick. The toilets consisted of a hole in the floor, with many of the previous users having unfortunate aim. Then I heard Tanya said ?oh no?? as she tried to wipe her hand clean. She pointed to a strip of rubber band now lying on the floor that the nurse had used to tie people?s arms when drawing blood. This used band had blood on it, which Tanya had gotten on her fingers before it fell to the floor. Tanya ran off to the bathroom again to find water and left me standing by myself.

The female nurse came out into the waiting area, and to my horror picked up the dirty and bloody rubber band from the floor and proceeded to tie it on the arm of the woman with the swollen neck. Feeling a little sick, I wanted to tell her to stop and get a clean band. But she didn't speak English and my Dari is limited to about fifteen words, none of which were remotely useful in this situation. Then I noticed that the tech didn?t have gloves on and before I knew it she was sticking the needle into the woman?s arm. Thankfully I had seen her take the needle out of sealed plastic. Another woman came into the room with her burka pulled back off her face. On went the dirty band, in went a new needle? again with no gloves, no hand washing, and no antiseptic cleaning. Tanya finally returned from the nasty bathroom, looking paler than ever. They asked her to come into the lab area, where the nurse was now preparing a glass slide for Tanya?s blood. With ungloved and unwashed hands, she pricked Tanya?s finger and then proceeded to wipe off the slide on her bare
forearm apparently to ?clean? it off before pressing it against Tanya?s
bleeding finger. Tanya at this point was as white as a sheet and I silently
prayed for protection from the multitude of medical hazards lurking in the
room.

An hour or so later, I came back for Tanya?s test results. The lab tech
told me that she had tested positive for a kidney infection? and MALARIA. I prefaced telling Tanya the news with the words ?I?m really glad you have a good sense of humor because you are not going to believe this?? We both broke out laughing when I delivered the diagnosis. So off we went to the American doctor?s house, who gave her a number of pills and then told us we needed to go to the ultrasound clinic to have Tanya?s kidneys checked. After fighting the insane traffic, we located the clinic on the second floor of an old and filthy building near Chicken Street. Tanya, Mary, and I climbed the stairs and I feared the worst, as the stairway was dirty and a haggard man sat begging near the door. Once inside things did not look at all better. A room full of staring men greeted us as we opened the door to the dark, dingy, and run down office. We were escorted to the back of the room behind a barrier where all the women were waiting on uncomfortable wooden benches and well out of sight. A pregnant woman about nine months along who literally looked like she was starving to death was lying on one of the benches clearly in pain. We sat down in the stifling hot, dirty, crowded room and waited.

After a half hour we were called and lead into a very dark room, again dirty and run down. In the corner of the room, a raggedy curtain enclosed an undersized table on which each patient was asked to lie. Several women were also seated in the tiny room waiting for their turn. A doctor sat on one side of the curtain with a computer screen displaying the ultrasound images in plain view. He reached his hand through the curtain opening, used the ultrasound wand, and then gave some notes to the male assistant sitting next to him. It was basically an assembly line of women and we ended up waiting and watching the other women?s ultrasounds. After witnessing several babies appear on the screen, I noticed that the doctor never cleaned off the wand and only gave the women two squares of toilet paper to clean off their bellies. Finally it was Tanya?s turn and Mary went to be with her in the tiny 6x3 foot curtained area. I watched as her organs appeared on the screen and then there it was? this little dot in the middle of her left kidney. It turned out that not only did Tanya have a kidney infection and malaria, but she was also in the process of passing a kidney stone. The ultrasound ended up costing $2. On our way home Tanya declared that instead of twins she was carrying triplets: Ralph, Chuck, and her new baby, Pebbles.

