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(no subject) [Dec. 2nd, 2014|07:54 pm]
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Teaching today I had an experience that isn't common here, but happens periodically.  It occurred to me it would make an interesting topic to write about, though, since it's fairly outside most people's experiences.

The weather has dropped below freezing, so they've turned the heat on in the building where I teach.  Unfortunately, they seem to have turned it on full blast, and the classroom has been boiling the last several days, so we've taken to opening the window to cool it down.  Inefficient, but nothing else to do.

Today, mid-way through class, we heard a moderately loud explosion, and then another about 10 seconds later.  This is very charactestic of a suicide attack where they send in the first bomber to detonate the gate, and then the second to go farther in and detonate inside.  The students all looked up and at the window sharply.  We waited another 5-10 seconds to see if there would be any more, and they alternated between looking at the window and looking at me with that "what should we do?" look.  (This always seems a bit odd to me.  Of all the people in that room, I'm the least experienced person to say what to do if we were actually under attack, although this was clearly a ways away and not an actual threat to us.)

So I shrugged and said, "Yes, that was a bomb, but it's not here on campus, and we have our final exam tomorrow, so we might as well keep studying."

They nodded agreement and went back to going over answers in the books and class proceeded normally.

From the sounds of the explosions, they were probably a couple miles away, and we could only very rarely hear gunfire.  And so we went along studying with no overt signs of fear or nervousness.

But it was there, and the way it manifested itself is always interesting to me.  Students would mix up where they were in answering questions.  For example, I'd call on Jalali to answer question #4 and he would answer #3.  I had the same trouble myself.  At that particular moment, I was just going down the roll calling names, but I would get lost as to where I was.  Of course I worked incredibly hard to act normal and like there was nothing at all to worry about, because teachers set the tone of the class.  And I wasn't scared or panicked or anything.  (There was no reason to be.)  But it did take a bit of concentration to act like everything was normal and not to look out the window whenever I heard a gunshot.

But the reaction that is perhaps the most surprising, although I think it's to be expected if anyone has been in a situation where people are trying to hide fairly raw negative emotions is.... People laughed.  A lot.  At everything.  I don't mean just nervous/awkward laughing.  I mean all-out belly laughter of the kind you seldom actually hear.

The student sitting next to the window stood up and closed it, and the class busted out laughing as if this was the funniest thing on earth.  Then he had troubles with the handle, and that set off more guffawing.  A student commented that the sound from the bomb had broken it (completely absurd given the sound-level) and that was still funnier.

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After about 10 minutes, it became clear that it wasn't actually a bomb, but that it was the military practicing by setting off live explosions.  They practice not far from our campus, so this isn't all that unusual.  What was different is that it was louder than usual, and we didn't get a text message like we usually do.

So in the end, this was nothing.  I have taught through a few attacks that were close enough to be heard (or even felt), however, and the reactions are pretty much always the same.  The attack Saturday which you may have seen in the news was also within hearing distance of the university, but it was farther away and so with the windows closed we couldn't really hear it.  Everyone knew it was going on, of course, but there's a different reaction to knowing something is happening a couple miles away and actually hearing it.
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Would you go to Africa? [Sep. 22nd, 2014|06:19 pm]
Elections results are out.  I think everyone is glad that civil war is averted, but I have yet to talk to anyone who thinks power sharing is a good form of government, or who is optimistic about the future of the country.

The inauguration is supposed to be next Monday.  People are speculating about how much of next week will be a holiday.  Monday almost definitely will be, but it's not unreasonable that they'll have to basically shut down the city for at least the days before, and maybe after because of security.

The first week in October is Eid, so I'm going to be traveling already.  Right now, Georgia is looking like the forerunner.  But if we get a longer vacation, I'd love to go to Africa.  If not then, I really really want to go to Africa in Dec/Jan.  But there's also this ebola thing that has me nervous.

I'm not even picky about where in Africa.  Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Ethiopia again...

