Scenes from Western Afghanistan

camels-outside-herat

Took this pic on the road to Herat…near the Airport.   It looks hazy because I took it through a bullet proof window.  Thick and dirty glass…so it looks like it’s foggy but, really, it’s a clear day.  And warm for this time of year.  Last year, we had sub-zero weather and 3 feet of snow.  This year.  It’s 50 degrees out.  Can’t complain about that…

Camels are always fascinating for some reason.  Wish I could have snapped a clear shot, though.  Could have been a great shot.  But this one is ok, I suppose.

western-edge-of-the-hindu-kush

Opposite side of the road from the Camels.  Took this shot going out today,  This is the end of the mountains as you hit the plains rolling west through Herat and into Iran.  It’s the same route that Alexander and others used to enter Afghanistan over the millenia.

brown-dog

Big old dog…the Afghans usually cut their ears off and use these bad boys for fighting.  Note those huge paws.  If he was well fed, he’d have to weigh in at 100-125 lbs.  Imagine that coming at you.  This dog was at one of the Police Stations off the main road to/from Herat.  Kind of a guard dog or early warning system.  Hear them barking or growling…look out.  May be the Talibs coming at you.

afghan-squatter

The lovely restroom facilities.  This is a relatively nice one.  ‘Nuff said…lol

drawing-water

This little boy was with his father.  They were contractors building a new room on the roof of the police station.  Water pumps.  In America, this would seem a foreign concept.  But.  This is how much of the world gets their water.  Many do not have this luxury.  It’s a walk to the creek or river or a well.

ac-afghan-style

Old school AC.  I had no idea.  Had to ask.

Herat has a “season” that is called “the 100 days of wind.”  It’s actually closer to 120 days.  The wind blows.  Hard.  Constantly.  For 120 or more days.  HARD!  Did I say hard?  The wind can knock you down it blows so hard.  It’s actually a blessing.  Without the wind, it would be stiflingly hot.

Most of Herat is without electricity.  More of Herat is without air conditioning.  So…they set up a water jug or container of some sort over the brambles in the windows that allows a slow drop into the wood.  The wind blows through the brambles  into the windows and is cooled by the water.   Cools the air in the buildings.  AC!

momma-and-daughter

I’m assuming that this is a Mother and daughter out for an afternoon stroll or heading to market.

minarets
This is the famous Minarets of Herat.  Centuries old.  They are starting to fall because of the traffic on the road that runs between them.  Personally, I can’t believe that they laid a road between them.  If you get up close, you can still see remnants of the oven baked tiles that once covered the Minarets completely.

I was not able to visit these ancient edifices.  Afghan friends used my camera and snapped these photos for me.  I’d love to see these myself.  Walk up and touch them.  It would be quite and experience.

herati-minaret

A falcon or hawk lazily swoops in between the Minarets searching for prey.  There are 5 remaining towers in the Musalla Complex.  The others have fallen.  I think there were originally 7.  The site was built in the 1400s by Queen Gawharshad–wife of one of the Timurid Shahs.  The complex consists of the 5 remaining minarets and several shrines and libraries.

masjid-jami-in-herat

The famous Masjid Jami of Herat.  One of the most beautiful structures I have ever seen.  It rivals the Muhammand Ali Mosque in Cairo for magnificence.   This is the peoples Mosque.  It is the place where the city congregates each Friday.  Building on the Mosque began in 1200 AD.  I’m not certain as to how long it took to complete construction.  It has been badly damaged several times.   Genghis Khan conquered the city on his way through the region and left the mosque severely damaged.

Peace on earth…

This is one of my best photos. The man in green has a sublimely peaceful and welcoming air. The boys seem to see all the world at their feet. The man in white. Probably a Mullah. Concentrating on his verses. One hopes that he is working out the path to peace in his heart and the world.

It is hot in Herat!

Hot as hell. Walking outside is like walking into a blast furnace. In 6 days, I will begin the journey that takes me home to my Momma and then on to Asia.  I am so so looking forward to rolling out of here. 9 Days at home to visit my Momma and some of the rest of my family.

