Sunday, May 23, 2010

Here

We're here. Safe and sound back in the good old US of A and already stuffing our faces full of yummy foods. Posting will be light over the next two weeks as we criss-cross the country visiting family. We've just about completed Stop 1 -- Chapel Hill, NC for my grandmother's 90th birthday. Step 2 -- Albany, NY to hang with my folks for a few days is next.

And for those of you who are curious as to what we did on our very first day back in the States....



Wednesday, May 19, 2010

They say

They say that 30 is the new 20. I don't know many 20 year olds who have sciatica. That was the diagnosis I received yesterday for my recurring leg pain.

Yep, I'm officially old today. Although if I've been lucky enough to inherit my grandmother's good genes -- she turned 90 yesterday! -- I have many more years to enjoy.

We're on a plane in just about 12 hours, U.S.-bound. And there was much rejoicing.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Runnin'

On May 28, the Embassy is hosting its second Kabul Marathon. I would run the half marathon, but Nick and I will be on home leave so we're missing the whole thing.

A few weeks ago I re-committed myself to doing the best I can to eat healthy and stay in shape while we're in Afghanistan.

A few weeks ago I committed myself to running the distance of a half marathon (13 miles) to mark the milestone of turning 30. Since I'd miss the marathon, I picked the last Friday before my birthday as the target date. And tomorrow's the big day. (Ignore the date on this post. In Kabul it's already Thursday, May 13)

8 loops around the compound. 16 times down and up the horrible tunnel hill. No one cheering me on or handing out beverages or presenting me with a medal when I finish. Just me, my iPod and a couple of strategically placed water bottles.

On your mark, get set.....

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

1 of 3

The next 3 posts will be rather heavy on the pictures, and light on the self-reflection. As our leave date gets closer I find I have less and less brain capacity to dedicate to writing words. Most of my brain seems to be occupied with planning our whirlwind visit (DC-NC-NY-IL-DC), making lists of things we need to buy for our second year (consumables, toiletries, and clothes), and daydreaming of yummy food that tastes like...well, food!

Our theme for this first post is: The Turquoise Mountain Foundation (TMF). (I can't let a post go by without a new acronym!)

A few weeks ago I had a meeting out at TMF's Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture. For those of you unfamiliar with this organization, TMF is a "non-profit, non-governmental organisation that was established in 2006 at the request of HRH The Prince of Wales and HE Hamid Karzai, The President of Afghanistan...Turquoise Mountain's aim is to revive Afghanistan's traditional crafts, and to regenerate Murad Khane, a historic area of Kabul's old city known for its rich cultural heritage." TMF also operates a school -- the Institute for Arts and Architecture -- where students learn traditional crafts and arts skills (jewelry & gemstones, woodwork, calligraphy & painting, and ceramics) from master teachers.

Cool fact: the chair of TMF is Rory Stewart, famed author of The Places in Between.

Full disclosure: TMF receives funding from USAID. Hence, why I was out at the Institute for a meeting.

Here are some of the sights from in and around the Institute.

A typical view from a drive around Kabul.

Another typical Kabul sight: an ad hoc bookstore.


The Institute is located in a restored 19th-century royal fort that in the 1920s was given as a bride price to the family of a wealthy merchant.


TMF rescued this beautiful doorway from the trash heap, and installed is a part of the restoration. The fort is filled with such rescued treasures.


The fort is quite beautiful. The gardens even more so. This is seriously the most greenery I've seen anywhere in Kabul.

This amazingly detailed painting is a work-in-progress from one of the Institute's students. I forget what the artist is demonstrating with her hands. She was so nice, answered all of our questions, spoke wonderful English, and was more than happy to take on commissioned work! Everything is done by hand, with the tiniest brushes and pens I've ever seen.


A display in the jewelry workshop. The pieces shown in the picture are nice, but not much different than what I find at the ISAF bazaar. But then the instructor showed us the "special" display case, with the most fantastic Afghan jewelry I've ever seen. I didn't snap of picture out of respect for the students' designs. But they were seriously amazing. There was a pin that we were all fighting over. Sadly the Institute doesn't sell the students' work. But one can commission a student to create a custom piece. I think I smell a birthday gift for a certain special someone....


The gemstone polishing workshop was very interesting. Here are some students polishing stones.....

....and here are some other students, also polishing stones. The students learn on both the modern and tradition polishing machines, ensuring that traditions are preserved while giving the students the skills they need to succeed in the modern industry.
We also visited the woodcarving shop, but my pictures didn't come out all that well.


In addition to operating the Institute, TMF is also restoring Murad Khane, a historic commercial and residential quarter in the heart of Kabul's old city, renowned for its rich cultural heritage of traditional Afghan architecture and crafts. Turquoise Mountain is working with Murad Khane residents to rebuild and conserve historic buildings, clear rubbish, and build schools and health clinics. Eventually the Institute will move to Murad Khane.

That's about it for the photo tour of my meeting at TMF. Next up: my visits to Jalalabad and Kandahar.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What a difference a year makes

Wow. This blog is one year old today. One year ago, I was a newlywed, still dealing with the letdown from the wedding, lost in the chaos of packing Nick out for Afghanistan, unsure of when I would be joining him in country, and feeling overwhelmed by the sheer uncertainty, magnitude, and jumping-off-a-cliff feeling of it all.

So where am I now? I feel like I have come a long way in some ways -- after all, it's 6930 miles from DC to Kabul -- but in many ways little has changed. I'm in Afghanistan, obviously, so that's one major difference. I'm writing speeches for ambassadors, visiting military bases out in the middle of nowhere (more on that later), riding around in armored SUVs, and living in a place only a small number of Americans ever see. I've also collected a fantastic and diverse group of friends, who have lived in every country imaginable. And I've collected a whole bunch of new stamps in my passport, with more to come (we're looking at cycling the Dalmatian coast in September!)

But I'm still dealing with letdown, a feeling that plagues me every time we come back from leave. I'm still dealing with chaos, but now it's the chaos of trying to push out a massive development initiative, with many moving parts, to empower the Government of Afghanistan to operate at the district level. I'm still unsure, but now it's about where we'll go once our tour in Afghanistan is done in June 2011 (we start the bidding process for our next post in July). I'm still overwhelmed, now by the unbelievable amount of work that remains to be done in Afghanistan. I'm uncertain about the choice we made in coming here, and overwhelmed by the magnitude of what the people of Afghanistan and the US Government are trying to accomplish. That "jumped off a cliff" feeling has never really gone away.

Now that I've probably depressed and scared you all, I'm not really sure how to wrap this up. Nick and I keep taking it day by day, evaluating our choices and trying to figure out the best options for where we'll go after Afghanistan. We know that paying our dues now will open up more possibilities for our future, and that's what we focus on during the really bad days. We love each other, we support each other, we still find ways to have fun together -- even with our limited freedom while on the compound -- and we know that at the very least we'll come out of our tour with some cool stories and interesting experiences.

Thanks to all of you -- family, friends and strangers alike -- who have been following along and keeping tabs on our adventure. I'll keep updating as often as I can...or at least as often as I have something interesting to talk about. And Nick and I will see a whole bunch of you when we're stateside in just 16 more sleeps!

Lastly, as a thank you present to our loyal readers (or maybe just to M&D M and M&D X)...links to photos from our trip to Singapore and Bali, plus a video bonus!

I never delivered on my promise to tell you all about our trip. At this point I'm not sure I'll ever get around to finishing those posts, and I'm starting to get a backlog of photos (Jalalabad and Kandahar, coming soon!). So, enjoy. And thanks for sharing the past year with us!

Wedding photo by Lara Swanson, who rocks!


video