Today in Afghan living, I’m going to tell you about this wonderful dish called:


10 Pairs of socks – any color.  White and blacks together are just fine in fact
10 Pairs of underwear
5 – 6 (maybe even 7) pots of water
1 cup of clothing detergent
1 plastic bag

1.) Bring 2 pots of water to a rapid boil.
2.) Pour detergent into big plastic container like a washed out garbage can or other tub.
3.) Pour boiling water over detergent.
4.) Fill tub with with socks and underwear.
5.) Stir with long plastic spoon.  Do not be alarmed if the water turns gray or black.  You will not be able to see anything in the water because it is so dirty. This is normal.  Remember, you live around a lot of dust.
6.) Transfer wet clothes to plastic bag.  Do this the best way you see fit.
7.) Pour nasty water down toilet.  Refill bucket with 2 more pots of water.  It shouldn’t be boiling, perhaps warm enough for you to put your hands in.
8.) Dump clothes into water.  Pretend like you are on a river with rocks and get to scrubbin’.
9.) Water will still be gray.  This is okay.  Ever heard of rinse n repeat?  Well this is where they got it from.
10.) Keep repeating until water is clearish.  Your clothes will not ever be undingy.  That’s okay.  They smell clean, and have essentially been boiled.
11.) Squeeze them ad dry as you can.  This all depends on how tired you are.
12.)Do you have a bukhari?  Great!  Wipe it down (so as not to re-dust everything) and fry your clothes on the open grate.  This will allow you to have clean socks and panties in the morning.
12.) Revel in the fact that your room now smells like fresh laundry detergent.
13.) Go to bed.  You deserve it.

Now that I’ve mastered the art of cooking, let’s move on to other topics in tasty delights?

They asked MOI of all people to be on the Afghan version of Iron Chef called: 59 Minutes.  It airs on Ariana.  I dare somebody to find the footage.  Do you think we’ll be able to find it on YouTube?  I pray YES.  I judged the cooking stylistics of these two women who thought they “put their foot in it.”   I can’t share the results because I’m legally bound (and I just KNOW how much you’re all out there clamoring to tell the world), but I did get my grub on.  I did my best impersonation of the gluttons Alton Brown questions on Iron Chef America.  And tried to be as giggly as the girls who get dubbed on Iron Chef Japan (yeah right, not really).  It was loads of fun.  Definitely a story I will be re-telling and re-telling.  I just hafta wait till it airs before I can say too much.



Written by Niki


random things happen here.  so many odd things smashed up against one another sometimes it’s hard to figure out a narrative.

i’ll break it down to you this way.

riding in the car.  my head bobs and dips as per usual as the car swerves in the dizzying ride they call traffic.    rihanna’s on “freedom radio” singing about calling her, rude boy. nah nah nah nah nah while my friend S tells me about his mother being beaten by the Talibs one day.  Now some lady on the “freedom radio” is talking something about a song called “These 5 Rednecks,” but I’m not really listening because S is explaining about how a few years ago, he’d be in the audience of soccer games and would have to make it through the halftime show beheadings.   Now some dude is singing about bales of hay and chicken bones and making love in the back of a pick up – and I’m hearing another story  about how even tho I’m complaining about the constant rolling blackouts that occur every hour… I should be thankful to have power at all.  The city only recently lit up the grid.  … and now I’m home.  Opening the gate to the compound in the freezing dusty wind.

or.  how about nudging my class of girls to write a comic book.  they have the problem: Girls Education.  They have the hero.  But, one girl stands up to explain, there is no solution for this problem.  The men will never want us to learn, why are we trying to pretend like things will ever change?  This is a stupid assignment because it’s making me think there is going to be something different to happen and I know realistically its not.  niki fights back tears.  no time to tell the story of the american slaves and their plight.  hmmm.  what’s practical?  what do you say?  i’ve got a translator staring at me with big brown eyes imploring me – yes niki – you westerners come over here with big bad bright ideas, but a the end of the day these girls all go home to fathersbrothersuncles… and mothers…. who would rather keep things the way they are. sigh.  i had so many speeches prepared on the flight here to kabul.  in the moment, on the spot.  after even having read 3 cups of tea.  i gots nothing.  i drum up a short, hopefully truly memorable, inspirational answer.  and tell her – to just dream.  it starts with a dream.  eventually, you, or your children will be so angry at having dreamt for so long, you will do whatever it takes to have the dream be a reality.  sigh.  what the heck am i doing here?

or.  …. maybe i won’t get into the privilege topic.  i’m caught between two worlds and its dizzying.  i’m western.  i’m black.  i’m the daughter of the results of somebody’s assumed superiority over my ancestry.  i’m so many things.  i see what’s also happening here, but it’s weird to say anything because i’m them too.  I’m sure this paragraph makes no sense to anybody but me.  it’s okay.  i can live with that.   i’ll leave it for when i speak to you personally.  it’s…. whoa.

or.  i’m mad because i want to do something simple like go to the bazaar.  but the hurdles to get there because i came equipped with a vagina get bigger every time we try to hash out the complicated details on how to get there.  the local who can show us around isn’t allowed to travel alone without a male relative.  they dont’ want to go.  WE can’t go pick her up because we can’t take the car because we can’t drive here and none of the boys who live here want to take us.  Nevermind this means that we pay a girl “tax” so to speak because we always have to take taxis on our day off if we want to go somewhere.  sigh.  so the 23 year old girl who could show us around has to ask permission if its okay for her to travel with two other women alone.  this is only the half of the story, but incredibly frustrating.  i suppose me and the other “westerner” will venture out alone guideless and make it do what it do.  meanwhile, apparently the boys all had a MARVELOUS time dining at a restaurant we couldn’t attend.  yes, and their ride was free because of course they can drive. sigh.