Then…

Off to Bangkok for some real fun. Two days there to relax and become acclimated to Asia.

Next stop is Cambodia. Something about that place that I love. I want to explore a bit more. Go deeper into the place. Go a little off the beaten path. I’ll probably spend about 8 days in Cambodia. Two in Phnom Penh and 6 or so in and around Siem Reap. Must see Angkor again, of course. I want to get away and see Battambang and other places that don’t get the usual tramp of tourism. See what I can out there. Just gotta be careful. Landmines out there in the wilds of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge were as ugly as the Soviets and Taliban when it came to emplacing landmines.

My buddy Becca will join me when I get back to Bangkok and then it’s off to India and on to Egypt. Two of the most exotic locales on the planet. Pyramids and Tah Mahals. Moghuls and Khans and Pharaohs. Perhaps, we should leave early and take a side trip into Jerusalem. I’ve been to Jerusalem before. It’s one of those places where you can feel humanity and the ages speaking to you. History wails through the cracks in the Western Wall. The legend of Christ can be felt there. His pain and his love for humanity. The oppression of both the Roman and Islamic Empire can be felt still floating through the air. The victims still cry for justice. You can smell the blood that has been spilt. Feel the rage of the rebellions and revolutions. Jerusalem is truly a special city. It’s a magnitude of “exceptionality” that one can not comprehend until one has experienced the City of Peace. Likewise, visiting the Pyramids is extraordinary. Thousands of years of history. One follows a multitude of pilgrims to Ghiza, Saqqara and Memphis. Millions of Egyptians look to the Pyramids with pride. Knowing that their country, their culture produced such wonders in antiquity. I’m sure it makes them feel as though they can rise and do so again. With leadership and true philosophy, I’m sure that they could. But Egypt, like the rest of the Muslim world, will do nothing again until they throw off the mind numbing shackles of Islam. Islam where Insha’allah prevails as the philosophy of progress.

India. Who can truly summarize the Golden Continent of Gandhi. All great Empires of the old age coveted this realm of spice and riches and magic exoticism. Beauty and uncommon wealth are ubiquitous on the subcontinent. Yet, dwelling in the house of beauty and affluence is their stepsisters poverty, famine and death. I have read much of India but have yet to experience it. I shall on this journey for the first time. Hopefully, more trips will follow and I will get to know India well.

I still can’t believe how hot it is here today. I don’t want to step outside my door. I don’t remember the Sinai being this hot. I feel like the Sun is a mere inch from my face while outside my door. Scorching my skin. Incinerating my nose and ears. Yet, January saw the worst blizzard Herat had seen in decades. 2 feet of snow. Freezing temperatures.

And I thought Kentucky weather was insane.

I read in the news that Kobe has choked again. Kobe will never be the great player. He will always be the one who could have been. The one who should have been. Too much was given to Bryant. He hasn’t learned that sometimes one has to take the prize. Reach out and make it so. He still thinks that he deserves the prize. No one deserves anything. One achieves or one does not. Kobe does not. His instinct is now and will always be to expect to win. He has not learned that he must keep fighting until the last ounce of sweat has been sacrificed. He still hasn’t learned that he can’t do it alone. He still hasn’t learned that leadership is a full time job. Not a sometimes job. He settles for the question when he should drive to certainty.

Therefore, another Kentucky boy will get a ring.

Go Rondo! Go Celtics!

Bamiyan Buddha Afghan Commemerative Stamps

When I was a kid, I collected stamps. So when I came across this little gem, I had to pick it up. These stamps are from the time before the Soviet invasion. The time of King Zahir Shah. The last King of Afghanistan. They’re a link to a time when Afghanistan was at peace with itself. When it’s peoples were mostly just neighbors to one another. Before bin Laden and Mullah Omar. A time before sucide bombers and taliban and ruined cities and foreign occupations. This was a time when Afghans looked on their Western visitors as merely strange figures on whom they visited warm hospitality. It was a time when visitors were considered guests and were treated as such. ‘The pushtoon code meant something and the mehmet was indeed a welcomed and honoured guest whether they were Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or Jew. Westerners weren’t peace keepers. We weren’t soldiers or policemen or civlian contractors for America or ISAF or NATO soldiers. Westerners were merely visitors with strange behaviors. Strangers who seemed to have an even stranger affinity for opium and hashish. Merchants from the West in search of carpets and tapestries, emeralds and rubies and lapis to sell in their homelands.