So today Tanya is finally at home confined to bed rest until her malaria
fevers end, her kidney stone passes, her infection heals, and she stops
vomiting. She is somehow still cheerful and upbeat and cracking jokes with everyone. And work goes on here at the SFL offices and in the field, even with heightened security threats lurking over our heads. At lunch today I heard the news that in District 5 where we are building homes a young girl playing near the street had picked up a ball to play with her sibling. The ball turned out to be a grenade, which exploded in her hand when she fiddled with the pin. SFL staff members who were near the site were called and the two girls were rushed to the hospital to treat their severe shrapnel wounds. I was sick hearing of this atrocity and the thought of these children receiving surgical care in a third world hospital for their terrible injuries. But the girl who picked up the grenade died within moments, and I don?t know what happened to the other child. Mary said the scene was horrible, with blood everywhere and the children?s tiny bodies punctured from head to toe. But somehow life in Kabul also continues to go on. The reality is that unexploded ordnance and sub-standard medical care, when at all available, are a part of everyday life in this country. This afternoon as I work at my computer I can only wonder why I was born to play in the safe neighborhoods of Wisconsin rather than the deadly streets of Afghanistan. But I cannot come up with the answer and am instead thankful and grateful for the incredibly blessed life I have been given. But I do know that I will never again take for granted the safe lives we lead and the excellent medical care we receive in the western world. Because truly, there but for the grace of God go I.

A

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Post Posted: Jul 27, 2004 5:20 pm 
Oh I won't ever complain again about having to see a doc!

It was shocking and sad to read A's account.

Hope Tanya will be feeling better soon.

All remain in our thoughts and prayers.


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 Post subject: Tensions Rising
Post Posted: Jul 31, 2004 8:33 am 
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July 28, 2004

Tensions Rising

The security situation has continued to deteriorate in Afghanistan and here
in the capital city as each day passes. The daily security warning emails I
receive report nighttime missile attacks on Kabul (three since I've been
here), a Taliban threat targeting international humanitarian aid
organizations (with SFL listed by name), the discovery of two "IED's" in the
city (improvised explosive devices), a commander and his body guard being
shot in the street (one which I have traveled a couple of times), the
discovery of a rocket arsenal in the foothills near Kabul, potential
political unrest due to the recent candidacy announcements for the upcoming
elections, and most recently an increased threat for kidnapping. And I have
been here for only three weeks. For the last week or so, these reports and
warnings have grown increasingly more urgent. Our activities have been
severely restricted to office and home and limited to necessary, non-routine
trips outside of the office. Many UN and other agencies have been under
temporary shut down, thus limiting some of my work here. During the last
few nights the skies have been filled with the noise of helicopters and
"unmanned drones" that have been patrolling to watch for missile attacks and
other fighting. With every overhead noise, I have to wonder if the sound is
a plane or a rocket heading towards Kabul. So this threat of violence and
terrorism is more and more real every day. Part of living here and not
going crazy is really "mind over matter". attempting to stay calm in the
midst of the unknown and the constant threat of harm. Despite this I have
continued doing the work that I have been called to do, despite this
ever-present and growing sense of danger. But there have been many moments
where my safety threshold gets pushed farther and farther into this unknown
gray area. It seems to be more and more difficult to recognize what threat
levels or incidents are normal for a country like Afghanistan and what is
simply unacceptable.

The other day travel warnings had temporarily expired and Tanya, still sick
at home, had asked for us to go pick up some movies for her. I left in one
of our now unmarked trucks with Fahim, one of the project staff, and Malek,
a driver. As usual we ran into some bad traffic and came to a halt at one
of the crowded round-abouts. I had my camera out and had been attempting to
surreptitiously shoot pictures from my window. As we stopped I rolled up my
window to discourage the hordes of beggars and children selling various
items from coming up to the vehicle. The streets are also filled with
soldiers, police officers, and other various militia (I can't tell one from
the other), with machine guns slung over one arm and stern looks on their
faces. An officer walking past our truck stopped and knocked on our window.
I sank into my seat and quickly jammed my camera back into my bag while
struggling to find my passport and visa documents. Fahim and Malek spoke
rapidly in Dari and pulled out some documents to hand to the officer. As I
sat in the back seat by myself I recalled that this was the same vehicle
that had been pulled over recently because the rear windows were tinted, and
that the Afghan government had also been confiscating certain NGO vehicles
over the last few weeks. The officer walked around the truck, examining the
plates and peering into the windows. Our typical white four-by-four NGO
vehicle with its massive radio antennae signaled to the world that we were a
foreign vehicle, even though our SFL signs had recently been removed for
security reasons. After a few tense minutes the officer handed back the
documents and waved us forward, and we continued on our way to the Chicken
Street market area.

