Monday, January 31, 2011

Calligraphy and Unpasteurized Milk

I went out around town today on a field trip. Actually, it was "site visits" of U.S. grantees, but it felt like the most amazing field trip ever. Much better than the Dallas science museum.

This picture was taken out the window of a moving car, so I have no idea what this building is. However, you can see that there are mountains surrounding Kabul in every direction you look, which is one of the reasons that the pollution is so bad. Also, this picture makes the city look almost desolate, but you can't see the raging chaos of the traffic around us.



All of the donkey-drawn carts remind me of Shenyang! Maybe one of my career goals should be to always live in a place where I can drink tea and buy products off the back of a mule.



Burka sighting!! I don't wear a scarf inside the embassy compound, but when I'm out around town I've been bringing a pashmina and wearing it if I feel like it's appropriate.


More typical buildings in the city...



Lots of houses are built up on the hills around the city, apparently because the population is growing like crazy. Lots of people are moving to Kabul from other parts of the country and coming back from Iran/Pakistan, due to the relative security of Kabul. Also, these 'cabs' have gmail accounts written on their sides!



Girls practicing calligraphy with the help of a U.S. grant!



All of the girls in the front, boys in the back :)


Some of the artwork was on display. I wanted to steal it all! Amazingly beautiful.



At another site, women and girls were learning how to care for cows and sell the byproducts at the local markets.



You can barely see the mountains in the background. U.S. helicopters flew overhead at one point during the visit.


The female veterinarian teaching the participants:


Don't get the pashminas dirty!



My camera ran out of memory, so I had to switch to the iphone. Here's a picture of another veterinarian:



At the end of the visit, they gave us some hot milk with sugar and cardamom, homemade yogurt, sweet bread, and cookies. I was slightly nervous, but it was really delicious. So far, so good...fingers crossed.



So yeah, I spent the afternoon drinking warm milk out of porcelain teacups and eating cookies. Living the fabulous life in Kabul.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Eikenville

Fridays are our one day off here in Kabul, so I'm about to go to the bazaar that is run at the ISAF base (ISAF = International Security Assistance Force, i.e. our military coalition force). Before I go, here are a few images from outside my hooch:



The world-famous Duck and Cover bar, established 1387 (or 2008, in Gregorian calendar years).

The HPC in the KBL

You may have heard (although who are we kidding, you probably didn't) that President Karzai established a High Peace Council to engage with the Taliban (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11188294). The HPC is relatively new and has mixed reviews, but I was still pretty excited to meet with the women members of the HPC a few days ago at the Prime Minister's Palace.
No, there is no Prime Minister in Afghanistan, but yes, there is a Prime Minister's Palace. It's a giant building covered in white marble, and apparently the plumbing on the fountain is broken.



The ladies of the HPC, drinking Mountain Dew:



Another cool (or not so cool) issue that came up: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/world/asia/01afghan.html

And some scenes from driving around the city:








Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hello, I live in Kabul

I am now an official resident of trailer #ND-107, which simultaneously makes me sound like a prisoner and trailer trash. Regardless, it's very cozy and I'm just happy to be here after a looooong journey to Kabul. I took the 10:20pm flight from DC to Dubai on Monday night, which was delayed due to ice/snow. I had been on the waitlist for *months* to get upgraded, but sadly it did not happen. This the view from my economy plus seat of the de-icing process:



Thirteen hours later, I was in Dubai!! The airport is very new and shiny, with an "Arabian nights" theme happening. I arrived at 8:30pm on Tuesday night, and then I got on the 3:30 am flight to Kabul.



Two and a half hours later, I was in Kabul! The Kabul airport is...not so shiny and new. I was picked up at the airport by embassy drivers in armored cars, who drove me the 10 minute drive to the embassy compound.



I had to wait around in the parking lot of the airport for the other embassy employees that were being picked up, so I took a few pictures of the scenery, i.e. the barbed wire and the sad, lonely luggage cart.



After arriving in Kabul at 6:50am, I immediately went to the office and worked until 6:00pm. It was rough, but ultimately good for getting over jetlag. I wandered over to my hooch in a haze at 6:00pm and didn't wake up until 5:00am the next morning. I was told that I was lucky to receive my 'own' hooch right away, as apparently people had been sharing hooches for several weeks when they first arrived, due to housing shortages.