What do you guys think?  Would you go?
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Getting a cat (in) [Sep. 1st, 2014|07:53 pm]
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A woman posted that she desperately needed a home for her cat for 3 months, so I offered to take it.  So I will have a cat as  of tomorrow.

It occurred to me that I seldom think to post about the "daily life in Kabul" stuff anymore because I forget that it's of interest to people.  To me, it's just normal mundane life.  But anyhow, a bit about getting the cat here...

All of us expats here have drivers.  Considering how locals drive, this is just as well.  But anyhow, she wasn't sure when she could get the car, but she'll call and let me know when she's on her way.

In order for her to get in, I had to call and let our head of security know.  It can be last minute, but he likes to know in advance.  The conversation went....

(After greetings and pleasantries)
Me:  I have someone bringing a cat tomorrow, so she needs to come on campus.  [[I live on campus.]]
Colin:  Ok, is she driving or taking a taxi.
Me:  Driving.  Can she please come in Charlie Gate because she's bringing a cat and I don't want to try to carry it from Bravo Gate even in a box.
Colin:  I'd rather she went through Bravo Gate for security.
Me:  I know, but can you make an exception because of the cat?
Colin:  Do you have license plate number and the name of the driver?  And any guns?
Me:  Not armed, I don't think.  I'll get you the car info tomorrow.
Colin:  Ok, go ahead and send her to Charlie Gate this time.

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And that's life in Kabul.  (And to be clear, Colin is a really nice guy, and not at all unreasonable.  He wasn't arguing in the above.... that's just standard procedure around here.)
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General update [Aug. 28th, 2014|01:38 pm]
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It's been a while since I've updated.  I've got lots of little stuff to comment on.

First off, I finished my masters degree, so I now have a masters of education.  My average grade in the program was around about a 99.5%.  This is not me bragging.  It is me showing how absurdly simple the program was.  But regardless, I have the degree, which will hopefully help me get a job.

When it finished, I started a krav maga course.  For those of you who have no clue what that is, it's self defense.  It's not really a martial art because it's not really an art, more just close combat training.  I ended up liking it a lot more than expected, and it's become one of the things I really look forward to about going home.

Sadly, while home, I left my cat with a student who I didn't know.  In the past, I'd left the cat with another student who was a friend of one of my students, and she was great.  But she moved to Holland, and I wasn't nearly as comfortable with the other student I found.  Unfortunately, I didn't really have a choice.  Well, when I came back and called to pick up the cat, she told me the cat had escaped when she had kittens.  I told her that was pretty surprising because the cat was a boy.  (We'd had him fixed, which is kind of unheard of around here outside the expat community, so that's how she missed the tell-tale signs of gender.)  Anyhow, she then told me he broke a window to get out.  I think it's a lot more likely that they opened the window and he went out, but regardless, the cat is gone.

In happier news, I got a story published with Kzine.  It'll be out soon.  Also, The Colored Lens (the magazine I edit) is looking for another slush reader.  If you, or anyone you know, is interested, the info is at www.thecoloredlens.com .  Now that I'm finished with the masters, hopefully I'll have more time to write.

I just finished watching White Collar.  I don't particularly recommend it as stellar, but the relationship between Peter (FBI agent) and Neal (the criminal informant who works for him on a release program) is wonderfully handled.

Afghanistan is kind of holding its breath to see what happens with the elections.  They're supposed to be announced next week, but we'll see.  Things are about the same as they have been lately on the security front, but it's definitely tense.  My own world has tightened even more.  We're pretty much limited to staying on campus 24/7 minus the occasional exciting trip to the grocery store.  Before I left, they'd at least let us out of the cars to go pick out fruit on the side of the road.  Now we can't even do that.  We stay in the locked car and the (unarmed) guard goes and buys it and brings it back.

I'll try to do more posting in the future.
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Afghan martyrs [May. 13th, 2014|02:22 pm]
The Spring Offensive has started. There was a minor attack here yesterday, but no damage. Unfortunately, there were several deaths elsewhere.

