Thursday, November 23, 2006

Hunting Turkey

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Last year the cooks managed to find a turkey in the city markets. This year they had no luck. So we decided to go hunting for turkey on Tuesday. It took about three hours, but we came back with about 30lbs of bird.

At about 1pm, about 9 of us loaded up into two SUVs, 5 of us with rifles at the ready. Ok, so they were AKs, and not the ornate Enfield elephant guns one can find in the tourist shops of Kabul (though we were looking for what translates from Dari as “elephant chicken”). And true, the 5 armed men were our usual security detail, in uniform, just along for the ride to keep us safe...and it’s true, that we were just going to the expat grocery store.

So we had to trek down the infamous Jalalabad Rd. (a few 2-3 meter craters are still readily visible in the road, i.e. a nice reminder that a car was blown up right where you’re driving over), but the calculus of the moment said it was OK to go down the road. Plus, since the PXs can’t sell alcohol anymore, one would think the road was less frequented by foreigners, and thus less of a “hot” road.

But there are still ISAF patrols on the street, but our drivers kept their distance from the one that was there. Also, I saw an ISAF foot patrol on a off street along the main road. That was a first, and I’m wondering if it is a new tactic. The soldiers are less concentrated, which is a good thing, but I’m wondering how the Afghans feel about it. But if any people are used to armed men in their midst, it’s surely Afghans, and especially Kabulis.

So after finding no luck at the first Aussie run store, at the second we found a 30lb bird in the freezer of the Italian run store. When standing in the kitchen with the cooks, all of us circling the frozen bird, marveling at it, they started wondering where it came from. The wrapper had Cyrillic, Arabic, Spanish, English, and what I now assume is Portuguese writing on it.

See the bird came to us, in Kabul, via an Italian run store, from Brazil; “Producto de Brazil” clearly written on the back side of the bird. [Delete “aaaah, the globalized ‘flat-world’” comment here.] So now the Brazilians are beating the U.S. out in the citrus AND the poultry market???

However far the bird traveled, our cooks did a masterful job of cooking it up, fixins and all. We had a quite, family style, dinner this year, as opposed to the T-day party we had last year. Our style this year reflects the changes that our project and company have gone through over the past year, and the dynamic of the house now versus this time last year. All in all, a great holiday. Plus I get tomorrow off. This two-day weekend thing is phenomenal. Gotta make sure my next job has that deal.

Also, and much more importantly, and something to truly give thanks for, I found some new live Modest Mouse on line; and not just any old bootleg. This is from a show earlier this month in LA. And yes, those that are fanboys of the band as I am, you know what this means.

Johnny Marr is playing guitar with the band. Hell, not just “with” the band, as now he’s “officially” part of the band. For those not in the know, yes, this is that Johnny Marr. For you all really not in the know, and I should ban you all from reading my blog, the Johnny Marr that played guitar in The Smiths, the Johnny Marr that wrote all the beautiful music of The Smiths.

MM’s new album was supposed to be dropped some time this year, but that is no longer the case. Though the sound quality isn’t too good, several new songs available on the web page. It’s enough to make any loser hipster very very happy—and thankful. And you need not ask if I think they are at least a few that are brilliant.

So, just to make sure: go get them here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Another Article

From the LATimes comes an article on the Afghan National Army (ANA). Particularly interesting is the discussion about the focus on making a multi-ethnic army, aimed at providing a unifying symbol for Afghanistan. This is something, as the article notes, that never existed before. Something I still find confusing is the "Afghan" identity and what it means to those claiming it. Similar issues, of course, come up with may nations in the region carved from colonialism. But Afghanistan, with it not being under the brits or any other recent colonizers, I find particulary interesting and difficult to understand.

The article discusses some of the disparities between the US soldiers training and operating with the ANA, and are somewhat expected. More interesting to me was the info and insights on the internal issues of the ANA and how the soldiers are dealing with the "unified army". The aspirations seem noble and provide some hope, though as the article notes, achieving that will depend on the actual existence and growth of the ANA (which goes back to the more technical issues the ANA faces).

Either way, and interesting read. I'd love to hear what some Afghans think about the article and the aims of the ANA for providing a "unified Afghan" identity (Hamesha?, HIK?). Also, I wonder if the US army is using it's own history of integration efforts and lessons learned there, and also the benifits of such, in its work with the ANA.

More Photos...from others of course.

The WaPo is featuring an interactive photo essay, "The Women of Afghanistan", on their front page today. The stories of 5 women are presented against the photos of Paula Lerner. Lerner is a photojournalist volunteering with the Business Council for Peace and has been documenting the work of the NGO, which is working with women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan.

The photo essay is framed by an intro and an epilogue by Lerner. At first, listening to only those, I was a bit disappointed, partly thinking it was another doom and gloom piece. But after going thorugh the whole presentation, I find it to be incredibly well done. The features on the women contain photos of them, their work, and some random photos of Kabul, providing good context. The narration is either by the women or provided via a translator ( I believe). They tell their stories, their stuggles and their success all within 2 minutes each.