Back then, the hippy trail ran through Iran to Herat and on to Kabul. Lone travelers came and left unmolested. The Mustafa Hotel in Kabul gave some respite and a chance to shake off the dust of the road. It still stands and the occasional brave traveler stops there for a night or two until he moves on into Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal and India. I have read that some of the hippy communities still exist in Goa. I’m sure that there are others. Guys who dropped out of the West and traveled to Asia in search of peace or freedom or a final escape.

Afghanistan actually knew peace back in those days. Before the communists came and ruined everything. The King was attempting to make reforms. Give women rights. Construct a constitution. Educate his people and move them into the 20th Century.

What might have been.

So this is a “peace” of that time. A memento as the Afghans like to say. A small reminder that Afghanistan was not always as it finds itself now.

Interesting PDF on the Bamian Buddha Destruction

Jalal al Din Rumi Persian Poet

Jalal al Din Rumi

Ghazal 1506

Poetic Translation
believe me
i wasn't always like this
lacking common sense
or looking insane

like you
i used to be clever
in my days

never like this
totally enraptured
totally gone

like sharp shooters
i used to be
a hunter of hearts

not like today
with my own heart
drowning in its blood

nonstop asking and
searching for answers
that was then

but now
so deeply enchanted
so deeply enthralled

always pushing
to be ahead and above
since i was not yet hunted down
by this
ever-increasing love

Translated by Nader Khalili
Rumi, Fountain of Fire
Cal-Earth, September 1994

Masjid-i Jami — The Great Mosque of Herat

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Herat is the largest city in the Western Region of Afghanistan. The city is as old as mankind. It pre-dates Alexander the Great by centuries and has been invaded and conquered by every power to sweep through Asia. Following Alexander were the Ghaznavids, Ghorids, Timurids, the Mongolian Hordes, the Mughals of India and Central Asia. The British tried to take the city through force of arms. The Czars of Russia attempted to steal it away through both armed force and and intrigue. 100 years afer the Czars failed, the communists of Soviet Union invaded and were eventually thrown back across the Amu Darya by the Afghans with a healthy bit of assistance from American Stinger missiles. Lastly, the Taliban took it in the late 90s. As we all know, the Taliban were forced out after the International Community finally came to it’s senses in the post-9/11 era. Presently it is a hesitant member of the Karzai government. It’s chief is held hostage of a sort of the Kabul government so that Karzai can avail the central government of the border taxes from trade with Iran and Turkmenistan.

The heart and soul of Herat is the Masjid-i Jami. The Friday Mosque also known as the Great Mosque and the Blue Mosque. This is the community mosque. On Friday–the Muslim holy day, many of the cities inhabitants gather at theMosque to pray or socialize or just as an excuse to get out on a sunny day and relax among their fellow Heratis. Mosques usually serve as a community center of sorts. They are a place where a city or village residents gather and hear the news or read the Qu’ran. Of course, there is the muezzin calling sura’s from the Qu’ran 5 times a day as well.

Masjid Jami was built bythe Ghurid rulers in 1200 AD making it about 800 years old. By the end of the Century, Ginghis Khan would roll through Herat. Leaving the city and the mosque in ruins. It would suffer through war and natural disaster but ultimately survive. It has been renovated several times over the centures by various rulers who have left their unique cultural mark. As with all Mosques, it faces Mecca. In this case facing South West.