Two of the deaths were imams who refused to preach Taliban-ordered sermons. I'm very sorry to hear stories of any martyrs, but it always gives me hope when I hear about people who are willing to risk so much for their beliefs.

With all the anti-Muslim sentiment out there, I think a story of two imams being killed for refusing to preach the Taliban rhetoric... is a story that needs to be spread far and wide. Please do.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/13/world/asia/taliban-afghanistan.html
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Further details on the bombing of the church last month (read this) [Apr. 26th, 2014|06:43 pm]
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For various theological reasons, I am very very reluctant to declare anything a miracle.  But I just got the fuller story on the Roots of Peace/Church bombing a month ago, and it's pretty amazing.

This story came from someone who works for the organization, and is backed up with footage from a security camera across the street that recorded the whole thing.

The church has services on a random schedule, but for the last two weeks, it had had services on Friday afternoon.  So this attack was on Friday afternoon.  Fortunately, there were no services going on at the time.  (Varied schedule, after all.)

The suicide van drove up and stopped at the church gate.  Four suicide bombers with vests got out.  The van then drove up a little ways further, stopped, backed up to the gate, and detonated.  The 4 bombers had moved away so they weren't killed, but they came back with the intention of going inside and detonating inside.  They started to go in the gate, but then for some reason they stopped and continued up the road instead.  By this time, the Roots of Peace agricultural center guards had come out and started shooting.  They killed all but one of the suicide bombers, but one of them got close enough to detonate at the ROP gate.  This caught the ROP building on fire as well.

There were a group of fifteen children at the church/daycare in the yard.  They all managed to get inside and hide.  One girl ran back and got her sister in the process.  So they hid inside.

The church compound had a bolthole (small door in the wall that allows people to escape if they need to.)  The bolthole had been welded shut, but just a few weeks before, they'd sawed it open.  It was locked from inside the compound, however.  One of the ROP people climbed out a top floor window, onto a tree, and jumped down into the church courtyard to open the bolthole and let the people (mostly children) inside the church escape.

The church didn't have any guards, but they did have an unarmed chawkidor (general gate person whose job is to open/close the gate, water the plants, and do other things like that.)  Somehow he wasn't killed either.  Apparently he hadn't been at the gate when it happened, even though that's usually where chawkidors are.

There was a family of 6 associated with the church across the street.  Only one of their windows had blast film on it.  All the other windows in the house were blown in.  There was a baby sleeping right by the window with the blast film, but because of the blast film, the baby wasn't hurt.  They all hid in the basement and were fine.

There was another mother and child walking by on the street.  They walk by every day, and usually walk slowly.  But that day, the child had insisted on running, and so the mother had run to keep up.  The baby had gone into a store, and just as the mother got in the door, the explosion happened.  They'd have undoubtedly been killed if they'd been walking at their usual pace.

One girl was walking down the street and was killed, and one police officer was killed.  I feel bad for both of them, but it could have been so incredibly much worse that it's hard to shrug it off and not think there wasn't something more going on to protect both the Christians and the Muslim Afghans working in both charity organizations.
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Elections are over [Apr. 6th, 2014|07:20 am]
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The elections passed quietly.  I'm surprised, I admit, but very glad.

I still worry about the future.  They can't maintain that level of security post-elections, and I don't know how things will go.

Third hand rumor says the university is deciding today about going back. (Current hope is to go back on the 8th.) I admit I think this is too early to make that decision, but we'll see what comes of it.
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Evacuated to Dubai [Mar. 30th, 2014|07:02 am]
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You may have heard about the attack on the Roots of Peace guesthouse Friday in which the Taliban announced that they attacked it because they were Christian and were converting Afghans to Christianity.  That in itself was bizarre because RoP is an agricultural NGO having nothing to do with Christianity.  It came out later that they were apparently trying to attack a faith-based daycare next door, but apparently they just attacked the wrong gate.  Fortunately, RoP is well guarded and during the fighting, the ~20 or so children were evacuated.

