February 29, 2004
It was a mad dash trying to complete all my shopping and packing for this trip.
I had one last chore that took me most of the night-a request for copies of a new program number 47 for my Afghanistan Series. Is is part 1 of a wonderful conference held at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken New Jersey back in October 3 to 5, 2003. I had long ago completed the draft, but I needed to confirm names for the graphics, make a DV copy to send off to Fairfax Public Access World 30 (Fairfax County, Virginia) and make VHS copies for others. Anyone interested in seeing this Opening Ceremonies tape, by the way, can inquire from Program Director Ann Freud, as to when she can air it. Organized by the New York Chapter and U.S national organization of Society of Afghan Engineers too promote reconstruction in Afghanistan with the help of any and all Afghan professionals, not just engineers and architects. Those of you in Virginia can find the Fairfax website by clicking on the “SCHEDULE” button on my website: www.maryloubigelow.com. This program was the first in a series, so look forward to that program.
Packing is always a game of compromises. I purchased a number of medical books, courtesy of a donation by the Arlington Rotary Club to distribute to hospitals, medical school or doctors in need of newer information. Needless to say, the poundage-limit filled up fast. I knew that I would not go over my poundage for my trip to London on American Airlines and Emirates to Dubai, but I expect to get zinged on Ariana Afghan Airlines from Dubai to Kabul, as the allowed poundage is much lower. I also purchased three dozen eye glasses for people in need. Fortunately, those were light.
I was nervous about going to sleep that night for fear of sleeping through my alarm. A friend suggested that I stay up all night and sleep on the airplane. It ended up that I took her advice, not by choice, but because I needed the time to finish copying the tapes so that I could give them to her to mail in the morning.
March 1, 2004
A friend picked me up at the house at 6 a.m. to take me to the airport. We had to squeeze all my bags and me into the car and off we raced to the Woburn Logan Express stop for the bus to the airport. Once at the airport, I went through security and on to American Airlines gate 33.
The flight was light, fortunately, so I stretched out on three seats to catch some sleep. Arriving in London, and the long walk to go through customs and then on to Emirates at Terminal 2 gate 20. There I met international Economist Dr. Mushtak Parker, who was traveling to Dubai to speak at a conference. He told me of his journalist wife Leila Badawi, daughter of London-based multi-cultural advisor Dr. Zaki Badawi, and her newly formed organization “Global Justice’ for non-governmental NGO’s specializing in Central Asian countries. She will contact me regarding her program.
Arriving in Dubai, I was struck by the mild weather. I took a taxi to a popular hotel with British traveler’s — the Jumeira Rotana Hotel on the fashionable Al Diyafeh Street, a 15 minute metered- ride adding up to approximately $10 plus tip. The hotel has a Boston Bar and Restaurant, Brauhaus and rooftop Bella Vista Restaurant with a view of the city I think from the picture in the brochure. I haven’t been up there as yet. Tonight is Ladies night with international music in the Boston. I may peek in, but more importantly, I found out that about a Computer Café next door, so as soon as I finish this I will try to email it off to the techno wizard John Abdulla to set up on my website for all of you to view.
Tomorrow morning I must get up at 3:30 a.m. for a check in at the airport for my Ariana Afghan flight to Kabul. I hope Captain Shafiullah Mushfiq will be the captain tomorrow. I met him on last trip on the Dubai to Kabul flight in September 2002. I told him my name and asked if he remembered my former husband John Bigelow who was chief pilot of Ariana in 1971 and 1972 on a technical assistance program with Pan Am World Airways. He was so happy to see me and told me that he was the only pilot currently flying with Ariana who would remember John. In those days, Capt. Mushfiq was a mechanic. He worked his way up as a flight engineer, first officer, captain and now is chef pilot and line pilot on the B727s. He was so cordial, welcoming me back to his country. What a wonderful beginning of my first trip back to Afghanistan. He also escorted me out of the country when I left in October 2002.
I am now writing this at a computer cafe in Dubai. When I entered the cafe, I needed help so a fellow client Nader Alizadeh, former general manager of Local TV Inc. (LTV)of East Hampton, New York came to my rescue. He is now the managing partner of Moore Stephens Consulting Services, which focues on helping companies understand the business climate in Iran.
Time to sign off now. It is midnight or thereabouts and I must wake at 3:00 a.m. for my flight to Kabul Signing off until tomorrow.
March 3, 2004
At 3:30 a.m. I called the front desk for my bags and took the 15-minute ride to the airport. Caution! Usually the taxis are metered, but this morning I took an unmetered one and was charged 50 dhirams rather than 36. I paid the 36, however and didn’t seem to receive a scowl.
Waiting at the airport were a number of Afghans and non-governmental organization people from around the world heading back or going to for the first time. I met Suzanne Thompson and Bruce Freyer, founders of Global Partnership for Afghanistan www.gpfa.org, returning to check their agricultural project in Guldara, in the Shomali Plain… Sitting with them was Attorney Laura Stevens arriving for the first time on a Global Exchange Women’s networking project, a wonderful mix of executive directors, lawyers, and others interested in researching projects to help women.
In the Airport, I spotted Chief Pilot and line pilot on the B727s Capt. Mushfiq and Flight Engineer Qayom, whom I met on my last trip to Kabul. Once we all squeezed into the B727, Adeena Niazi, Executive Director of Afghan Women Organization www.afghanwomen.org motioned me to sit next to her on the aisle. She explained that she travels back and fourth from Toronto, Canada to her office in Kabul about four times a year where she runs an orphanage that I will be visiting.
A short 2 hours and 20-minutes later, we landed at Kabul Airport. Flying in over the snow-covered mountain peaks with a clear sky, Afghanistan’s natural beauty once again struck me with awe.
The airport experience was a fairly easy one. My surprise awaited me at the front of the airport. There stood a lone figure with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers. I took a double take. The man walking toward me looked a bit like—and it was Abdul Khyoom, my cook of 35-years ago. I hugged him and wiped a bit of a tear from my eyes. Life is great when it offers such great surprises.
Khyoom told me later while on our drive to town that that a Shairose, wonderfully thoughtful UNICEF employee, tried to track him down for me. Strangely enough, it was Khyoom who called her to see if she had heard from me. As many people know, I was not able to find Khyoom on my first trip back to Kabul, as he was working in Saudi Arabia. Now I also feared that he might have gone off to Quetta, Pakistan where his wife and children live. The following day, Shairose was to leave for a three-week leave to Canada. Hmm! What would have happened if… ? I’m not sure I would have found Khyoom if he had waited one more day to call..
We took a taxi to the new Kabul Inn located in Shari-Naw, where longtime friends Alex and Ann Mason were staying. I knew them when I lived in Kabul from 1968 to 1972.
Once at the hotel, I tried my interpreter Latif Noori. Success! Fortunately, his mobile phone was still working and he came over to join the group. This was a great homecoming.
Latif showed off his new car and drove Khyoom and me to find my old lodgings that I couldn’t find on my last trip. Khyoom pointed to the apartments attached to the Popo Lano Restaurant where I had dined so often on the last trip. Sure enough there was the Wali Jon Apartments, now being modernized.
Next we searched for my old house in Shari-naw—We bumped along a narrow, pitted dirt road until we finally pulled up to a house that I didn’t recognize as my old house. We rang the bell of the house. Once we stepped through the gate, I saw the garden and juie (Open sewer system that flows throughout Kabul.) There was the wonderful porch and garden where my Afghan hound, Katchaloo used to romp and where entertained scores of guests at dinner parties for a mulit-cultural mix of people from around the world. I used to call my parties Noah’s Ark.
