Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I'll write something about Kabul in the...eh...nevermind.

I’ve never really been tempted to start a myspace site. It’s bad enough that I’ve entered the realm of bloggers, but myspace is a whole new low (unless, of course, you’re just trying to get some). But they have those band sites, such as BTS’s, and more importantly you can stream music.

This is only now pertinent cause I found a theme song. And this is only relevant cause I’m name-dropping another new album. I finally got around to downloading the new Madlib album. I know, I know, it’s a shameful fact. I mean, the dude named a pseudonym after me, and I don’t have enough gratitude to buy each and every thing he puts out (and dude has diarrhea of the DAT) as soon as he puts it out. Add to that the fact that he’s pure genius, and the best beat maker (I mean, konducta, beat konducta) on the face of the earth. The best.

So...too little too late, but, he’s released a new album, ‘Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes’. More importantly, he’s dropped the track "Electric Company (Voltage-Watts)" (warning, that’s the iTunes link). The deep ‘electric hum’ that serves as a bass line, the clicking train track beat that evokes a meter switches deep in the generator, the interspersed warning chime/bell, and the monotone 50’s ‘electric company’ voice sample...all that, make for a perfect soundtrack to the current work.

It’s not even the best track on the album.

P.S. There is even a track with cowbell on it! Come on everyone, all together now: I need more...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Circling Towards Summer

It’s hard to have your nerves frayed when the weather is as amazing as it is currently in Kabul. But I think a lot of the expats on our team are in such a state; partly from the project and work itself, and partly from the upswing in attacks and violence.

There was this past week’s rocket attack close to the embassy. Luckily the house I’m in is quite some distance from there, 2-3km or so. I was up at the time and went to look at the smoke plume with a housemate that woke up. I think my skills at sleeping through earthquakes would extend to rocket attacks too. So it’s reassuring to know that my housemate in the room across from is a light sleeper.

Then just a few days ago, our security director walked in to dinner a few minutes late, reporting that there was another attack. A co-worker in the house quite close to the embassy and ISAF had called him reporting a blast and hearing ISAF sound the alarm. (We found out later it was just a gas cylinder that had gone off.) Our Chief immediately started discussing and working out the logistics of getting all the staff into the (safer, distance from target wise) house I live in. Then after about two minutes, and a few sighs, we all carried on, thick with sarcasm, insulting and ribbing each other and everything else as usual. The next day, when the other co-workers were to move to our house, not one decided to bother.

I’d like to think that decision was made because the spring weather brings hope.

P.S. In the past few months, whenever I would hear, or hear about attacks or gunfire or such, my thoughts would always soon race to the nationals and locals that live with this in much different circumstances than us well-walled expats, and moreover many of whom who lived through much worse for many years. I realized just a few days ago, even after reading about the Afghan national that was killed in the recent attack, that I didn’t pay much mind to the national’s/local’s situation. I’m far from settled on how I feel about this fact. Since in many ways, it was a patronizing empathy, but in the least it was an empathy, however misplaced or misguided or mis-rooted it may have been. And it’s absence implies some callousness and/or complacency towards certain things. Yet those two things, in then end, are somewhat useful in this environment.

... next time I write a paragraph like the above, I’m just gonna do a big circle flow diagram, with an appropriate legend. It’ll be easier to read and likely make the callousness point that much more strongly...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Seeking Srinagar

On this last visit to Pakistan, my father, mother and I went to Faislabad/Lailpur. My dad had studied and taught there years ago. Had he stayed in Pakistan, he would have likely taught there for years on end, as his classmates and former co-workers who he went to go visit there did. They asked him to come back for a month for a stint as a visiting professor. This, which he is contemplating, launched the line of conversation about why he left, and emigrating and such between him and his old friends (who have children abroad now, and have visited them).

This, of course, brought the conversation to a salient point for me, and my choice to come back to this part of the world to work, and my contemplating finding a job for a few years around these parts. My dad’s friends, of course, thought it was somewhat ironic that I chose to come back here to work, Kabul too rather than Lahore or Karachi or Dehli or Banglore or such. So one of his friends decided to relate a joke he heard second-hand from his son when he last visited him in America.

After the trip back to the ‘watan’ and a recent conversation with a friend about somewhat similar throes they find themselves in, the issue has become more prominent. With the rising of India and the subcontinent, the rebuilding of Afghanistan, I’m sure a lot more folks are in similar straits too, as the options and opportunities for and benefits and value in returning for many 2nd gen folks have increased in these parts (parallels probably apply to China too as one of my college buddies is pursuing that right now). And I think this situation is separate from the “reverse brain-drain” of foreign students in the west electing to not pursue a life in the west. This is particular to 2nd gen folks electing to return to their “watan” or “Kashmir” (as Hamesha related a wonderfully apt pathan proverb in a recent comment).