This is the view from the door, looking in on the bed and bathroom:



And this is the view looking back out towards the door, which is obscured by the GIANT full-sized refrigerator, which I will hopefully get removed soon. The hooch is actually pretty cozy, and not much smaller than my freshman year dorm, which I had to share with a roommate. I think I might even ship my elliptical, so I can work out every day.



Also, the bathroom is not bad at all:


This is the view of the outside of the hooch facility that is right next to mine. I'm on the first floor, which is nice. Also, cats and sandbags are ubiquitous.

There are 2 main dining facilities (or DFACs - seriously, does everything deserve its own acronym??? Why can we not just call them dining halls? Is that not cool enough for the military personnel? I mean, if the place has a TV that shows "The Bachelorette" every morning and maintains a large collection of board games, including Scrabble and Apples to Apples, I really do not believe that it deserves to be called the DFAC. Let's just keep that extra syllable in there.) But I digress. Another odd fact about the dining halls is that they do not feel the need to have ketchup and mustard at every table, but have replaced them with TWO different kinds of hot sauce.


And one final picture of the embassy compound is below. When I saw the sign I immediately checked my AK-47 and removed my Us Weekly from my backpack.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Alfajores

Last Wednesday (January 5th) I flew to San Francisco to visit friends from high school and college. Lael and Aniva from Gtown and Genesee and Kathleen from Texas were all around to hang out before I depart for my year in Afghanistan.

Lael and Genesee at the cable car museum:



Amazing brunch of croque madame, bloody mary's, and oysters at Foreign Cinema:

Lael, Genesee, and Aniva, post-brunch dessert at the mini-cupcake shop in the Mission:


Kathleen refutes urban legend by demonstrating that it is possible to eat an entire spoonful of cinnamon at once. This is yet another popular tourist attraction of San Francisco.


EPIC game of catchphrase.



Late Friday night party at a Pac Heights mansion with Kath's friends (Kath, VJ, and me):


On Saturday night we went to Allan's birthday party on Valencia in the Mission. Berlin-style ping pong = new fave party game.


Allan seeks dance inspiration from above at Beauty Bar:



Sunday morning at Sutro Baths (L-R: me, Genesee, Lael, Rachel, Aniva):



Lael, Allan, and the Pacific:



Reflections in the baths:









Henry pulls of shearling like a pro.


On our last night there we had amazing alfajores and enchiladas at a restaurant whose name I can't remember. I also at the alfajore too quickly to take a picture of it, but luckily Allan took a picture to commemorate post-alfajore bliss.

Monday, January 3, 2011

You're Welcome



More here: http://www.youtube.com/user/crnaviofficial

Visa humor

I just finished my month-long training in DC for my next assignment, which means that I'm back home in Texas and not taking many pictures. However, while in DC I came across the Algerian visa services office, which is just a few blocks from my temporary apartment in Dupont and occupies a tiny office in the bottom of an apartment complex. Most people wouldn't look twice at it, but I found it totally hilarious that this entire country's visa services for the U.S. can be run out of a one-room shop, whereas our visa services for China occupy giant buildings and service thousands of people a day.

There's probably just one guy sitting behind a desk in that office, hoping he might get one or two visa applicants this week:


Whereas Consulate Shenyang's daily visa applicant pool is more akin to this:



On my last day in Shenyang, I ran my stats in the NIV system and found that over the course of 21 months I had interviewed 22,150 people, refusing 40 percent. Taking into account vacations, holidays, rotations, etc, that averages to about 70 interviews a day for 21 months.

After I arrived back in the States, after two days at home in Texas, I went straight into training for my next post - Kabul, Afghanistan, where I will thankfully NOT be adjudicating visas. Training was super short - just one month - which I like, since I hate going to FSI (Foreign Service Institute) for training. There is zero public transportation to FSI (in northern VA), the cafeteria food is not good, and I don't like the feeling of being in limbo between assignments. I did the minimum amount of training for an assignment in Afghanistan, which consists of a 1-week Afghan familiarization course, a 1-week counter-terrorism course, and a 2-week political/economic tradecraft course (required for all first-time political/economic officers). I didn't get any Dari language training, but hopefully I can learn some while in Kabul.

After I finished with my training, I flew back to Texas for my month-long mandatory home leave (http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/85089.pdf). So now I'm chilling at home, taking some online FSI courses to prepare for my job in Kabul, and seeing friends.