Mirza Ali, Deputy Minsiter of Frontier and Tribal Affairs, introduced himself to me. He is the owner of the Kabul Inn and a very gracious host.
That evening we ate at a great German restaurant, tucked away in a German staff house compound. Prices were quoted in Euros ranging from $7 to $14 dollars per plate… The food was good and ample, but a bit pricy for Kabul. A last stop at a minister’s house for tea and tidbits ended about midnight.
(I can now be reached in Kabul on my mobile phone: 079319258. I try to go to a computer café at least every other day. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I am staying at the newly established Kabul Inn Qala-i Fatullah Khan Bazaar, near Zarghona High School. The mobile phone of the inn is 070285513. ) Owner of the Kabul Inn is Mirza Ali Khan, Deputy Minister of Frontier and Tribal Affairs.
Up early at 5 p.m. with the call of the Mullah, I began the plan for the day. After toasted naan (unleavened wheat bread) with honey, and an omlet, I tried to plan my day, knowing full well, that the entire plan might well go out the window. Anyway, I decided to start out with a “definite”-the 9 a.m. press meeting at the ISAF headquarters. After that I would go to Ariana and the Public Health building across the street in order to make appointments for the days ahead.
At 9 a.m. I arrived at ISAF. April fools! The meetings were no longer held there, as they were on my first trip back in September 2002. I was told there would be a joint ISAF/ UNAMA/UNHCR conference, however, at 10: 00 a.m. at UNAMA B. (UNAMA is United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.) Already my plans had gone askew. No problem! That is the way of life here. Latif and I did a quick errand and then he dropped me off at UNAMA. He took off and said he would be back in 20-minutes. The meeting lasted abut 30 minutes, where I met the Chief Public Information Officer of ISAF Chris Henderson and made also got reacquainted with Media Relations Officer David Singh, and Spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva, Spokesman for UNAMA. When I went out to the front gate, Latif was not there. I waited at least 20 minutes and was just about to accept a ride from another driver suggested by the UN guard, as I needed to get to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs before it closed. As I put my hand on the door knob to climb in the other car, I heard a screech of brakes behind me-Latif. Latif decided to go ahead and purchase a phone for me, so that we wouldn’t have to waste time that morning. He realized it was Thursday morning, and the ministries close around noon to 1 p.m. and Friday is “Juma” the Islamic holiday of the week. He knew I needed to set up appointments that morning for Saturday and therefore he took action. I was not that surprised. After all, I had got to know Latif quite well after six weeks in his care back in September and October 2002 on my first trip back here.
My next stop was the Ministry of Woman’s Affairs to get information on the March 8 event celebrating Woman’s Day in Afghanistan to be held at the Tent of the Loya Jirga at the Polytechnic University. I spoke with Minister Habiba Suraby who confirmed that I would be welcome to film it. While at the ministry, I checked in with Spojmai Haidari, who is Program Coordinator for Sima Wali’s office. She told me that there would be a meeting there at 2 p.m. with the Minister of Women’s Affairs and A few other people, so I planned to return with cameras.
Next stop was at the Prime minister’s compound to find Nour Safi M.D. Ph.D in Nuclear Oncology, who wears several hats here, but of special interest is his connection as advisor to the Ministry of Public Health. He offered his help with my prospective Healing the Children plastic surgery project and suggested I meet with Dr. Abdul Malick, nuclear physicist, to do a tour of a completely rehabilitated hospital, formerly the Noor Eye Clinic, which was operating when I lived in Kabul back in 1968 to 1972, but completely destroyed during the Taliban days. The reconstructed complex by the U.S. Army and the Afghan Health Consortium (AHC) will have three units-burns, cancer and eye, as well as polyclinics for family practice. I will get the complete story tomorrow.
When I returned to the Women Affairs building, I found out the meeting was canceled and prepared to leave the compound, when I noticed a business card on the ground. I picked it up. Aha! It belonged to Marnie Gustafson who I needed to see while I was here, so I reentered the building and met her as she came out of Minister Suraby’s office. As I returned to the car, I caught the Minister as she was leaving the building and asked her about attending the March 8 event and filming it. She remembered me and confirmed my plan as well as to do another interview the week after next, when she will be away traveling to the various provinces.
Next I went to the Foundation for Cultural and Civil Society (FCCS) located within the UN Habitat compound. Khyoom works there and for today through Saturday, he is preparing food for a special public event where guests can buy clothing and personal items from various artisans and have a spot of tea and cookies. I stopped in and Khyoom introduced me to all the staff and vendors. They seemed to know the story of Khyoom and me and appeared particularly overjoyed to meet me. I stopped to admire a beautiful silk scarf and Khyoom insisted I have it and would not take my money for it. “No, you are in my place now,” he said. Please take this on me.” I accepted graciously. I was just so happy that I found my wonderful friend and to renew our friendship. I then rushed back to the car so Latif could get me back to the Kabul Inn at 4 p.m. as he had to rush off to his other “real” job.
That evening I ate an appetizing dinner of cauliflower with cheese and tomato, rice and a mix of pees and carrots at the Kabul Inn. Antonio, the cook is great and he keeps an immaculate kitchen. (There is really no need to eat outside the restaurant, except for some diversion.)
I looked forward to a nice quiet evening and a good night’s sleep. I felt I had already been here for a week, and yet only two days had past.
March 5, 2004
About 10 a.m., I called Dr. Malick, who came over to the Inn about an hour later. We set our plan for tomorrow. On Saturday we will meet over at the Noor Clinic at noon and do a video tour of the new facility with the doctor explaning as we go through. I will videotape the operating rooms and anesthesia units for the team of Healing the Children. We had a long talk about his needs for the hospital and when I told him about the plastic surgery team, he was thrilled, because the new Burn unit is the first ever in Afghanistan and the doctors need training. The Burn unit has only one operating room, but the whole complex has other operating rooms, so we will be able to handle four operating beds, I am quite sure. Anyway, I will see for myself tomorrow.
I showed Dr. Malick the books I brought as gifts from the Arlington Rotary Club and he was thrilled. He assured me that however we disperse them, they will be given to the administrative office of any hospital. The doctors can copy pages, but the books will stay in the medical library. This way they will get the widest use. He was thrilled to see them. I told him that I need to give one book to Avecina and another to a woman’s hospital and a few others to the Kabul Medical School.
Just as Dr. Malick stood up to take leave, in walked two young American men looking for me. They heard about me from someone-I forgot to ask from whom. Anyway, one was Glenn Tasky of Bearing Point, a financial team on contract with USAID, to work with the Central Bank. And Brockton, Mass-born and fellow UMass Amherst graduate (decades younger, however) Jeff Rosenberg, regional manager of Kjaer & Kjaer, a distributor of Nissan vehicles and Honda bicycles. They filled me in on some of the goings on and offered their help to introduce me to scads of people.
Trying to stay focused is key, because the ideas for TV coverage is unlimited and each possibility seems more interesting than the last. I need to split myself into four people, but then no one could bear to have four of me around.
About noon, Latif’s brother Eng. Abdul Kabeer Noori, of Kohdaman Construction and Material Company called to tell me he will be here about 1 p.m.
When Kabeer arrived, we headed off to Flower Street. It was so pleasant to drive along the roadways on a Friday without the bottleneck of traffic as on normal weekdays.
