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!

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.’

Scenes from a Salang roadtrip

Tired of the dust and palpable fear of Kabul, three of my friends and I decided to take a day trip to Salang in August.


Solmaz Khorsand, Massoud Hossaini and Zach Rosenberg relaxing at a rest stop in Parwan. August 2010



A Soviet-built gallery near the Salang Tunnel. August 2010.



Massoud stands on a rock on the Salang River. August 2010.



Salang. Bright and bleak, and so high it feels disconnected from the rest of the world entirely. August 2010.



Solmaz and Zach relax with some tea at a roadside restaurant in Salang. August 2010.



Wolesi Jirga election posters galore, including this one for a female candidate from Parwan. August 2010.



A cold, windswept place where the earth meets the sky. August 2010.



The obligatory stop for bolani (fried dough stuffed with potatoes and spices) on the side of the road between Charikar and Kabul. August 2010.


One day, perhaps sooner than anyone can imagine, foreigners will no longer be able to travel the roads outside of Kabul, and the breathtaking country outside the capital districts will become nothing more than red “no-go” zones on office security maps in the expatriate imagination. What a tragedy that will be.

Getting sick in Kabul

I’ve been out of work for two days.

On Wednesday morning, I woke up and was sick to my stomach. Then, my head began pounding. Unable to muster even the energy required to towel dry my hair, I crawled back into bed and lay there until my driver called. I couldn’t move. Something was really wrong. After being ill for months and having my sickness come in waves, allowing me good days and ok days in between the hellish ones, I could no longer ignore the fact that I was falling apart physically. And I couldn’t put off getting treated until my R&R in late December.

My friend Nafi drove me to the German Clinic in Shar-e Naw, one of two high end clinics that serve foreigners and affluent Afghans. (Everyone else goes to the public hospitals and dubiously accredited private doctors –if they’re lucky).

Nafi waited as the doctor examined me.  My pallor and slow, woozy reactions alarmed her. I was dehydrated and anemic, and when she pressed on my stomach, I winced in pain. I was sick, she said, very sick.  Why had I not gone home to the US? I muttered my excuses: work, the elections, money worries, not wanting to upset my Afghan colleagues. The doctor tsk tsked disapprovingly, and expressed surprise that I was still on my feet.

Tests later confirmed that I had two bacterial infections, one of which had been let go so long it had riddled my stomach with ulcers to the point I was no longer able to digest anything. It was as if I had barely eaten in weeks, and had been on a crash diet for months. No wonder my hair was falling out. The doctor gave me five prescriptions and instructed me to rest, eat soft foods, and take lots of liquids.

Not content with breaking my heart a thousand times over, Afghanistan had to break my guts as well.

On the bright side, my guts will make a full recovery.

The return of Batshitcrazy

Why haven’t I been blogging much since the spring? A few reasons.

  • Afghanistan-related workaholism
  • Fatigue
  • Grief
  • Lack of time
  • Fear of what I might send into cyberspace if I reflected at a keyboard for any length of time

But now I’m back. At least, I think I’m back.

Checking my comments today for the first time in months, I found the following in moderation for my post on Malou Innocent’s drone-y solutions for Afghanistan.

You sound hysterical, like one of those batshitcrazy feminists over at Femnisting or Feministe who take what people write and twist them in a very snarky and annoying manner into something they’re not. Reasonable people see throught it and you just look bad doing it.

Here’s a hint: don’t assume you know the motives of an individual who makes an argument you disagree with it. There are people who disagree with you but who aren’t necessarily negative/immoral/evil. Most adults, and most thoughtful people, understand this.

Comparing me to Jill Filipovic, Jessica Valenti, and other badasses? Come on now with the flattery!

What David said

Everything falls apart. Everyone dies in time. In the great, slow reduction of our lives and history, the things we can believe in shrink into a space smaller than our own bodies. To preserve them, for as long as you might, arm yourself, and be afraid.

I would change those last three words to “and beat back your fear.” That’s the only way you keep moving.

I’m starting a new blog

It doesn’t make much sense for me to use the same blog to post links and general commentary about Afghanistan and password protected journal entries. So, I’m starting a new journal blog called Wire and Sunlight, and this one will be turning back into a storage space for my rants about politics and society. My journal password for Wire and Sunlight will remain the same as it was here.

Pinching a ghost

As Max and I walk home, a child beggar follows us, whispering in plaintive, monotone Dari.

I never know what to do when I encounter beggars. I am embarrassed for them, embarrassed for myself, embarrassed by what separates us. I’m angry that their lives are so desperate, and angry that they remind me of my unearned privilege. A woman in a burqa approached me earlier. I cringed and handed her some bills. Her tashakor made me cringe again.

The little boy continues trailing Max and me. Max tells him to go away, but can’t say it without smiling.

The child turns to me.

“Go away, kid,” I say.

The boy matches my pace, walking sideways.

“Go away.”

He doesn’t go away. He’s determined.

I reach out and muss the little boy’s dirty hair. He grins.

“Get going, kid. I mean it.”

I’m laughing now. This is what kids do to me.

Max slaps his forehead. Shit. The kid is going to follow us all the way home.

I reach out and pinch the boy’s freckled nose between my middle and forefinger. He stops for a moment. His face is indignant, shocked. I know what he’s thinking: this crazy khariji pinched me!

As compensation, I fork over 100 afs.

“You knew I would do that, didn’t you?”

The boy flashes his white baby teeth and runs off into the dust and twilight, leaving Max and me alone.

Later, at home, I open a book I received at a civil society coalition event a few weeks before, a book dedicated to remembrance of Afghanistan’s civilian war victims of the past thirty years. The text is in Dari, so I just look at the pictures. One is a photo of the beggar boy from my walk –or rather a boy who looked exactly like him.

The freckled child in the photograph stares back with soft murder victim eyes.

Afghanistan is a country of lost children, of small ghosts chasing a few afs through clouds of dust.

Dangerous things

Max tells me he’s saving up enough money to go to Europe. He’ll go undocumented, but he’ll be fine. He’ll purchase fake papers and get a good smuggler.

I tell him that’s a phenomenally dangerous plan, and try to scare him with stories of Afghans beaten by Greek cops and imprisoned in terrible Italian jails.

Max stares at his cup of tea and tells me a story about danger.

His brother Habib, a 27 year old lawyer, moved to Kabul and began to drink the water there. Habib didn’t get sick, but the minerals in the tap water built up in his kidneys. Eventually, he developed a terrible kidney stone and needed to have it treated at the hospital. On his way, a suicide bomber crossed his path.

“If only he didn’t drink the water.”

To that, I have no response.

Erase and rewind

I am sitting in the cafe courtyard. It is 4:23pm. Ambient music plays softly from speakers inside. There’s almost no one around. A guard sits idly cleaning his gun by the gate and French-Afghan women at the table next to me quietly curse the weak wifi signal.

I pour milk into my tea, watch it swirl.

My mind drifts to the pretty, probably doomed girl who writes angry songs and the colleague who came to work with the imprint of a rifle butt on his face. And then to what Qiam typed to me last night:

“You don’t know how many days I was kept in a dark room with no windows reading the Koran while Heckmatyar’s rockets were crushing my neighborhood.”

The music changes.

It’s not the light, oh no/I’ve changed my mind/I take it back/Erase and rewind.