I remember hearing about the Taliban destroying some 2,000 year old statues of Buddha and just feeling sick. It is a story that is repeated throughout history destroying cultural or historical works or places for defunct reasons (such as religious or to demoralize conquered populations). When I saw the statues it was even worse than I thought, I jut cant imagine people being so stupid and ruthless as the Taliban.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Ok, so this picture wasn’t taken at 4am (more like 4:50am) but that is the time I got up. It was a night of 40F temperatures, a blanket that was a few cm too short and a bed/mat that had a wet spot so needless to say I got up early (plus there were some afghans yelling across the campground at around 3:50am.
So I got up early and after eating a bit, walking around, etc I decided to take advantage of the fact that there were very few people up and walking around (or walking after me) and take some pictures. This is the first place I photographed and I am very sorry I didn’t take another picture later when there was more light.
This is the sides of a lake, apparently over the years this was “created by the carbon dioxide rich water oozing out of the faults and fractures to deposit calcium carbonate precipitate in the form of travertine walls” (wikipedia). I don’t know how to describe the area, it was pretty surreal, especially at 4ish in the morning. There is one main structure there with a few smaller structures (first aid amazingly enough) but mostly there were tents for “tourist” (I didn’t see any other tourist around and only heard about a Ukrainian guy floating around somewhere) and vacationing afghans. There were a few vendors setup in tent-shacks that had an array of things from toilet paper to bottled water to various hardware.
Here is one of the many reasons it is good to not only have an Afghan with you but to have a Hazara Afghan (the ethnic group from the Bamiyan province, actually they are descendant from the Mongols) with you. Our driver was from the area and took us to a part of Band-e Amir which the few tourist that come there rarely see. I don’t think this picture does it justice, it was really beautiful and kind of reminded me of Yellowstone National park in the US.
I am particularly proud of this Panoramic photo (it took awhile to take and I was really afraid that the glare of the sun would screw it up). The previous night we met a person who told us that there was a path going up to a plateau above the camp site and that there were some phenomenal views so when a college of mine got up about an hour after me we decided to hike up there. The guy from last night was right, the views were quite amazing…
The first picture this way was the walls of the lake from the ground but that panoramic wasnt 360 degrees and this picture isnt perfect in that it is a shot from the back but it still gives one an idea of the area.
The area was made up of some buildings and tents, the row of shanties are little shops selling various things like water, snacks, etc (for a fairly reasonable price considering). The big white tent cut off at the bottom was where we stayed during the evening to eat socialize. To the left you could walk up and eat breakfast (and presumably other meals) while looking at the lake or the fiberglass paddle boats (kinda took away from the beauty but whatever).
It was around 5am now and I saw one of my favorite field staff, Zargham (I routinely mutilate the pronunciation of his name). He is the regional manager of the Hazarajat region (I guess the field equivalent of my HQ job), in his 50s, is native Hazara (very laid back) but can be quite the spry one if he wants. He speaks very little English and I speak very little Farsi but he took me to a few places to snap off some photos including on a temple looking building that was overlooking one of the lakes. I thought it would be nice to get a pano with Zargham in it so this is what I got
I once made the observation that he looked like Buddha and the American with us (who speaks Farsi) came up with Buddha Koochek, Little Buddha.
Well I *finally* got around to incorporating GPS data into my pictures, first I had to get my hands on a GPS device then some software that could match the time stamps of the photos to the times that each coordinate was taken (Turn on tracking on the GPS device) and viola! The Latitude and Longitude data is embedded in the JPEG photo. I know most people are like “so what” well with this you can see exactly where you took the picture. There are softwares that use online maps (IDimager, Picoplo, and WWMX to name a few) and there are online services that will automatically place the pictures on a map. I use Fickr.com and they have this service so if you click on some of my newer pictures and then select “map” (on the right under “Additional Information”) it will show you where the picture was taken on a map, nice!
This is an example of one of many psychedelic vehicles in Afghanistan. I dont know if it is Afghan or not but it does remind me of the many Pakistani trucks that can be seen on the Afghan roads. The Pakistani trucks are usually painted with loud colors and intricate designs and pictures and you can pick them out from a mile away. I find the trucks amusing and I have heard that the drivers are regularly stoned which would go a long way towards explaining the designs.
This was a fairly common kinda scene while driving to Band-e Amir, lots of nothingness. Being from the southeast USA I get a feeling of Agoraphobia when I go out to these wide open expanses of land. These spaces, to me, feel more like the middle of nowhere than forested places, not sure why though. In Afghanistan there are lots of open spaces some more desert like than others. While it appears to be pretty barren there always seemed to be some lone person(s) around, I often wondered where they were living, to look on the map you see a ton of villages but when you are out there you hardly see any.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
I recently found out that my organization recently finished a project dealing with solar power though I am not sure that had anything to do with these panels on the roof of our other building. Actually, I am assuming these panels are solar but they dont appear to have any pipes (solar water heating) or cells (electricity generation) but then again this was from a distance.In my three plus weeks here I have seen two rainy days and was informed that they were pretty rare so I can say that Afghan weather is pretty darn sunny (though in Kabul the weather is not that bad, I have certainly experienced hotter feeling days in the southeastern US). With all the power outages in Kabul and the general lack of electricity in the rest of Afghanistan I am surprised that solar power generation projects are not more common here. Something to look into, one of the people here who tries to talk with me quite a bit (with limited success due to my lack of Farsi and his rudimentary English) worked with the solar project so he would probably be a good place to start.
