Sunday, August 05, 2007

kabul diary

Little Las Vegas in the north of Kabul, but it’s not intended for gambling. The area is a huge complex of wedding halls, Afghanistan’s most favorite social event. The temptation of holding a luxurious wedding ceremony is one of the reasons which persuade polygamy. The most favorite wedding hall is called Shami Paris, translated as Paris night, an Eiffel tower is erected in the roundabout, decorated with playful lights. There are at least two smaller ones in the garden in front of the wedding hall. The Garden is decorated with a lot of lights. The main building consists of several halls so many ceremonies could take place simultaneously. Shami Paris has numerous stretch limousines for rent. But it’s only rented for center of town. The limousine can’t handle the narrow and bumpy streets outside Kabul center.

Plastic flowers and heavy curtains are hanging on the way to the wedding hall, the floor and stairs are covered with soft rugs. Loud music is shaking the stairways. The tradition is to volume the music so loud that the singer could not be identified. Strong body smell is coming out of the wedding hall. A group of young boys are in the center of hall, dancing and jumping. Others are sitting in circles around their tables, eyeing the boys, some motionless. A wooden partition is dividing the men section from the women, the singer is in the middle, viewable from both men and women part. I joined the dance circle, after hugging all the boys. Strong smell of alcohol, sweet and smoke has filled the air, boys are dancing in two. In most weddings, there is often ‘Attan’ the traditional afghan dance. I like Attan more than the couple dancing. We need to be engaged with others while we are dancing, it’s more pleasant. While you are engaged with a group it’s more fun. Also dancing in two, especially when it’s two boys, is kind of annoying me. I like homosexuals, but I can’t stand them when they are not getting enough sex. As a matter of fact they get annoying. These boys are not gay, they are just acting. Not being gay and just acting gay is not cool. Can’t imagine what is going on the other side of the curtain, women crossing legs and dancing, rubbing their gentles on each other legs, I guessJ From time to time you either get pulled or shoved to join the dance group.

After dinner, everybody went outside. The all was empty, the theory is to get a hike, supposedly it’s good for digestion. The waiters came to clear the tables; there is a lot of left over. The guy dropping plates into a large tray, dessert was getting mixed with stew and so on. I asked what he does with the left over, it’s a lot. He said, the staff takes it home only if it’s clean; clean means, if it’s not touch or mixed. I told him the way he is gathering, it won’t be clean. In a city where one out of four is not getting food and almost everybody is not having a good diet, it’s a bummer to waste. He gave me a suspicious look. we do things the way we do, ideas really don’t get through to people here.

Earlier I went to see the minister for information and culture. just by his behavior, he could be anything but the minister for information and culture. he is taking small but wide steps don’t know if it’s his culture of walking or he still suffer from his injuries. Last month he narrowly escaped a suicide attack which ripped through his armor car.
A group of people representative came to see him, around 50 people, the appointment was at 1130 but he came at 1230. a group of aggressive security is surrounding him. He changed the room for meeting. I was trying to hide from him, I have been very critical of him. I was told by his advisor that the way I am pursuing is not helping anyone. in the meeting there is also his deputy, the former deputy for ministry of commerce, he was involved in a corruption case, ten million dollar was stolen from public property. Few days ago he wrote to me, claiming I was slandering and had no proof. He shut up after I sent him a report by a special committee of national security prosecutor. the minister and his deputy were giving me bad looks.
The minister only spoke for five minutes and he left. He basically said, “the communists proved wrong, so did the Taliban. In the last few years, parallel to our government has been NGOs and they have proved to be corrupt. Now foreigners have introduced a new concept radio and TV stations. Freedom of expression is another tool to make us fight each other.” He said a few other sentences similar to this. I was shocked. Later in the evening the meeting was on state TV with the above clip of the minister. He doesn’t hate TV, he hates when other people express themselves. He likes state TV where people like him could say whatever they want and they never want state TV to be a public broadcasters.

Natalie and Morgan are two western girls working in the same office with me. but they work upstairs, I am downstairs with my 30 afghan staff. They only come down when there is an occasion e.g. when they joined Internews. We work together but we have nothing in common. We work from 0700 to 1700, six days a week, as journalists should do in a country like Afghanistan. ‘they’ work from 1000 to 1600, five days a week. They live in barb wired compounds and they have their own social gatherings. They think, they are not welcomed to Afghan society, that is what I have heard, if not why would they be here and not live the Afghan way. “I am ashamed to go with them anywhere and we get the blame for them” said hashimi, after the meeting with the minister. “the minister is right about the NGOs” said Ellahi. “we all work for NGOs” said Morgan. She can’t differentiate between NGO reporting officer and journalist. “Let’s go to a restaurant and see what we should do about the minister” said Natalie, this is a very typical NGO phrase. They want a pretext to go to a restaurant for ‘brainstorming’. “tell me what is the situation with Qarabagh radio station?” asked morgan. “spare me brother, this issue has been dragging for over a year and yet you don’t know what happened” I said in farsi. Mujeeb took a sigh.

“What is the minister like?” asked Natalie, “he is an ex western spy, he used to work for French intelligence in the south. He doesn’t like free expression, as you should have guessed from what he said today” I said. Natalie had her strawberry smoothie and then she said “we should come up with a strategy” I smiled and said in farsi “how dare you, you didn’t know who he was and you don’t know what the issue is and you want to make a plan” ellahi and tawhidi laughed. “Lets meet him next week and engage him” obviously these westerners has no idea. We have been campaigning for a year to replace him. By we I mean afghan media and civil society. They always have new plans. They think if we think positive we can do it. I hope so.
I was thinking to organize a session with westerners. My Afghan colleagues have a lot in their hearth and when westerners are not around, they bring it out. I think we should talk. People are afraid to lose their job. I think we should talk even if it takes that. Afghans should be polite, diplomatic but firm and express their grievances.

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