I bought the “white book” local jargon among the foreigners for the Dari Conversation learning book, and a Dari-English dictionary. I then shopped along Chicken Street where I bought a beautiful blue chapan (the long coat with arms that reach the bottom of the coat that Afghan men wear). It fit me and seemed a perfect solution to keep covered up and be comfortable. We stopped at the Heart Restaurant for lunch ($4 for a large bottle of Coca Cola, two plates of Kabuli Pilau and one dish of meet balls). We then drove to see my good friend Nasir Shir, Field Officer at UN’s AIMS (Afghan Information Management Service). We had tea and tidbits at his house and made plans to do some filming. More later about that.
At night we ate at the Inn-pizza and I went to bed early.
March 6, 2004
Latif arrived about 9:30 a.m. and we headed for the American Civic Affairs press briefing at Camp Kabul. I met Deputy Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan (CFC-A). After the meeting I saw Nazim Hakimi, translator/Press coordinator from the Coalition Press Information Center. I spoke with Robert Ramon who will put me in touch with his boss major Steve Moon, Commander for Press Center. I also met Eric Bloom of Task Force Pheonix, working with the Afghan Army. He told me about a milestone graduation ceremony to be held March 14. It is the 15th Battalion graduation. (I attended the 3rd graduation back in October 2002).
We drove to the Noor Clinic to meet with Dr. Tim Fader, Dr. Harper and Dr. Malick, who are all involved with the new complex. The building was empty, just painted, but still needed electrical work. They hoped to open the facility March 22. I told them about my proposal to bring a team of doctors and nurses in a plastic surgery team from Healing the Children to Kabul. The burn unit is a new idea to Kabul and they never had plastic surgery in the country before. All those who could afford it would go to Pakistan for the surgery. Dr. Harper felt that the sooner the better for the team to arrive, before the hospital fills up with patients. Dr. Fader was more cautious and requested that he talk directly through email to Margee Phaneuf about the idea.
The next stop was Rabia Balki Women’s Hospital. This is U.S. Secretary of Health Tommy Thompson’s pet project in Afghanistan. The hospital is being renovated by IMC and the U.S. Army and will have computers and internet connections. Dan Reyna, a U.S. Army Civil Affairs person was standing guard outside the front door. He told me about a woman who has had to live her entire life behind a veil because of a terrible disfigurement of her face. Then I told him of my idea about the plastic surgery team, he said “God must have sent you.” He and other U.S. officers want to help this woman and he said that even though he will be leaving Kabul soon, the other officers will have her information. I will pass this information on to the Ministry of Public Health when I meet with someone over there. He also agreed that having a team of doctors go over to do some of the bad cases makes so much more sense that just sending one person to the U.S. for an operation.
Deputy Director Maryam Bahram Azimi met with me and looked over my selection of books from the Arlington Rotary Club. She felt that the” Our Body, Ourselves” would be a great book for her hospital. We decided that I would present it probably at the opening ceremony at the hospital on March 9. At that time, I will meet the hospital Director Dr. Nasrin Oriyakhey.
Khyoom came over to my guest house about 4:30 p.m. and we went to a computer café to send off some of my notes to John, the website guru, to download onto my website. Naturally, I left the best for last and when I finally got to the most important email, the one to John, the system crashed. I saw a journalist from Al Jezeera who I met that morning, who said we could go with him over to another café nearby. On the way over, about 6:15 p.m., and very dark, he talked about not being out beyond 7 p.m. or taxis are hard to come by. Taking what he said to heart, I asked if he would take us to the Kabul Inn after he finished his work at the computer. He did, to my relief. Khyoom had dinner with a group of us at the inn and then took off home.
March 7, 2004
At 9 p.m., Latif and I headed off to the World Food Programme (WFP) where I checked in with the UNHAS and their flights around the country and then on to.UNAMA for the morning press briefing. All messages were geared toward women as Women’s Day is tomorrow.
Next stop was Avecina. As I stepped into the Director’s office, I noticed that the wall behind the director’s chair had been painted since my video, when an obvious gauge in the wall was only partly hidden by Dr. Parwani during our interview. I made a presentation of a Merck Manual for diagnosis for the hospital library to Director Dr. Ghafoorie and Dr. Torkai, the surgeon who showed me thoughout the hospital a year-and-a-half ago. I wrote an inscription in the book that read “A gift to the wonderful doctors and nurses at Avecina Hospital, especially to Dr. A.W. Parwani and Dr. Torkai, from the Arlington Rotary Club and taped my card to the book. Latif took a picture of the three of us.
Dr. Abdul Rashid Ghafoorie, Mary Lou and Dr. Torkai
They were so pleased. I handed one Avecina video to Dr. Torkai and told him that I would bring another one for Dr. Parwani at the end of my trip. I wanted to hold on to it in case anyone else would like to see it. Dr. Torkai suggested that I give the large red Physicians Desk Reference to Aliabad Hospital connected to Avecina and he would set up a meeting with the director and deputy director.
A quick stop at ASCHIANA, a school for street-working children, found Executive Director and Founder Eng. Mohammad Yousef engrossed in paperwork, but he graciously welcomed me. I handed him the video I did on his school and rushed off to lunch at Herat Restaurant for Kabuli Pilau.
Following lunch, we stopped at Ariana. We climbed up the stairs to the vice president’s office. We pushed the door open a crack to see a room full of people in a meeting. I spotted Captain Hamidi, who sat closest to the door and whispered to him to step outside for a moment. I grabbed his hand and pulled him outside. He looked at me with a smile, but didn’t realize who I was. “It’s Mary Lou Bigelow, ” I said staring into his eyes. His eyes popped open wide and was so happy to see me. He was a Captain of Ariana Afghan Airlines in the days when my former husband Captain John Bigelow and I lived in Kabul from 1968 to 1972. It had been 32 years since I had seen him and his wonderful wife Sayida, who also worked for Ariana. We discovered that we were staying in guest houses only one block away from each other.
Then I went next door to the Ministry of Public Health and met Dr. Amanullah Hussaini, director of Information, Education and Communications. He explained that there are two deputy ministers: Technical Deputy Minister Dr. Ferruz and Administration Deputy Minister Dr. Abdullah Sherzai, a neurosurgeon. Dr. Massoud set up an appointment for me to interview Dr. Sherzai on Tuesday, March 9 at 1:30 p.m.
After a call from Spojmai from Sima Wali’s office, I rushed over to her office at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to pick up my invitation to the women-only celebration for Women’s Day under the tent at the Polytechnic Institute where the Loya Jirga was last held.
A quick visit to a computer café ended a long, but fruitful day. As I entered the gate of the Kabul Inn, I noticed two Afghan women with white chardars or scarfs. As I drew closer I realized it was Razia Jan and Sayida Hamidi. What fun Sayida and I had reminiscing about old times. Razia Jan told me of her wonderful day yesterday, when she visited the Kabul orphanage and gave out dolls and/or shirts to all the little girls. She was so happy that she had brought the right amount so that each child received something. It was a very special day for her to see the joy in the kid’s faces. Razia does it again with such wonderful surprises to help the kids of Kabul.
Dinner at the inn seemed the smart thing to do. I needed to write this note and I needed to get up early for tomorrow’s long day.
March 8, 2004
In the morning, Razia Jan walked over to my guest house and we took a taxi to the Kabul Polytechnique Institute to the Loya Jirga tent for the Women’s Day Celebration. first of the press to arrive, J took the best spot on the press riser. Once President Karzai entered, the speeches began. Some of those who spoke were President Karzai, Minister Habiba Suraby, UN Representative to Afghanistan, Masouda Jalal, and Minister of the Interior Jalali.
