So today was notable for some mind widening exchanges. This morning seems long time ago: I think there was a delay getting picked up and an exchange with Mr. Rick Deputy GM about security but I can’t remember… let me check yesterday’s post… yeah I think today was something about the driver brushing his hair the wrong way and triggering about 16 alerts at the gate. Either way we dealt with it and made it to the workshop ontime for the first time since arriving. Calvin and I decided to sport our new scares only to find out the shop owner had lied to us and we’d bought womens scarves. Well if it provided some cheap entertainment we were willing to roll with it.
We’re really starting to connect with some of these folks. There’s Sabul who’s about to do his Masters in Japan; Ibrahim, his boss who has this knowing way of smiling and nodding at you no matter what you say; Rao, who is Indian but his here working for the World Bank and one of the most fascinating people one could ever hope to meet; Javad a young guy who is on fire for agriculture and the recovery of his country.
I’ve been learning a bit about Islam from our new friends. These are clearly educated people and as you might expect have a progressive view of a life in service of Allah. As the younger generation becomes more educated than community elders who have now weathered two wars, the tension continues to grow between the clerical community and the emerging technical talent within the country. The Quaran has three parts. In layman terms: history, rules to life by, and helpful information. As you’d expect the hard-liners thump on the rules and tend to overlook the more human aspects described by the other sections. That said these guys (and gals) are seriously dedicated to their faith. They pray 5 times a day starting at around 4am. I can’t even get up that early to watch premier league so I guess I’m not about to get a season pass to the Montrose Mosque. Probably a good thing as it’d just be a matter of time before I’d upset someone.
Rao was telling me his observations on Afghnistan and I can say quite confidently that I doubt there’d be many more qualified than he. Hailing from Hyderabad previous to his posting in Kabul he’s spent a number of years in Africa where he first started working for the World Bank. Zambia, Ethiopia, Eritrea are some of the countries where he’s been involved. He now works on empowering Afghani farmers with affordable soil testing and irrigation scheduling tools. He gets 2 weeks every two months to go home, where he farms mangoes and cashews (he says his work in Afghanistan is his vacation). His assessment of Afghanistan is definitely the most profound thing I’ve heard since arriving here: the cheapest thing in Afghanistan is human life, nothing is valued lower; where-as there are more people in India than teenagers at the mall yet life at least has some value (the teenagers at the mall bit was my little flourish - you get the drift).
We had some great exchanges with a group of farmers that came for most of the day. In the field Calvin and I heard some surprising differences to the U.S. such as how to address an aging alfalfa stand [by the way as I type this “I’m watching He’s Just Not That Into To You” on Dubai Cable TV that’s shipped in to the Hotel somehow and it is definitely the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen… but somehow I just can’t stop watching]. On our return to the classroom the participants and farmers really got into breaking down on-farm issues. My favorite exchange was when one farmer requested some help with poor germination in his eggplant. Via a translator another farmer suggested his well water was too cold for germinating egglplant. No, said the eggplant farmer this is surface water. Well said the second farmer, you better get right with Allah because he’s clearly unhappy with you. Another farmer complained that American planes were flying too close to the ground and polluting the air causing human and crop health problems. It seems both Colorado and Afghani farmers both have issues with the US Government.
Speaking of complaints both Calvin and I have been surprised to hear how much distrust Afghanis have for the Pakistani administration. If the stories we hear are to be believed, the Pakistanis have taken been exploiting Afghanistan’s weaknesses for a while. The most common complaint was buying onions when they were cheap since Afghanistan has little if any food storage and then sell them back to Afghanis a month later at three times the price. It’s probably not anything wealthier, stronger countries all around the world don’t do without a second thought, but it wasn’t something I even considered. Being all doped up on CNN I tend to see the Middle East and South Asia as shades of Islamic grey. It’s clearly not that way and hearing about some of the differences between Aghanistan and Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Afghanistans and the Russian/Mongol states it’s not really surprising that about a quarter of Asia is far from a monoculture of Moslems.
We also got to meet a Myrob (water master) of a regional irrigation association for about 6,000 hectares of farmland (15,000 acres). Myrobs are appointed by the farmers from within the association to resolve water disputes. They’re part of the ancient Mongol system for community leadership, know as the three Ms: in addition to the Myrob there is the Malik for resolving land issues, and the Mullah for religious matters. This Myrob also farmed and was flanked by a number of farmers whose body language suggested they held him in pretty high regard. Unlike some Myrobs this guy says he wasn’t paid, and did it for Allah. I asked him if bribery offers were a problem. He said yes but he was proud of the fact he didn’t accept them. Of course you’d tell us if you were Mr. Myrob, right?
On the way home we negotiated another Kabul traffic jam so I could get measured for the traditional Afghani shirt (jama) and waistcoat. Nasserey has a tailor friend in what is clearly a wealthier area of Kabul. After being shown how to try on Afghani waistcoats (it’s all in the shoulders) I was able to select a nice ensemble. Tomorrow I’ll get to pick it up in time for dinner with the workshop sponsors from the USDA. I’m sure that’ll make a great posting for our last night in Kabul.