Nothing spectacular here, though this mountain is *in* Kabul (it just seems odd to me for there to be mountains in the middle of cities). The reason I took the picture was for the houses, on the mountain, if you look closely you can see lots of rectangular structures (sorry, I am limited to a 3x zoom lens). Apparently Kabul real estate has become pretty expensive so poorer individuals have been driven up the mountains in and around Kabul. I have been told almost none of these homes have running water and are forced to ferry water up the mountain on a daily basis, and dont be fooled, these hikes are not for the meek, you can take a good 30-45 minutes of walking up these twisted streets and if you are carrying 5-15 gallons of water I would imagine that it gets pretty rough.
This is the garden in my "compound" that I walk around in (circles?) quite often. The receptionist (part day guard, part receptionist) has quite the green thumb (which is helped along with inordinate amounts of water considering the climate) and these flowers are some of the more aromatic flowers I have smelled, which I believe is saying a lot considering my mother is a licensed florist.At any one time there are at least four vehicles parked here, so this was definitely a down day since sometimes there are so many cars that they park on the sidewalk as they don't seem to like leaving their cars on the street (I havent asked if it's for the sake of their cars safety or what, perhaps it is to avoid too much attention).There is a small spigot at the end of the sidewalk to the right, and pump to the right of it hidden by the bush. I will get a better picture of them later but everyday our organization lets the neighbors come and get water so they send their kids every morning.
As I keep mentioning it isnt a great idea for me to wander around in Kabul (though a Bangladeshi colleague of mine has said that going to the market that is not on the main road is ok, we shall see, perhaps after I get some traditional Afghan clothes) so I am not getting as many pictures as I would like (which might not be a bad thing since I fall behind on labeling my pictures pretty quickly).
On one of my days off I decided to climb up on top of the roof to take some pictures but of course there are no stairs for this, actually there is a tiny door/hole in the ceiling of the bathroom that is too high for a chair but we dont have a ladder small enough to get up there so I had to hop on a chair, get a foot on the door knob, then balance on top of the door (while holding on to the edge of the door/hole in the ceiling) and hoist myself up whew. Well that door goes into a shack on the roof that houses the water tank (since water is only turned on for a few hours a day most buildings have a tank that fills up while the water is turned on then it feeds the building for the rest of the day [with really low water pressure]). Anyway I got into the shack then slipped through a hole in the side of the shack onto the roof (I should probably make a video of this next time). Of course I didnt take into account that it would be flaming hot (I was barefoot) so I got down, got my Tevas, and repeated the previous steps.From the roof I took this photo and a few other panoramic photos to give people an idea of what it looks like, at least from where I am.
Its not all that exciting but it is kinda representative of Kabul. I would love to hike up one of the mountains that are in and around Kabul but my afghan counterparts have advised against it (security again, and I guess they would know) but I am sure I could get some pretty phenomenal pictures. The satellite dish is actually for our whopping 64Kbps internet connection that runs around $300/month which really sounds criminal to me, and incidentally makes me appreciate (for a moment) the comparatively cheap prices of broadband access in the US (though when I see internet access in Scandinavia I cease to have any respect for American broadband ISPs). The little hut to the left of the satellite dish is where our water tank is housed, most houses (if you squint you can see a few others) dont have their tanks covered and I would guess have perpetual hot water, like it or not. You can also see at least two buildings under construction as well, it amazes me that in this time of insecurity (admittedly less secure for me than for the average afghan) that construction would continue but it is, slowly but surely, as long as the aid money comes Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan will continue to improve, slowly but surely.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Different parts of Kabul look pretty different. While I expected to see some areas that looked practically modern, new buildings good streets etc, well that didnt quite happen (there are new buildings but sometimes they are on dirt or severely potted roads or have beggars right outside of them). The different parts of Kabul do have big differences but sometimes they are more subtle than one might expect. My neighborhood is an example of subtle differences. Some areas look like they are falling apart and I didnt notice that some of them look like they are falling apart because they were shot up. It should be noted that the bullet holes in the side of this building are not from recent fighting (well not since the US invasion) but from the civil war. I am about a block away from a fairly large main street and apparently (as I understand it) two opposition groups were on either side exchanging daily fire/mortar and as you can see the buildings suffered (as did many of the people). Now a family appears to live next door with kids and all, and I would bet that the inside of the house looks a bit better than the outside, and probably doesnt tell nearly as good of a story