Helicopter Day

In the afternoon, specifically during this time of year, the wind kicks up in the Kabul valley, and by the evening, there can be gusts of up to 65 kph. Some of you may be thinking, wait, 65 kph – isn’t that like 5 miles per hour? No. Those of you who were thinking that are not correct at all. 65 kph is closer to 42 miles per hour, and that’s some strong wind.

But in the morning, the winds are calm and it’s perfect weather most days. I’ve often felt bad for the helicopter pilots as they go over our camp in the afternoon. “You should have flown your helicopter in the morning!” I shout, moving my hands and arms in a huge, overstated gesture that would be seen from the sky as a sympathetic shrug.

I imagine the pilots saying through clenched teeth, “This wind really blows!” And that makes me laugh because of the hidden but funny double meaning.

This morning, about 40 helicopters flew over the camp, some flying so low that the building shook with the noise. I had turned to my coworkers and loudly asked, “What is it? Helicopter Day? Is there a national holiday in Afghanistan called Helicopter Day?”

My coworkers thought that was funny, but basically imagined that there was a large group of VIP’s visiting the local army and police camps that needed helicopter transport.

But I felt as if I correctly diagnosed the flights as helicopter flying just for the fun of it.
You could tell: the rotors were whipping around with an excited whistle and the waist mounted machine guns seemed to glisten as if filled with more than just bullets, but with a sense of overwhelming glee.

It was as if the helicopter pilots had gotten up on June 9th, looked out the window and then looked at each other with excitement in their eyes. The informal leader of the squadron, Abdul Rahim Mashashoodi, but known by his call sign Abdul Rahim Mashashoodi Pilot Leader, shouted out the words they were all thinking:

“Hey guys! We’ve got all these helicopters out there! Let’s just go and fly the crap out of

Of course, I’m paraphrasing.

Then in a fit of joy, they ran out of the door of the barracks, splitting off left and right with choreographed coordination even Martha Graham would have had to applaud. Leaping to the dilapidated yet shining cockpits, throwing eachother jaunty thumbs-up gestures, the fleet slowly rose from the ground. Over the radio you could clearly hear Abdul Rahim Mashashoodi Pilot Leader say, “There is a feeling I am feeling that I have an urgent – an urgent for high speeding!”

Sadly, several of the ill-maintained vehicles crashed into the mountain almost directly after takeoff, but since the average crash rate was at least 4 or 5 times that, the rest of the pilots felt that indeed, it was a good day. June 9th would forever be known as Helicopter Day.

This was the story I told my Afghan co-workers this morning even as helicopters thudded overhead. And surprisingly, they were very entertained. I asked them what we should do to commemorate Helicopter Day and we agreed that children should be given piggyback rides where the adult spins in a helicopter-like motion until the child and adult alike are physically ill.

Paper helicopters like this one are acceptable on Helicopter Day but for crap's sake, that's a lot of work for something that obviously won't fly. Do yourself a favor, make a paper airplane. Don't try to impress anybody with this nonsense.

But the key part of the celebration would be to write special messages on blank sheets of paper, then fold the papers into airplanes that you would throw to the gale force winds, hoping the messages reach their intended recipients. Airplanes thrown specifically to poke someone’s eye out would be the Taliban’s special way of spreading terror on this holiday.

So happy Helicopter Day everyone. Get out there, make a paper airplane, and show someone you care -

about helicopters.

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Mail run

The next time I go to the post office at home, I’m going to feel very bored. Yesterday, I went along on the mail run to Camp Eggers, one of the main army bases in Kabul. Alberto – the mail clerk, makes a mail run almost every day to pick up packages and letters for Camp Gibson, and when someone like me has a package they want to mail out, we have to go along on the mail run – Alberto isn’t allowed to mail packages for us.

I was sending a 30lb box home, filled with all the clothes I hadn’t yet worn – if I hadn’t worn it yet, I was determined to send it home. But there were articles of clothing in there that were just comical. I consider myself to dress reasonably well, if not plainly, when in the US, but over here the theme is khaki. And khaki shirts over khaki pants is not uncommon over here. Not exactly haute couture in the streets and military bases of Kabul.