After dropping off Razia Jan, Latif dropped me off at the Herat Restaurant to give a copy of the completed video of my interview with Gen. Abdul Wadud to him. He thanked me, gave me his mobile phone number in case he could ever be of service to me and we went on our way.
We then went to the PARSA compound for a party she had for many of the woman running NGOs that Mary MacMakin helps. Two young boys played music while the women, one at a time, got up to dance. It was a lot of fun and afterwards, we all went downstairs to the gift shop, where I purchased some scarves and a little doll with a chadary.
Back at the inn, no sooner did I drop off my cameras than Khyoom arrived with a beautiful heart-shaped box of candies and a Congratulations card for Women’s Day.
Khyoom and I took a taxi to a computer café to send my usual email to John and to check on other incoming emails.
March 9, 2004
On Tuesday morning, we headed off to the U.S. Embassy where I met with Roy Glover Ph.D., Counselor for Press and Cultural Affairs, to discuss meetings and contacts. I left some of my articles and two videos – “ASCHIANA” and “Return to Afghanistan.”
Next stop was to the Ministry of Planning, a fifth floor walk up to a lovely penthouse office with expansive view from large windows to find Wali Shairzay. He helped me sign up for the U.S. Trade and Parallel Business Mission, by calling the Afghan Embassy in Washington D.C.
After lunch at the Herat Restaurant, we went to the Ministry of Public Health, where I interviewed Administration Deputy Director Dr. Abdullah Sherzai. I told him about my desire to involve Healing the Children in a plastic surgery trip and he was very supportive. I understand that Healing the Children executive director must first analyze the idea first and decide if it is feasible for any number of reasons as well as insurance coverage for the team etc., only then will it be presented to the board for approval. Once those steps take place, HTC will contact Dr. Tim Fader. Naturally, I have my fingers crossed.
March 10, 2004
This morning, Eng. Nazar Mohd served as interpreter, and one of Latif’s brothers drove. I started off with the Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan (CFC-A) briefing at Camp Kabul and made arrangements for a trip to Bagram for a March 15 overnight in the Media tent and a tour of the base as well as a Provincial Reconstruction Team visit in a village near the base the next day.
A stopped at the planning office in order to send off my information for the application to the Parallel Mission. While I was inside, Nazar retrieved a video that I left behind at the Public Health Ministry the previous day.
The next stop was to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, where I made an appointment to interview Minister Habiba Sarabi for March 24.
After lunch, we picked up Spoojmai at her office and took her over to the Ministry of Commerce where we filmed an exhibition of women’s clothes and crafts. The Minister of Commerce H.E Sayed Mustafa Kazemi spoke as well as Neelab Kanishka, director of Worldstock.com, in partnership with overstock.com. She works directly with producers of crafts from around the world. The company only takes a miniscule amount for operations and the women make get to keep the money for their products. I plan to interview Neelab while I am still here. Tea was served after the event.
March 11, 2004
Thursday began with a drive out on the Kandahar road to film a ceremony celebrating the various warlords giving up their heavy artillery to the national army. (Eng. Nazar Mohammad and Munir Noori accompanied me as Latif had gone to Pakistan for a three day trip.)
Surrounded by tanks in a big open field, a speech was given by H.E. Minister Hikmet Cetin, NATO senior civilian representative for Afghanistan and the main one by General Rahim Wardak, First Deputy Minister for Defense, whose assistant gave me the General’s contact for an interview at a later time.
I stopped off at the Afghan Local Handicraft Exhibition in the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel, where I bought a brightly colored nomad (Koochi) dress that is much like a kaftan. And a fuscia silk scarf that matched perfectly. After a heavy session of bargaining, I walked away with a beautiful outfit and a win-win situation for shop owner and me.
We then rushed over to the Ministry of Commerce for the opening roundtable and presentation by the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Ministry of Commerce for the opening to the U. S. Afghan Business Mission. Shortly after that, the Minister of Commerce gave a welcome to the participants. I was the only journalist filming these two sessions, which were quite informative and will be of great interest to people in the U.S. interested in doing business in Afghanistan. Look for this show, a priority on my editing list upon my arrival back in the U.S. Contact me about showing it in you city or town. I will try to include it on your public access station.
After this one more fast-paced day, I welcomed the Open House party at the Kabul Inn where the food was fabulous, thanks to our wonderful cook Antonio (sounds like Italian, but he is Afghan who was a cook in Italy for sometime). My new Koochi dress was a hit at the party, thanks to my friend at the Intercontinental. Mirza Ali Khan, was the perfect host, no surprise to anyone there. “You are in good hands,” he often says. Right on.
March 12, 2004
This is Juma, the Muslim holiday of the week. My entourage for the day was Khyoom, Shukrullah Noori (in medical school) and Munir Noori. My first duty of the day was to give my new Webster’s Medical Dictionary to Shukrullah. He needed this more than a year ago and now he finally has one.
Today we planned to film some of the construction going on all over the many districts of Kabul. We started with taking pictures of the Kabul Inn and then some of the stores along the street including the naan (unleavened bread) shop next door and a fish store.
We stopped at the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel and filmed the restaurant on the main floor, where a brunch was being served. Three musicians entertained the diners with wonderful Afghan music that was just loud enough not to disturb the diners. I stopped to chat with them. It was a gorgeous warm day and a number of people dined out on the terrace. George, the chef made an appearance with his impeccable starched white cook’s uniform, we all know around the world. The atmosphere could match any modern hotel anywhere. A lot had changed at the hotel. When I was there a year-and-a-half ago, the hotel seemed rather dreary, but now the staff and workings were energetic and more like it was in the “good old days” when it opened in September 1969. George Khalifi was the first general manager of the hotel. I met him in 1964 at another hotel of the Intercontinental chain –the fabulous Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut, Lebanon. He was assistant manager there. If you read this log, George, please contact me. I would love to hear from you — email@example.com.
We made a quick stop at the once brightly painted Baghi Bala Palace, which had been turned into a fine restaurant 30-years ago. It is now in need of paint and repair inside and out, but the curves and architectural design still shone through. I am sure it will once again reign in its dignified manner as it sits perched high above Kabul. The panorama from the high hill top setting is magnificent, and especially today, with the sun out.
Next stop was the Chez Ana guest house, which was the home that Pan Am Airways through the help of U.S. AID leased for us, when I lived here from 1968 to 1972. The garden looked much the same, except that the Juie (the running brook that ran around the house was now dried up and the bed was cemented). And Katchaloo, my dear Afghan Hound was not there. It somehow seemed empty without seeing him scat about the property. Khyoom walked over to his quarters, which now holds two rooms for guests and a shared bath. The structure in the rear corner of the garden that surrounds the house had been turned into another room. In the old days, that corner structure held a secret stairway that my Afghan Hound Katchaloo found one day. Khyoom and I remembered that day well. Our neighbor knocked at our door, one day. He was angry and shouting at the top of his lungs. He also held up a dead chicken in his hand. Khyoom translated for me. “Your dog killed my chicken,” he complained. “Never, would he do such a thing. He is a gentle dog,” I answered. “And he never leaves this compound.”