The joke (retold with my special ability to make everything not funny) goes:
A man had been in paradise for some “time” now; all rivers of milk and honey, rolling green hills, gardens, serenity and peace and beauty. One day, kinda bored of all this routine paradise, he goes for a stroll. He came up the gates of paradise, and caught a glimpse of the other side. Raucous fun they were having in Hell; all partying and dancing and gambling and films and women and drinking—all things debauchery and fun.

So he asked the gate-keeper for a visit, and was told to put in an application for a visit. The application snakes its way up the bureaucratic machinery, finally to the higher authority, stamped and approved. Tourist visa in hand, the man crosses the gates, and has an un-righteously good time in hell—pure fun and enjoyment and rewards. The pleasures are endless. But his tour comes to an end and he leaves. Returning to oh so serene paradise, boredom, and placidity and all. He decides then and there that after a life of solemnity and steadfastness on earth, it’s time to have some fun. So his immigrant’s visa is filed. This one goes straight to God, who calls him in for his immigration interview. Only one question is asked, “are you sure you want to emigrate?” The man says yes. So he packs up his things, says his good byes and crosses the gates.

Lo and behold, it’s hell—fire and brimstone hell, demons and devils, boulders on the backs and lashes, serpents and servitude. So one day he finally makes it back to the gate-keeper and he asks, what happened to the hell that he first visited. The gate-keeper immediately starts laughing and says, “my friend, the first time you came, you came on a tourist visa, and this time my friend, you’ve come on an immigrant’s visa.”

Now my father’s friend related this joke in talking about immigrating to America, and in suggesting to my father that perhaps it’s time to come back to Pakistan. My father responded that yes, he does think about returning occasionally, and was even thinking about it on this trip back. He immediately followed that with saying (in Urdu with a poignancy that can never be truly translated) “sir, we must remember that this time, I’m in Pakistan on a tourist’s visa.” Heads nodded side to side, and a laugh was had all around.

As I think about the next few years, I need to remember what my father said that day.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Making The Runs

And I mean that in every sense of the word "runs". Got sick from the wedding food the day before I was to leave. So I did get to spend some quality time with the parents and sis as I was bedridden. Followed by a 4 hour car ride up to Islamabad at 2 am. I caught the flight, and my stomach survived.

Had a wonderful time. Saw the family, almost the whole lot of them. And there is a whole lot of them.

Welcomed some more folks into the family. Some crazy desis, and some crazy "pakhtoons" (two cousins got married in one week). When I saw the barat of one wedding coming and it was about 10 men in white shalwars and black waistcoats, for a second, I thought I was back in Kabul. It was urdu/punjabi and pushto bantered all around. Got to see some places I hadn't been in 15 years (my dad's childhood house).

Most importantly, my mom brought me my new speakers. They are divine. I can actually hear bass lines now.

Perhaps even more importantly, I really had a sense of ease when coming back to Kabul this time. I was not only happy, but even a bit relieved to be back, the kind of relief you get when coming back home. I think I'm really gonna miss this place (or more correctly the compound and the little else I see) when I finally have to leave.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ashes to Ashes, Diesel to Dust

So a few days in the Watan...my Watan (homeland, I believe in Dari or Pustho). A few days to go. Its been dusty, and not too hot, just around 100F. Pleny of donkey carts, rikshaws, lorries with beautiful decorations, beautiful to someone at least...and dust. Plenty of dust. And dancing monkeys. Ahh Punjab. Yesterday I was in Faislabad (aka Lailpur) that is punjab central, even had a tandoori pratha. But luckily, not too much on the deisel fumes. My cigarettes are tasting funny here.

Untill a few days...q.a.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Luckily We Have Armed Guards

Else, my off-key tone-deaf singing, and the impending rioting of our neighbors would be an issue. Our secruity director and his 9 is a concern. But he wouldn't shoot a man with a grin as big as mine is right now, I hope.

So more Built To Spill:

Doug Martsch is around the 40 mark after all, so I guess it's not surprising that he chose VH1 over MTV. VH1 is supposedly streaming the new album. Frustratingly, it wont play for me.

But, alas, all is not lost. I'm quite content with either streaming 'Conventional Wisdom' from the BTS myspace site.

And since I have some concern for my coworkers and our shared bandwidth, I've been listening to 'Liar' (a demo, I believe cause of the vocal reverb effect on the beginning). Find it here. Found it thanks to this site.

Hopefully Warner Bros. realized that I'll be in Lahore on the Apr. 11th release date and is shipping copies to the music stores there. Well...at least there is iTunes.

A minor change

So on the sidebar section "Kabul Blogs" has been changed to the more appropriate "Kabul & Related Blogs."

And two new blogs have been thrown up, Hamesha's and Home In Kabul.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Owing to Acknowledgement

sorryPart of the, umm, inspiration for the last post was a few conversations, recent reading, and a comment posted by Hamesha pointing me to Easterly.