In any case, what the hell was I thinking when I packed not one, not two, but FOUR thin v-neck sweaters? I’m not ashamed to admit it here because I already know I’m an idiot, but I mean really? Four? A few dress shirts that were appropriate but just not getting worn got thrown in the box as well. I even folded up my second duffel bag and put it in there – so I’m down to one rolling duffel, a messenger bag, and my mandolin.

So I’ve got this box and I’m ready to mail it so we took off from Gibson at about 1 p.m. and immediately, I saw that we were taking a new route – turning right on the main road where I had only experienced the left. And much like taking a closer look at the Republican party – the sights were incredible, shocking and slightly disturbing. I joke, it was just amazing to see some new sights.

First off, school had just been let out, so there were children everywhere. Dressed in their school uniforms, which was black pants and dark blue shirts for the boys and black dresses with white head coverings for the girls, they were walking, riding bikes and literally swarming over the road. It was actually pretty cool to see the kids of the city, but I doubted if they ever saw us, and it just about gave me 10 heart attacks. In Kabul, people apparently aren’t taught as children to, “Look both ways before you cross the street.” Instead the message must be something like, “Dash out in front of the 4-ton armored vehicle traveling at operational speeds – Allah will protect you,” or something like that because from young to old, people step out into traffic without looking. There were several hard braking actions as we swerved to miss the cast of the Afghan “Saved by the Bell” ambling out into the middle of the road.

Our drivers were solid South African guys, and while I couldn’t understand the local language they spoke to each other, there were several words that were same, including “fuck” and it’s many variations which they used with regular frequency and intensity to curse the school children, pedestrians, bicyclists, vendors, van drivers, cows, and police. I was very entertained.

We drove onto Eggers and quickly found a parking spot and hit the Post Office. I had stashed my DynCorp ID badge in one of my breast pockets along with my money and copies of my passport and letter of authorization, so I was ready to get ID’d by anyone, but in the post office, no one seemed to care who I was. The guys were polite, don’t get me wrong, so I started a conversation while they weighed out my box and charged me for the postage. I had noticed an Arkansas banner on the wall behind the calendar and asked who the Razorback was. The guy said that it was him and I told him that I’d lived in Texarkana. Well that was all he needed to launch into a diatribe about the recently drafted quarterback from Arkansas, who apparently grew up in the Texarkana area.

“I’ve just not heard a lot of good things about him. Have you?” He asked.

“I haven’t!” I answered, not knowing what in the hell this guy was talking about, but using my response as a truthful answer. While I’d not heard any good things, I had also not heard ANY things.

“Did you know him or his family, growing up there in Texarkana?”

“Nope,” I said, again answering very truthfully, but I didn’t want to stop him as I should have and just say look, I’d love to continue talking to you about this, but I just can’t. I felt that if I did this, he would take my package and throw it into the “Might Get Delivered – Might Not” pile. I really wanted to chat him up so that he’d put the box into the “Deliver Safely and On Time” pile.

Anyway, there was a lot of agreeing, nodding my head and talking about how Tom Brady is going to mold this kid into something a little less cocky and a little less likely to throw season-ending interceptions. Sorry Arkansas fans – too soon? But in the end, I think the guy was on board with the plan of getting my v-neck sweaters home in one piece, so I relaxed a little bit.

My instructions after finishing my mail business were to wait outside the post office for Alberto and then we’d go visit the BX. I stood outside, waiting for about 10 minutes. It was then that I discovered the Army’s intense focus on security. A uniformed sergeant stopped in front of me (I was just standing there) and looked me up and down and asked to see my security badge. Put on the spot, I fumbled a little bit with the button on my pocket, then sorted my badge from my meal card and showed it to him. He pointed out that I should be displaying the badge at all times. He asked if I knew what would happen if I didn’t display the badge at all times. He turned to face me fully and launched into a speech that must have been delivered to many foreign nationals, new recruits, and his emotionally abused wife, indicating that if I didn’t display the badge, then the terrorists were going to win  – that they had already won.