This, on the heals of the attack on the election HQ a few days before, and other attacks, was enough to make the university decide to evacuate us to Dubai.  So Friday night at about 8:30, we had a hurried meeting in one of the faculty apartments and we were told we were being put on planes the next day.  We didn't know what time, but probably the Emirates flight which left at 3:30.  So we all went home to pack.  The plan is currently to have us return on April 9, but the university only bought a 1-way ticket, and none of the faculty I've talked to are willing to take me up on my bet that it'll be extended.

So home we went to pack.  I have a cat, but the president (who has 3 cats himself) said they'd be arranging for a cleaner to come in and take care of pets.  (Amuzingly, pets are officially banned from faculty housing, but no one bothers to keep it secret that we have pets.)  To facilitate this, I gave the spare key which I had just, coincidentally, had made 2 days earlier to the president's wife.  In doing so, I wanted to test it one last time, and so I played with the door a bit before going downstairs to take it to her.

Well, for security sake, they have 4 deadbolts on our heavy metal doors.  One of these deadbolts is at the base of the door, and if jiggled too much, it falls down... thus deadbolting the door from the inside while you are on the outside.  These are just sliding bolts with no keyholes.  The only way to access/open them is to cut the bolt away.  So I called out housing guy and he sent 3 guys out to cut away the door.  The entire process took 2 hours, which was just about the last thing I wanted starting at 9:30 pm the night I was being evacuated.  But I'm hugely appreciative of them doing it.

So the next day, the evacuation started getting organized.  I have to give huge kudos to the university for organizing everything overnight.  The next morning, they sent out a schedule for taking everyone to the airport.  There were about 40 people total spread across two flights.  Arranging transport for all of us to the airport, getting flights, booking hotels, etc. not to mention sorting out arrangements for the various faculty who couldn't simply get visas at the border was a pretty herculean task, and I was highly impressed.  (We have a lot more than 40 internationals, but many were already gone for the previously declared university closure.

I was scheduled to leave at 12 the next day.  So off we went to the airport.  On the way, we learned that there were 2 ongoing attacks on the Jalalabad road.

We got to the airport, glad that the attacks hadn't affected us... only to learn that the airport was closed because of the attacks.  (I'm not entirely sure why, since the attacks weren't really close.  One theory was that they were afraid to have planes flying in/out for fear that they'd be targets as well while they were still low.  I don't know if this is true or not, but it's the only explanation I've heard.)

Eventually the attacks ended and the airport re-opened, but our flight (Emirates) had been diverted to Karachi and so the flight was canceled.  There all 40 of us were, at the airport, and told we'd have to come back tomorrow.  But of course, we had no idea (or particular optimism) that tomorrow would be any different.

One of our intrepid member of staff (chef Michael, who I have come to have an enormous respect for through all this) took it upon himself to go around and talk to other airlines and see if they could get us on the flight.  Kamair agreed to change planes to a bigger one so they could fit the additional 30 of us.  (~10 or so people had been booked on Safi Airways because the Emirates flight was full.)  We milled around waiting as they negotiated over prices (which kept increasing) and details were sorted out about whether or not we'd have to pay cash or if the university would be able to pay directly.  (The university is paying for flights/hotels, but the question was whether they'd be able to send payment in time.  Afghanistan doesn't do credit cards or things like that.)

Eventually it got arranged and we were all rushed through check-in.  We didn't get individual baggage tags.  They were all checked in under Frank's name.  I have no clue why Frank was the lucky one, but he must have been last in line or something.  (Thank goodness I think all the bags arrived, otherwise that could have gotten interesting.)

We landed at around 10:30 pm, and spent about 2 hrs going through passport control and waiting while hotels got arranged.  We're scattered over 3 hotels, but we're finally all settled.