or.  thinking about the people closest to me who have made little or no attempt to call or write vs people i met right before i left who keep constant contact.  life’s strange that way.  there are so many people i miss dearly.  sometimes when i’m asleep i think i’m back in los angeles.  i think that i can just drive home or something.  a weird in-between state.  you don’t know how my heart sinks when i realize, nope.  still here.  still can’t see those people i love.  but i press on because above all of that, i know i’m needed where i am.

or.  listening to one person who has about a 75% mastery of english try to explain a concept to someone who has about a 65% mastery of english.  this person either grows frustrated, or disagrees with their conversation partner.  i giggle because the conversation starts getting heated i think it’s really because there’s no way for them to remotely understand one another.  they don’t dare ask me for help.  i just look down and keep poking around on the computer.

or. realizing that every local person who i work with has had to leave their own country for a period of time because of the talibs.  they have such a unique relationship with their nationality.  or hearing more stories about how they used to get their homes raided randomly.  or just.  being. sad. at. humans.

or. taking a shower in a bathroom used mainly by ….  not so clean men…. when the lights go out and i’m having to do most of my washing and dressing in the pitch pitch, there is not even a candle or lantern darkness.  soooo happy i’m the stereotypical black girl who wears shower shoes.  because otherwise i’d have had no idea where or what i was stepping on.

or. realizing that as much as i like wine, it’s not so deep i’ll pay $60 for the experience.  booze is super expensive here, so miraculously, i just don’t have a desire for it in the least.  i’ll stick to water and tea because apparently, that’s pretty much the only things to drink here.

or.  explaining that not ALL of america is comprised of fat asses.  in fact, when you work in hollywood, they have the opposite problem.  how about that at any company meal, i would typically be the only person who wasn’t eating just a salad.  or if i got one, the only one having the dressing that it comes with rather than just lemon juice or balsamic vinaigrette (sorry, but uh, a free company meal means you actually eat in my book.  guess i rep the fat asses after all).  then laughing to myself here for typically being too tired to eat or cook my “free” meal here in the guesthouse.  we’re supposed to work together on thursdays and fridays…. but miraculously, i’m just not hungry those nights.  go figure.

or. how nothing i brought here will be worthy of any thing when i return.  all my clothes are officially covered in dirt.  the washing machine doesn’t fully work because we don’t have full power.  things that are “clean” are still dingy.  too bad.  i got over that a long time ago.  now i’m happy just not to stink.  it is what it is.  it takes to much energy to fret over dingy things.  or dust.  in a way it frees my mind up to think of a better answer for the girls in my class.  how to not be overly revolutionary, be respectful and follow the “rules,” but still put fire in their hearts?   the answer isn’t telling them to move west.  i refuse to believe that that’s the answer for them.  sigh.  again.

ok i’m done.  so much swirling and colliding around me.  i think i need to sleep now.  or listen to the germans speak german.  or try to watch some afghan television soap operas.  or read a book.  or find a snack. or. or. or.  just think some more about a good answer.

It’s funny how even the wildest experiences, if done over a stretch of time, can become mundane.

It’s laughable in some ways that I can’t really talk about anything especially “new” or different…

I could describe the different thicknesses of dust that blanket the city at any given time.  I could gross you out by relaying to you the awful factoid someone took great pains to explain to me – that this “dust” is 50% fecal matter from the underdeveloped sewage system.  great.  breathe in.  breathe out.  still gross.  it’s not like i can go get an oxygen mask.  or wear a SARS mask and think that’ll sift out the grossness.  the fact of the matter is – this city has been beaten to a pulp.  these are some of the world’s neediest, and here i am right in the thick (pun intended) of it.

Or maybe you’d rather hear about how my patience has REALLY been tried through and through.  No hot water for days on end in 29 degree weather can make you a real bitch.  How about the fact that the electricity isn’t really strong enough to produce enough light for me to maintain any sort of beauty regimen or read after the sun goes down?   Or, what about the fact that there is no heat in the house where I live.  This on top of the fact that I work in a skatepark means that the only time of the day where I am actually warm is when I’m under the 4 layers of blankets and the 4 layers of clothes, a hat, long johns, a scarf and gloves I wear to bed at night.  This means I’m never awake AND warm.  Sigh.  It just takes so much energy to psyche yourself out when you’re this cold everyday.  Well, I exaggerate.  There IS a heater.  I just can’t run it while I’m asleep.  It’s called a bukhari and it runs off of deisel fuel that I have to fill it with every day.  You can google it.  But apparently many Westerners die (especially those from poor NGOs) every year from these things because they’re too stubborn to turn them off at night.  I can say that I’m one of them.  It’s just so so so cold that I ran it at night for as many nights as I could until they told me I simply couldn’t.  Apparently, if the tube “out” inadvertently gets clogged, or some other misfortune decides to go down, the CO2 emissions will kill me before morning.  Sigh.  so.  I dig deep in these covers and burrow like some ground animal.  This is fun right?

Other things that will kill me that are not directly related to war:
1) the traffic here.  Man alive is it a harrowing experience.  I have never seen such brazen disregard for any sort of “rule” in my life.  Anybody brave enough to drive in these streets gets a salute from me.  I know women don’t drive here…. and as much as I like to buck trends I have NO DESIRE WHATSOEVER to try my luck at these mean streets.  I mean WHOA.  I would take a picture but we’ve been scared pictureless because you can’t take pictures of women and even the men get a little testy about these things.  My words will simply have to do.

So they have these roundabout thingys every mile or so.  And basically, the only rule is get in where you fit in and bogart your way until you are where you want to be.  There are bikes, pedestrians, the armed guards, taxis, busses, trucks full of “loads” and all sorts of vehicles fighting for the same little space.