This is a description of the Mosque from 1977. It remains much the same today:

The great mosque of Herat is one of Afghanistan’s more attractive sights. The form in which it stands today was originally laid out on the site of an earlier 10th century mosque in the year 1200 by the Ghrid Sultan Ghiyasuddin. Only tantalizing fragments of Ghorid decoration remain except for a splendid portal situated to the south of the main entrance. (enter from front situated to the south of the main entrance. (Enter from front garden through small door in mosque wall.) A bold Kufic inscription, including the name of the monarch, stands in high Persian-blue relief above a soft buff background intricately designed with floral motifs in cut brick. The combination of the bright, bold straight-lined script contrasts dramatically with the graceful delicacy of the background. It is an exciting example of the artistic sophistication of the ghorids. This stunning decoration was hidden under Timurid decorative tile until the winter of 1964 when experts working with the Kabul Museum removed the later Timurid decoration dating from the 15th century. The upper section of the Timurid arch, lower that the ghorid arch, has been left for interesting comparisons. Ghorid geometric patterns give way to increasingly exuberant floral patterns in the timurid decoration; coloured tile used sparingly only as an accent by the Ghorid is used to cover every inch of the architectural facade by their successors.
The lavish Timurid decorative restoration covered the entire surface of the mosque but it disappeared as the unstable political climate enveloped Herat during the 400 years following Timurid rule. Photographs taken in the courtyard in the early tears of the 20th century show only piles of rubble against bleak, white-washed walls. In 1943 an ambitious restoration program began and continues to today. It is the creation of three noted Herati artists, Fikhri Seljuki Herawi, Mohammad Sa’id Mashal-i Ghori, and the accomplished calligrapher, Mohammad Ali Herawi. A visit to the mosque workshop (to left of corridor leading from the front garden into the courtyard) is highly recommended.
The huge bronze cauldron in the courtyard dates from the reign of the Kart kings of Herat (1332-1381). It was originally used as a receptacle fro sherbet (a sweet drink) which was served to workshipers on feast days. It is now used for donations for the upkeep of the mosque.”
…” Better preserved fragments of Ghorid decoration may be seen on the arches of the short corridors on either side of the main iwan where the mehrab (prayer niche) is let into the west wall. Here the work was executed in cut brick and molded terracotta. In the south corridor, there is a Kufic inscription with a floral background done in a distinctive angular “brambly” style little seen elsewhere. Above this band there are two large panels of brickwork interspersed with x-form plugs and bordered with an undulating chain of molded terracotta arabesques. Simple in concept, the use of plain unadorned brick for design and texture produces a thoroughly handsome effect which is both aesthetically pleasing and strong. Between these brick panels there is a narrower panel filled with a complicated geometric design formed by a series of buds and interconnecting tendrils.
All that is left of the splendid Timurid restoration undertaken by Sultan Husain Baiqara’s prime minister Mir Ali Sher Nawai in 1498 may be found on the inside of the arcade in the southwest corner of the courtyard. The interiors fo these five arches are decorated with narrow strips of blue tile hexagons and octagons sprinkled with tiny golden flowers. Plain pink-beige tile plaques slightly in relief fill the spaces between. The relief and the tiny flowers produce an illusion of depth and mobility which is extremely effective.”

From Dupree, N. H. An historical guide to Afghanistan. Kabul. 1977. p.250

I have not been inside Masjid-i Jami. The military and my employer deem it too dangerous to roam freely or even armed in downtown Herat. These pictures were taken by my Interpretor who lives in the city. I visit the Provincial Police Headquarters (PHQ) about once every two weeks or so. This mosque is directly across the street. Every time that I’ve gone to the PHQ, Masjid-i Jami is full of folks. Children, elderly folks, students. Women in the burqa or chidari as the Tajiks call it. Burqa is a Pushtoon word. I’ve seen blue and black burqas worn here. In Kabul, I’ve seen pink, green and white worn. I imagine the folks at the mosque are out there contemplating, praying. Trying to find their path in life. Seeking God or the Eternal and Sacred.

In many respects, these people are like the rest of us in the world. They seek a better life for themselves and their children. Islam, in my opinion, turns the advantage against them. Islam, from my experience, has widespread problems with poverty and illiteracy. Education of the masses is not a Muslim priority. Rote memorization in a Madrassah is not literacy. Nor is it education. The more “western” a Muslim country. The more likely that it’s people will be educated. This is especially true of women in Muslim countries. There is a reason so many Muslims and especially Arab Muslims are educated outside of the lands of Islam.

