So I’m getting up a little early on our last morning to squeeze in my final post from Kabul. Calvin and I have definitely had a special week here with our Afghani hosts. In many ways I feel a little cheated to be leaving so soon, but I’m not afraid to admit I miss some basic western comforts, in particular decent air quality. The dust and smog make for a unique throat-wracking, lung-hacking atmosphere. Even inside you never quite feel like you escape it. I’m also looking forward to shedding the 10 pounds I’m sure I’ve gained since being here.
We’ve beeen helping the workshop participants with their group projects. They’re incredibly motivated and all cranked out their projects early so we started hearing presentations yesterday. The idea of helping farmers adopt a more effiicient irrigation system really excites these folks since water scarcity at the point of diversion is a pervasive issue, especially in the lower valleys. Three of the groups are basing their projects around the adoption of more efficient drip systems so I’m looking forward to seeing how they intend to promote this technology among their local irrigation community.
In between sitting in on groups I’ve been having more discussions with some of the worldier and wiser members of the workshop class. I find myself growing increasingly cynical of the coalition effort to “rebuild” this country. It’s all starting to seem incredibly opportunistic - I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised since it’s hard to pretend that the super powers of this world spend significant money abroad purely altrusitically. I guess such an approach would quickly compromise your status as a super power. The thing that I have found most educational is just examining a map of Afghanistan. Calvin and I broke one out yesterday with the idea of learning more about which agriculture occurs where and what are the major sources of irrigation water in Afghanistan. While a number of the attendants explained agriculture in their home provinces I couldn’t help noticing the convenient proximity of Afghanistan to what a DC beureaucrat might call “nations of interest.”
If you’ve never cracked an atlas to examine where Afghanistan really is (I certainly handn’t before arriving and it wasn’t what I thought) then I encourage to have a gander right now:
From the West in a clockwise direction Afghanistan borders: Iran, The Russian/Mongol states, China, and Pakistan. Considering how helpless Afghanistan is after two decade long wars in 30 years, do you think the US might see some benefit to getting etablished in this country?
Oh and get this Afghanistan has immense Uranium reserves and plenty of oil and gas. Knowing how little credibility Karzai has as a democratically elected president among most of the Afghanis (and ex-pats) we’ve talked to, the $4 bllion/year “nation building” effort (the GDP of Afghanistan is $1 billion) that’s occuring here starts to look like a bit like the special effects on an old sci-fi movie.
Our new friend Rao jokes bitterly that every wealthy nation has a “Taliban” here. The only people who really don’t have a Taliban are the Afghanis themselves (Rao has all the best lines). If my growing suspicions have a shred of truth, I can see why he’s a little jaded about working here. I think there must be some truth as just during the week we’ve been here western media is saturated with alarming stories of islamic extremism and suicide bombers while Pakistan and the US indulge in petty diplomatic tiffs over this month’s pound of Afghani flesh.
Still I would not dare underestimate these people. Their industriousness and their ability to overcome anything with a soulful smile is uncanny. Calvin and I saw evidence of this spirit last night on the way to a fancy dinner with some (American) embassy folks. As we drove past the Kabul River for the first time - as you might expect it has more in common with an poorly maintained canal than a river, but it definitely has more water in it than the Colorado River did when I left Grand Junction - we saw the future suburbs of Kabul being built. There was more rebar and concrete to be seen than pedestrians playing with the traffic. In amongst it wednesday night commerce was thriving. With the evening light refracted by the smog it was a grubby but intoxicating sight (if not so intoxicating on the nose). We also drove past the palace and all I can tell you about is that President Karzai is probably safe since I think he buys his blast walls and razor wire from the same supplier as our hotel.
We had dinner with a couple of obnixious blow-hards from Washington State at the fanciest hotel in Kabul, Hotel Serena. I wouldn’t have posted about their obnoxiousness except they didn’t ask us a single question about our week here and dared to start picking a fight with Calvin, who is Idaho born and bred, over where the best potatoes in the US come from. Still I got to sit next to Liston from the embassy, who was great guy. His last posting was South Africa and it’s where he’s going on vacation in a couple of weeks. It’s definitely a fascinating world when you meet someone taking a vacation in South Africa from Afghanistan. The food was pretty tasty and Calvin and I loaded up on the dessert calories for the plane ride home.
Today I get to wear my jama and waistcoat for the workshop. I’m sure it’ll provide some great entertainment for group. I guess this is it from Kabul. Next posting will probably/hopefully be Dubai.