I was just about to point out to him that as far as security risks go, I may have been the least of the least. My lily-white complexion, gained and cultivated from many many hours of sitting in front of a computer screen, should have been a clear indicator that a PICTURE of a terrorist was more dangerous than I could ever be in person. But somehow I was able bite my tongue out of respect for the work he was doing here in downtown Kabul and just indicated that I understood him. Nonetheless, at the BX, I did purchase a simple display case for my ID that I dutifully draped around my neck. I went looking for the guy to try and win his approval for my quick and decisive action, but he had already been sent home for brutalizing several small animals.

There were soldiers from all over the world at the base. The most notable were the Germans, who were driving wicked armored Mercedes SUV’s and wearing enough tactical gear to roughly double their size. My driver pointed out that they seemed to always have the best and most highly advanced gear, but yet seemed to get shot an inordinate amount of times. I suggested that it might be because with 50 lbs of tac gear, they looked like large round camouflaged bubbles of death, waddling to their fancy cars. My driver mentioned that in South Africa there is a saying that goes, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” I mentioned that South Africa probably can’t take credit for that one, but that I agreed.

There were Canadians, quite a few Brits, some Italians, who were readily identifiable by their thick mustaches, and even a few French soldiers. I greeted the French guys and they immediately surrendered. (By the way, if you didn’t already know, I’m a racist, but only in regard to Europeans.)

In all seriousness, probably the coolest, most interesting thing I saw there on the base was a guy, a local national, standing on the side of one of the avenues. He was standing next to his boots, right next to a high traffic area and spot where some maintenance was going on with welding and grinders, but yet he had placed his prayer rug and was starting his religious observances right there. It was pretty powerful to see a person exhibit this sort of dedication, no matter what they believe.

The drive back to Gibson was uneventful and I considered it a successful trip. I had seen some things I had never seen before. I got pictures of most of that, which I’ll post later. I saw a cemetery, some guys pumping water from the Kabul water system of wells, and some construction screening cleverly crafted from queen flat sheets sets featuring SpongeBob Squarepants.

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Ghafour – still gone

I really miss this guy. I wanted to get this portrait of him up because this is the way that he looks on a minute-to-minute basis – always smiling and laughing.

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And now for something completely different-er

Following up on my critically acclaimed blog post “And Now For Something Completely Different” I wanted to post a bunch of pictures of my new/old camera.

It’s a Hasselblad C/M, Medium Format camera with a 120 film back and 80mm 2.8 C class lens. The lens was made in 1960 and the body and back were made in 1975, so this thing is the same age as I am. I like the juxtaposition of this beautiful piece of mechanical engineering sitting next to three terebyte hard drives with an iPad syncing in the background.

The guy I bought it from sent along about 15 rolls of film, but they are dated from 2005 and 2004, and I’m sure have not been kept cool as they should be. But that was kind of nice as I was able to practice getting film in the camera and taking shots with it in there.

I know that many of my photographer friends have experience with film, but it’s been over 8 years for me since I shot a roll. I’m terrified when I’m shooting this camera! I spend forever composing and focussing and verifying all the things needed to make sure I’m going to get a good exposure. But it’s more of an excitement – like the nervousness I get before I go on stage in a play – and for those of you who know me, you know that I love that feeling and I feed off of it.

So I shot a couple rolls of color negative film that the guy sent with the camera, using my Nikon D7000 as a meter. But a few days after the camera – I got a little Sekonic meter in the mail along with some fresh rolls of Fuji Velvia 50 slide film. For those of you shooting digital, you may know all about ISO settings, but those who don’t may have seen it at least on the camera, telling you that you are shooting at 100 or 400 or 800 depending on the light available. This slide film is rated at 50 – a rating that no digital camera under $10k can touch. I have high hopes for the slides I’ll get from these rolls of film.

