There is so much to process with this experience that it's going to take me weeks to digest and comprehend everything. Today is bright, no rain. Which also means, more dust.
I've seen evidence that there is progress in Kabul. Rebuilding. The simplest thing, such as a new window, is a big step towards progress.
Here are some of my thoughts about the experience to share today:
No shower today. My face and hands are exposed to the dust, et al and my hair is always covered with a head scarf. Only 6 days until a real shower.
The roads. While some roads are paved, they are covered in dust. Most roads are dirt and/or riddled with mud puddles. Beggars stand in the middle of the street with one hand extended for a donation and the other balancing the body on a crutch. Bicyclists carrying a minimum of 2 people weave in and out of traffic. People walk in the middle of traffic without ever looking. An underpass is available at one of the busy intersections, but not many people use it. Cars have steering wheels on the right or left. Cars, vans and buses are packed with people. Horns honk constantly. Thing is, with such a high unemployment rate, where is everyone going?
I've been getting about 5 hours of sleep a night, yet, I don't feel tired. Maybe it's the adrenaline of it all. I'm awake for the 5 AM call to prayer from the mosque around the corner. It's broadcast over a loudspeaker. I find it a bit eerie. I do feel like I'm living on the "Big Brother" set, trying to get along with everyone. It's in my personality to "lie low."
Three of our group delegates are still without luggage. They departed the US from three different airports on Northwest and Northwest took the liberty of checking their bags all the way to Kabul. Hmmm, I don't know how they thought that would work. Obviously, it hasn't. No one seems to know where their luggage. I'm glad I carried mine on.
I understand there was a protest yesterday. Maybe that explains seeing a US humvee with gunman on top and a road block. I'm fine. Today we did see about a half dozen of US troops in the camo, full body armor carrying their weapons. They were walking somewhere, maybe to grab a Coke?
Another minute of my 15 minutes has ticked away. Yesterday was International Women's Day and I was on the national news, again. Pictured as a participant in the crowd. Has my ranking increased on the security watch list?
Food: breakfast has been "naan," the country's bread with cheese and honey. Lunches and dinners are primarily rice, cooked veggies and lots of lamb. (and still not sick! Drink and brush my teeth with bottled water).
Today the wife of the Afghan Minister of Mining had us over for lunch with 15 women from Kabul. They included midwives, teachers and military personnel. It was an honor to meet and chat with General Khatool Muhammad Zai, the first female general in the Afghan military. She's been in the military for about 23 years and had to give it up during the Taliban reign. She resorted to embroidery for a living in order to support her son and her brother's family. Today, she sat across from me wearing her green uniform, highly decorated. Tall hat and black hair in a pony tail. She wore eye liner and mascara but no lipstick. I commented on the gorgeous, jeweled rings she was wearing - nothing showy, just big, chunky gems. She said that the military culture does not permit it, but her culture of a woman does. People love and respect her.
Also engaged some of the women in conversation about economics. Unemployment is a problem. The government is the primary source for jobs, other than private enterprise. There are no taxes. So where does the government receive its money to pay its employees and support programs? From governments like the US, Germany, etc.
Regarding the advancement of women's rights, yesterday during International Women's Day, the Minister of Women's Affairs announced a new government initiative to help advance women. The key being educating women so they know what their rights are and to make sure they are executing them. Two women today did not think what the government has done is effective and that many barriers exist.
Had the pleasure of the shopping experience today. It's customary to haggle on the price. In a way, I feel guilty. The initial price they quote seems extremely reasonable to me but it would be rude not to bargain. While some shopkeepers speak English, most do not. One of our guides (who is 19 and is engaged to his cousin) helped with the bargaining. The market included shops with lapis and silver jewelry, brightly colored scarves, handbags and pillow shams, fur coats and hats and antiques.
There's so much more that I'm experiencing and seeing. Goats/sheep (aka: dinner) in herds by the roadside, cows walking the streets, mules pulling carts. Many butcher markets - they hang the whole animal outside and you select the cut you want. Fish markets with fish on flat, wooden boards. Piles of potatoes, carrots, radishes, oranges and apples. Coconut carts. Dried fruit and nut carts.
I'm still keeping alert on the street, cautious of my surroundings and who's watching. One never knows.