The lack of detail perhaps helps to leave one finding the stories incredibly inspiring, at least I did. That feeling, balanced by the more macro-level insights on the recent developments provided by Lerner at the beginning and end, comes across more even keeled. It's quite nice to see a story on Afghanistan so well tempered.

Friday, November 10, 2006

And so...'s been one year here.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Tempered Temperaments

Despite the fact that heavy amount of news from the other current concerns would have overshadowed much of the news from Afghanistan, the truth of the matter is that despite a few headline worthy events, and one fairly tragic event, there hasn’t been much to spotlight here recently. Even the German soldier gaffe didn’t spend too much time in the news.

I’m happy for that. Event wise, Ramadan went fairly unnoticeably, and the subsequent weeks have gone by quietly too—at least here, for me, in Kabul. (Though, a week or so back, nightly, one could hear the jets taking off from around the area. I assume this was tied to the activities in the south and along the western border). Mullah Omar promised a continued assault, by the Taliban, through the winter. Though it’s too early to make a call the veracity of that, as maybe they’re bedding down for that assault, there hasn’t been much news regarding them on the assault recently.

The recent dearth of front-page worthy news (with the few noted exceptions) and the press’ focus shifting, headline wise, may have to do somewhat with the apparent shift in temperament. Apparent to me at least. Through the spring and summer, everyone was spelling doom. It felt like this place was on the verge of a doom-laden spiral. I both believed and felt it true, at least the part about it being at a precipice. Despite there not being any singularly significant events, it seems like there is a noticeable shift here. The military transitions have gone fairly well, and what was to be a slow and grinding war in the south seems to have been a quelled insurgence in retrospect. I hope I’m not hasty in saying that.

Hopefully the headlines and attention of a few months past were just crying wolf. That is not to say that they were false, the wolf was (and still may be) there. Just rather than raiding the chicken coop, it was circling the hills. The failures, difficulties and problems chronicled in those articles and stories are true, and the problems still remain.

The tone, though, was maybe a bit more apocalyptic than what has come to play. In the least, my temperament at the time was a bit over the top. As for what I’m working on, despite how problematic it is, and how difficult things are, they are moving. Crises are being averted. Perhaps the take on this place, and at least my thoughts and disposition, got caught up in the tragedy to the west of us, but thankfully, things are nowhere near the same, both institutionally and governance wise, and simply in the day to day life of everyone here. All may not be functioning well, but they are functional.

The nip at the heels this past spring and summer (I hope that isn’t too diminutive) may have been, and will hopefully be, a necessary dose of reality as to the current state of this place and what is still so desperately needed over here. Hopefully expectations are a bit more realistic now. Hopefully the rhetoric, from all spectrums (and especially after the shake-ups in D.C.) will be tempered a bit. Hopefully the donors will start to get their act together and priorities can be aligned. Hopefully the blunders have taught some lessons.

There isn’t much rose-glassed hope here anymore. But for the work I’m involved in, there are at least positive expectations for the next 5 to 6 months. I hope that’s true on the larger scale for what’s going on here and with a tempered hope things are turning for the better.

As a complete side note, I am very hopeful about what may be to come from a new band I’ve come across. I’m still loving the recent finds, though today I came across this track, “Brittle Britches” by Quien Es, Boom! via Salon’s Audiofile. The EP (though called a full length release, it’s only 7 tracks), which I promptly downloaded from iTunes, “Cast Your Burdens Aside” is titled well for the current mood. The music captures and conveys the current temperament quite well, so it’s been on repeat for the past several hours.

The band is from Austin, with some strong links and ties to Chicago (may have been recorded there? and the producer is from the Chicago scene). Listening to a few tracks reinforces both of those locales' sounds. The album is fairly heavy on the alt-country and Americana sound of a few of the Austin bands like Calexico. There are nearly equal measures of Chicago post-rock of several variants, such as the bluesy Califone to the jazzy Pele or Joan of Arc. A few of the songs have well done math-rocky time signature and/or tempo shifts. The guitar lines are largely clean and melodic, the hooks simple and repetitive in a good way.

That free song linked above sounds like it coulda been the intro to a Joan of Arc or Don Caballero song, shifting to a lyric verse instead of distorted guitars and breakbeats. The drumming is largely sparse, and fills the space incredibly well. In many ways, this does sound like the Chicago (?) band Pele with lyrics, and a new found country/Americana fixation. The songs, over all, are composed really well, crescendos and codas and other musical terms I don’t really know how to correctly define, let alone identify.

And the dude's voice is quite good, a slight gruffiness, and a slight drawl, with good phrasing and delivery for poppy songs. One song in particular, "Twenty Eight in Twelve", with a quick sunny poppy cadence, the dude sounds like a smoked out Paul Simon. Though the plucky guitar line may make that reference to "Diamond on The Soles..." era Simon easier.

Regardless of my incompetence, or perhaps largely because of it, I’m hopeful that this EP bodes very well for things to come from this band.

On it’s own and with an affable ethos, the band crafts balanced and nearly languid songs while displaying solid musicianship and well placed electronic/experimental flourishes...why's all tempered well.