Saturday, October 29, 2011

Countryside around Kabul

This morning I drove to the outskirts of Kabul (in the opposite direction of Darulaman Road, fortunately, as it was the site of a major suicide attack today). The countryside around the city is actually much nicer than the downtown area, as it's still largely pastoral.

I should probably caveat this first picture by saying that I was actually trying to photograph the building behind these two ladies, but I didn't see them as we drove by, so it was a complete shock that they turned up in the picture!

Many people were living in tents, even as new construction was crowding them in.

Driving through the narrow streets of the village, I was so sure that the mud brick buildings had been there for over a hundred years. My local colleague estimated approximately 30 years. I guess the wear and tear in Afghanistan is a little severe.

The next few pictures were taken around town when I was stuck in traffic this past week. They're just a few typical scenes.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wedding Halls and Bare Shoulders

After my various sojourns into performing at Chinese weddings (, I was very curious to learn about the structure and ceremony of an Afghan wedding. Large wedding halls like the two pictured below can be found in almost every neighborhood in Kabul; they are literally the biggest buildings in the city. Hundreds of people are invited, and the men and women spend the vast majority of the time in separate rooms, thereby allowing the women to cut loose with sequins and bare shoulders. They are also prohibitively expensive and a huge drain on the economy.

As I drove by the "Paris Kabul Wedding Hall," pictured below, I taught my local colleague a new English word: tacky.

Bare shoulders and decolletage? Scaaaaandalous! Unless you're getting married, of course.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Darulaman Palace

Every few weeks, I'm lucky enough to visit places in Kabul that take me past Darulaman Palace. It's about 45 minutes from the Embassy, just past the Parliament building. It was built in the early 1920s by King Amanullah Khan, and there's really no other building like it in the city. I would love to get closer to it to get better pictures, but it's set back very far from the road. I've heard rumors of various schemes to renovate the building and some even include plans to house the Parliament in the palace. However, ten years on it's still a looming hulk of steel and rubble, so I'm not holding my breath.

On all sides of the building, people go about their daily lives and largely ignore the enormous structure. All over Kabul and throughout the country, there are historical structures like this, which, if they're not still housing unexploded mines, are used by children as playgrounds or the homeless as shelters. It can be quite startling, especially if you come from an environment in which such cultural relics would be charging admission.

On the one hand, I would hope that these buildings are heading in the direction of such restoration, but I also pass by the bombed out Russian Cultural Center every week and see that such aspirations can take a drastic turn for the worse...

Even more jarring than the presence of such massive ruins is their close proximity to nomadic settlements. The only piece of this picture that has changed in the past 100 years is the slow destruction of the palace. Hmm.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Follow the Mughals

I haven't posted on this blog in a few weeks because I've been traveling on my third R&R vacation. It's actually referred to as a "Regional Rest Break" or RRB, but instead of staying within the region, I flew back home to Texas. Since I didn't take any pictures during my current vacation, I thought I would post some additional pictures taken on and around September 13, the day that the Embassy was attacked.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was out in the city on that day, organizing an event at a restored park and palace complex, Babur's Garden. In the picture below, our Embassy moderator is introducing the panel of Afghan women leaders to the audience of mostly female Afghan students. The first suicide attack occurred just a few minutes after I took this picture.

Hours later, and we're still there! We moved down into the basement, where we furiously sent emails and stress-ate the mountains of croissants I had brought for audience refreshments.

The picture below just shows the exterior of the building complex, with local residences built on the hillside above. The palace is built in a U-shape, with the open end overlooking the city.

A blurry shot, taken from the window of the car after a rain, when we were finally leaving Babur's Garden.

As a disclaimer, the following two pictures are NOT of Afghanistan! The day after the attack, I was scheduled to fly to New Delhi for a conference, along with several other officers. Our trip was delayed, but I decided to fly out on Friday to attend the final day of the conference. It was well worth the effort, as I was able to spend the entire weekend in New Delhi (3 hours of conferencing + 2 days of touristing = my kind of business travel!). I slept, shopped, and ate all day on Saturday. On Sunday, upon realizing that I hadn't seen a single monument/museum/attraction, I asked a taxi driver to take me to one awesome place that I could see in 20 minutes or less. So I ended up at Humayun's Tomb. I had no idea what I was viewing at the time, but according to Wikipedia, it was built for the son of Babur (the emperor buried at Babur's Garden in Kabul). In my rush to leave Afghanistan, I had just followed the path of the Mughals!