Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tasting freedom

We're back in the US of A, and so far we're up to 31 hours of traveling. And we're not done yet. We're in Tampa, waiting for the brother and sister-in-law to arrive before we head out for the one hour drive to our final destination. I'm predicting that we'll make it to at least 34 hours before we can finally put down our bags and shower. Seriously, I would kill for a shower right now.

Although we have a hectic itinerary, this vacation is SERIOUSLY needed. Nick and I have been going non-stop since we came back from Turkey 6 weeks ago. Nick more so than me. He's been very involved in the security contractors issue (that's PSCs, for those of you looking to add to your acronym glossary). So even though we're going to be bouncing around the US for three weeks -- Florida to North Carolina to NYC to Albany to Chicago to Tennessee (Nick)/Indiana (me) and DC -- it'll still be a billion times better than working 80 hours a week in Kabul on issues that don't seem to have a good solution.

These next three weeks will be crazy and fun, and filled with family, friends, and good food. We plan to make the most of every minute of freedom. I'd say we're off to a good start.

Our first taste of freedom: Sushi and a smoked salmon sandwich in the Dubai airport

Breakfast of champions in Dulles Airport: a beer and a screwdriver.
Hey, 7am DC time is happy hour time in Kabul!

PS: On Veteran's Day, just a quick thanks to all who serve or who have served our country. I'm proud to know a bunch more of you now.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Set your DVRs

For those of you out there who've ever been frustrated by how little I can tell or show you about what US civilians are doing in's CNN to the rescue. Starting this Sunday (I assume, but CNN didn't specify the date other than "Sunday", "Monday" etc) CNN will be airing a series of stories on the civilian effort in Afghanistan, gathered over a week-long embed with the Embassy this past summer.

Each part should be interesting, but I have to say that I'm most curious as to story that will be told in Part Five: A Day in the Life. I wonder whose "life" will be reflected.

CNN provided the following write ups of each of the five parts:

Part One: The Other Surge – Sunday 12p EST on CNNI/Prism and Monday on Situation Room on CNN-USA between 5-7p EST: Civilian surge: there are more than 1,000 U.S. civilians in Afghanistan, triple the number before the new Afghan strategy is announced. We see how Jeff Stanton, a long-time State Department diplomat, works with the governor of Wardak to help the local government stand up in the province, and Abdullah Sharif, an Afghan-American who has returned to his homeland to work with USAID as an advisor to the mayor of Kandahar. What are the challenges to helping rebuild Afghanistan and getting the government to stand up? What have been the biggest surprises?

Part Two: Sword to Plowshare – Monday 12p EST on CNNI/Prism and Monday on American Morning 6-9a EST: We meet Gary Soiseth, a 25-year old almond farmer who left his family farm in California to help train Afghan farmers in Wardak province and follow the "Dirt Warriors," a group of military reservists putting on a civilian hat to help farmers in the mountains of Kunar bring water to their villages. Afghanistan used to be the bread basket of South Asia and the U.S. is trying to help it regain that role, working with farmers throughout the country and building a farming infrastructure so they can get money to expand their farms, grow better products and get them to market.

Part Three: Women on the Move – Tuesday 12p EST on CNNI/Prism and Tuesday on American Morning 6-9a EST: Women couldn't leave the house under the Taliban and still are subject to repression throughout the country, but are grabbing opportunities to make a living. In Jalalabad, we meet a group of war widows learning house painting, carpentry, electrical and plastering as part of a U.S. cash-for work program and visit a U.S.-funded female journalist training program in Herat , where women are desperate to become journalists despite the objections of their families and intimidation by the Taliban. Another very visual piece involving women hard at work and dirty in the trenches as they refurbish a women's center.

Part Four: Judgment – Wednesday 12p EST on CNNI/Prism and Tuesday on Situation Room 5-7p EST: Jill meets with judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys in Kunar where the country’s first public trials were recently held. The challenge of creating a justice system and establishing rule of law in a dangerous security environment where Taliban intimidation is common. Afghanistan is a very tribal society, and the Afghans have a delicate balance between maintaining local structures - such as shuras, while trying to institute state justice with trials and prosecutions. Jill also joins Kandahar’s mayor for a shura where he discusses problems and seeks solutions from tribal elders.

Part Five: A Day in the Life – Thursday 12p EST on CNNI/Prism and Wednesday on American Morning 6-9a and Situation Room 5-7p EST: Take a look at life inside fortified U.S. embassy complex in Kabul. We followed Ambassador Karl Eikenberry through a day at the Kabul embassy to see what goes on behind the fortified walls, and why he and his staff risk living in a warzone to do this.