The city market and two rather large schools are close by as well. It’s quite odd for me to see segregated schools as is the fashion in Muslim countries. At the end of the school day, the boys run out loud and excited wearing western style clothing. The girls run out just as animated wearing a black and white uniform consisting of a black tunic and white hijab (girls-school.jpg). I had to wonder why the boys weren’t made to wear a uniform as well.

Driving around Herat on the way to the Regional and Provincial Headquarters, is always fascinating. The shops. The people. The vehicles. The city is almost always a sweltering mass of humanity. The streets are never empty. I’m always left wondering. What do these people do in their lives? Where are they headed? Do they hate our presence, love our presence or merely see us as a necessary evil to gain security. Sometimes, I feel like we are wasting our time here. Sometimes, I see hope.

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p1013039.jpg Note the 18th Century Cannon on display outside the Mosque.

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Renovation and repair. Tiles being repaired.

p1013054.jpg The inner courtyard area of the Mosque.

p1013079.jpg Ablutions or wudy.gif — A Muslim must wash his face, neck, hands and feet prior to praying or entering a Mosque. The act is a ritual form of purification. Appearing cleansed before God. If no water is available Muslims will use sand or simulate the act as if water were present. The act is carried out as follows:

 

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1. Declare the intention that the act is for the purpose of worship and purity, start by saying Bismillah

2. Wash the hands up to the wrists, three times.

3. Rinse out the mouth with water, three times, preferably with a brush whenever it is possible.

4. Cleanse the nostrils of the nose by sniffing water into them, three times.

5. Wash the whole face three times with both hands, if possible, from the top of the forehead to the bottom of the chin and from ear to ear.

6. Wash the right arm three times up to the far end of the elbow, and then do the same with the left arm.

7. Wipe the whole head or any part of it with a wet hand, once.

8. Wipe the inner sides of the ears with the forefingers and their outer sides with the thumbs. This should be done with wet fingers.

9 Wash the two feet up to the ankles, three times, beginning with the right foot.

p1012898.jpg view-from-phq-roof.jpg view-with-hummers.jpg

View of Masjid-i Jami from the rooftop of PHQ. I had to climb a rickety, wooden, home made ladder to get to the roof. It was shaky but I made it up and back down. All 210 pounds of me plus body armor. I thought the thing was going to snap on me. It was worth the climb for the view of the city.

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Afghanistan Scenes

These are four of my favorite scenes from Afghanistan.

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I, actually, abhor the Burqa. Even so, this is a compelling and somewhat haunting photo. I’d love to have been the person who originally took this photo. What is the story of this womans life. What are her dreams. What came of her after this photo was taken. Is she still alive. Did she make it out of Afghanistan. Did she live through the Soviets, the Taliban, the Warlords and to the invasion of the Americans after the World Trade Center travesty. I’ve taken hundreds of photos of women hidden behind the ubiquitous blue burqa of Afghanistan. I find it abhorrent that these women are forced to wear this horrid mass of natty cloth. Afghan men believe that it is a stain on their honor for other men to see the face of their wife. And it is a mortal crime for a woman to be seen looking at another man. In this quirky, Islamic land, women are far from free. Women who talk to foreign men are accused of prostitution, whoredom and anything else that an Afghani man can conjure in his weak mind. It’s really quite disgusting.