The man pointed to the far wall. I turned to the wall and sure enough there was Katchaloo on the top of it, obviously stalking something on the other side. “Katchaloo,” I shouted. “Get down from there.” Sheepishly, head hung low, he turned and walked along the wall and disappeared into the corner house and emerged through the door. After my initial shock, I apologized profusely and gave the man some money. He went away happy, but Katchaloo lost his fun and games, because we blocked the staircase, and he was never able to get back on the wall again.
One of the guests at the inn, filmed Khyoom and me as we recounted that story, sitting on the back veranda of the house.
We left the house and looked for a restaurant, but none seemed to be open, so Shukrullah and Manir dropped Khyoom and me at the inn and they left for their village near Istalif.
Ariana Afghan Airlines Capt. Hamidi made a surprise visit to my inn and I went back with him to his guest house to meet Capt. Ramon another pilot from the “good old days” and his beautiful wife Masuma. They invited me to go out to dinner, but I had already invited Khyoom for dinner at the inn. (Hamidi’s wife Sayida and Razia Jan had already left for visits to relatives in Pakistan, but will return later in the month.) Hamidi made arrangements to have his driver to pick me the next day at 4 p.m. the next day to take us to the U.S. Business Mission talks at the Intercontinental Hotel.
I also learned from Hamidi that Capt. Abedi is now working as a lead translator at Bagram. I will look him up when I go out to the base on Monday or Tuesday.
Today I paid my bill at the Kabul Inn to cover March 3 though March 12.
After dinner, Khyoom set off for home saying he would stop in again on March 18 after work.
March 13, 2004
Shukrullah and Munir picked me up in the morning and we sped off to the Ministry of Commerce for the opening remarks in the Women’s Crafts Exhibition by Mina Sherzoy. While there I bought a purple and gold Afghan dress, at the urging of a couple of dozen or so Afghan women watching me try it on and all offering suggestions. Everyone seemed to jump in with their help in choosing the color of a scarf and baggy pants to wear under the dress. Someone wanted to take my picture and Shukrullah took one of me also. I bought the dress without having advantage of being able to look in a mirror to see how it looked on me. Ah well!
Next, we raced over to CJCMOTF for the Saturday morning press briefing. We couldn’t find it, however, for the longest time. Munir didn’t know where it was and I never paid much attention to where it was situated, because Latif just drives me to it. While at the briefing, I checked in with Major Steve Moon, director of public affairs, who said he never received my email requesting the March 15 & 16 trip to Bagram. He said to send another one to his personal email and he would work on it.
Back to the Ministry of Commerce, the women’s roundtable was already underway, but I hadn’t missed that much and I filmed the rest of the stories by women who had their own businesses. They told of obstacles in their way, such as getting their products to market etc. The video will be a fairly unique study of women at work in Afghanistan. Again, I was the only journalist filming it.
Shukrullah and I had a few bites of lunch that was prepared for the women, but then we still drove to the Herat Restaurant where Shukrullah and Munir had a light lunch of lamb kebab and naan.
Though I wanted to attend the World Bank and Asia Bank meetings, I needed to stop at other places, so decided to skip them. I stopped in to see Capt. Hamidi at Ariana and then went to the inn.
The new computer café is so handy, just across the street and I felt I should send off some emails I promised to Major Moon and the log entry to John. I changed into my new Afghan kaftan and took Hamidi’s driver to go up to the Intercontinental for the Afghan-U.S. commerce briefings. It was crowded and I suppose that means successful, but I decided it best to return to the inn and skip the dinner at the hotel. I needed my rest for the early morning call the next morning.
At the inn, I chatted with two Iranians. Assad, our new waiter from Jagueri, Afghanistan (where Khyoom is from) translated. They were very nice and emphasized that the Iranians “love the American people.” They are staying at the inn and are here to open a business exporting candy in to the country.
March 14, 2004
Sunday began with the press briefing at UNAMA B compound. I couldn’t stay for the entire briefing as I was due at the U.S. Embassy for a meeting with USAID officials.
At 11 a.m. I arrived at the gate and met Abdul Jabar Sabit, president of the National Commission of Human Rights of Afghanistan who was quite interested in doing an interview for my show, which I will do later. Roy Glover, Counselor for Press and Cultural Affairs, helped both us. I also finally met Joan Ablett, Public Affairs Officer for USAID.
My Embassy meeting, I discovered, was changed to the Afghan Investment Support Agency across from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fortunately, I had the business card of Suleman Fatimie, general manager for investment of the agency, who directed me to the gathering.
Before joining the group, though, I registered with M. Naim Hanifi, director of media relations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Nasrullah Noori, director on my last trip in October 2002, has transferred to Germany.) Hanifi was more than helpful in helping me expedite some of my interviews in Kabul. It was good to see him again.
In the afternoon, we went to the U.S. Embassy to meet with Deputy Chief of Mission; Jack Bell, chief of staff of Afghanistan Reconstruction group who, coming from the business world, was extremely savy from the business point of view; Thomas R. Berner, senior justice advisor of the Afghanistan Reconstruction group; and a few others. Nasratullah Esmaty, commercial assistant helped us through the process of checking in to the Embassy. He mentioned an Afghan friend who has just completed a novel in English and thought he would make a good interview.
Following that we went to the Planning Ministry and met with David Knevett, program manager, procurement unit at the Ministry of Planning and Eng. Ahmad Shah Naik, manager of the unit, whom I met in New Jersey at the Stevens Institute of Technology Conference in October 2003. I lent him a copy of the first video from the conference.
In the evening I met some interesting journalists staying at the inn. I also learned that my Bagram trip was cancelled, but would be rescheduled.
March 15, 2004
At 9 a.m. a group in the business mission met at the Ministry of Finance. Deputy Minister for Revenue and Customs Jelani Popal led a very informative discussion. Some of the participants were Neelab Kanishka, Worldstock director; Dr. Robert E. Katz, Nexant (a Bechtel Affiliated Company); Donna Bubash and Judith Anderson, principals of The Humanitarian Business Partnership; Richard A. Brecher, director, global business relations for Motorola, Mariam Nawabi, Commercial Counsellor for the Afghanistan Embassy in Washington D.C.; M. Yousuf Rahmanzai, Box Consulting International; S. Amer Pasha, country manager, Pakistan and Afghanistan for The Coca Cola Export Corporation Pakistan and Dr. Herbert J. Davis, managing director, South Asia Affairs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
After the meeting, that I videotaped for a program, we took some group pictures and Dr. Davis helped me down the stairs with my equipment. Out in the courtyard, I said goodbye to many of the business participants who were leaving Kabul the next day.
Shukrullah, Munir and I went to the Herat Restaurant again for lunch. The food is plentiful and pretty good, but try to use the tashnab (toilet) elsewhere before going to the restaurant. Water and soap, however, is in good supply there.
Finishing lunch shortly after noon, it appeared that we would have lots of time left for more meetings, but after a brief stop to buy a men’s scarves for all three of us as well as stockings and a black cowboy hat for me, taking a video of a herd of buffalo walking down one street, and a bit of work at the computer café by the inn, four o’clock fell upon us. The two men left for home and I headed back to the inn to write this entry to my log.
Dinner was at the house. I said goodbye to Australian Leona Spinks, a financial advisor from Maxwell Stamp to the Ministry of Education, who is off tomorrow for a three week holiday.
March 16, 2004
Latif came back from Pakistan and met me at 8:30 a.m.
First stop was to see Hanifi at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to deliver letters. We grabbed some lunch at a fast food Chinese restaurant and sped off to see a formal General Suleman Sultani who comes from Latif’s village near Istalif, but now lives in Mazar-i-Sharif. He was here visiting relatives. He was an elegant elder with wonderful grey beard and bright shining eyes.
