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Tuesday
Dec122006

Surviving Winter

Well life here has finally settled into a routine, a very cold one. The other night, in a blinding flash of insight from Nathan unlocked the true potential of my heater. I discovered that I could let in more air to increase the heat of the flames and that I can burn wood to heat up the room a lot and then start up the sawdust component to keep the room warm further into the night. I also realised that I do have a small kitchen in my house, which I had previously though was only a store room. That being said, the weather hasn't been all that bad since most days are above freezing here.

My boss, Lorenzo, finally came back from France, with tonnes of great ideas that hadn't occurred to me for my own project. In other news Saurabh left from India after three days of snow had shut down the airport's short-wave radar. Then last night I went out for dinner with Team Counterpart, since Ian is leaving for DC tomorrow and our land mines specialist, Matt, decided to get out of town early before they shut down the airport again.

The most exciting news, however, is the Nathan might well be moving into my hood. While we didn't have room for him in my lovely rustic house, he will be getting a room with Khwaga, which will make Saurabh his housemate and give him some exposure to Afghan culture, along with the wood-burning stove which he so fervently desires. Counterpart, Nathan's NGO, realised that A) they were running out of space at their guest house, B) that is was probably the most unsecure living arrangement obtainable in Kabul, and C) that their insulation from Afghan society was hurting productivity.

And, yes, I am ready for that lovely trip to warm Southern India!

Wednesday
Nov292006

Bollywood Reloaded

Sorry for the delayed post, our internet's been messed up at work and I finally got time to come out to a coffee shop and get a connection.

So, the best way to describe me and Saurabh's party is to see the pictures, which I have just posted on flickr. The party was a great success and we managed not to get overcrowded. The music was awesome--between us we managed a pretty complete South Asian anthology. Of course there were other fun parts, like the fact that we seem to have scared away a number of Americans with the modern music selection and lack of alcohol. You'll also notice it was a grand excuse for me and Saurabh to get pimped out in full party regalia.

Otherwise I have been dividing my time between hanging out with Nathan and Sahar and watching Battlestar Galactica ("the DC refugees" whose compound I have termed farangestan due to the fact that it's more than a dwelling place, it's a cultural voyage to the land of potato chips and English speakers). Because the internet has been down in my office, I have spent the extra time improving my Farsi.

The other interesting thing that I can say about this place is that it is the middle ground between to titanic cultural spheres, India and Iran. The US doesn't matter and much of the West comes filtered thru Iran. For people who know what California is, they assume it's some sort of Iranian colony (not totally wrong) and that we are all Twelver Shi'is. It's also interesting to watch people correct their Farsi around me toward the Tehran/Los Angeles standard. All I can do is embrace my Iranian identity, sometimes I drop the Afghan pleasantries for the urban Iranian version, which both fits people's expectations and makes me anything but American (if they know what that is!). More important that my complexion and hair here is my cosmopolitan affectations, looks don't matter in the way a Westerner might expect, since people here look like everything (I've seen a few people blonder and pinker than me) and the surrounding countries are all equally diverse. I really kid you not, it surprises me just as much, but after a few conversations with people who don't know the difference between France, the US, and even Arab, you begin to realise that perceptions differ greatly! I think the calculus goes: "not Indian, not Western (firangi), so Iranian". In other words, though people might have problems with Shi'ism and Iran's expansionist politics, Iran is still the "near other" and refers to 'good' westerners as opposed to the 'bad' ones who continue to be culturally alien whilst in Kabul. Of course this is a slipshod analysis, but I'm rather surprised at the amount of street cred I get on my block, especially considering how I see my neighbours treat other Westerners and vice versa. It is what it is, but it's cool to have your worldview readjusted!

Saturday
Nov182006

Where's the party, yaar?


In my lastest right of passage, I have had the opportunity to witness the expat scene in action. The easiest way to describe it is that it is a much more extreme version of Cairo. Last Wednesday I went to Samarqand and it really was the bar scene from Star Wars--mercenaries aplenty and all sorts of other rough-and-tumble detritus from the oecumene. The next night I went to a house party that was only slightly better; less mercenaries but the music selection was lowest-common-denominator of old American pop and yet more current American pop. Of course there was no Farsi spoken at all and a random white guy told me that he was taking the time here to improve his Arabic!

Actually there are a lot of cool people, when met in a different environment. And the unfortunate truth is that a party's coolness is inversely proportional to the number of Americans present. Last night I went with Saurabh to have dinner at a restored beautiful fort in Kaarteh Parvaan, which functions as a base for an NGO that runs academies to preserve local artistic traditions. Fascinating project and cool people. 

So, again I'm thankful that I have a normal situation and get to live and work with locals. With Nathan, Sahar, and Lorenzo all gone this week I've branched off with the Desi crowd. Nothing beats chatting endlessly about cricket matches, fight scenes, and the best remixes. Whilst watching the B4U music video countdown me and Saurabh hatched the idea of having a Bollywood party, so that we can have our superior music and dress well. We'll see how that goes next weekend--we're gonna use the office and hopefully project montages of classic fight scenes on the wall. I guess this will be my debut on the party scene, but it should be a cooler and less provincial crowd due to the music selection.

The food here is good generally with some exceptions. Afghan Fried Chicken completely sucks. I tried it because it's the closest thing to my house, but it has no Afghan masala or jaadu or anything like that. I've tried most of the places for chapli kabab around here too. The one by the park is disappointing and the one by here gets props for using marrow and eggs in the mix, but still isn't spicy enough. The winner goes to Nathan's hole-in-the-wall place out in Karteh Seh (about five people can fit inside and the place is only identifiable by the clever sign on the window which reads "Peshawari chapli kabab". It's relatively spicy but it doesn't rank up there with Kabab Palace in Arlington or Ashiana in Diamond Bar. The Frontier (as this area is broadly know) is one of the world's cooler food ecosystems as far as technique and flavour are concerned, so there will be more good news hopefully. For those of you who don't know what chapli kabab is, Nathan put his finger on it by describing it as "a man-burger". It looks just like a hamburger patty, but the brilliant Frontier folks have figured out that you can ADD OTHER THINGS TO THE MEAT. And they add the most flavourful mix of spices, chillies and onions to the meat before cooking it in oil. Often some flour is mixed in to that it comes out a bit crispy (actually this can go to the extreme of deep-fried hamburgers at some of the famous fast food locales on roads around here. The frontier region is exceptionally rich with fast-food, which is one thing that US sorely lacks (burgers and fried chicken, or else you have to sit down and wait).

Some of you asked me to tell more about my job and what I do. Right now I'm starting up a project on natural resources and the government's role or lack thereof in their extraction. Within that, at the moment, I am figuring out which resources and what my methodology is going to be. There's plenty of time for drinking massive amounts of tea and bullshitting with my co-workers too! My outerior motive should be to find resources around Herat and Mazar-e Sharif, so I can make a trip up there, which Lorenzo also encourages. Another co-worker, Gul Pacha, has mentioned that we should go to Peshawar and maybe even Lahore for a long weekend. That would mean getting to see the Khyber Pass! It turns out the Peshawar is only 4.5 hours away from here.