There are some free thinking persons here. I’ve met some awesome young people here who want to change their country but who are fearful and feel powerless to bring about real change. It is difficult to find fault in their fear. Afghanistan is a dangerous and violent land. Vengeance is a reality of life here. Insurgents. Bandits. Taliban. Opium gangs and druglords abound. Mullahs are the real force of governance in the districts. Each District has a Governor appointed in Kabul who may or may not be more powerful than the local Talib “shadow” Governor or Mullah. Afghanistan is a land out of time. I sometimes feel as though I am in a tale out of the Pirates of the Caribbean genre.

afghani-horseman.jpg

This post card is a group of Afghani tribesmen playing Bozkashi–the traditional game of Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s National past time. The taliban outlawed this game during their reign of terror. This exhausting game is played from horseback. The first horse rider to pick up the dead goat and carry it to the goal line and pitch it across wins. The game has been known to last for more than a week at a time. The champions of this game are famous throughout Afghanistan in much the same manner as Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are in the US. It’s a gruesome game that takes much endurance and strength to play. Contestants are regularly killed in the midst of competition.

herats-grand-mosque.jpg

The picture above is the main entrance to the Grand Mosque or Friday Mosque (Masjid-i Jami) in Herat. This magnificent and ancient structure was built in 1200 AD. It has stood witness to the wrath of Jinghis Khan as well as the regions other great conqueror–Timur the Lame. It stood in silent witness to the savagery of the Taliban. It stands today as an inspirational testament to the longevity of a city that has survived since the time of Alexander the Great. I’ve been to the great Mosque once. Though I was not able to enter or get close enough for a long enough time to snap my own photo. Hopefully, I will get my chance before I take my permanent leave of Herat. It truly is a beautiful Mosque.

minaret-of-jam.jpg

Above is the Minaret of Jam. This structure is of uncertain origin. Though, it is thought to be of Ghorid origin. On it’s outer wall is inscribed the Qur’anic Surat which relates the Islamic version of the story of Mary mother of Jesus. Jesus is recognized as a prophet by Islam. Although, Muhammad is THE prophet. The last prophet of Allah. The minaret is 65 meters tall and sits between the Hari Rud and Jam rivers. It was built sometime between 1174 and 1195 AD.

These are four of my favorite pictures from Afghanistan. I have thousands of photos that I’ve taken of Afghanistan and it’s various vistas and Afghani life and culture and hundreds more that I have been given by friends and acquaintances over the years. I’ll post the some of the best of those as well. I hope you enjoy these.

General Al Hajj Akrummudin and the Herat Regional Police Headquarters

I wrote this about two months ago. This is the pic that I took with MG Ak. I printed a copy for him and one extra so he could personalize it for me. Pretty cool.

MG Akrummuddin and me

Went down to the RCC for another meeting to drum up more business for our classes (and drink more chai) and to get them to buy into my plan to make the Province HQ the model for the Region. I convinced them or at least they let me think that they were convinced. lol We drank a lot of chai. For some reason their chai always produces a headache. It could be the dirt and assorted parasites that you ingest when drinking the Afghan Chai. Who knows. lol But it’s considered rude to turn down food and drink when offered so you suck it up and drive on. Later you drink some Kaopectate or Imodium AD and hope for the best. We stayed for lunch and ate Nan (bread) and potato soup. It was a decent lunch. (And I’ve been lucky so far…no parasites and no dysentery.)

G3 Officer, me and COL Zabiullah

The two Colonels in the pic are the temporary Regional Logistics Technical Officer (right) and the Regional G3 (left). We had to go in and talk to them about laying on classes for the next few months and getting student names and such. When I walked into their office, I sat my bag on the floor and then just kind of dropped my hat and let it lay at my feet. The G3 Colonel looked at it but I paid scant attention to this minor detail. A hat is a hat and I’m not one to make a fuss over this uniform. I don’t really care to wear it so I don’t really care how it looks or if my hat gets a little dusty. I guess the Afghans aren’t used to Americans with this attitude. We start our meeting and I try to let Ron get things going but lose patience and keep jumping into the conversation–as usual. I’m not very patient and like to get to the point. The meat of the situation. Patience has never been my strong suit. But directness has and it usually serves me well. We get our message across. We chit chat a bit with the Colonels and smile and at the end of the meeting, I let off a big HOOAH! which always seems to bring a laugh from the Afghans. After that, it’s time for the Kodak moment. I always take a pic with the folks that I meet. It seems to help create a bond. Afghans love pictures. After the pics, the Colonels asks Farhad if I am indeed American. They seem to think that I am a bit different than most Americans. Farhad tells them; “No, he is American.” But they insist that I am different because I carry myself differently or some such thing. I am “not too polite but not too corrupt.” (Farhad doesn’t tell me this until later.) I just smile. Shake hands with them. Say my “Khoda Hafez'” to them.