I did a 30-minute interview, as we sat on the typical long cushions found in Afghan homes. It was easy sitting down on the cushion, but once there, I needed help to get me back up again. My energy is great except from such maneuvers. I had to use my one broken tripod, which I simply used as a stand to balance one of the cameras, but was unable to adjust the angle. Fortunately, we managed.
General was a savy politician, because he carefully chose his words when I asked about the coming elections. His party, Maihan, has not made a decision on the candidate, so he did not want to discuss whom he would vote for-waiting for the collective decision. He has a lot of hope now for the country, however, and felt that President Karsai and administration has done well.
Next we went over to try to see Dr. Massouda Jalal, but when we got to her apartment, she was not there, so we continued on to Rossan mobile store to check on my phone and buy another scratch card to add $50 worth of calls.
Dinner at the Inn was as good as ever.
March 17, 2004
I called Naim Hanifi at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who asked me to go to his office to get an entrance card to hear Minister of the Interior Jalali the next morning. I picked up the card, but then realized that that would conflict with the graduation of the army that I had already planned to attend.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was visiting President Karzai today and traffic was stopped all over the city, so rather that even try to go out on the roads, I spent some time at the Hyper Café across the street from the Kabul Inn.
At 2 p.m., we pulled up to the Institute of Health Services and interviewed one of the directors, Dr. Shah Mahmood Popal. He surprised me by introducing me to the head of nursing Nahid Hakimi and a young student Mabooba who is studying midwifery. I interviewed both of the women and then gave them a book from Arlington Rotary Club that contained page after page of clinical drawings of the human body. They were so thrilled with the book. I realized that our club made the right decision to bring medical books. It will be used in her nursing classes. The young student was so sweet to give me a bottle of cologne.
Glen Tasky invited me to a St. Patrick’s Day party at the “yellow” staff house for Bearing Point. His friend Jeff Rosenberg was back in the states for R&R. I met a nice group of people and the food was wonderful. They even offered apple pie.
March 18, 2004
An exciting morning was spent at the Afghan Army compound for the graduation of the 15th Battalion, completing the training of the army contingent for Kabul. It was a beautiful day and an exciting one for hundreds of newly trained Afghan soldiers. There was a demonstration of their expertise in combat, speeches by First Deputy of Defense Rahim Wardak and U.S. Ambassador Zalmai Khalilzad and others.
A group of soldiers performed the Atan National Dance to the familiar drum beat I remember from so long ago when I lived here from 1968 to 1972. I remember the Atan dancers at the 50th anniversary of Independence (Jeshan) from British control in 1968. Many troops of Atan dancers performed throughout the eight days of celebration.
And it was thrilling to watch the soldiers march past me. Through my camera lens, I saw the many ethnic facial features up close. This mixture of the groups working together is a symbol of unity in the country.
I was supposed to meet Latif at the gate at noon, but everything ended at 11:30 p.m. The dust was brutal. A public relations person for the Afghan Army suggested I take a bus ride to Puli-Cherki to meet up with other military and journalists to watch a company-sized (100 men) demonstration of a mock fighting engagement.
Latif was not at the army when we returned to the Army base, so the bus took me back to the Kabul Inn. Latif was waiting there. He was worried when I had not appeared and worried that I had gone off with someone I shouldn’t have. On the contrary, my four escorts were more than nice and I stopped to take a picture of all of us.
We finally searched the bazaar for a tripod to replace the broken one. The first camera store I entered had one for $15. It was a nice light-weight one with a level. I was thrilled to find it, as I was having great difficulty with my broken one.
Next I stopped in to ASCHIANA and found Elizabeth Bennett teaching her English class. We hugged and made plans to spend the next day together. I left it up to Latif to decide whether we go to Paghman or Istalif.
I topped of this full and dusty day with an interview with Major General Craig Weston in his office at OMC-A (Office of Military Cooperation-Afghanistan) at Kabul Compound. Captain Sherri Gallaway and Major Ken Hirlinger (sp?) was terrific assisting me and also suggested I join them for dinner, but I needed to get back to the Kabul Inn to meet Ariana Vice President for Operations Capt. Hamidi. After deliberating whether or not to go the Indian Restaurant, we joined Mirza Ali Khan and others for dinner at the Kabul Inn.
March 19, 2004
Juma is here again. The Hyper Net Café is closed on Fridays, so I missed getting/sending my emails for the second day in a row.
The plan for the day was to pick up Elizabeth Bennett from PARSA and take her with us to Paghman. Latif and I started off with the right intentions, but when he suggested picking up Kabeer to come with us, the trouble began. Latif told me about a bazaar held at Camp Phoenix, where Kabeer worked. He dropped me off at the gate and was to return in 10 minutes. I however, stayed close to an hour, waiting for clearance to enter the compound and then bargaining for a beautiful Afghan dress. When I finally emerged from the compound, I used my last little bit of cell battery to call Latif, who said he was ten minutes away.
Twenty minutes later, Latif and Kabeer pulled up and went off to PARSA, arriving about 11:30 a.m. Elizabeth shrugged and muttered something like, “No matter, it’s Afghanistan.”
Once on the bumpy dirt road, on this magnificent warm sunny day, we sat back and relaxed a bit. What else could we do as we bounced along! We got out of the car a number of times to take pictures of donkeys, children and a gorgeous older man with beard and beautiful turban.
When we stopped in front of one walled compound to take pictures of the mountains, a smiling, well manicured gentleman approached us. He invited us into the compound. It was a large lush green garden with a, stream rushing down from the mountains. We took a number of pictures by the stream and then went on our way, sorry to have had to turn down an offer for tea and lunch from our gracious host.
We stopped to buy some lamb kebab and naan and went back up the mountain toward the park and river at the end of the road. On the way, however, Elizabeth spotted a young man with two sacks of eggs. She called out to him and jumped out of the car to jabber in Dari. She knew him, as he sells eggs to PARSA. He invited her to his house and she accepted. We dropped them off near his house and continued on up the mountain, planning to return to pick her up at 3 p.m. At the top, we ate our kebab, and relaxed, listening to the river rushing past us. In this country, which has suffered much from drought, the sound of water is music to one’s ears.
When we arrived back at the Kabul Inn, I dropped everything off and then decided to go out to find some hand cream. Just as I crossed the street, and was standing at the corner, I noticed the smiling face of the driver of a car turning the corner. It was Dr. Torakai, the surgeon who starred in my TV show about Avecina. He motioned for me to get in to take me to his house to meet his family. I was happy to see him and agreed. He lived quite near.
Once inside, his family members starting pouring into the house until the living room was crowded with 18 to 20 people. We had tea, nuts and cookies. They told me how much they liked the video of Avecina. One young girl picked up the video very tenderly in her hands, brushing the dust from the cover and pointing at Dr. Torakai’s picture.
We drove back to the Kabul Inn where I introduced the doctor to Mirza Ali and the staff members. I explained to the staff that Dr. Torakai’s brothers can be called to work as driver/guides for customers of the inn.
I retrieved the rest of my medical books and brought them outside to show him what I had left. After realizing how much he would appreciate these books, I gave him two books for his private clinic–the 2002 Physicians Desk Book donated by Dr. Chen of Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass. and the remaining Merck Manual donated by the Arlington Rotary Club.
