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Monday
Apr022007

The Joys of Visa Renewal

So my visa expired on 19 March. My boss was understandibly discouraged that I had not taken care of it before, however, the time preceding this was so busy at work that I think I would have just been killed had I tried renewing it then. Rather than spend at least $700 to go and stay in Dubai, I undertook to renew it here in Kabul. That didn't fly. Way too much red tape and attention focused on our organisation. My status is legal here and it only takes a few days to get a new visa abroad, so I do now have to go to Delhi (it's cheaper to stay there than Dubai).

My attempt on Sunday at leaving the country failed. Yesterday, all in all, I had a fascinating day and it gives me a little hope for this country. So I went to the airport, and lo and behold they would not let me get out with my expired visa by paying a fine (or a "fine"). Nope, they've clamped down on that, but they don't have expedited procedures, so despite my whining I had to go back to the Foreign Ministry and get an exit visa. They did make my ticket refundable though. I found out today that I do better going to the ministries by myself--when one of my coworkers comes with they seem just like my servant and I like some other ignorant international. When I go myself I get to blab away in Farsi and everyone finds me adorable, plus in Kabul it's next to unheard of for an American to do things unaided. So the foreign ministry sends me to the Interior Ministry, where the deputy minister just gives me my exit visa straight away, there were no fees and he didn't even ask for a bribe (that's where I think the combo of being foreign and Farsi-speaking is especially endearing). I then went down to Indian Airlines for one of my flights--the manager recognised me from the airport and just changed the date, no questions asked. Then I went to Kam Air for my return flight and no problems. I spent 0 cents yesterday getting this straightened out. Then I went back to work and made the best spreadsheet ever!

Delhi will be nice. Relaxation and modern conveniences, plus lots of good food. I'll probably find a nice cafe with wireless and up my productivity. I also miss driving. Maybe I'll rent a car and enjoy not only paved roads but multi-laned freeways.

Thursday
Mar222007

Nouruz Piruz!

Happy 1386 to everyone!

Today we had a lovely outing to the Hotel Intercontinental and Bagh-e Bala. The Intercon is an old building which dominates a hill west of the city. It was built in 1969 and this is evident in its exterior. You feel like on the set of Spielberg's Munich (an awesome movie which captures the political ambiance 70s excellently as well as questioning Israel's right to exist by making the protagonist choose between being Jewish and Israeli) or one of the 'before' pictures of Beirut dating to 1973 hung up by a nostalgic Lebanese restauranteur. Rather unfortunately, the interior seems to have been recently renovated, making it less than shocking. I've still seen a big hulking hotel in Damascus where even the furniture is absolutely unchanged. We walked around Bagh-e Bala which is the big park next the hotel and filled with thousands of picknickers. There was lots of good snacks around too, including masala french fries and fresh sugar cane and sugar cane juice.

Otherwise it's a quiet new year's, with me and Saurabh more or less left to our own devices. The various components of my gang/family are out of town, including Nathan, Sahar, Lorenzo, and Khwaga. My productivity is up in any rate, so I can work on my own regular schedule--that despite even the latest bout of diarrhoea. The press conference seems to have gone well--We got an interview with one of the top journalists at Le Monde, and BBC, Reuters, AP, AFP etc. came out to hear us. I participated in a radio discussion--in Farsi (yikes) and gave an interview to Radio Netherlands myself.

Also exciting is that Neda is now adding herself to the list of people interested in Kabul. It looks like I just might bring DC here. All I need now is Angelo and a franchise of Mixtec with their excellent Margaritas.

Friday
Mar092007

The Elaj

I got a nice surprise the other morning. I woke up to the Saajan soundtrack playing at full volume thanks to the construction crew working on the new house next to mine. It really is one of the tops of all time and I had Dekha hi Pehli Baar in my head all day long. One of the great things about Kabul is the South Asian edge. Much like my own preferences, the music is never, ever too loud nor are there any situations where it is inappropriate. Ever.

It's been a busy week, and there's been a slight promise of summer (one day it may it up to 14C!). The second Bollywood party turned out pretty well last night. Like the last party this was a joint effort between Saurabh (DJ Mariz-e-Mohabbat 'lovesick'), myself (DJ Elaj 'the cure') and Mudasser (Khauf 'fear'). There was a good mix of both people and music.

I finally managed to meet up with my friend James, who's doing his PhD research here. He was dressed in fine Peshawari style with a white kurta and black vest. Also appearing last night was my friend from high school, Etai. It really is a trip to see fellow high school people here. In any event it was really fun chatting with him again and seeing that some people from high school are leading normal lives.

Other activities lately have included a budgetary analysis workshop put on by ActionAid at the Kabul City Centre, which got me a lot of good contacts for my NGO accountability project. Then it's just been back to the office to vet my questionnaires yet again.