Farhad and I take our leave and walk down the hall to see if we can get in to talk with MG Akrummuddin.

Afghans love to take pictures and they love it even more if you print the pics off and take them a set as a “gift.” I took several pics with MG Akrummuddin and his PSD last time I visited the Regional Command Center. In preparation for our return visit, I printed off pics of MG Akrummuddin and his security detail to hand out. Helps to smooth the way when trying to get these guys to buy into your program. Or such is my experience.

To get in to visit with Akrummuddin, one must first request an audience with his Security Supervisor. This guy is like a glorified secretary with guns. Lots of guns. You walk into his office and ask for an audience with the General. If he’s available, you wait a few minutes more and the adjoining door is opened for you to step through and into the Generals office. Usually, he has two or three other guests and you have to wait your turn. So he greets you by coming around from his desk, shaking your hand and pointing you to a seat. While you are waiting to push your point or sell your idea or product or whatever the purpose of your visit, the General’s aide brings you chai and various nuts in a tray–pistachios and a few other types. (I should have taken a pic of this tray).

On this day, a couple of Afghani contractors were trying to obtain fuel for some sort of operation that sends them far up into the Band-e Bayan range of the Hindu Kush Mountains to Chagcharan. They argued back and forth. Apparently the contractors wanted 180 gallons of fuel but GEN Akrummuddin was only willing to give them 150 gallons. So they kept pushing a piece of paper back and forth across his desk. I assume this paper was the fuel grant. The contractors wanted a larger grant. MG Ak would not relent and up the fuel amount for them. They left rather disappointed.
Initially, my intent was simply to give MG Akrummuddin his picture and be off. I figured that it really wouldn’t be that big a deal. He would say thanks and throw the picture in a drawer and forget about it. No big deal. But when I handed him the picture, he looks at it and asks what happened to his legs. “Why did you cut off my legs?” I replied that I didn’t cut off his legs. That’s how the picture was taken. Then I laughed and told him that it was Farhad’s fault. That made Farhad nervous. Akrummuddin says [to me]; “Why did you do this? You are not Afghan. Afghans take crazy pictures like this.” Then he tells Farhad that as a penalty for cutting off his legs we must wait so that we can take the picture again. And this time, if we cut off his legs, he will cut off Farhads [or mine] for real. I laugh. I don’t know if he is serious or not.

MG Ak seats us next to his desk. We wait around 15 or 20 minutes for him to finish his business with the contractors and an Italian Caribinieri Police Mentor.

After they depart, MG Ak leads me over to the curtain where we take the picture and Ron and I take turns posing with the General. I ask if it’s ok if I put my arm around the Generals shoulder like we are good buddies. Farhad translates and MG Ak tells me it’s cool. I accidentally put my hand on his shoulder board covering his rank and he tells me that we can not cover up the rank. It’s important to see this. We cut up and carry on like old buddies. It was pretty comical. We’re in his office laughing loudly and talking about anything and mostly nothing. We didn’t really discuss any business. He asks us to take a picture of him sitting at his desk. Then he tells us to stand next to him and take a picture with him at his desk. On a whim, I ask if I can sit at his desk and take a picture. He laughs and tells me to have a seat.

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It goes on like this for a good 30 minutes or so it seems. At the end, MG Ak tells us through Farhad that if we need anything to come to him and that his office is always open to us.

Once we are outside the Generals office, Farhad looks a little faint. He tells me; “Dave! No one does this.” He is laughing and looking at me like I’m crazy. “Dave, no one does this. But like that Colonel said. ‘You look different and act different.’ You are one of them–not too polite and not too corrupt.” I just laugh and tell Farhad that it’s because I am crazy. It’s just another day for me.

This is my life and I enjoy days like these.