We left it that he will make arrangements for me to meet his contacts at Maiwand Hospital on Monday or Tuesday. We will decide the time and day on Sunday. In any case, he will come with me to Rabia Balki Hospital when I interview Major Earl Wood about the American involvement in rehabilitating this women’s hospital and at the same time meet the director of the hospital who is a colleague of Dr. Torakai.
I tried on the new Afghan dress I bought and was even more pleased than I expected. It is a wildly colorful embroidered silk dress and the fuscia scarf I bought the other day also matches this dress. All I need now are the gold Afghan shoes to go with my dresses.
I also met Jamal Nasser Noorzaie, an Afghan-American who was meeting with Mirza Ali. He is establishing a computer café in Kabul and will be based in Dubai.
Tomorrow is the Islamic New Year.
Kabeer and Munir will drive me to their village Bagh-i-Areq in Qarabagh District, close to Istalif.
(Sorry for some of the misspellings where indicated by (sp?), but I need to get this sent off today and am unable to to do a check.)
March 20, 2004
Kabeer and Munir picked me up about 9 a.m. We drove to the stadium area where we saw lots of little girls dressed up in Afghan dresses. I stopped to have my picture with a few of them. We also stopped at a roundabout where some Afghan men were dancing the national Atan dance to a drummer with other musicians. After that we drove to Latif’s village Bagh-i-Ariq in the Shomali Plain. Latif met us at the house and introduced me to his lovely wife Parwin.
There were some changes in the village, but not that much. The irrigation canals were still dry and the houses were still in need of repair. Latif’s house was still under reconstruction. The brothers had finished the dining room and put a second floor on one side of the compound. Latif’s room was on top. He had decorated it with a rich blue-red drapes and lacy curtains. Two red Afghan carpets donned the floor. Cushions lined the sides of the room. It was comfortable, clean and pleasant to be in. Across the hall was another room where the men sat along the side of the room. I set up one camera and we did an interview about the needs of the village.
Another section of the compound had been rebuilt, awaiting the installation of windows. The kitchen was still in a poor state. It was merely a mudroom with pots on the floor.
It was wonderful to meet Latif’s new wife Parwin, who served us tea and cookies. She was a beautiful young woman with a wide smile and as Latif says, smarter than he.
After tea and cookies, we went off to see a few other houses in the district. A young boy was in charge of making a carpet in his home. When the carpet is finished, it is sent to Pakistan to be shaved and finished and then it is sold there. If they could do the finishing in Afghanistan, they would make so much more money.
At the end of the day, Latif and Kabeer drove us back to Kabul.
March 21, 2004
Sunday was yet another holiday off. The ministries were closed, but a lot of the tourist stores were open. I hunted for antique gold colored shoes in the bazaar. I walked the length of Chicken Street, inquiring along the way and finally found a pair that fit in the last shop.
Dr. Torakai came by in the late afternoon to talk about the next day
March 22, 2004
Monday everyone was back at work. I stopped to see Dr. Torakai at Avecina at 10 a.m., but he couldn’t come with us as he had an emergency operation. I did see Dr. Parwani for a few moments. He is now the head of Dermatology there. It was good to see him. I promised to get his copy of the Avecina video to him before I leave Kabul. It was a surprise to see the new Avecina going up within the compound walls to the right of the front entrance. I am so glad I had a chance to see and film the old one, however, when I was here in October 2002. So many people remember that hospital. We can now document it as history. Now there will be a new one and fortunately so for the doctors and nurses who do their miracles there each day.
Next stop was the Grand Opening ceremony at the former Noor Clinic, now called the Hope Hospital. Speeches were given by Dr. Harper, Dr. Fader, Deputy Minister of Public Health Dr. Abdullah Sherzai, and others. We toured the hospital and then had lunch in the cafeteria.
We drove to Maiwand Hospital and met Dr. Torakai outside and went in to meet with the Plastic Surgery team there. When we explained about the proposed Healing the Children plastic surgery visit, they said we should go over to MRCA, Medical Refresher Courses for Afghans, who would be the ones to speak with. Brigitte de Kaervenoael, coordinator of programs met with us. She was delighted with the idea of having the Healing the Children teams come here and introduced me to the head doctor Dr. Amin Hamkar who performs micro plastic surgery. He and one other doctor performed more than 1000 operations in the last year. There are young doctors in training, however.
Then she introduced me to Dr. Abdullah Abed who would be the coordinator for the contracts/ agreements between the groups. This is probably the best route to go, as those in need of plastic surgery come to this hospital. It is the only functioning plastic surgery unit in Afghanistan at the moment. They are doing wonderful work here and would welcome the exchange of knowledge.
While I was at MRCA, Latif went to ASCHIANA to pick up Elizabeth Bennett. He waited outside for 20 minutes and then came to MRCH to report she was not there. When I called her she was still there, but was waiting inside. She decided to postpone meeting me til another night. Latif needed to rush home at this point as he needed to get to work.
At 6:30 p.m., I went to the Ministry of the Interior where at there was a gathering of U.S. Citizens to hear the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmai Khalilzad speak. I saw lots of people I knew and many Afghan-Americans who I didn’t realize were in Kabul.
Dinner was still available at the Kabul Inn later.
March 23, 2004
Tuesday morning Suraya Sadeed, executive director of Help the Afghan Children stopped by the Kabul Inn to pick me up for the ride to a school (for girls) which was celebrating its grand opening. It was a two-hour ride (half of the journey on a heavily pitted, bumpy dirt road) north near the Panshir Valley. The big school, built from scratch, handles about 600 girls and has room to handle many more students.
When we arrived, I saw the sign on the front gate—with a thank you to Oprah Winfrey for supporting the building of the school. As the gate opened, I saw a crowd of two lines of 100 children lined a walkway leading from the gate down to the school. Each child held bouquets of flowers and as Suraya walked down the walk, the little girls handed her flowers. Seated auditorium-style facing the school with a podium already set up, were approximately 400 young girls and another 200 sat on the ground. A huge banner on the wall of the school read Thank you Oprah Winfrey.
It was a sunny day and warm. The wind, however, was ferocious—typical of that area, I understand.
Minister of Education H.E Yonus Qanooni arrived and a mob scene of screaming young girls broke out.
Inside the school, we visited one room of computers and other rooms with bench-style desks and seats.
Minister of Education Qanooni arrived and a mob scene of screaming young girls broke out. As he made his way to the podium, I noticed that children had lined up next to the podium, holding three pictures — Minister Qanooni, President Karzai and folk hero Ahmad Shah Massood.
Speeches were given by Minister Qanooni, Suraya and others. I through everything into my camera equipment bag and the driver took it and put it in the back of the SUV. We were in a hurry, because we had to make it to a ceremony in Gulbahar, about 10 minutes north. Suraya was due to give another talk at a ceremony celebrating the opening of her school for girls as well as another one for boys? in Gulbahar.
There was a PRT (provincial Reconstruction Team) is in operation in that town and a school there also had an opening that day. We were ushered into an auditorium, and there sat a number of U.S. military, packing the hall. A military person was speaking as I entered the room, giving the specifics of the building of the Gulbahar school and the part that the U.S. army took in its construction. Minister Qunooni spoke in Dari and his translator spoke in English. Suraya spoke first in Dari and then in English, fortunately for my English speaking TV show.
