I arrived in Kabul last Friday, to be greeted by three times the security I've previously experienced at the airport. My luggage made it, thereby inciting the first battle. There are at least 5 bag handlers for each passenger likely to request help. I stand back and observe while the tug of war over my luggage unfolds. Forty five chaotic minutes later, I found Raymond, hundreds of yards away, where greeters are corralled. It required two different sets of bag handlers to reach Raymond. I don't have the energy or temperament after 35 hours of traveling to argue. Besides, who wants to start the day as an "ugly American". I then learned that on Sunday there would be an anniversary celebration of the mujahideen's seizing control of Kabul. Armed soldiers were everywhere, including at least 30 at the two checkpoints leading to our hotel. Our hotel is, according to sources, on the hit list. But, it has great showers and Western toilets. You know more about the attempt on President Karzai's life than I. The question I am asked most often is whether I'm afraid? The answer is no. I have a defensive mechanism that includes profiling. I look for bearded men wearing loose fitting clothes, that could conceal guns or explosives. This narrows the field down to 75% of those on the street. I smile at whoever looks my way. Only a crazy man would be that engaging. I have adopted the persona of a village idiot. That worked in the cowboy and Indian movies I saw as a child. Worked then and seems to be working now.
I met with the governor of the Char Asiab district. After explaining in detail the programs we have undertaken, he offered the full support of his office. This includes support from the "Commander", who is in charge of "security". In other words, "the guns". This has eliminated the complaint by some that TIE "doesn't have permission". The "Commander" later called to assure us he would provide security, whenever requested. In the past he has provided security without being requested. The governor toward the end of our meeting proudly announced that he had two wives and fourteen children. I then advised him that we should let him go so he can help his wives prepare dinner for his family. He loved that joke. He then asked if I could help him get a visitors visa to the US. I agreed to help but said I needed a photo of him without his beard. We bonded.
Last Winter we provided four computers and started an after school computer program. It was very popular, as was expected. Today we learned that someone from the Ministry of Education came to the school, and concluded that four computers were too many. The solution was to take two away and use them in the ministry's office. Sixteen students now have two computers to work with instead of four. The governor has agreed to make inquiries. The right to confiscate will be resolved before we provide any more computers. Every day it's three steps forward and one back. It used to be two forward and one back.
The over 5500 pounds of clothes and other donations gathered last year will be distributed on Friday. We have asked that the women and the children be allowed to come to Kabul to select what they need. Several men have already advised "it is difficult for women". The problem is that it is difficult for women in the village to go anywhere, including within the village. We will distribute what we can and go to plan B with whatever remains. What's plan B? Who knows? Stay tuned.
The hunt for 300 sheep starts Saturday. I should observe the price negotiation process behind a tree using a mirror. The price of everything goes up when merchants see me. One of these days I may order a XXX large burqua. All in all most issues are being resolved. The anvil continues to move through the sand. Let's face it, TIE's programs are tailor made for Afghan farmers. We're right at the bottom rung of the ladder raising incomes and providing investment capital they don't have. At the same time we are providing education to Afghans of all ages and genders. Our greatest challenge is prioritizing needs and determining who will receive what we can provide. The needs are infinite and our ability to provide is finite. We work together to resolve allocation and distribution issues. The people to people grass roots process works!
I have been asked by hundreds of Afghans to tell you how much they appreciate what you have done and to let you know that "you are in their prayers". The rewards from being the messenger far outweigh security concerns. That is, at least for now.
p.s. The governor told me that there are no other organizations in the area providing fruit trees to the farmers or providing seeds and fertilizer. Apparently the war on opium does not include providing farmers with alternatives. Does this make any sense? Not to the village idiot.
Send Off Assembly held at Corte Madera
Corte Madera School in Portola Valley held a send off assembly for Budd on April 22, the day before he flew to Afganistan. This is the third year Corte Madera has supported the villagers in Lalander. They are currently conducting a Spring Cleaning Drive for Afghanistan that will be shipped to Afghanistan this summer.
Two girls from Corte Madera school practice the message most often in Afghanistan in lieu of a handshake.
Children never run out of questions.
Thank you Corte Madera for your continuing support.