Friday, 26 March 2010

Sundrey school

We accompanied the provincial reconstruction team a few days ago to the site of the Sundrey school construction project, for a quality control review. It is so gratifying to see schools and children attending school as I and many others feel that education is the number one way to restore the resourcefulness and a sense of hope so badly needed in Afghanistan.


Excuse the bad photography, but here are pictures of two native species. The bird seems to be the Afghan equivalent of a robin, they're everywhere. Distinct white bands on the wings, yellow circles around the eyes. They're pretty cagey and I'm finding it difficult to get a decent close up shot of one. I found the moth yesterday morning on my computer and thought the white and green markings would make for perfect camouflage in a patch of greenery. Small but striking.

Watapor District development meeting

The top pictures shows (L-R) CPT Park, Mike (the civil affairs interpreter), Watapor district sector officer, Gul Khan, and Public Health director Dr. Mir Zaman. The other picture shows district prosecutor Mohammad Ghani and Ag director Mir Weis. The Watapor distict government is in the fledgling stages of establishment and there is considerable mentoring going on between civil affairs and the civilian development team. Much of the meeting focused on trying to get line directors away from asking for handouts that have very little to do with development and focused upon the true needs of the people. Talked a fair amount with the public health Dr. about infant mortality and its causes - neonatal septicemia, naval infections, pneumonia, malnutrition - and what could be done to reduce it. He concluded much of the problem is related to sanitation and agreed to start a series of radio announcements talking about the relation between sanitation and disease. If he follows through on this I'm hoping it will at least get people questioning their practices and perhaps doing something about it! Tackling issues like human malnutrition are complex and link to the sad state of nutrition in the food animals - and the line directors are more used to asking for "stuff" than participating in complex strategic planning. I'm hoping to demonstrate the inter - relatedness of the line directors' work resulting in greater cooperation and project planning that actually meets basic human needs. We'll be meeting with these folks weekly and it will be interesting indeed to see how far they get come December...

Kilemo foot bridge shura

These pictures show the shura (Afghani for meeting) held in the Manogai district center with the Kilemo village elders, a contractor, our civil affairs team led by Captain Park, and Manogai District acting governor SherBahadir (to CPT Park's left) for the construction of a new foot bridge in Kilemo. Each party brings their own set of responsibilities - the government and civil affairs does the budgeting, contracting and quality assurance, the contractor discusses the project specs and timeframe, and the village elders assure the security of the contractor and the workers. These shuras are of the utmost importance, assuring each party has a clear understanding of each other's obligations - "transparency" - thus minimizing the opportunities for corruption, sabotage, shoddy workmanship, etc. The contractor hires locally, helping assure community ownership, decent paying jobs (around $5 a day for the unskilled labor, pretty good pay in country with a per capita income of about $300 per annum), and safety. Contracts are signed and records kept in case disputes arise.

Visit to footbridge construction site

Last week we walked to a footbridge that was being built near the Watapur district center, the next district east of Manogai, about a 15 mile or so drive down the road. Walking over the temporary timber bridge was TERRIFYING! The bridge was less than three feet wide and bounced as you walked, no hand rail, and an uneven surface - one false step and you were in the roiling river, and the fast current and the armored vest would have conspired to drown any poor soul. I considered myself lucky having made it across and back without getting on my hands and knees and crawling and totally embarassing myself. Yet kids by the dozens would romp across the bridge seemingly without a care in the world as well as old men leisurely strolling with walking sticks, oblivious to the . These footbridges serve to connect remote areas to population centers and are an important addition to Afghanistan infrastructure. They also serve as a vocational teaching tool for the young men in the area, as well as providing much needed employment. Some of the people that cross these bridges have walked for miles and hours from a remote mountain settlement to visit the district center or go to the shops. The bridge, once finished, was projected to cost around $50 K, and will be quite similar to the foot bridges seen in earlier posts.

Kids at play

Here's a couple pictures of kids being kids in A'stan. A scooter built with a platform and casters, and an imaginary "car." The boy dressed in white just out of the picture spoke pretty good english and he showed me how the "car" worked - steering wheel, gearshift, and of course, the jingle decorations. The car was actually an ingenious device - the "driver" could actually turn the steering wheel and change the direction through the metal rod connection between the steering wheel and the axles the wheels were mounted upon. They let me drive it and really giggled watching a 53 year old American playing with their toy!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Young men in Dari Khar

As we waited to cross the foot bridge in Dari Khar a group of boys came up - the one dressed in white spoke some english and asked me to take their picture. This seems to be a common way for Afghans to connect with us - they love having us take their picture and then admiring it in the camera viewer. These boys all go to school - a very positive sign.

"Pasturing" sheep

On the way down from Hammerhead we saw a young girl, maybe 10 years old, herding her family's sheep on the mountainside. No wonder we see such thin animals on the VETCAP's; its probably a wash whether the nutrition gained from eating the sparse vegetation balances out the animals' energy spent climbing through such difficult terrain. I'm starting to see villagers green chop the wheat fields and carry the foot long cuttings back to the villages; I'm assuming the winter stores of animal feeds are about done and this is the next step for their animal care. Actually the green chop will probably be better for the animals than the corn stalks that make up the bulk of the winter ration. I'm surpised the villagers don't graze their animals onthe winter wheat, as is commonly practiced in the US.