When I finally looked into my camera bag, I noticed that one of my Canon GL2’s was not there. I panicked. Where could it have gone? I swore I had packed it. Instead of attending the luncheon, the driver drove me back to the school. He thought he had seen it lying on a bench there. In front of the school was a bus. Inside was a cameraman who had helped me take pictures at the school. Somehow, he must have taken the camera to do some filming and neglected to give it back to me before we took off. He had tried to call me on my cell phone (I had given him my card), but he couldn’t reach me. This was about the seventh time that I had left something behind and everything was returned to me. What about those odds elsewhere! I paid the driver $20 for his help.
The road back was mostly blacktop, as we were able to take another direction.
Once home, Razia Jan and Sayeda Hamidi came over to my guesthouse had tea and informed me that they were flying out Wednesday morning.
I had dinner and went early to bed.
March 24, 2004
This was probably the busiest of all my days here. We started out with my buying another tripod as I had lost an essential part to it. Then we went to my normal Wednesday press briefing. Latif dropped me off at 10 a.m., planning to return at 11 a.m. As I approached the gate, a soldier told me there was a change and that the meeting would be at the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) compound. An American leaving the compound at the same time gave me a lift to ISAF, which is close by.
The ISAF/US joint briefing was the first of such gatherings, which will continue to be held each Wednesday at ISAF. The other U.S. briefings continue at Kabul Compound on Mondays and Saturdays. I saw Major Moon while there, who informed me that there is a long waiting line to take the helicopter to Khost to see the new PRT there. My name will stay on the list so perhaps I can go when I return to Kabul. Captains Sherrie Gallaway called Latif for me to meet me at the ISAF gate. The next stop was to pick up Spojmai Haidari of RefWID to take her to meet the managers of an afghan NGO.
No time for lunch, we sped off to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs where I finally interviewed Minister Habiba Sarabi on a tape that was recordable. The interview I did with her in October 2002 had a tape in the camera that was already used up.
Hanifi called me to go over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a meeting with Minister Dr. Abdullah and Minister of Finance Ashraf Ghani. I was the first press person there, so I had first choice on seating—front row center. It was so nice to see the two of them, as I had covered them separately before and they nodded their recognition of me. The major points on the coming Berlin Donor conference were made in English as well as Dari, so the video will be good for my TV series.
Latif and I followed Hanifi up to his office where he gave me the contact and phone number for the scheduler for King Mohammad Zahir Shah. He had tried to reach me all day on March 23, but I had turned off my cell phone for the day, and I was probably too far away from Kabul to be able to use it, anyway.
The end of a fruitful day. I ate dinner and ended up at the Hyper Internet café until they closed at 9 p.m.
March 25, 2004
Thursday morning I picked up the pictures I had taken in Gulbahar for Suraya Sadeed and then went to the UNAMA B briefing. There I videotaped some of the briefing and all of the talk by Karen Shampoo, deputy executive director of UNICEF, who was visiting Kabul. This will make a good show for the Afghanistan Series.
After lunch with Kabeer and Latif at the Herat Restaurant, we had hoped to end the day, but I needed to stop at the Kabul Rotary Club meeting at 2 p.m. something occurred between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. to delay us from making the meeting, but my memory escapes me at the moment. I am writing this on March 27, so I hope I am forgiven.
At 3:30 p.m. we found the Rotary Club to find President Karima Farani and about 12 others. Other visitors as myself were there as well. I gave Karima my Arlington Rotary Club flag and then Razia Jan’s Duxbury flag. I told the group about Razia Jan’s good works from the September 11 blankets for the fireman, police and port authority relief workers of New York. I also mentioned that for the September 11 2002 anniversary, she made quilts honoring those relief workers who died in New York. I also told them about her most recent quilt that she brought to Washington D.C. on September 11, 2003 that commemorated the people killed in the Pentagon disaster. I like bragging about Razia’s good works, who won’t do any of the bragging herself.
The Rotary group was just about to break up, so I am glad I was at least able to meet them.
John and I took a taxi to Hot & Sizzlin, a Texas style restaurant with humongous-sized steaks, opened by an American contractor who ordered and built out cargo containers for temporary housing for the Americans on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy. We chatted awhile after dinner and made arrangements for an interview on my next trip.
March 26, 2004
Juma, the holy day is here again. Latif wanted to spend the day at home which was good, so that I could spend time with Khyoom.
Before heading out for a walk, Khyoom helped me organize my room and Najeeba cleaned it and the bathroom. It is amazing how messy it can get even though it is only me doing the messing up.
I canceled all appointments for the day, as I really needed a break and I felt it essential to spend some quality time with Khyoom.
About 11a.m we hopped a taxi to the Park Pizza on the edge of Shari Nau Park, across from the Herat Restaurant. We split a whole fried chicken with fries and had ice cream for dessert.
After lunch we walked to Chicken Street and visited just about all of the stores that were open. I bought an old silk koochi dress and then found a scarf to go with it. It was good to walk and stretch my muscles. I found some I didn’t realize I had. Those who know me, know that I like to drive to the front door of anyplace I go. Exercise is not one of my favorite pastimes. Right Electra?
We returned to the inn and had delicious tangerines and Danish cheese and crackers. Khyoom went home early.
March 27, 2004
Latif and I arrived at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at 8:30 a.m. and waited in Hanifi’s office. I learned that he will be going to Germany May 4 until mid July, but will introduce me by letter to the person taking over for him.
We all went over to the main building for a three-day regional conference by The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). The opening welcome was by Afghanistan’s Vice President Mr. Amin Arsalah. Worldwide, a total of 150 countries have joined the convention which prohibits all use, production, trade and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines. The U.S.A. is one of the 44 countries that remains outside of the treaty.
This conference, held March 27 through March 29, is one of many events leading up to the November 2004 Nairobi Summit for a Mine Free World, which is the Mine Ban Treaty’s first review conference.
Latif and I then rushed off to a very important interview that fell apart at the last minute, which I hope will happen on Monday.
Secondary plans led us to stop at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs building to see Spojmai who informed me of a meeting of a number of NGOs at the Ministry on Sunday.
Next stop was to the new Hope Hospital, where I noticed a pharmacy set up on the left of the front door and a security office on the right. Upstairs, I found Dr. Harper and Dr. Malick. Dr. Malick will meet me tonight to hand over the Avecina video and I will give him some pictures of the group of speakers taken at the Hope Hospital opening. I was the only one to take pictures, so I am sure they will be appreciated, even though I did not use my flash. They aren’t as bright as they would have been.
I also promised Dr. Malick a Merck Manual on my next trip. I had given my second one away to Dr. Torakai, who had been so helpful to me on my last trip as well as this one. That left me short one manual. This log will serve as a reminder to me to bring Dr. Malick the book I had promised him.
We made a quick stop at Help the Afghan Children to film the outside of the compound as well as the sign to add to my film about the NGO. It was too bad to miss Suraya, but she returned to Kabul late Thursday evening and had made plans with family on Juma. She flew back home on Saturday morning.
Later that afternoon, I met Nic Robertson and Bob ? of CNN. We made arrangements to sit down and chat late afternoon/evening on Sunday.
Dr. Torakai came by and I gave him the Avecina video to give to Dr. Parwani. We talked about the prospective plastic surgery team visit and he reported that the doctors at Maiwand were very receptive of the idea. Now we have to wait for word from the board of Healing the Children.
I left on the long trip home via Dubai and London – Tuesday, March 30.
The picture below was taken during this trip. See here is CNN’s Ken Robinson (left) and Eason Jordan, who was then CNN’s Chief News Executive and President of Newsgathering and International Networks. Go to Jordan’s website for his recent activities – easonjordan.com/