But I’m discouraged by my first roll of Velvia that I shot at the Bazaar that was on camp this last Sunday. I took a lot of the same pictures that I took a month or so ago, but this time with the film camera. It was super fun, and the local merchants were crowding around to look at the camera, wanting to know how old it was and wanting their picture taken. My exposure values were between 11 and 13 in the shady area where the bazaar is held. I used incident and reflective meter readings as I shot portraits and pictures of the goods that were being sold. Carpets and other highly saturated items should really look great on this film. But that is assuming I didn’t ruin it at the end of the roll.

As I finished my first roll (this camera shoots 12 shots on each roll of film,) I knew I was done shooting, but I wanted to have the experience of changing the film in the field, so I sat down, and with a small audience of Afghanis, opened the back and started the change process. All went very well until I pulled the spent roll from its holder. There was tension in the roll that is kept by a spring plate, but when I removed it from the spring plate, the roll unraveled – not completely like a scene from a movie where the back of the camera springs open and the film flies out, but more like a roll of paper that stays rolled tight, but when released, expands a little bit.

Knowing the sensitivity of this film, I’m worried that I will lose several frames, but it’s a lesson learned, and not too expenseive – each roll is about 4 bucks.

All in all, and my film-shooting friends can excuse me, this thing is a joy to shoot and the excercise is doing exactly what I was hoping – making me a lot more aware of the processes my digital SLR does automatically – driving me to becoming a better shooter with a better understanding of how the complete process works.

Next is the Epson V750 to scan these slides. Then comes the Leica M3 followed closely by a Toyo CF! Oh, and by the way, in about 9 months when this gets old, all of this will be for sale . . .

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The Three Abduls

It has been a crazy week in Camp Gibson, and what drives me crazier is that I can’t really talk about what’s going on over here. You military guys know what it’s like to have to keep things from your families and friends, but I’m not used to it. It makes me want to stop communicating all together because I feel like there’s a big block of no-no that I can’t write my way around.

But there have been good things going on as well.

I think I’ve mentioned before that the locals usually go by several different names because of the multitude of Abduls, Mohammads and Rahims that are out there. Rhohani Esthamattulah was working in our office and he was let go this last week. You may remember that he was the one who told me the story of Adamhani the Teeth. I was sad to see him go, but not surprised. While he thought that viewing pornography on his company computer was okay, it turns out that it isn’t. It’s not okay.

But I started to suspect that the real reason Rhohani was fired, was not because of streaming explicit videos. We were scheduled to bring in another new employee the day after Rhohani was let go. As the new guy walked into the office and was introduced as Abdul Wached, he was greeted by Abdul in the Travel Department, then by Abdul Khaliq in the finance area. They all spoke in Dari and gave traditional greetings, but there seemed to be a familiarity – a bond that was easy to see between these three Abduls. And while they go by different names on a daily basis, I slowly came to realize that Rhohani’s downfall wasn’t his randy nature – it was his name. I’ve asked around and it turns out that the Abduls are the equivalent of the Sopranos or the Corliones or those guys that hang out at the Masonic Temple.

So I’m a little proud to say that I’ve changed my name, adding “Abdul Awesome-asad” to my middle name. I think this is going to help me to fit in over here, especially when my milky white complexion, fanny pack and camera around my neck might call too much attention.

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DISCLAIMER: I have new blog categories to help my readers determine what they want to read and what they’d like to skip. Here are the categories:

  • Entertaining, More or Less
  • Mostly Pictures
  • Encyclopedic, yet Mildly Entertaining
  • Super Serious

Today’s entry is in the last category and is pure introspection, so you may not want to read any further. There’s nothing in here about Afghanistan or my experiences over here

So here we go:

Today is a momentous day and I hope you will celebrate it with me.

I have had times in my life, and I know that I’m not alone here, when I’ve run into a brick wall. My life seemed to be going great, and while I may have been nursing some bad habits or being a little short-sighted, no one was getting hurt, so everything was good.

But then the moment came where something happened and the goodness of the world seemed to shatter like some imaginary world I’d built out of pretty-colored glass (not in a girly sort of way – there was camo glass in there as well.) What was the crisis? I don’t know, pick one. My job ended. A dirty secret I’d been keeping got out and destroyed my reputation. My job ended again. I was suddenly made aware of my extremely hurtful behavior toward others.