Chicken and Flower streets are home to many of the shops frequented by
foreigners and make for a busy and crowded market place. Fahim and I made
our way towards the video store, and almost immediately I was surrounded by
beggars. Young children and women hidden in burkas carrying babies
aggressively jostled me as I attempted to make my way down the street. An
admirable aspect of the Muslim faith requires giving to those in need, so it
is common to see Afghans handing money to people on the streets. My heart
goes out to the people I see begging. many of them amputees or young
children or women in burkas sitting on the road in the middle of heavy
traffic holding an infant. There are few to no options for the vast
majority of people living in poverty. Chicken Street however is a little
different, as foreigners are specifically targeted and many of the beggars
make a decent living this way. My general rule has been to give to beggars
who are asking everyone for money, and not to those who are only targeting
foreigners.

We made our way to the video store with row after row of illegal dvd's for
sale at $2.50 a piece. I picked out a few movies while glancing warily to
the doorway, as throngs of begging women and children were packed in the
entrance waiting for me, all pleading for help in Dari or a few broken words
of English. We purchased our dvd's and with my money in hand I hesitantly
decided to give everyone 50 AFs ($1) in the hope that they would go away.
The bills quickly disappeared into fists and sleeves and burkas, and we
headed back out onto the street. To my dismay the news of this generosity
had instantly spread like wildfire and now there were people crowding
everywhere around me. I was barely able to move forward with women grabbing
my arms and children tugging at my sleeves and shirt. I didn't know whether
to laugh or cry. Fahim did his best to tell them to leave, but they
persistently clung to my side in the hopes of receiving money. It was
becoming almost impossible to move forward, so Fahim told me he would take
me back to the truck where I could wait while he finished shopping. The
driver had to practically push a woman with her baby out of way so he could
shut the door behind me.

At this point there were probably fifteen people surrounding the truck,
pounding on the windows and attempting to peer in at me through the tinted
glass. In distress I once again sank down in my seat. On the one hand I
knew I couldn't give out any more money because the situation was already
out of control, but on the other hand I wanted to hand out all of my money
because I felt such compassion. One particularly persistent woman with the
most adorable but dirty baby (a woman to whom I had already given money)
kept pounding on the glass. It was horrible, and I felt more and more
guilty as the minutes crawled by. I debated and thought. what were a few
more bucks in the scheme of things? Suddenly there was a sharp crack on the
truck window and I saw some laughing children scampering off, with the woman
yelling angrily and running away with her baby. The kids had thrown some
rocks at the mother and the four month old. This was a country where women
are stoned to death on the street, and this wave of horror and sorrow washed
over me. With tears coming to my eyes I prayed that Fahim would come back
soon so we could get out of this awful situation. Malek got out of the
truck and angrily yelled in Dari, scaring off many of the beggars.
Meanwhile I sat miserably waiting in the back seat.

Just a few moments later, in the extremely busy intersection about twenty
yards ahead I watched as a big shiny four-by-four pulled up and came to a
screeching halt near the sidewalk. Instantly the doors flew open and my
heart literally stopped beating for a moment. I froze in my seat and
watched a scene unfold before me with escalating shock and fear. A large
Afghan man leaped out of the truck. He was holding a machine gun ready in
his arms and started running down the street, beyond my line of vision.
Immediately behind him jumped another armed man followed by two more. I
couldn't breathe as these men poured out of the truck in swat team-like
fashion, and I instantly recalled the warnings of political unrest and
violence that could develop rapidly within the streets of Kabul. As my
adrenaline instantly kicked in, I grabbed Malek's shoulder and pointed to
the men and their machine guns. Malek, who doesn't speak a word of English,
said something in Dari and craned his neck to see what was happening.
Seconds (which felt like an eternity) ticked by and I watched, waiting for
the inevitable sounds of machine gun fire. An assassination? A kidnapping?
A siren began wailing in the background and I quickly tried to assess what
to do in case bullets started flying. I decided that crawling down in
between the seats would be my best immediate option. A few more seconds
passed. Malek remained calm but attentive. No one on the street was
panicking or running. Were we safe? I took a deep breath and fearfully
watched and waited.