Don’t like the traffic on your side of the street?  Well drive on the opposing traffic side.  Still don’t like it?  Turn around in the middle of the street and go back the way you came. In the middle of rush hour no less.  Stop, start, let out passengers buy some bread – you can do it all whenever and however you want.  They have these minime “traffic cops” out here with little light sabers imagining a world where what they do or say has any bearing on what is actually happening.  There are men in the middle of the road stopping to pray.  Shit-dust everywhere.  It’s quite a sight to behold.

2) Germs.  Wow.  I am so happy I brought buckets of sanitizer.  Between the varying degrees of hygiene from the Euros I live with and the sniffling, sneezing, just got done playing outside in the field kids in class (kids of ANY nationality are pretty disgusting, ask any kindergarten teacher stateside) I tell you it has been a miracle I haven’t come down with anything more serious than the sniffles.  It’s impossible NOT to have them in this cold cold weather.

What cracks me up is when folks want to share spoons, bottles, and food out of the same plate.  Nothankyouvermuch.  I’m good. They can continue to laugh all they want, but I’m the only one in the house right now who doesn’t have some awful hick, hack, hack hack in the nighttime.

Hmmm….. what else is going on.  I went to the women’s garden.  I honestly thought it was nice.  It’s about the only space in the whole city for women to walk about peacefully.  I know some others who come here from other places may think it doesn’t measure up to their wonderful well funded experiences.  But I have to say, for a war-torn country that places women at the very bottom of all creation, it was nice.  I met some wonderful Afghan women who insisted on feeding and hydrating me in their little shack where they sell goods.  It was clear that some American woman came thru and decided it was a good place to teach them some “business” skills.  They knew not a lick of English, but had a whole “business” manual and catalogue all in English they were so proud to show me.  There was one picture of a black woman they couldn’t WAIT to point out.  It was such a testament again to the fact that you don’t really need vocal vocabulary to communicate.  We held up a pretty good non verbal conversation.  I love moments like that.  They were warm, open, and curious – as was I.  I felt like it was a great cultural exchange.    They asked to see my hair – and I obliged them.  Of course me with the reddish locks was a whole circus act for them.  They wanted to touch and to look up close.  I know many locked women hate when folks are all up in their hair.  My thing is this – I’d rather teach someone rather than have folks make ignorant assumptions.  Not to mention the fact that I’m here, all up in their culture.  Poking, prodding, snapping pictures at all the things that make them them.  2 minutes of my time as probably the only African American they’ll see up close will not kill me.  Plus, I enjoyed exchanging with new people.

Do you want to hear the one about the silly American man from Chicago loudly explaining to his poor waiter how to make him a “Venti Americano.”  It was as ugly as you’d imagine.  With his silly north-side of Chicago accent.  The German I was with looked at me and winked.  Yeah, yeah yeah.  We do that.  It was even worse as he interrogated the waiter on whether or not he’d be able to produce him a MEEDIUUM RARE steak.  Who does that?  I mean really – first of all are you really trying to eat anything medium rare anything in Afghanistan?  Um. no thanks.  Secondly – you’re not a little embarrassed at yourself?  Clearly you are not with the UN, military or any sort of aid group.  You are a rich dude making money off of the fact that there is a war going on here.  Chill out homie.  You’ll be back stateside soon enough where all the Spagos and Starbucks of the world will be waiting to sop up all your blood money.   Going on and on loudly about how he’s missing Spiderman on Broadway.  Give it a rest.  Please.  for all of us who have to be here and continue to interact with the international community here.  #rantover.

OH!  in other exciting news, I found out that one of our staff members is a beautician.  She gave me a kitchen sink eyebrow job that rivals any of the ones I ever got  (and paid top dolla for) at Ziba.  Yep, and she used the string too.  I love it!

I know, I know you want to know how my Christmas was.  Anyone who’s close to me knows I’m a bit of a bah humbug.  I don’t really celebrate anymore.  So, it’s just as well to me that all I did all day was read and nap.  The Euros here complained, pestered me to come up with a recipe to make something, but they failed to want to really help cook… soooooo they shared a bucket of food passed along from some other cobbleclod (a niki word I do hope you’ll glean some meaning from) of “Westerners” who live down the road.  When I say bucket.  I mean bucket.  And no, Niki didn’t eat any of that.  It smelled delicious, but yeah-no. I’m good.  I’ve got a picture of it too…. just as soon as I can get these pictures off of my camera, oh how happy we’ll all be.

We played Wii (they did really) until I fell asleep and went off to bed.

Oh, but while we were playing, we all kind of sat around and talked about stereotypes and first impressions.  LOL.  As uncomfortable as those conversations can be, I love them.  The Germans were really curious as to what American stereotypes were of them, and if they lived up to them.  I told them that the funny thing was, as much as perhaps they did, what really stood out for me was that white folk are the same the world over.  Yep.  I said it.  😉  That they have so many little idiocyncracies that I thought were American that are really just cultural to being of European descent.

One thing I didn’t have the heart to tell them was their dancing and game playing.  Wow.  Total whiteboy activity.  First, they cavort around in some sort of gyrating no beat something or other.  All I can do is laugh and marvel at the fact that Erykah Badu, The Roots, DMX and KRS One is loved the world over.  And how weird it feels to experience the music of my youth as seen through the eyes of foreigners all of us in a foreign land.

However the game playing is total whiteboy stuff.  I mean, they have this thing they do where they stick their ass out and snap rags at it seeing who can hit the very middle.  They find great delight in causing each other pain this way.  Squealing, jumping, laughing, and the like the whole time.  It reminded me of many-o-night at my boarding school high school in Minnesota.  The school was full of Hockey jocks, so they had all sorts of strange “games” they’d play.   I simply could not imagine any of the bruthas I’ve known over the years participating in this tomfoolery.  I’m all one fore crossing color lines… and the idea that race is purely a social construct,  but this right here is not my social construct.   It reminded me again of random nights at USC…. and again of random nights at my Caucasian friends’ houses in LA.  (on a #sidenote, I would love to do a poll to see how many Black, inner city kids know what the game “flip cup” is…..) As it happens in the states the Euros kept going – “You getting a kick out of us white boys, eh?”  LMBO.  Comedy indeed.