I sent out a short message to the people who'd known about the situation to let them know I was in Dubai, showered, and went to bed.

And now here I am.  I'm thinking about possibly traveling somewhere, but having just gotten back from spring break (Thailand) a week ago, I'm a bit traveled-out, and there's nowhere I'm really itching to go anyway.  Plus there are some friends here in the UAE I'd like to see.  So we'll see.  The immediate future is very up in the air, but at least we're here.  Although I can't say I was scared, exactly, I will admit to being increasingly uncomfortable with the security situation, particularly once they started targeting foreigners with the current level of intensity, so I am glad to be out.

Send your thoughts/prayers/well-wishes/anything else to the people still there.  I wish all the best to Afghanistan, and am very worried about it.
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more vacation.... :/ [Mar. 26th, 2014|05:19 pm]
After the attack yesterday, the university has decided to close down for the elections (until the 9th) because of blocked roads, security issues, etc.  Yay for more holidays.  Just what I need after 6 weeks of getting paid to do nothing.  :/  I'm trying to decide where to go, but having just gotten back from Thailand, I'm kind of "eh" about traveling again... and anywhere I'd really want to go is really expensive atm.
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Thailand [Mar. 22nd, 2014|08:18 pm]
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I'm back in Kabul after a rather long trip home.  Thailand was fun.  It's definitely the easiest country to navigate in SE Asia.  Things are set up and run a lot more efficiently than in other countries I've been to like India/Nepal/Sri Lanka (although I think Sri Lanka remains my favorite.)

I think the last I emailed was when I was heading out trekking.  That was a fun 2 days, although temps around 100 degrees make it... hot.  My pack wasn't quite 20 lbs, so it wasn't too heavy, but a chunk of the hike was uphill, so.. yeah.  We (there was a German guy and myself.  It's always worrying when you sign up for a trek and find out there's only 1 other person, because if the other person is obnoxious, you're stuck.  But he was cool, so that was good) spent one night in a "village" which was one family's collection of bamboo buildings.  The full moon was too bright to see many stars, but the moon was really pretty!

Then more hiking through bamboo forests and eventually back to town.  Oh, I also went ziplining, which was fun, although the course was fairly short.  I need to do it on a longer course somewhere.  Well worth doing, though.

Then I met up with an Irish girl at the hostel who was going up to Chiang Rai.  I'd been debating going, and the promise of a good travel buddy made the decision for me, so off we went.  In Chiang Rai, we kept running into German guy all the time (it's a small town with not many places.  Plus German guy was vegetarian, which meant we kept frequenting the same couple restaurants.)  So most of my trip was spent running around to various temples and such with fellow travelers.  I think I've seen about enough Buddhist temples for a good long time.

I took an overnight bus back to Bangkok Thur night/Fri morning, and wandered around Bangkok on Friday.  I did the main core tourist stuff and then went to the airport about 6 hrs early (my plane left at 9:30 pm) because places with air conditioning are exceptionally appealing when it's 100 degrees.

Oh, and I seem to have managed to get eaten by either spiders or bed bugs on the bus back to Bangkok.  I have about 20 bites of what looks a bit like giant mosquitoes, except that I'm very sure they aren't mosquitoes for a few reasons... 1) mosquito bites don't affect me (including the occasional bites I did get in Thailand.)  2) These itch/hurt like bedbug bites do, which mosquitoes don't.  Annoying, but it'll pass in a week or so.

And that's a very quick overview of my trip to Thailand.

I was supposed to start teaching tomorrow, but the students haven't been organized into sections or anything.  Very bizarre because I sent the info to the registrar a week and a half ago (I'm the person who liaisons with the registration dept about student levels and such) and the registrar is usually exceptionally efficient and organized, so I have no clue why he hasn't done it.  I'll go in tomorrow and figure out what's going on.  In reality, it's good.  We have 3 new teachers and no one has any idea what's going on, so it'll give us a day to get everyone there and organized before teaching.  It's just weird.
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