A few minutes later the truck door opened and Fahim crawled into the vehicle
carrying fruit, beverages, and movies. Immediately, I frantically explained
what happened and he and Malek exchanged some rapid words in Dari. "Amy,"
he said, "you don't need to worry. Those were body guards of a commander
who was shopping in the market. They were running to catch up to his
vehicle before he exited. Everything is fine. You are perfectly safe." Not
knowing whether to be relieved or feel stupid, I accepted the can of soda
Fahim handed me and tried to calm my completely shattered nerves. They
looked a little amused so I weakly laughed and explained to them that where
I live it is illegal to carry weapons in public like that. I said that
although I was becoming accustomed to seeing guns, tanks, and all forms of
massive artillery on the streets of Kabul, these men running down the street
with machine guns had frightened me. Fahim translated to Malek, and both of
them looked at me with a mixture of amusement and disbelief. I told Fahim
to tell Malek that I was sorry for grabbing his shoulder. Women should
never touch men in this Muslim culture and I worried that I had offended
him. Fahim translated and as if it were possible, I sank even lower into my
seat and closed my eyes, trying to remember why I was in this country of
Afghanistan and reminding myself that I was here to help the poor and needy
of this country. Honestly, I can shamefully confess that at the moment
serving the poor didn't feel like a good enough reason to be in the middle
of what felt like chaos.

After arriving back at the office Tanya immediately asked me what was wrong,
commenting that I was white as a ghost. I relayed the story to her and we
both laughed at my detailed description of events. But she also offered my
sympathy, commenting that my time here has been during a horrible security
environment. She told me however that Malek was the right person to be with
if things had turned violent, because he used to fight with the mujahideen
against countless enemies. We wondered how many people he had killed in his
young lifetime. One of the field staff came in and commented to me that he
had heard about my little incident. I looked at Tanya and she said, yes,
all the guards and drivers and Afghan staff will hear about this within
hours. I sighed, feeling foolish at the thought of being the fearful
American and undoubtedly the butt of their jokes for the day. I went into
my office, shut my door, and sat down at my now familiar desk. And I'm sure
that for not the last time here in Afghanistan, tears of stress and
exhaustion and relief came to my eyes and I simply just felt thankful to be
continuing this blessed life God has chosen to give me.

A

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 Post subject: Good News
Post Posted: Aug 1, 2004 9:29 am 
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Today the ISAF security level in Kabul was downgraded from Red (highest alert) to Green which means normal operations. The only exception is the Kabul/Jalalabad road. SFL is staying at 3.5 because of the threat to NGO's... but this is definitely good news.
A

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Post Posted: Aug 1, 2004 10:13 am 
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Thank you for your posts, they are so insightful and provide us a personal window on another world.

I too, can't wait to read your posts when you get back home. Take care.

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 Post subject: Afghan Dancing and Dining
Post Posted: Aug 19, 2004 9:00 am 
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August 17, 2004

Afghan Dancing and Dining

After a harrowing and hectic week, our much needed day of rest arrived. Fridays in Afghanistan are like American Sundays, where people rest and recreate and enjoy the company of friends and family. This Friday though I had to say good-bye to my dear friends Tanya and Eric, as they were heading out on ?vacation? for two weeks. Of course their vacation would consist of leading a group to Bulgaria to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. Even during their R&R these two will be hard at work serving those in need. Since I would now be alone in the guest house, my other dear friend and co-worker Mary Asha who is from India decided to move in with me. In late morning Mary informed me that we had been invited to a party by one of the Afghan staff, Muqeem. His mother was in Kabul visiting from Pakistan, and Muqeem had called several times inquiring if we would attend a party with some of his family. So at around 11:00 Muqeem and his brother and two cousins arrived to pick us up and take us over to Microrayon. This area is made up of the Soviet-built cement block apartment complexes that are scattered all across the former Soviet countries. In Kabul these buildings are maybe six stories high and in various states of decay. All are smattered from ground to roof with the pock marks of bullets and the occasional missile hole. As our crowded vehicle made its way into the dense inner circle of the apartment complex, I knew that once again I was in for another Kabul adventure.