Whatever it was, that point in time suddenly became very real and very important.

What happens when you reach this point?

Well, relationships end – that’s a given. People get hurt and people get gone. When that happens, I’ve either worked as hard as possible to keep those people from going, or sent them off with a kick in the ass. And for a time, if I’m trying to keep someone in my life that is determined to leave, the motivation to change is wicked strong, isn’t it? But two weeks later, a month later, that impulse might not be as strong, and the leaving begins again.

What else happens? Decisions get real black or real white, and that’s not a racist commentary. Change or die. Turn around or live alone for the rest of your life. Make a change or resign yourself to working fast food – really nasty fast food.

These times of intense focus are exhausting. Things happen during these times that make me doubt my own worth to the world and to God. Like me, many have experienced the end of a marriage and the years of emotional and financial torture that follow. Friendships dissolve and evaporate like water poured out in the desert, or simply disappear without any metaphorical reference at all.


So happy Wednesday to everyone! Brought the sun right out, I’m sure. But here’s the kicker for me, the reason I’ve been thinking about this stuff today, and for me, it’s a message of hope.

Many things in life happen TO us. We don’t have control over the drunk driver, the crappy boss, the economy. The tough times of life come to visit without our invitation, and there’s no option to send them packing like some sort of Jehovah’s Witnesses of fortune. They push past us at the front door of our life and it’s a long painful process to get them out (hopefully by ultimately being thrown through that plate glass window in the den.)

But many other things in life happen BECAUSE of us. Poor decisions, bad habits, bad behaviors, and poor thinking patterns can only go one for so long before the other shoe drops and I have to make some tough but important changes. Good decisions about money, time, friendships and work are easy for some, but for me they’ve never been a cake walk, and sooner or later, some decision, some bad behavior, some ridiculous impulse followed is the last straw for the universe and misfortunes start to heap into my lap. It seems to sneak up on me every time, but after pitching over the edge, my friends will tell me they saw it coming – tried to warn me off – but none of it stuck.

So June 1, 2011. 6/1. It’s a day that I’ve felt more than ever the desire to do a reset, check my six as they say over here, and try to see the things that might be sneaking up on me before they happen – get off my emotional ass-can and do some work now that will help me evade the brick wall that could loom in the future.

The questions that have been going through my head that are driving me are:

  • Which of my relationships are suffering and what am I doing that is causing problems?
  • If I was completely in the wrong, and a loved one was going to leave if I couldn’t change, what would I be willing to do to keep them in my life? How can I work that desperate willingness into my daily life and capture that motivation? How can I make them feel, today, that I am 100% committed to them?


Nothing is going wrong and I’m not looking for trouble. This sort of introspection is a pin prick compared to the piercing emotional pain and exhaustion that comes when the crisis creeps out of the blind spot I refuse to peer into.

So it’s “check your six day” on 6/1/11.


P.S.: If you’ve read this and are convinced that I am the cause of your emotional or physical distress, let’s talk about it, but please don’t comment on this post – let’s talk in person.

P.S.S.: If you’re convinced that I’m the cause of your emotional or physical distress simply because you can’t stand the way that I write or express myself, you and I have something in common. Let’s be friends.

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Ten to Go

Okay, so May is over. I enjoyed you May, I really did, but I can’t say that I’m sorry to see you go. June, same goes for you. No hard feelings to either of you, just take comfort in knowing that I’ll be giving July and August the same treatment. September and October I’m not even recognizing. I’m going to mark time with the shamsi calendar for most of the fall, so even November is going to get the short end of the stick. And December through March are pretty much going to sail by, so who cares what happens in those months?

This is not to say that I won’t be back around next year, hoping that the same months will go just a little bit slower, and that May in Boise will be much warmer. I must say that it has been easier to bear the lack of camping when I hear that it’s so wet and soggy in Idaho. I fully expect the clouds to lift for the last half of July, when I’m in town, but until then – I’m sorry but I wouldn’t mind if it rained the whole summer in the US. Is that wrong?