Dari Khar

Dari Khar, located on the opposite side of Hammerhead, is built right into the mountainside. This necessitates steep stairways and narrow walkways between the homes.

Animal update

Saw some good looking turkeys in Guru village as we started our walk to Hammerhead; also checked back on the puppies at the outpost. I only saw the one puppy and he looked like he was doing well.

Stolen solar panel

These are the kind of things that demoralize us and the honest people of Afghanistan. Solar street lights have been used to improve the security situation in villages, but they also prove to be an attractive target for theives. These pictures show a typical solar street light (the box holds a battery that stores the solar power harvested during the day and feeds it to the light at night) and one that had been knocked down and sabotaged. These solar street lights and batteries often end up in someone's house or business. Corruption has been commonly sited as a major problem thwarting reconstruction efforts; even small scale events like these serve to demoralize the good people of Afghanistan and disconnect the honest people from the institutions of civil society.


These pictures show tourmaline, another precious stone commonly found in the rocks around here. Quoting from Jamie van Dyke, a fellow DVM who is also interested in minerology: "Tourmaline are striated lengthwise, compact, columnar, radiating or prismatic chrystal that have a rounded triangular cross section or end. It forms or chrystallizes within igneous or metamorphic rock deep in the earth. Tourmaline are used as gemstones and cut into faceted gems - they may be opaque to translucent, many colors (I've seen black most commonly here) and can have inclusions." These two exampes on the burlap had been purchased by a soldier in the bazaar, but I also found several laying around loose at Hammerhead (pictures of stone in my hand) with the Afghan security guard in the previous post.

Rubies at Hammerhead

Found these rocks at the top of Hammerhead. The Afghan security guard is standing by a pile of loose stone and we found three rubies after looking for about thirty seconds just laying in this pile. I also found these rocks that still had the rubies imbedded within (I didn't think to put a penny or some other relative size item down for these photos - the largest ones are about 1 cubic centimeter). No kidding, these rocks are everywhere! The security guards also pointed to two neighboring mountains and said "big rubies," so I guess these finds represent a fraction of the wealth of gemstones in this area and the ease which they can be harvested.

Hiking up Hammerhead

Friday morning we hiked up Hammerhead - took a few photos on the way up.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Watch dog

Someone stuck this animal up in the watchtower outside the mortar pit and helicopter landing zone; shows that a sense of humor still exists in even the most difficult circumstances.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Warning for Cody from one of our 'terps

Blacksmith shop & shoe repair shop

The blacksmith shops are pretty common in the Nangalam bazaar, all using the same technology - build a fire with an aeration system (usually a young boy running a hand cranked bike wheel connected by a belt to a blower), heat the metal and shape it . They make knives, axes, other metal implements. Also several shoe repair shops in the bazaar.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Grocery shopping

One of several grocery establishments in the bazaar, along with the local butcher shop. The produce is all shipped in from Pakistan, but that should be changing soon. Around 20 farmers have started orchards this year and they'll be planting vegetables between the trees instead of corn so the trees can survive as well as get something of value from their lands until the trees start yielding. I watched the butcher cut and weigh meat on the scale for his customers, always giving them just a little extra. While the level of sanitation is not quite up to US standards, at least the Afghans know enough to cook their meat thoroughly which will render almost all pathogens harmless.

Sandwich shop

Here's the local "McDonalds" in the bazaar, a favorite stop of soldiers when they're on patrols. Its only $1 for a sandwich, made of the Afghan flat bread that is served at all meals and meat ground together with onions, peppers, spices and herbs and then fried. The sandwiches are devastatingly delicious.

Bike repair shop

Bike repair shop in Nangalam bazaar


Naswar is an Afghan concoction that, according to the Google page I read, "relieves all stress." The user rolls up a ball and places it between the cheek and gum, much like chewing tobacco. It is more like a chewing gum than chewing tobacco in consistency and carried in a plastic bag and I see these plastic bags of naswar pulled out at and partaken of at almost every meeting we attend. The picture shows the naswar manufacturing process where tobacco leaves, crushed limestone, water and ash are pounded together for hours, creating a gummy residue.

Dress for sale

We went on a walking tour of the bazaar with the objective of training the local Afghan police force. The man (Carl) who does the training is a very outgoing, engaging person who has done police work all his life and speaks with a British accent. (Picture with his negotiating on the purchase of precious stones.) His goal is to get the police to be more interactive and friendly with the populace, stopping into shops to visit, see how things are going, and develop relations with the people they protect. During the last walk - about the police more or less performed a hasty walk through and didn't stop at all; this time we spend nearly two hours in the bazaar, so we lots of opportunities to take pictures and look through the shops. The dress in the picture was for sale and caught my eye - checked with the shop keeper and he told me $50. (According to the others I was with who had purchased stuff in the bazaar before you can usually get stuff for about half the initial asking price.) Checked with Liz tho and she wasn't interested; perhaps I can save Erin a ton of money and buy this for her wedding gown????