Wanna know what I delivered on for them?  …. drum roll please…..
1) all my bags.  they will not let up about the bags.  but i tell you they have been my saving grace here.  they said Africans are pretty bad (see the Sea of Cameroon a few posts ago)… but you topple that on top of being American = it’s no wonder I came to Afghanistan with a whole bunch of bags.
2) My hand gestures.  I apparently talk with my hands and body.  I never noticed. In fact I consider myself to be awkward.  But they said I’m always gesturing.  Very African American.
3) I’m bubbly.  They are guarded and don’t really like to be warm with strangers.  I’ll talk to anybody.  This makes them uncomfortable.  It’s not because of where we are – its just that it’s not the German way.  You talk to your friends and family, but other than that folks are typically aloof.

My favorite part of the conversation was with the reporter from Nepal that stays here with us.  He asked who I felt was the Black American leader (other than Obama).  He asked if I felt like we had a voice in the country.  I told him no.  There are leaders – folks like Geoffrey Canada , Cory Booker, and Governor David Paterson.  But the “Dr. King” sort of era of Black leaders is long gone.  He asked about integration and how we manage in the States… I did my best to answer him based on my own experiences.  Kind of a unique experience/discussion I’m sure we’ll have many more on.   I felt kind of bad that I didn’t know enough about Nepal to ask him more about himself.  What sorts of realties he deals with there.  He did describe the caste system they use, but didn’t go into any sort of detail about how it’s affected him personally.  I suppose we’ll have plenty more nights to delve off into these topics.  We don’t have internet or access to TV here in the guest house.  Therefore, we spend a lot of time talking, playing Wii, Xbox, and watching movies.  What an interesting bonding experience.

What was also fascinating was hearing the Germans speak about how painful/awkward it is to be a German post WWII.  About how they have to struggle with that all the time.  I’ve read about how the country kind of tries to deal with it – but I never actually spoke to people who carry some of that baggage.


Kind of an awkward beat to end on, but I don’t have anything else to say at the moment.  🙂  I wish I could show you the pictures I took of me and my class.  I can’t post images of the organization I work with, but if any of you know me personally, meet me on Skype and I’ll show you like that.
Okay, that’s all I got for now.  I’ll have more soon.


Written by Niki

i wreak of diesel fuel right now.  no amount of washing will get it out.   i think i’m going to die of random fume + dust smells.  okay maybe not. LOL.

oh wait, i’m ahead of myself.  maybe i should backtrack and get to where I am today.

so the other night during my skate lesson I bit it really really hard.  Right in the face.  I’m still recovering but I’m not gonna whine about it.  Okay yes I am because it’s on my face and it’s all i can think about.  Plus, since I have on this hijab ALL you see of me is my face. LOL.  So to have a big bruise on your chin, well. ugh.  I look either like a tough girl or a battered wife.  But internally, honestly it’s interesting to see how the body responds when you keep going when you don’t want to.  After the fall I got back up and kept skating.  I’m so proud of that part.

On that note, I’m learning and relearning the idea of patience.  We wanted to paint a mural today (or at least get the ball rolling).  And to do such a thing is a bigger job than grab paint, grab brushes, slap it on board, let it dry.  Here, searching around in the dark because the power is out for the 10th time today and all the lanterns are being used for much more important purposes means that finding the supplies is a real challenge.  Or realizing that going to buy new rollers to paint with will be an all day affair.  Needless to say, that when all was said and done, the easiest, simplest way to get the paint off of my hands was to wash them in diesel fuel – because that’s all we had, and it was going to have to work.   Spending time complaining or fretting is just a pure waste.  There are so many things going on in the day – and so many little moments to really savor with the kids… I dunno.  I get it.  You do the best you can with the tools you have and move on.  Wisely.  But move on.  The gas smell will eventually fade.  The mural I am going to help teach them how to paint will hopefully be here many years to come.

I’m learning about how organizations built up of a collage of people from different nationalities is challenging.  There are so many random cultural idiosyncrasies that the simplest ideas can take forever to be generally accepted by everyone in the room.  Or, even, trying to hash out a process sometimes ends in arguments because sometimes people are saying the same thing but in different ways.  Or, perhaps there are assumptions being made by one party or another.  It definitely makes me want to take a class in cross-cultural communication.   Especially because in the end – we always figure out a way to get things done.  We pretty much work 12 – 13 hour days here on average.  Much of that time is dedicated to making sure we get it all done and that folks are clear on the mission.  There are oftentimes still misunderstandings, but in another sense, it’s beautiful to watch us humans figure it all out.

In other news, I’m growing more and more frustrated with being a woman here.  I have my thoughts that perhaps I’ll share later about how why countries who don’t allow for equal space for both genders can’t really thrive.  But in the meantime, I WILL take this time to whine about how I just want to go to a shop and buy something, talk to some people, maybe go get a soda.   But really, there is such a huge fear here of women.  Yes, I call it fear.  Its sad really. But also, you grow jealous of your male counterparts.  They go and do and walk around with relative ease.  They don’t know quite how frustrating it is for us women working here.  I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to do an exercise where the men in our office had to be a woman for a day.  Just to maybe get a glimpse at how it feels to be so restricted.  So funny how the most degrading thing for a man to even consider being is a woman.  So sad.

