Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Final Days

My final days in Kabul were busy between running errands and finishing up at Kabul University. Here are a few more shots of the markets around town - vests, above, for the men and a line of shops selling burkas.
The bazaars on either side of the Kabul river are noisy and bustling from dawn to dusk, so the boy taking a snooze in the mid-morning caught my eye.Kabul has over 4 million people but no traffic lights or painted lanes, and car steering wheels can be on both sides. Kabuli traffic cops enter the fray wielding little red stop signals in their hands, but it isn't uncommon to find them taking it easy under the umbrella over the roundabouts.
Buying some tea was a must before leaving - after drinking so much I couldn't risk the effects of immediate withdrawal. Merchants have many varieties of black and green tea, imported from Africa, China and everywhere in between.

Afghans are ethnically diverse, from from fair skin and eyes to dark hair and black eyes, and I was regularly mistaken for an Afghan and stopped for directions or to chat. But in the bazaar, when I couldn't respond in Pashto or Dari, prices skyrocketed. To negotiate price and find my way to different vendors in the bazaars, I counted on Wali (above) a professor in the Faculty of Agriculture, who was an excellent guide and good friend.

As much as possible we tried to source material for the Faculty of Agriculture at the local markets, from wood for lab benches to computer hardware. For laboratory coats, we bought 40 meters of fabric and had the coats made by a local tailor.

Dusk on either side of the Kabul river. Over the final weeks of my stay, I gave lectures to staff and students in the Faculty of Agriculture on topics ranging from using digital library resources to proposal writing, and over the final days focused on integrating some laboratory exercises into coursework. To examine water quality we took a sample from the Kabul river.
There is a large area for experiments and demonstrations around the Faculty of Agriculture, but for the most part it is not in use. As part of labs, students and staff took water, soil and plant samples which we then tested in the laboratory.

Courses lasted right up until my last day and we had a final send-off of tea, cookies, fresh melon and some very thoughtful gifts from staff and students (including more tea). The time flew past and I am extremely grateful to my Afghan hosts who made the trip so memorable.
Eighty percent of Afghanistan's economy depends on agriculture, and universities should be playing a key role in developing the country. Right now foreign governments, mostly through contracts with private development groups, are at the front of efforts to modernize agriculture. But for all the well-publicized aid money that flows into the country, a huge amount goes to overhead, salaries for foreign consultants and security (which continues to deteriorate), which mean much of this money does not reach Afghanistan. Education and training are needed to generate Afghan professionals to take the lead in development. This effort will take decades of dedication from donor countries, but will well worth it for the development of the country.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Here are a few more shots from different bazaars around Kabul city center. The the shot above, along the Kabul river, includes some familiar sights - a Chinese bicycle (ubiquitous), a gentle who has lost a leg, a mother in her blue burka, accompanied by two daughters in traditional red. In the background is a huge Mosque under steady construction for decades in spite of all the turmoil.
Fruit. Fresh and dried. The back of the fruit stalls above stretch for over a mile and are walled off in the back with melons. They are open until very late at night and most owners probably stay and sleep in the stalls over night. Deep in the bazaars downtown are all kinds of dried fruit and nuts (many varieties of raisins, figs, apricots, pistachios, olives and more)
The place for electronics is Pashtunistan Square. Below is a look inside - about eight stories of tightly packed shops that all struggle to specialize in something. Need a power cord from an eight year old laptop? - one of these little shops will have it. Haggling is mandatory...maybe over tea.

Below some of the houses that cling to the hills above Kabul

Grapes (below) are now in season - mostly from the Shomali plain and soon from Kandahar. Above the grape vendor is an example of electrification Kabul style. It would seem most of the city receives electricity for part of the day or evening. Generators cover the gaps for shops keepers, businesses, government buildings and the like.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Schools out!