The cement stairwell was grimy and dark, and we climbed up four flights as Muqueem explained that this was his aunt?s apartment and that relatives were in town for a party. When I asked what the party was for, his cousin replied that it was a ?circumcision party.? I leaned over and in a whisper asked Mary, ?Did he just say that this was a circumcision party?? Mary nodded, trying not to laugh, and we finally made our way to the fourth floor and entered the tiny apartment. Inside we were greeted by children and two aunts, all dressed in their best and rather sparkly and colorful clothing. After taking off our shoes we were directed towards what appeared to be the entrance of a living room. As I turned to make my way into the room, I stopped short upon catching a glimpse inside. There in this tiny room must have been about fifty people, seated shoulder to shoulder on the floor. All eyes were peering at the doorway in anticipation of our entrance. Tanya had warned me early on that if we were ever invited to a party, to be prepared to be treated like royalty. It is seemingly considered a great honor to have a foreigner, especially an American, attend an event such as this. So we were escorted to the front of the room and seated next to the eldest family members. Children jostled for as close a position as possible and grandmas and aunties came forward to kiss my cheeks? alternating once, twice, thrice, and a fourth time on each side of my face. The room was sweltering hot in the hundred degree weather, but I couldn?t help but grin from ear to ear as this happy, noisy family took us in as their special guests.

After much kissing and hugging and staring, two musicians began playing on drums and this accordion like piano and then the dancing began. Afghan culture is rich with dancing traditions and social events usually include hours and hours of dancing. However instead of dancing together, one or two people will get up and dance for the rest of the group. So the women took turns dancing their beautiful traditional dance, with wrists and hips turning and hands clapping. Soon enough one of the colorfully dressed women made her way through the tiny crowded room and physically grabbed Mary Asha and I by the arms and dragged us up onto the ?dance floor?, which consisted of about five square feet amid a jumble of arms and legs and knees and feet. Now I have wanted to learn traditional Afghan dance, but certainly not in front of seventy-five total strangers! But there I was, attempting to mimic the smiling women to the cheers and applause of this extended family. I don?t know if I laughed or sweat more, but regardless it was an experience that I will forever cherish and remember fondly.

After about an hour or so of dancing, half of the family was relocated into the adjacent room, where we were seated on the floor on cushions called toshaks. Soon a table cloth was laid out and plate after plate was carried into this improvised dining room. We ate in traditional Afghan style, on the floor and with our fingers, eating off communal plates with large chunks of delicious nan (flat bread). They served one of my favorite rice dishes, Kabuli Palauu, along with delicious fried egg plant, a variety of meats, and of course melon. The food was amazing and the company entertaining. Thankfully we were given bottled water and I avoided the meat in order to maintain my unusual luck, as I have yet to become sick here in Afghanistan. Muqeem?s aunt kept thanking US for coming to their party, and of course we were expected to eat far beyond what our stomachs should hold. Everyone seemed so excited to have us at their family gathering, and after dinner relatives of all ages took their turn having their pictures taken with the foreigners.

So after this wonderful meal the floor was cleared, the musicians came back out, and the dancing continued. Uncles, aunts, grandmas, cousins, nieces, and nephews all took their turn performing for each other. And yes, once again Mary and I were pulled onto our feet and we attempted to dance in front of the grinning and cheering crowd. As is their custom, money was thrown over our heads as we danced. and the children dove at our feet to gather the bills as they fluttered to the ground in what soon became an Afghan version of a mosh pit. Finally Mary and I collapsed in the corner, with sweat dripping down our faces and laughing at the thought of how silly we had undoubtedly looked. Of course in typical Afghan hospitality everyone insisted that we were brilliant dancers and marveled at how quickly we had caught on.