I’ve never in my life ever really wanted to be a man.  But in this instance I wish I could perhaps just not be any gender.  I just feel like there are so many parts of this country I’ll never get to experience because I’m a woman.  Sort of frustrating to come all this way and for that to be the reality.


i’m headed home for the evening now.  i’se sleepy.  hmmm…. i can’t wait to come back and tell you more about my classes and the students tomorrow.

First day at work.

I met the whole staff.  Again, warm, beautiful people.  Everyone here is so dedicated to providing an opportunity for these kids to learn.  I will have to dedicate an entire post on how it’s is kind of a mind trip for me.  I’m constantly mentally juxtaposing this against my experience at the Gary Comer Youth Center on Chicago’s south side.  It has really hit me.  Wow.  Almost to the point of misty tears how common the human experience is.  We all, in our hearts share fundamental truths.  Yes, make no mistake about it, these children face a reality and future I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  and yes, those kids in Chicago HAVE NO IDEA how lucky they are.  Even in their own trials and tribulations.  I want to find and interview a someone who grew up in an American ghetto now working (or fighting) here.  I want to know if some of the same things have HIT them the way they’ve hit me.  It’s…. wow.  Words escape me.

Okay, I’m going to iCry on the outside now.  So best to switch to lighter topics.

I haven’t actually taught a class yet, but all the anticipation is killing me.  We’ve done lots of planning and organizing to be ready.  We’ve got deliverables we owe to the grant we got – so we must get the kids to finish their projects – while also actually making sure it does what we’re saying it does.  On the surface, I get how people think sports and art are just superfluous  That they are distractions while there is a reality happening when the kids go home that we’re ignoring.  Please listen to me.  In the couple of days I’ve been here, I’ve seen street kids whose lives have forever been changed by the “free” feeling from skating.  How, they won’t be outside finding opium or glue to sniff because they’re in here exercising.  You want to know how powerful the art of climbing a wall is?  Look at a kid who is perhaps full of anger, or hurt, or who lacks any self efficacy who climbed one and tell me it doesn’t change something in them.  Please explain to me how having a form of expression doesn’t provide a forum for kids to emotionally, mentally, and intellectually deal with some of the issues they face.

Yes, they may be hungry for dinner tonight and maybe even breakfast in the morning.  But I tell you this – they’ve learned some skills and there’s a positive fire I hope burning in their belly.  I hope if nothing else, they’ll continue this work after we’ve all left.

I’m SOOOOOOOOOO  happy to be able to joke with the kids – to laugh- and to show them in a sort of unspoken way women aren’t so bad.  We can work together, build & learn together while still respecting religious views in fact.  I can’t wait to witness more – to see how the kids grow in my time here.

The Afghan kids have got a handshake I love…. kinda reminds me of long ago Gary days.  I was nervous about my brownness, but as far as I can tell, nobody cares.   They tease and cheer me when I do my wibbly wobbly skating exercises.  (Yes, I dunno if I’ve mentioned it, but I’m also learning to skateboard while here.  LMBO.  SO thankful my mamma took out that insurance on me….. um.  yeah.)

There’s a mickey mouse running around the office.  I can’t help but giggle whenever this one German insists on calling them “mouses.”  He took great pains to explain to me why “mice” simply doesn’t make any sense, and he’ll be sticking to “mouses” thankyouverymuch.

On that note, it’s been interesting to realize that in a way, I am the one with the strange accent.  For all the chit chatting floating around my head, everyone else’s pronunciations of words, idioms, slang, etc are all shared with the group.  Hmmm.  This is a difficult concept to describe.  But basically, my American english is the weird one.  My slang or jokes oftentimes just don’t translate – where their odd phrasings and strange verb conjugations work just fine… as if it’s the queen’s english.  It’s so crazy because really, I’m enjoying every minute of this.  These kids will go on with a German version of English.  It will be interesting to come back years down the road to hear how this “patwa” of English as told through Germans tongues travels.

Food.  The food here is good.  The thing is… hmm.  It’s interesting how when you’re in a new situation your relationship with things changes.  My relationship with food has completely changed.  I just eat when there’s food around and honestly only eat enough to not be hungry.  Unlike a diet or how we’re so prone to doing stateside, I kind of just don’t care.  Like – just don’t care.  I eat to not be hungry & enjoy when it tastes good.  But honestly, there are soooo many other things going on, that I’m not really as much all about the food as I thought I’d be.

On the other hand what has been a liberating experience here is not caring what I look like.  Wait.  I do care. My body is clean clean, and I’m neat, and I think I wear nice clothes.  But…. I don’t care about it as much.  We’ll play, run, skate, skip, and do all sorts of things and I could give a care how I look.  I put on the same dusty pants from yesterday knowing I’d be on the ground today, and it truly doesn’t matter.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love being pretty.  I so look forward to dressing up again one day.  But right now, it’s fun to kind of be a kid right now in that way.

Learning Report:

  • Blowing your nose is highly offensive/funny to Afghans.  Don’t do it.
  • Keep that bootay (especially if it is black girl juicy) COVERED.
  • I can say “how are you” & “I’m well” in Dari.  Um. Yeah.
  • I’ve learned that a little dirt isn’t going to kill me.  Hand sanitizer’s good, but I’m getting over some of my germophobe attitudes about certain things.  Lack of hot water will do that.
  • I think the secret mission of western folk is to save every dog in the world.  Seriously.  Okay.  I suppose that’s racist (Well, not really, because I have a black friend who does this too)…, so I suppose I have to take it back. But man alive these folks want to save another dog and add it to the two we already have.  I only experience these sorts of dog explosions around western (yeah you know how I mean it) people.  We had this same problem in Mexico with our American crew hiding the local stray dogs in their honeywagons.  Gross.
  • More German words I think I know.  Well, I have to do recaps everyday so it’ll stick.  Man I wish this were like that one movie where you could just upload stuff into your brain.
  • I’m going to always hold on to the idea of being thankful for the resources I have at home.  The power here cycled on and off all day.  Having constant access to power, let alone internet is a luxury.  Truly it is.  On that note, the sidecar  lesson to that idea (and probably more important) is patience.  At home, I’d be livid if my lights kept behaving like this.  But just rolling with the ups and downs of what you can’t control is really a lesson I’m going to concentrate on mastering here.
  • Skating – So I was all proud of myself, for my new skills…but yesterday I was going back and forth getting my footing right.  Then – one of the instructors thought maybe, just maybe I could go down a small ramp.  BAD IDEA.  All I remember was looking at the fell really hard on my face and side.  It hurts to eat and brush my teeth…. um.  Yeah, I got back up and kept going.  But it is pretty painful.  I think that’s what it means to be an athlete?  I’m not really athletic…  but I am really having fun learning to skate.

