Behind Walls in Jalalabad

“Has anyone NEVER flown on a helicopter before?” asks the tall, well armed soldier with an Australian flag sewn onto his flak jacket with oh so many extra banana clips in it. “We haven’t!” – my colleague and I are the only ones of the group of 5 to respond. “Oh,” he cracks a smile and his blue eyes light up, “You’re gonna love it! No worries!”  Not that we needed reassuring, but when you’ve just found out that your transport from the capital city the second largest city closer to the border with Pakistan is an old Russian Mi-8, being guided by guys who say “No worries mate” makes it all the more exciting.

Enjoying the SceneryFrom the moment we step into the belly of the chopper I’m mesmerized by all the Russian writing and the obvious fact that since this thing was manufactured, back around 1961, very little seems to have changed.  “If I give a signal it means we’re going to land hard so just put your arms up and lean forward like this,” our easy going flight chief shows us, as his machine gun dangles at his side.  Minutes later we’re floating above the city and racing, as much as such relics can race, along the path to Jalalabad.

The 1.5 hour journey seems to last much longer, but we can’t be sure since we’re so busy taking photos and being amazed by this machine we’re sitting in and the changing landscape not so far beneath us.  After dropping off a VIP at some military outpost, we eventually find ourselves being dropped off inside yet another military outpost. As we step off the helicopter I see the sign: “Forward Operating Base Finley Shields”, a base I would later learn was named for two soldiers who died while on a mission in this area. We wander the lanes of the base slowly with our gear as the afternoon heat pounds on us, after alot of discussion with many layers of Afghan Army guards we eventually find our ride outside the gates.

The driver greets us, and we listen to our first long conversations in Pashto; new region, new language.  As we drive away from the base I’m impressed by the amount of businesses bustling with activity.  Mechanics, furniture makers, metal workers, food vendors, textiles, the list goes on and on.  The other common scenery, as we eventually pass through Jalalabad, are the schools and organizations with their elaborately painted signs, slogans, and murals outside their massive walls. Many are the world renowned names, but others appear to be simply local organizations with an education or community outreach focus.  The people along the road also strike me as interesting for one basic detail, no one here is wearing western clothes.  Unlike Kabul or Herat, the only other cities of Afghanistan that I know, in this Pashtun world, the shalwar kameez is the only outfit to be worn by men.  On the women’s side I see more burka’s then I’ve ever seen in any other town.  Just as everyone has tried to explain to me, this place has its very distinct differences that one can’t help but notice all the time.

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Herat Roundup Vlog

After one week of teaching video production in Herat, Afghanistan, the following video was made during my last hours in the city.  It goes over my impressions of the city, the work we’ve been doing here (our company Small World News, currently doing work for Internews), and other interesting facts/observations.

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ctrp384 Poetry in Afghanistan

Spices
Strolling by the Spice Shop in Herat

You don’t often hear from poets in Afghanistan, but beyond all the politics and violence that gets all the press, they’ve been there all along, writing, reciting, performing…

My guest is Wida Sharifi, a poet and writer based here in Herat. She joins me to tell me about how she got her start in poetry and how the world of poetry works in Afghanistan. We also get into literacy, television, work, and more.

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The Return to Afghanistan

Greetings from Kabul, dusty but determined capital of the country everyone has an opinion about: Afghanistan. For the second time in my life, I’ve arrived in Kabul.  No longer confused or intimidated with how things look or work (or don’t work), being back in this magic town is like starting your second year of high school. You’re far from mature and wise, but you’re better prepared and strangely comfortable.

KBL
The Familiar Hills of Kabul

Over the next 16 days as part of the intrepid Small World News training team, we will be working as part of the international media development organization Internews. The mission is to teach, train, guide, and share knowledge with aspiring journalists, film makers, new media producers with all manner of interests and objectives.  With our combined experiences, not to mention the unique experiences of these young people, we intend to better prepare them for the career that could lay ahead.

During the course of these trainings, I’ll be telling my own stories of what I see and what I hear, as always. But to be here in Afghanistan in 2011, one year after having been here for the elections of 2010, one prevalent feeling in the air (at least the air I breathe) is that at this point in global history, Afghanistan is no longer important. The international light that once shined on this place has grown dim, with those who wield it unwilling or unable to keep it on much longer. Whatever the typical time limit for attention and engagement this fickle and easily distracted world, it has been reached.  Listen to a political speech or a news analysis and you’ll hear what to many are good arguments to stop engaging in helping this nation rise from the decade old ashes. Yet here we are, not just Small World News, but so many dedicated people, who still come despite the risks, obstacles, and the criticism; who still work hard for a specific purpose.. helping people build a strong nation with a good foundation.  A foundation that took and will take substantial time and investment in various forms.

So it goes. Working in Afghanistan, for Afghanistan, long after it has gone out of style.

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