The fruits of war

From Jalalagood, my friend Peretz’s kickass Afghanistan travel blog, which you should definitely be reading.

Two representative symbols of Afghanistan, grenades and pomegranates, come from the same etymological root. We discovered yesterday that the word “grenade” is taken from the French “pome-grenate.” French soldiers gave the handheld explosives their name because they looked like the seeded fruits, both in their round shape topped with a crown, and in their inner workings consisting of lots of small seeds, prepped for activation.  We keep a stock of both at the Taj.

Last summer, I ate pomegranates from trees in Kabul whenever I got the chance. My friends found this disgusting. “But…those are urban pomegranates!” the Citizen Reporter exclaimed. “Their roots extend into the sewer drains.”

I shrugged and popped more tart, blood-colored seeds into my mouth.

Afghanistan headlines for the Onion

I asked and you delivered, mostly on facebook. Thanks, guys! Let’s keep this going.

Taliban Propaganda Chief Found with Unlicensed Photoshop Suite

Unable to Check Facebook in Daikundi, Taliban Recruits Refuse to Deploy

Distracted by Afghan Idol Finale, Taliban Suicide Bomber Forgets to Detonate

‎Taliban Monitoring and Evaluation Officer Disputes NATO Metrics

Taliban Who Wintered in Pakistan Taunted as ‘Warbirds’ at Home

Morale Plummets Among Taliban Recruits Amid Rumors of Virgin Shortage in Heaven

Quetta Shura calls rumors unsubstantiated, scrambles to develop alternative incentives

My friend Louis at Libya’s ‘Revolution Media Center’

My friends Louis Abelman and Brian Conley are in Libya working on a crisis mapping project for their innovative new media company Small World News. Louis tweeted this badass photo from the media center of the rebel headquarters in Benghazi.

Louis, man, you're too fuckin' cool.

By the way, I just wrote a piece for UN Dispatch about what might prompt a foreign military intervention in Libya.

A story from the other side of the world

A Twitter link led me to Blog-a-stan, the blog of an American Ph.D student doing her dissertation research in Kazan, Russia. Immediately, I was hooked by the author’s dark humor and storytelling. And when I came to the half-way point in a post titled Sud’ba (“Fate”) I stopped, and shivered, because I knew the story already.

Read, and then I’ll explain.

Tanya was sitting wrapped in a goat fur blanket rocking herself back and forth. It was only 8pm but they seemed to have already finished off a bottle of vodka and Valeria was now opening the second. “Leslie, come, sit, eat with us” she said. “Oh I just ate” I said but sat down for conversation. Tanya was moaning and crying and Valeria began to explain that her only daughter had just died. “It was a stomach illness. They did an operation but 100 days later, two days ago, she died. She was 37 years old.” Tanya sobbed and shook. I said how sorry I was to her, my eyes wide, slowly becoming conscious of the fact that I was rocking back and forth on my own chair empathetically. “Sud’ba” Tanya shook her head, “Sud’ba,” she sobbed as she tightened the goat hair blanket around her. I tried to remember the word, which I knew I knew but couldn’t find in my head at the time, only to look it up in the dictionary later and remember it: “Fate.” Valeria explained that Tanya’s husband had died five years ago of cancer so now she was all alone in her house. And she continued, hesitantly, touching my arm as she explained, “Tanya can’t sleep at her place any more. It’s just too sad for her there. Would you mind if she stayed here with us for awhile?” For a moment, and I know this is awful, but for a moment the thought crossed my mind that the dead daughter was an elaborate ruse and that they were together and felt they needed to come up with an excuse for Tanya sleeping over all the time. “Of course I don’t mind,” I said with the utmost sincerity, whichever story was true I was happy to have Tanya stay. From then on I became accustomed to walking in to find Tanya with Valeria at the table, a bottle of vodka by her side that they would stay up late drinking rocking back and forth and talking about “Sud’ba.” Valeria too is a victim of Sud’ba at the moment as her ex-husband is currently insisting she sell the dacha she uses on the weekends and there’s nothing she can do about it. Both situations strike me as things we would deal with not just emotionally but practically through lawyers in the States to regain our control over the situation. We would find a pretense for suing the hospital for the botched operation, take the husband to court to insist on our right to half the property, maybe even the whole thing. And while this wouldn’t take the pain away, particularly in the first case, it would at least give us a feeling of some agency over this damn Sud’ba.

Yes, I know this story, with some slight differences. My version has loose leaf tea instead of vodka, an old comforter from Bagram Airbase instead of a goat hair blanket, and a young Afghan man in the place of a middle aged Russian Tatar woman.

But the grief-stricken rocking, and the wide-eyed American, and the very real, physically wrenching absence of justice, the rule of law and human agency are the same. So is the sud’ba.


Todd Huffman and Brian Conley have no time to deal with this TWOF. August 2010.

My comrade-in-arms Naheed Mustafa once used the phrase “a tidal wave of fuckery” to describe the immature, pervy and unnecessarily vicious social drama that washes over everything and everyone in Kabul.

It stuck with me because it’s a great expression, and one that deserves its own acronym for the internets. Hence, I give you TWOF.

Use it wisely, kids.

Here’s a good context:

Last night, I tried to visit a friend at the Park Palace, a well-known Kabul hotel that has recently come under new  and decidedly sketchy management. The teenage receptionist prevented me from visiting my friend’s room, implied I was a hooker (“You want to do something illegal in Afghanistan” and “You are a bad woman”), and threatened to have the guards remove me from the premises. TWOF!

Decay, endurance, and beauty in Liberia and Afghanistan

Glenna Gordon’s photos of the strangely beautiful decay of  the mansions of Harper, Liberia made me want to post a few photos of Darul Aman Palace in Kabul. All of these were taken in June of this year.

The palace, once the Kabul home of Afghanistan's royal families, was burned by the Soviets, pounded with artillery by the mujahideen, mined and booby-trapped, seized by the Taliban, occupied by IDPs, and de-mined by NATO in the early 2000s. Today, it is fenced off and guarded by Afghan troops.

My friend Hadi.

Abstract art, sculpted with artillery.

Wandering under the shattered domes, I thought of what European cathedrals must have looked like in 1945.

A pair of crying eyes.

Rapping Rumi

My photographer friend Massoud, currently doing a Medevac embed somewhere in the south, introduced me to Persian rap.

This song by Iranian rapper Sogand is part of the soundtrack to my Afghanistan experience, especially late night drives through the streets of Kabul with my band of wonderful freaks.

Check out Tales From The Hood’s post about music and aid work, and Helo Magazine‘s ‘Soundscapes.’