Ok, it’s F.R.E.E.Z.I.N.G. in here.  Since this is an athletic organization, that means it’s exercise time in the park.  Uuuuh.  ooookaaayyy… LOL.  Well, I’m for certin 😉 that it will work…  I’m just so sore from falling during my skate classes and, and… you know, all my complaints make me sound like an old lady.  Let me git up off mah butt and join the group… toodles!

….and the story continues.  (I almost missed the van this morning, so you know that means I forgot my camera cord for a second day in a row.   Hopefully my words make up for it a teeny tiny bit…)

So, I’m riding from the airport into Kabul’s busy, frenetic, streets.  I have that BLUR feeling again, so I’ll just transcribe my very first thoughts.

  • DUST! LA’s smog is bad, but this right here is…. Eye & lung burning DUST.  Dust.  dust.  dust….. floating every. where.
  • They’ve got Mexico beat by a longshot on the harrowing driving style. To my Mexican friends:  …. read my typing A. LONG. SHOT.    Cars and dust and cars and dust.
  • Men, men, men, is that a woman?  no MEN, men men.  Oh there are some women!  wow!  men, men men.
  • Oh, okay – I guess in order to cross the street you just pray up to Allah and make a go for it.

Pull up to the house.  DOGS!  We’ve got guard dogs.  Only, they’ve got to be taught that I live here too now.  …. I have a fear of dogs so, they put them away and save that lesson for now.

I enter the house.  And while on paper it sounded like the United Colors of Beneton would be living there – I quickly learn that I was pretty much the only one who didn’t speak German.  Meaning, everyone else in the house was German, Swiss, Austrian or from some other country where it is customary to know German.   Even the Austrailian man seems to be in on the whole German thing.  Whelp, add THAT to the list of things to learn while here.  This is REALLY going to be interesting.
Everyone was super sweet and excited to meet me.   I got a quick tour of the house and her many many quirks.  **ahem** and then it was dinner time.  YES!

So the rule of the guesthouse is: everybody takes a turn cooking one night of the week.  Rumor has it that there are some good cooks and some pretty bad ones in the group…. I wonder which side things they’ll find mine.

Anyways, tonight’s especially special because we’ve got one housemate and another friend of the house leaving leaving Kabul the next day.  Everyone’s merry – someone makes cupcakes, it seems like a party is about to start.  I should mention that the friend of the house is an American dude from the midwest.  Totally the type my friends in LA swoon over.  He digs up old land mines and swears it’s no more unsafe than working in your average American factory.  Hmmm.  Okay, well since I won’t be doing that job anytime soon, I believe him.  It looks like he’s the guest of honor at a couple of spots around town, and we’re all invited to join.

If I were in a John Hughes movie – this would be the moment I turn and do an about face to camera.  See, at this point, I’ve been traveling for somewhere in the 40 hour range with little to no sleep.  Not to mention carting all those fantabulous bags around.   But, the Niki in me can’t watch everybody else making merry and then sit alone in a new house.  Not. gonna.  happen.   I hop in the shower.**  Throw on whatever the first thing my hands touch, and am out the door into a cab with these people.  Yes, that’s right into a cab at night in Kabul, Afghanistan.  I will say that there were more men than women, and many members of the group have lived here over 2 years.  So…. I went for it.

I somehow got up some sort of miracle energy and had a really great time.

There was something absolutely surreal about the last place we went to.  We were in some place that was basically European.  There was an odd mix of individuals I won’t even attempt to try and explain.   Folks in “uniform,”  (for what country, I don’t know because I’m 75% sure they weren’t American)  people I’d assume were reporters,  other forms of war profiteers, a dabbling of locals in the know…. Very, very interesting.

Here’s what I noticed.  And this was just my first dog tired night in town – so I may recant this observation.  But.  I noticed that there is some sort of odd tension between the humanitarian/NGO community and the “profiteer” community.  Yes, there were a good number of Americans.  However, folks didn’t organize by country like that.  It was more:  Are you here to help or profit?  Very interesting indeed.

At some point I realize I can’t take another step.  I must get sleep. Finally.  It was about that time for everyone it seemed.  We hopped in a cab, and in moments we were back at the house.

I did not wake up again until 3p the next day.  Boy did that feel good.

I spent the day chit chatting with a reporter staying in our guesthouse from Nepal. I think we watched movies the rest of the day/night.  It was the perfect way to wind down and kind of gear up for all that was to come the next day.

I was really really sore from the infamous bags I am now swearing never to bring anywhere else ever again.**

** Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Quirks of the house.  Well, it’s like camping in here.  You’ve got to go on the roof and plug in the water pump to get pressure enough to take a shower.  You’ve got to fill the gas furnaces with fuel so they’ll work, but they run out usually 2/3 of the way through the night.  As much as I’m still cursing those bags, and the Germans laugh at me about them, I will say this:  I am so so so very thankful for the things I brought.  Especially, the super thick Thai blanket that makes me forget that its freezing in my room.   I think I’d carry alla that all over again to know I had a warm bed.  Not to mention, the water HEAT has now been out for two days.  And while we can take warm showers in the office, the truth is even washing your hands in freezing water and taking sponge baths leave you cold cold cold in the end.  So, I’m lying in this blanket right now elated at that choice.  Yay me.