That’s right – I have a leave that will be starting in 38 days. I’ll be home for about two weeks and Layne and I will be, come hell or high water, in the mountains near Stanley, camping near Soldier Lakes. We’ll most likely leave on a Wednesday and come back on the following Sunday. So if you are reading this and ask yourself, “I wonder if I could go?” well you just asked a question with an obvious answer. Of course you can go. We have all kinds of extra camping and hiking stuff, so send me a note and I’ll send you one back. In this note I send back, I’ll tell you about the details of the hiking adventure. And if you are reading this and think to yourself, “I don’t think I could hike for days in the mountains! I’m from San Francisco!” then you just thought something that is completely untrue. You may be from San Francisco – that part is true – but you can definitely hike 4 miles and then spend a few days fishing and walking around! (This qualification also applies to any of you thinking you can’t go because you live and/or work in: Missoula, San Diego, Birnumwood, Georgia, British Columbia, or Eagle.)

After the hiking adventure – Layne will have to go to work, so I may be out for a day to go and climb Borah Peak. Anyone interested in going should send me a note. And if you don’t know what kind of treatment you will get if you send me a note, please read the previous paragraph; the gist is that I will send you a note in response.

So what can you accomplish in two months in a new job in southeast Asia? If I said a shit-ton, would it offend anyone? We’ll see. But in any case, I will have developed four significant scripts that save the equivalent of 30 hours of manual work each month, but the most important improvement is a database to replace hundreds of spreadsheets used to track Accounts Payable for the program. What’s that you just thought? Must have been something like, “You know who’s awesome at improving stuff? It’s that guy they call dBase.”

Two months down, ten to go. And that’s the last I’m going to say about it. Don’t wanna break the streak.

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And . . . Go

I’ve got many objectives to accomplish while I’m in Afghanistan while I have this ridiculous amount of downtime. But in some of my leisure time, I’m learning to play Go, an ancient game that originated in China. The simplicity of it – a flat board decorated only with intersecting lines and game pieces of smooth black and white – is bellied by the claim that there are more possible Go game scenarios than the count of atoms in the known universe. For you math nerds out there, the grid of the game board is 19×19, with 361 possible intersections on which to play a piece, and the game has no definite finish – ending when the players agree that the game is over for both of them.

All of that complexity leads to a game that humans truly dominate and that the most advanced supercomputer cannot predict. It is said that even mid-level masters of the game train to see up to 40 moves in advance. While that master may not be able to see every single possibility for each of those 40 moves, the trick of teaching a computer to play a game perfectly is that the computer MUST be able to see every possibility. So with the stats listed above, desktop computers are able to see a couple of moves in advance, but even trying to see three or four moves in the future within a few minutes, requires a supercomputer. And to see eight moves in advance, the greatest supercomputer/networked supercomputer group, would take over 100 hours to compute all the possible outcomes.

Much like golf, players are handicapped in Go, and the greatest handicap allowed is 8 points. It was only in the last few years that a computer, handicapped at that maximum number of points, was able to consistently defeat players on a 9×9 teaching board. On the full 19×19 board, the computer flounders and it is only the human mind that can determine how to defeat another human player.

The training methods used in some Asian countries to teach people to play this game are truly astounding. Chess is a brilliant game, and the culture of chess mastery is also fascinating, but I’ve been intrigued by the fact that in chess, at any one time there are normally 20-30 possible moves. In Go, there are upwards of 100-200 possible moves at any one time.

So the first lesson that I have taken from learning this game, is that I’m an idiot. There are 10 year old Korean children with 100 times more aptitude than I have with this game. But more than that, it is reinforcing a sort of romantic view of gifted humans. We all know those people that seem to be able to comprehend and perceive things in much different ways or much quicker than anyone else. I’ve read and reread the biographies of John Adams, Einstein, Marie Curie and others, and these people thought on such a different level that it must have seemed like magic. When I was in an economics class and we were studying game theory, there was a point where my brain declared that it was no longer going to support my inquiries into the matter. But at that point, the brain of someone like John Nash shifted into a much higher gear and developed systems of thought that have guided economists for years.

