Archives for posts with tag: dust

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.

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….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.

MSP
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.

AMS
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?

DXB
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.

O

M

G

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.