Since this trip is about learning, here’s my status so far:
Learning German – they teach me in the car.  But it’s only a word or phrase at time.  I think I’ll have to push them to teach me another way.  They’re going to get tired of me – and one girl even asked why I cared to learn.  Hey, if I’m gonna be surrounded by a bunch of folks who know things I don’t – I’d be a fool not to at least TRY to learn from them.
Learning Skateboarding – take THAT naysayers… I can go straight and kick, push at least twice in ONE LESSON!  Imma get it, just you see.  After six months of training with the real deal dudes, I can’t wait to see how much I learn.
Learning Dari – The kids I think are eager to teach me…. but, they speak English more than the Germans.  So, I don’t know if any real Dari will be passed along.  We’ll see what I get in the end.
Learning Afghanistan – well – I HAVE been asking the people I can what their impressions of the US & the war are.  I think many, many people would be shocked at the answers I get.  Wow.  I don’t feel right posting that here in my blog.  I think in a way, I’ll save that for the personal conversations I have with friends who know me.  This is probably a wise decision.

I’m tired now, and will have to continue tomorrow.  But let’s say, yes, there is lots and lots of learning happening here.  I love that!

PS:  its 4:45a.. ADAN (azan) time!  I’ve heard plenty of adans being called in my day.  The Afghan version isn’t quite as pretty as the ones I’ve heard.  Maybe it’s the echoing across the mountainside?  I also can’t make out the Arabic like I can in others I’ve heard.  This just sounds like moaning.  Oh well.

So here I am in Kabul, Afghanistan.  I wanted to upload all my pictures so far… but I forgot my camera cord at the guesthouse.  I’ll have to add them later.  Sorry.

What a week it has been.  So many many things have happened.  I’ve seen and learned so much so far it’s almost all a blur.  I’ll try to break it down/remember as much as I can before it slips away from my memory.  Sadly, for now the internet is out in the house where we are staying.  Which means I’m writing this before I get into the office so I can upload it once there.  This is worth mentioning because right now it’s 4am on Saturday our time.  Which means I’m WIDE AWAKE seeing as it’s 3:30pm Friday in Los Angeles.  …. I fear for 4p Kabul Time today.  This should be funny. I think.  Or, maybe not.

Here’s a recap since I was last connected to the rest of the world.

TOTAL BLUR.  My flight from Chicago was delayed so I had to have one of those men with the golf carts radio to the flight to wait and whisk me across the terminal so I didn’t miss my flight to Amsterdam.  When I say blur, it literally was a blur.

However, once on the plane the flight to Amsterdam was lovely.  I had the best seat mate ever.  We talked politics, France, America, education, healthcare, cancer, women’s rights…. We both knew when to leave the other alone to sleep/watch a movie.  I think that was my favorite leg.

Got in to Amsterdam.  Sleepy.  Hungry.  7 hours of time to kill.  What a beautiful airport!  Amazing little pods to sleep in, a kid’s zone, plenty of television, restaurants…  If I had to be trapped in the airport of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, unable to experience the city’s charms, I guess this would be the only way to take a stab at making up for it.  Thank you Amsterdam for understanding that. Sadly, the internet WiFi was not free as was promised on my boarding pass.  I did figure out a way to purchase some and hopped on Skype to chat with a friend.  That was nice.


This ends the “nice” portion of my journey.  At this point, I’m a day in traveling, and since I’m unable to really get REM sleep in public/on planes, I’m in a bit of a daze.  I’m excited, so I think so what normally would have wiped me out I think I was able to get over.

On the plane I was seated in the “baby” row. Anyone who knows me understands how torturous the idea of this would be.  iCried on the inside.  WHY ME?  And of course, the woman next to me and her whiny son were the epitome of flustered, overwhelmed, self unaware, and unapologetic.  The mother and father next to her was about as nice as one can be when traveling with a baby.  Unlike the other one, they had toys, food, blankets, and knew to get up and do a couple laps around the plane with their bundle of joy.  The woman next to me even had the audacity to:
1- get up and go for a walk herself while her son screamed in the bassinet.
2 – use my pocket so that I couldn’t put my things in it.
3 – place her items on my tray so I couldn’t put mine away
4 – she was also chubby.  so me chubby + HER more than me chubby + big headed baby = no room.  BOOOOOOOO.  I tried to sleep, couldn’t, so I read.  And tried to mentally slip away.

This lady nagged the flight attendant so much she got a very strong tongue lashing from the Dutch flight attendant.  Sigh.  And of course, I was physically in the middle of this argument.  WHY ME?

We land and it’s show time for me.  I had a 3 hour layover.  However, I also had to make it through customs, get my 4 million bags from baggage claim, go back through to the other side of the airport and check in to the next airline.

I get my bags which were big and heavy, and embarrassing.  Load them alone, struggling for every step as I make it across the whole airport to this little airline.  It was awful.  Cursing the whole way, not one supposedly stronger, wiser and more efficient male offered to lend a hand to hold a door open or something.  I was pushed aside, laughed at, or simply ignored.  I’m not a helpless woman.  I don’t mind doing for me on my own,  but SHEESH.

Anyways, I make it to my airline.  I’m on the only flight they’ve got.  All I see in big red letters is: CANCELLED.  Again, iCry on the inside.  I go through security anyways.  In this airport, you go through the security bag scanner thingamabob with all your bags BEFORE you check in or even make it to the ticket counter.  So exhausted me gets all my bags through the security to the utter disdain of their version of TSA.  Why, I don’t know.  Until I get into the ticketing area.

