Sunday, January 24, 2010

Yesterday was a fascinating cultural day. After a lavish breakfast with seemingly-incongruous delicious bacon, Liz, Jo and I went with Karim to the National Gallery. The most striking thing about the museum is that it exists at all--the Taliban stricture against images

led to the case that I'm leaning on here--"210 images destroyed by the Taliban." These paintings were to be destroyed permanently, along with any other artwork depicting faces. The museum staff, ever resourceful, managed to save hundreds of pieces by painting watercolors over top.  In 2001, they washed off the watercolors, and the seed for the museum remained.  Other works were brought in by collectors or were repaired, and the museum, supposedly once a German embassy, makes for a short but deep insight into the artists' view of Afghan history.  Karim, who is Hazara, had a strong reaction to a painting of an old man wretched in a prison cell underlined by a poem translated roughly as "one day my love/ you will hear news of me."  It was distraught...  I personally enjoyed this painting of the traditional Pashtun attan dance, calling up the pre-Islamic rites that still have not been entirely eradicated from Afghanistan.  The rest of the museum revealed a more liberal but still recent history, with buxom jazz musicians, the King in full morning dress, and traditionally dressed women gazing arrestingly directly at the viewer.

After speaking for a while with the museum's curator and viewing some of his work--arresting in its own way, full of political pain--we moved over to the Sultani museum on the other side of the same building.  The Sultani museum is full of treasures that had been smuggled out of Afghanistan but but were then reassembled and returned by a concerned benefactor.

Bah, have to get ready for work...more to come on this post this evening!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thoughts on Arrival

I've arrived safely in Kabul after nearly thirty hours of travel time. The city has an 'alert face' on right now after the attacks yesterday, so it was slow traveling from the airport. The police and army are both being thorough and conscientious in the security of main thoroughfares and we passed through six or seven checkpoints before finally reaching the compound. As a compound, it is quite comfortable, but those six or seven levels of security between here and the average Kabuli create a feeling of psychological and even physical distance, even though they cover less than the distance of a kilometer.

Stepping off the plane at Kabul airport crystalized the mix of feelings attendant on this adventure in Afghanistan. The mountains, snow-capped and gorgeous and imposing were also barely visible through the smog and dust. The air was acrid and the smells brought back a rush of memories from Baghdad and Saigon. Kabul is its own place though, a dry mountain city living uneasily half at war.

I am very much in listening and learning mode right now. Fortunately PDT has established an outstanding team and everyone has been a wealth of technical, personal, economic, and security information. As my task in Kandahar becomes more real and less theoretical, it still looks huge but thankfully it also looks like a challenge that can be tackled and that can become a major success.
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