Primary school is out of session and kites are starting to fill the skies of Kabul. Kids race through the streets in gangs pulling kites behind them - colorful paper, clear plastic, homemade and store bought.
Students at Kabul University are taking the last of their final exams. This week I am giving seminars on course development and capacity building to the faculty.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Some Slow Days

The King of Afghanistan, 92-year-old, Mohammad Zahir Shah, died this week. Kabul has practically shut down, both officially, with government offices and Kabul University closed, but also under virtual security lock-down with concerns over attacks during the ceremony to honor the King. Zahir Shah's reign began in 1933, at age 19, and ended in 1973 when his cousin, Mohammad Daoud Khan took over and tried to increase the speed of reforms. Zahir Shah returned to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, having spent the previous thirty years in exile, mostly in Italy.
With the town so quiet, and no activity at the University I'm posting a few earlier shots. Lunch in the cafeteria, served everyday by a large crew of older gentlemen. Also a shot of an assistant professor, Abdul Aziz, signing the payroll book in the Dean's office. Along with drinking tea and chatting (a photo of me and another professor, Mohammad Wali) this is a major reason for staff to visit the Dean's office.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Shomali Plain

The Shomali Plain begins just to the north of Kabul, a broad valley with towns tucked along the base of the mountains that line the plain. With a local NGO, I visited three towns, Guldara, Farza and Istalaf where they are developing woodlots and fruit tree production. Wood for house and furniture construction, such as poplar, mostly comes from Pakistan and Russia, but can be readily grown in Afghanistan. (Wood for heating and cooking seems to come mostly from oak and cedar forest in Eastern Afghanistan).

The hills above these towns are rocky and barren , but snow melt flowing from these slopes provides water for homes and irrigation for agriculture. In Guldara we visited a farmer growing grapes, plums, apples, cherries, woodlot seedlings, wheat, and many vegetables over a well-tended series of terraces. For water, the farmer was constructing and maintaining a Karez, an ancient system to channel groundwater. Deep pits dug to the level of the water table are lined with stones and then horizontal tunnels dug to connect each pit. The further up the slope, the deeper the pits and the more groundwater can be captured and channeled. To maintain the Karez someone has the extremely dangerous job of regularly clearing the underground horizontal tunnel's connecting the shafts. After touring the terraces fed by this system, the farmer, Samad, invited us to a lunch of yogurt, fresh bread and mulberries in front of a large, clear pool where the Karez emptied.

On to Farza we toured another series of woodlots and could see some of the snow remaining from the previous winter clinging to the mountains above town. Just outside of town, we visited Paghman, where the Royal family used to maintain a summer home (now in ruin) which looked out over the Shomali's green fields fed by the snowmelt. Across a narrow river valley from Paghman, lies the town of Istalaf. Like several towns in this area, during the past decades Istalaf was heavily shelled, but construction of homes and schools is occurring at a rapid pace. Istalaf is becoming an attraction for its production of pottery. Our group was invited in see a potter at work. He was happy to give us a tour of his workshop, but he insisted on his son retrieving his turban if we wanted to film him at work.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Shots of the Faculty of Agriculture

A faculty workshop was held last week, and I haven't posted any photos for a while, so here are just a few. Many more photos are on the way.
Along the side of the building there is a small tree seedling project (above). Below are a couple shots of some of the faculty...fully absorbed in the workshop. (There is one woman faculty member, but she is away in India getting a graduate degree) Last is a shot of Dean Mohsini giving a talk.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

"Bush" Bazaar

The center of Kabul is so full of commerce and markets, it is hard to know when you pass from one bazaar into another. As far as I can tell, except for Fridays, the markets are bustling from dawn to dusk.
Last week I went to a section full of fabric vendors and purchased a few yards of cotton fabric. Down a few more alleys in a building whirring with sewing machines and one tailor after another, I ordered a shalwar kameez (long shirt and baggy pants), typical daily dress. In general vendors of specific goods are all grouped tightly together be it cookware, shoes or dried fruit. And on the outskirts of all the markets are fresh fruit and vegetable vendors. Tomatoes, apricots, melons, okra and peppers are all in great supply right now.
The "Bush" Bazaar does stand a little apart from the other bazaars, along one of the roads out of town. Here you can purchase just about any item gleaned - one way or another - from the mountains of material brought in for military personal or employees from foreign government missions. Western cloths, electronics, huge containers of chow (canned fruit and vegetables, mashed potato mix, pie filling) cosmetics, printers marked "non-confidential", giant felt snowmen with top hat and green vest. Military rations which the army probably buys for 30USD sell for 80 cents in the bazaar and are a popular item in almost every shop. With all the variety in the bazaars, I'm hoping to score some items needed at the faculty, such as latex laboratory gloves, and lab coats we can have made.