What looks to be the ENTIRE COUNTRY OF CAMEROON is in this tiny ticketing area.  I don’t know what the story was, but it looked like the whole country and all its belongings they scooped from travels in Europe were there too.  I could not even make it in any direction without bumping into a cart, a box, a booty or an ankle.  I knew enough French to get by but MAN OH MAN.  I get it. I’m supposed to be from Cameroon too.  Great.

At the counter, they explain to me that they’re going to now check me in to this other regional airline that actually leaves 30 mins earlier than my scheduled flight.  Okay – this means now, I’ve got a little over an hour to make the flight.

But wait.  I have to go to this OTHER counter, across the sea of Cameroon, to actually actually check these bags and pay for them.  iCry on the inside.  again.

Now at the excess baggage desk, I learn, amongst other things that they don’t take credit cards.  I must pay in cash.  I’ve got some Euros and some dollars, but not quite enough to pay the whole fee.  Guess what else?  There’s no ATM in the ticketing area or the surrounding gate area.  I’ve got to cross the Cameroon sea AGAIN go OUT OF SECURITY, and come back.  !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I do this.  I grit my teeth and do this.  I should probably skip the whole story of me, lucky to DXB for free WiFi, having to hop online, chat with a friend in Oakland to call my mother in Gary,  to tell the bank to allow me to use my card in the UAE, because of course, it wouldn’t work (because of course, my wonderful EVO phone doesn’t work there either).  Sigh.  I can’t leave out the part where I was scolded by a room of short giggling men about how if I don’t stop playing games on my computer, I’m going to miss my flight.  😦

I somehow, miraculously make it back through security, back to the excess baggage desk with 15 minutes before my flight leaves.  I cut the line, slam my money down and get my boarding pass.

I RUN.  RUN. RUN. with my carry on and computer again back across what felt like the entire airport.  Nobody mentioned that the gate was a good 20 mins away from ticketing.  Just as I get tot he door of the gate, I can see the plan taxing away.

😦  😦  😦

at this point, I am to tired to iCry.  its’ 3am in Dubai.  The ticket office to my original airline doesn’t open until 9a.  oh joy.  At this point, I decide to try to sleep.  Only, there’s really nowhere to do this.  Folks are using the space between the chairs and the railing to lie down, but knowing me, that wasn’t really gonna work.

I get coffee.  I wait.  I Skype home to my friends, graze through Facebook, and try to reach my mother.  Sadly, DXB has arbitrarily blocked access to various sites.  I am able to work around them to find a way to put money on my Skype to call landlines.  However, they’ve blocked the ability to actually TALK.  So, the free chat version will have to do – only, at this point I’ve not yet actually spoken to my mother to let her know I’m alive, I’m safe, and I’m pissed.

I email her, explain the situation, and she eventually responds back.  Yay.   I decide that perhaps, it would be a good idea to throw on hijab.  I wanted to see if I was treated any differently.  I made my transformation.

From this point forward, no Western man knew how to take me.  My American accent didn’t help.  They were either hostile, confused, or had looks of pity.  Western women would smile a lot and say hello.  That was nice.

When 9a eventually rolled around, I learned that 1- They’d have me on the next flight out but 2 – it didn’t matter that I already paid for my bags.  I’d have to REPAY because the money I fought so hard to pay went to that other airline.  Too bad for me.  The nice Australian man, Egyptian man, and “otheridon’tknowwhathewas” man all pitched in and tried to help me fight the woman at the ticket counter over this.  The Australian man even offered to “check” my bag for me.  No dice.  They did however mention that my argument with the woman was an amazing American sight to  behold.  Aside from my loud, “you don’t cross Gary, Indiana,” bossy lady tone, that I made points (such as WHAT KIND OF CUSTOMER SERVICE IS THIS!?!?!)  that were purely American in spirit and carry no weight anywhere else in the world.  Nice try.

LOL. oh well.

On the plane, let’s just say that 85% of the people on there were war profiteers.   They REALLY did not like me, Ms. Hijabi.  Again, my “Hey!  What’s up!?!” offerings did not wipe the look of scorn from their face.  I never once got a hello back.

I didn’t sleep.  I rode with dry eyes.  Landed in Kabul.  Finally.




I was bumrushed by men shorter than me – grabbing me.  I read enough blogs beforehand to know that they all wanted to carry my bags for me.  Nice, but it also means that they want to be well papered in American dollars in the end.  I’d given what I would have used on them to the fine folks at the Sea of Cameroon.  So, instead I turned on the muslimah at this point.  I knew that women weren’t really to associate with men, so I did what was customary hand gestures to let them know they were violating me.  They were a little confused because I didn’t have a maharam.  But, the greater offense, they knew was to violate me.

Um.  It worked!  They backed off!  YAY!

Once the bags rolled around I found a black dude who was prolly military.  I told him look – I know I have on hijab, but I’m really just a regular black girl who needs some help with her bags.  Will you 1 – fend me off from these dudes who want money and 2- just help me get my bags onto this wobbling cart.

The Southern accent I heard in return assured me  YES, no prob.  I got you.

Well, he did “help” but was outta there the moment my bags were on.  No prob.  All I had to do was make it through customs.  Oh wait.  This means unloading and reloading these bags again.

And of course the ONE moment I faltered with my bags, the little men returned.  Sigh.  I would have let them help me willingly and openly if it weren’t for the fact that  I knew it would mean I’d have to pay them.   But, my bags were too much for the rickety floor.  I had to let him help me make it a pretty good distance to where my team was meeting me to pick me up.

Luckily, my team paid him, laughed at me and all my bags, and we were off.

Welcome to Kabul.  FINALLY!!! Whew!  I guess I’ll save the rest of this adventure for tomorrow.  It does not end here.  No, no, it certainly does not.