Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Under Attack!!

How's that for an alarmist title? Well it's misleading to say the least but it still seemed appropriate. Last night (3am) I kept hearing all these noises, sometimes it sounded (in my groggy state) like very brief thunder other times straight up gunfire. I found out this morning that it was actually a shootout between some terrorist and the Afghan Police/Army. It took place less than a mile from where I am which I guess should be unsettling but for some reason its not. I guess some of the reasons it is not particularly unsettling is that I have heard about violence in Kabul for awhile (though I haven't actually heard the violence itself), rumor has it these guys are linked to the attack on Karzi and the police found them and cornered them, they weren't after me, and there was almost no chance I would be caught up in it. Still its kind of surreal. For me the most difficult part of working in Kabul is having to take security into consideration all the time which means I (as I keep saying) don't get out much. Ironically the projects I manage are in a very safe area of Afghanistan (Central, called Hazarajat) where one can, and I have, walk anywhere one wants without fear.

I was walking in Bamyan, a province smack in the middle of Hazarajat, a few months ago and as often happens an Afghan (student) who wanted to practice their English came along and started talking to me. We came to a creek that we had to cross so I hopped across and he just left his bicycle in the grass along the edge of the creek (plenty of people around). I asked him if "that wouldn't be a problem?" and he said "what wouldn't be a problem?" apparently he was not worried in the least about someone stealing the bicycle even thought it probably cost 2-3 weeks salary for many people in the area. Yeah,
I'm hoping to get a job there next (assuming my next job is in Afghanistan).

If you want to see via satellite the approximate area where the fire fight took place (in Kabul) go here (Google maps). The fairly barren area to the right with a faint line going across it is a very well known mountain and the line is a very old wall built by a king way back when (not sure how way back though). I live about a mile west of this point. The houses at the base of the mountain are where Kabul's poor (not poorest) live. I have been around here and can attest that this particular area is not the nicest of mountain "settlements".

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Burqa Emporium

Burqa Emporium
Originally uploaded by gaikokujinkyofusho

Well I am not sure if this shop would count as a “emporium” but the only thing they sold was burqas. I should have gotten a photo but they had burqas for children (bought my cousins one, should be interesting to see their reaction) and even a burqa for dolls! I know westerners who have tried wearing a burqa and found it to be intolerable, not being able to see, hard to breath, etc; and in reality (or in Kabul, not sure about other areas) women here sometimes wear buraqs but flip the front up so they can see (and exposing their faces but they don’t seem to care).

I have been told different things by different people about why the buraqs are worn the main reason is so men can’t see how women look and many times women only wear them because their husbands make them do so. But there are many conservative women in Afghanistan, the cook for my organization (who is ethnic Tajik, not typically as conservative as some other ethnic groups here) wears a burqa outdoors but her husband died a few years ago so it is obviously of her own will (she also never comes out of the kitchen either but doesn’t seem to care too much if I come in and see her). Another odd (to me) example is an Afghan friend of mine (who is a *really* nice guy and ethnic Pashto, who tend to be more conservative), his wife wears a burqa and not because he make her (she requires it). He actually has a funny story; his family lives in Pakistan where women also wear something that is similar to a burqa but you can see their eyes (in Afghanistan you can’t see any part of their face) and his wife was getting stares for wearing an afghan burqa but she refused to “expose” herself by wearing a Pakistani style dress so he had to buy sunglasses for her at which point she finally yielded and wore the Pakistani style clothes. Different cultures.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Google is a content producer... kinda.

I was just listening to an NPR podcast where the host was interviewing Google’s head Mobile Software design person (regarding Google’s new mobile OS for phones) and the host asked “so how will you make money off this” and the software design person gave some nebulous answer which the host seemed to understand and reworded Google’s entire business model in a way that I have never heard before, Google is like a TV producer making shows people want to watch then getting revenue from the targeted advertising, that is things like Google maps, gmail, Google groups, and now Android are just services (like TV shows) that people want to use (or in the case of TV shows, watch) and then Google makes money off the advertisements.


Perhaps everyone out there has thought of it this way already, and indeed I understood how Google made their money but I never heard it described like this host did, the simplest explanation I have heard to date.


Sidewalk Barber

Sidewalk Barber
Originally uploaded by gaikokujinkyofusho

This group was about the least amicable of the people I tried to photograph. I found the “sidewalk barbers” to be really interesting to watch, and I came across many excellent (well 3) photo opportunities, but almost every time I asked to take a photo (I always asked first) they would give me an emphatic “No”. The only reason I got a photo of this guy was that my friend told him (unbeknownst to me until he was getting prepped) that if the barber would let me take a photo my friend would agree to pay for a haircut (I would not have agreed to this as there have been few photos that I felt were worth paying for [paying for photos builds a culture of “lets get the rich foreigners to pay to take photos of us”, seems like a bad precedent]). So I took a photo of this guy and he still wanted more money. I now wonder if the profession just draws in a certain type of personality. Another afghan friend said that maybe the barbers are ashamed of what they do but people doing far more menial work agreed to let me take photos no problem, perhaps there is a cultural element I am missing here.