I’m in awe of this and I celebrate it. And before you ask if I’m trying to set myself up as a ravening humanistic demagogue, I’ll tell you that I’m not, though I’m impressed with your use of the word “demagogue.” I believe that I rejoice in the complexity and capacity of humans in the same way that our creator does. We don’t have to pretend we’re stupid and incapable or downplay ourselves to make God seem great.

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Super safe

It’s been a crazy week over here in Afghanistan. Only a few days after I had taken a nice drive to downtown Kabul, feeling super safe and excited about seeing more of the city, a suicide bomber in a northern province killed 7 and injured 8 in an attack. It’s far away from here, but at the same time, the north is known as being relatively safe from this kind of violence. With the prospect of increased travel in the near future, I’ve been feeling a little nervous.

Sometimes I think I would feel differently if I was armed. I could qualify easily on all three weapons used here, maybe with some trouble on the 240, but for the most part, I think I could defend myself against somebody with a gun. But then I end up feeling a little helpless because the war these Taliban fighters are fighting is not a frontal assault, and having a pistol on your belt won’t help you against the roadside bomb or suicide bomber dressed in a burkha.

The media is really trying to help ISAF by spinning this last attack as completely unjustified given the fact that the meeting that was bombed was actually being held in an effort to help Afghanis and to help ISAF troops win over the hearts and minds of the people. But if I’ve learned something over here, it’s that noone is innocent. No one deserves to be killed, but even the most circumspect soldiers or police advisors I’ve met have lapses where prejudice leaks out like a thick oily discharge. I’ve felt that in myself and it’s distressing. How do you truly complete your mission of training and empowerment if you don’t believe in people enough to hope that they can become better than they are now? You teachers reading this – how you continually put yourself out there, knowing that a certain percentage of students are going to break your heart over and over? How do you keep believing in your job? But for a few cases, your students don’t try to kill you, right?

I’m not on the front lines. I’ve not been in the position to see a police trainee take months of training and turn it on the people that taught him. I’ve not stood in the breach of the wall of my camp that has just been destroyed by a truck bomb, dodging bullets from those I may have trained to shoot.

For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about the 2001 movie called “Spy Game” with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. I think it’s because I’ve been looking into purchasing a Leica M3, and in one scene – probably the only one I remember – Brad Pitt is running through a fire fight in a war-torn country, working for the CIA, but posing as a war photographer. He has a few rangefinders around his neck, clicking pictures as he runs from cover to cover. Gun fights are so run of the mill to movie goers in the US. People with pistols, machine guns, and rifles are always shooting at each other. This film suddenly got very intense for me, because running through a war zone where 10-20 guys are shooting on each side fills me with absolute fear, especially when compared to my current aversion to danger which is a desire to never leave the compound. Could I get through something like that without curling into the fetal position? Hell yes. Would I take every measure possible to avoid getting into the situation? Absolutely.

But I guess it’s been a slightly uncomfortable couple of days as I’ve had to process through the fear, examine why I’m here, strengthen my resolve and continue to work. It’s a tough process, especially when other things are pressing.

I’ve also been expecting my new camera to arrive, and it hasn’t, and I feel like a kid who can’t wait for Christmas morning. I’m cranky. Over a camera. Geesh, I’m thinking that here in the next few years, I’m going to go ahead and grow up.

So don’t worry about me – things are super safe here in Kabul – but I’m hoping that there is something on the order of a miracle possible here in country. I’m hoping that the people will suddenly have a change of heart and turn on the Taliban and take their first steps on the glorious road to recovery – the end of which involves me being able to travel as a tourist here without fearing for my life.

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Portrait series – No. 1

Here’s a portrait that Ghafoor let me snap on the afternoon he was leaving camp. The people of Afghanistan are as diverse as any other country, but all seem to have a strength that it takes a visit here to understand.

This is the first of two of Ghafoor – because I couldn’t take a picture of him without the smile that he almost always has on his face. That one is in process as well.

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