Late in the afternoon we decided it was time to head back to the guest house. Muqeem explained that they would continue to dance until late in the night, with plenty of music, dancing, clapping, and laughing. The only one not laughing was the unfortunate child for whom this circumcision party had been held, alarmingly NOT a baby but rather an unhappy seven year old boy who sat miserably crying in a little decorated chair. After countless kisses and thank yous and hugs and I swear a few tears we headed back down the dismal cement stairwell into the heat of the late afternoon. We left for home with full bellies, smiles on our faces, and cameras full of memorable moments caught on film and forever engraved in my mind. What a wonderful, happy, exciting, and blessed day.


A

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 Post subject: Life in the House of the Unfortunate Odor
Post Posted: Aug 20, 2004 12:16 pm 
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Location: Conifer (8562 ft) Green Valley Ranch
August 20, 2004

Life in the House of the Unfortunate Odor

As I have written, acclimating to life in Kabul has involved personal
changes. emotional, spiritual, and physical. Part of this physical
adjustment of course includes adapting to life in an environment which looks
and feels nothing like it does at home. Guest House #2, my residence, has
provided an interesting home base from which to experience Afghanistan. As
I mentioned in my very first journal entry, our abode is simple yet
comfortable. Although extremely unlikely to be up for any awards from
Better Homes and Gardens, the house somewhat exceeded my uncertain
expectations. The primary problem is, alas, the unfortunate odor that
emanates from deep within the bowels of the septic system located somewhere
under the kitchen. This questionable plumbing has become a frequent point
of conversation and the butt of our jokes, as every time we enter the
building we are greeted by this regrettable combination of sewer gas and
possibly mildew or mold of some sort, undoubtedly toxic to the human nervous
system. Upon entering, I have been known to proclaim with a deep whiff of
the air, "Ahhhhh, home sweet home," which of course is immediately followed
by laughter most certainly enhanced by the brain cell damage simultaneously
occurring due to the fumes. After about ten minutes we no longer can detect
the scent, and settle down into our evening routine of lying on the couch
watching CNN before falling asleep by 9:00 pm. So much for my night owl
tendencies.

Far more evil than the unfortunate odor is the ironing board and the 1950's
iron that we are all forced to use far too frequently. Our housekeeper
Afifa, bless her heart, graciously does our laundry and upon completion
proceeds to compact the wet cotton clothes into a tight little ball which
can later be found in a dry, wrinkled mass in various locations in the
bedroom. In order to iron the clothes, they must then be dipped under the
faucet as the iron is only one step above those antique appliances used in
the prairie days which were held under hot coals. The iron produces several
thousand degrees of heat which emanates directly upward into my face during
the lengthy ironing process, causing sweat to drip back down unto the
clothes further dampening the wrinkled mess. Not ever known for my domestic
skills, I have yet to wear a decently pressed item of clothing since I set
foot in Kabul. But considering that this is really the only chore we have
to do during our time here, it is rather shameful the amount of complaining
that results from this onerous task.

Outside, our property is surrounded by fifteen foot walls which enclose a
weedy yard and, shockingly, an in-ground swimming pool painted that color of
aqua blue rarely seen anywhere else in nature. Of course upon my arrival
the pool was as dry as the surrounding desert sand, but after a couple of
days I awoke to look out my window and find cool water lapping up against
the sides of the pool. For reasons that still remain unclear to this day,
our guards had filled the pool to the top using the garden hose, perhaps in
a moment of inspiration fueled by the sweltering 100 degree sun. Within a
few days the water level had begun to lower significantly, and the once
clear water began taking on a greenish hue. Soon enough the pool was half
full and the water, well, it had turned into this thick bio-hazardous sludge
which we are quite certain turned out to be the birth place of the malaria
mosquito that infected my dear friend Tanya. But thankfully, due to the
unbelievably dry air, every last drop of the water evaporated into nothing
within a few weeks and now there is just a nice crust layering the bottom of
the pool.

