“Wild Camping” in Bamiyan

DSC00121

Yasin, Reese, his friend Maiwand and I were in Bamiyan for a few days to check on our projects and get a much-needed escape from Kabul’s hectic city life. Even for a trip of a few days Bamiyan makes for a perfectly revitalizing vacation – clean air, open space, fresh weather, great security, friendly people – what more could one ask for.

20150414_143717We arrived and spent Monday and Tuesday morning with Zahra and Taher, who run our Bamiyan PARSA office, and visited some of our project sites including our schools in the cave communities to make sure they were up and running for the school season. Then Tuesday afternoon we decided to drive out to Afghanistan’s most famous lake, Band-e-Amir, to do a hike into the national park and an overnight camping trip. Bamiyan is one of the few places in Afghanistan where it is safe enough for foreigners/city folk to travel freely in the countryside, and we all wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity.

20150414_143247We drove along the muddy dirt road beside the picturesque lake until we found a stream crossing our path that we decided would be good to hike along. We parked the car so it was hidden from the road, and walked in the beautiful, sunny weather, surrounded on one side by high cliffs and on the other by snowy mountains, up a valley until we found a good basecamp in the remains of a century-old house that looked like it was now used by shepherds and their herds.

Reese set up the main tent there for himself, Taher and Maiwand, and Yasin and I trekked on to set up our own tents further up the valley. We ended up climbing up an avalanche shoot almost to the top of the cliffs, and were only deterred when a little bird that had been sitting on a stone started a mini-avalanche that sent huge rocks shooting down some meters away from us. However the most interesting part of that climb, besides the incredible view, was that we found fossilized seashells at the tops of the cliffs. The whole region was once under water.

20150415_063753When we got back down Reese started a fire and we cooked ourselves a potato stew for dinner, and drank coffee out of our big bowls. Until then everything was great, we had forgotten we were in the heart of a country “at-war” and had enjoyed the peaceful nature, not another person in sight. Then night came.

Reese and I were at least nominally prepared. My gear is three-seasons, and it held up well against the freezing rain, and even did okay against the slushy snow that followed, but the others weren’t so lucky. Their tents were only summer tents, and Yasin, who faired the worst, said he spent his entire night crouched in the center of his tent while it literally rained (then snowed) around him (inside his tent!). By morning his blanket looked like it had spend the night soaking in the stream.

DSC00177Everyone woke up at first light (except me who was still for the most part dry and warm, and not in any hurry to get out of my warm sleeping bag and into the snow), and despite the bad weather and their freezing nights, still in happy moods. We packed up camp and hiked back to the car, happy to be warm, and enjoying the views of the snowy mountains and low clouds that made the scenery look like a gateway to heaven. Reese did an epic job off-roading us back to the main road, despite the deep mud and crevices in the road.

All-in-all it was a great excursion as part of a great trip. It serves as a reminder that even though the overall security situation in Afghanistan is quite bad, it is still a beautiful country with pristine landscape where one can find places that are just as peaceful as any other country has to offer. What a great trip!

DSC00199

DSC00096

DSC00080

20150415_074610(0)

20150415_073006

20150415_072510

PARSA Farm: Our Baby Chicks

IMG_3089

Our baby chicks at PARSA are the cutest! Our entire staff love them, and Sameer from Voice of Afghan Youth even made them their own music video to the Surfin Bird song – our birds are the word! Can’t wait until they grow up and start giving us delicious, fresh organic eggs every morning!

IMG_3086

 

April Fools Day at PARSA

Today, when I peeked my head into the Voice of Afghan Youth Office to say good morning, the staff had big grins on their faces and were busy writing purchase orders.  Our finance team were the intended victims of their prank, as they are perceived as deserving of a bit of hassle given how difficult it seems to get any money out of them. I didn’t quite get why Mina and Alyssa were so entertained until Abdullah showed up in my office an hour later with a very grim face and a handful of purchase orders. “I don’t know what to do with these,” he said, “Mina and Alyssa submitted them, they total $14,094 and Yasin signed them!” I looked them over and noted that they had listed items such as “100 tubes of red lipstick”….”Two small pot bellied pigs”….”Pink leashes for small pigs..” So in the “approved” section I wrote ‘April Fools!’  Abdullah broke out in a big grin and when I went into finance 10 minutes later the finance team were still chuckling. A couple hours later they called Alyssa and asked her and Mina to come and pick up her money. Being pretty tricky minded, they guessed that something was up, especially as the finance team still had big grins on their faces. They were handed an envelope and asked to count their money which was of course, a stack of perfectly cut pieces of paper…Finance’s April Fools! Mina counted it as a great bonding experience between the two departments…Then at the end of the day I nearly lost it when our VoAY assistant producer, Sameer, announced on Facebook that he was on the way to the airport to go to Canada permanently. I am relieved that April Fools Day is over, and that our self-appointed entertainment committee is now looking forward to planning the celebration of  “Turkey’s (the country) Children’s Day” in two weeks. Stay tuned.  It is always a surprise.

DAILY QUIRKS: Driving in Kabul

IMG_2224 copy

Of all of my accomplishments and failures in Afghanistan over the last ten years, nothing I have done has caused more daily excitement or consternation than my driving. 2015 has marked a change in being here and I am taking back over parts of my life that I had given up because of the security threats. One of those is driving myself to the bazaar or store when I need to shop, and in fact doing my shopping for myself instead of sending Nasir off with my shopping list. We have been given a big old battered, gas-guzzling SUV for our incidental trips, and I first ventured out for Women’s Day, when we needed an extra driver to get all of the women at PARSA to the women-only fashion show event that we were attending in celebration. The braver of our female staff were very excited at the novelty of driving with their “rais” (boss) and a woman at that.

As much in solidarity they were with me, the frequent gasps and their tight grip on the passenger handles as I negotiated Kabul traffic to the center of town indicated that they were not sure a woman driver could get them there safely. After all there are probably about five of us in all of Kabul and one other is Alyssa. On another occasion, our grounds-staff lined up on the road as I went off to the petrol staff and applauded me as I went by with big grins on their faces. The gate keepers see me coming and open both gates extra wide for me, as after all I am a woman driver and could miss the opening. Last night, I drove across the street to get petrol for our generator from the “Pump Station” run by a family of Pushtuns, and when the attendant saw me he yelled to his relatives in Dari/Pushtu, “Hey! Oh No! There is a woman driving here and she speaks English! Help me speak to her because she speaks English!!!! What do I do? What does she want?! Help!!!” When he calmed down, and I conveyed my requests, we filled the car and my petrol can together and then negotiated the money and wrote the bill. I asked him, “Now, really, was that so bad??? I have been driving for over 40 years, and really it is time you get used to the idea of women drivers. You did a great job!” “Yes, Auntie,” he beamed,” More women driver’s…..?!”

IMG_2226 copy