And today I came across this article in Salon.com, an interview with Easterly about his new book.

P.S. And in acknowledging my complete failings in acknowledging, VP pointed me to a review of Easterly's new book in the Economist a few days back. Unfortunately it's subscription only. Also, in the post below, I think I said I was going to talk about the aggravated situation in the south, and the rising violence. VP has recently posted on that already, so I'll just point you there for how that affects working conditions here, especially as she's more directly affected by it than I am.

P.P.S: VP just posted the review here.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Owing to Inspiration

The point of the title, since I’m nothing if not all about titles, is that I was partly correct in my fears last week, as related in the post below. Yes, the post from a week, and one day, ago. Though the inspiration may be weak, and convoluted and perhaps not even coherent...yes, as in the post below, written a week and one day ago...I’ve wanted to avoid, posting out of pressure to post. (I think that is the third time, at least, that I’ve said something of that sort, so the excuse may be worn thin this time...after all...”fool me one...”). Inspiration has run dry. Running on diesel fumes...hehe. (Oh, I think only I get that joke, but I tell you it’s a great pun relating to my new post/position. Great great pun. Funny. Heh, jokes...). Be forewarned: What follows is another uninspired and, consequently, uninspiring post.

So the fear was that the new position would be filling my time, keep me busy, and become uneventful. It has somewhat happened, besides one larger, and over-riding project in it. The project, more or less, is to come up with a plan to get rid of my job. Brilliant, no? If the job itself was inspiring, the task would be a lot more difficult. So that is where part of the inspiration is going to have to come from, in making this role look sexy. But nothing is sexy here, on the ground. (Somehow I feel odd using that adjective, sexy, while in the land where the Taliban is launching the spring offensive...more on that later.)

Inspiration seems to be often lacking. And that is probably and often true for most jobs or efforts or things that is billed or commonly perceived as sexy. We all know where the devil is. And the devil, well, he gets two titles, the lord boredom and the lord of tedium. But the na├»ve, rescue the world from itself folks (of which I’m surely one of) over here all come for or with some inspiration of some sort. Perhaps desperation too, but often enough, the two are intrinsically linked.

The common result, it seems, is malaise or melancholy. And maybe that is a good thing in the IntDev world, as it is normalizing to a large extent. Yet with the generally difficult working conditions (especially or maybe particular to post-conflict hot zones) the sentiments seem to compound on themselves. Tragically to the point of disdain. So I think that was, or is, some of my current issue. And part of the reason for the sentiment that a kind commentor on the last post warned me against.

These sentiments are likely quite common, well known (I believe they even have head-docs over here for the expats for this exact reason, i.e. burnout), and well documented and discussed. Even at the macro level, the debate about the IntDev world and the various issues faced inside and by it is in many ways an extension of this issue. Should this field be about an inspired Millennium Development Goals eradicating poverty and poor starving children with distended bellies the world over? Or should this field be about a pragmatic market driven marginal return economical efficiency? And just as it’s difficult, if not nearly impossible, to find a balance between inspiration and normalcy (is there a better term?) at the individual level here, I fear the same may be true at the macro level. Part of the complicating issue, I believe, is the structures. In the structuralism sense. In the institutional sense.

Now a friend just railed and mocked me for a books that I recently picked up to read(Negri’s “Empire” and “Multitude”). He commenting on the book’s calling for a neo-marxist “revolution” by the masses and general neo-marxist label, or title I say, applied to the authors. The perfect and priceless quip by him: “Save me, Neo!” But the books may have some relevancy, as in general, I think this field is wrought by structural issues, and coming to a structural crisis.

But that observation is obvious, and trite, and common over the past several years. I’m just finding it all that much more true and pressing as it’s becoming personal, and not just theoretical. Partly, my just under 6 months here have brought me to that point, at this point (and here’s to hoping the state is temporary), but that point came across glaringly when I was in a meeting with a colleague that has been here for about 18 months. He was almost at the point of apathy, almost, but not quite as he’s a better man than that.

So I’ve made my offerings to the altar of inspiration. Paid up, and owing nothing, I hope. And the bounties have been received, but almost all outside of the job. New inspiration has struck in some recent music acquisitions (found some more, and free The National videos on line, and got the new Ghostface album, and finally got the J-Dilla album, and hopefully the new Lips album will be good (I’m already in love with “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”) and I’m resoundingly sure the new BTS album will be brilliant (in the british sense) and some good books (despite well said quips) and I get out of town in a few days to see the Fam who will be in Pakistan for some weddings.

Oh yeah, and the weather has been really great, too. I put a chair on the patio right outside my room to breath in diesel fumes during drags from the cigarette...it’s spectacular. Sometimes I even inspire myself.