Speaking of our guards, they must be unbelievably bored with their job of
staring at the street and wandering around the yard dressed in army green
and towing menacing machine guns and blinding flash lights. Outside the
property walls the guards have a little blue shack (somehow painted the same
shade of blue as the pool) in which they are expected to sit for hours on
end protecting us. Before my arrival, it had been decided by someone who
shall remain nameless that the guards should have a watch tower of sorts to
properly observe their domain. Our house is on a street intersection, so in
the corner of the property construction began on a cinder block tower which
ended up perched two stories in the air. The guards made a wooden ladder in
which to scale the walls and enter their new fortress. Eventually a bed or
maybe a couch was hauled up the ladder, along with various other domestic
comforts. The guards are obviously proud of the structure, as they are the
only security force in the neighborhood with such an amenity. I have come
to fondly refer to the building as "The Tower of Terror."

In their fit of interior decorating, they also began improvements on the
guard shack out front. Every few days something new appears. First they
built this little tiny patio out of stone bordered by cinder block. Then
they made a small fence around the five square foot patio with wires and
wood. Soon there were flowers planted in the cinder blocks and in
decorative pots. And the most recent touch was the installation of blue and
green patio lights to pleasantly illuminate their new and improved home.
But the best addition they made came as a surprise one evening. Tanya,
Eric, and I were in our usual nightly stupor watching CNN when a yapping
noise was heard from the front yard. Unwilling to move from our
work-induced comas, we ignored the sound thinking it was one of the cursed
wild dogs that keep us up all hours of the night. A few moments later I
heard some rustling and this time clearly barking. Aroused momentarily from
my zombie like state, I observantly and brilliantly commented, "I think
there is a dog in our yard." Eric went to the window to investigate. With
eyes lit up he exclaimed "Oooooooo, a puppy!" and out the door he went.

Apparently our guards had found a puppy wandering the street which they
immediately dog-napped and deposited into our yard for safe-keeping. The
poor thing was terrified, crouching under the truck barking at Eric who was
trying to coax it out. The puppy barked and attempted to sound fierce, but
at the same time wanted desperately to run over to Eric. After about twenty
minutes of persuasion and the laying of some bait, the shaking and cowering
dog finally crawled out. The puppy's fear soon turned into bliss, as Eric
scratched his little white furry body and offered him some food. So now we
are the proud owners of a very naughty, flea-infested white puppy who
terrorizes our weedy yard ruthlessly chasing our feet, innocent birds, and
the occasional butterfly. For several nights during CNN commercial breaks
we half-heartedly attempted to come up with a clever and witty name for the
dog. But having spent all of our brain power at the office, our efforts
were fruitless. About a week after the dog's appearance, Tanya came in from
the yard with an amused look of disbelief on her face. "Well, I talked to
the guards about the dog," she said. "Apparently they have named her since
we were taking too long." At this point she started to laugh and said, "Get
this, the guards have named the dog. Barfi." After an uncertain moment of
silence I wrinkled my forehead in confusion and responded, "What did you
say?" "Barfi," she repeated, choking back giggles. At this point I broke
into hysterical laughter and said, "What? The guards named our dog BARFY?
As in BARF? Oh my, what could this possibly mean in Dari?"

So off we left for work, wishing farewell to Barfy while snorting and
chuckling at the puppy's new moniker. Tanya commented, "See this definitely
is my dog, considering that I have spent the last two months in Afghanistan
vomiting. How appropriate." At the office we were informed that barf in
Dari means snow, and barfi has something to do with first snowfall.
Regardless of this pleasant meaning for our white and furry friend, none of
us can even think of the dog's name without laughing out loud. Thus the
House of the Unfortunate Odor and the Tower of Terror are now the stalking
grounds for our ferocious new watch dog, Barfy.

A

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" Horses are in almost every breath I take and watching them run and dance in the field takes my breath away. "


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Post Posted: Aug 20, 2004 2:35 pm 
Thank you wildiris for these posts. I always look forward to them.

I can relate to her ironing. Brings back memories. I remember doing a lot of it as a girl. We would ball it up and put it in a plastic bag so it wouldn't dry out while we ironed the others. I was very grateful when permanent press with cotton came about. Now if it needs ironing it gets donated as it will never see an iron. I was surprised to see the iron and board still in use.

A's stories are very fascinating.


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