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report from Afghanistan

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Feb 11, 2005
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Cabin Creek, Carlile,Wyoming
copied this from FB

My personal report from Afghanistanby Gail Steiger on Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 12:02pm

I recently traveled to Afghanistan at the invitation of The American Embassy in Kabul, as a representative of Candra Day's non-profit organization Vista 360, to investigate the possibility of using a rodeo show to develop lasting friendships between Afghan horsemen and American cowboys. An Afghan interpreter working at the Embassy in Kabul had pointed out that the only Americans most Afghans ever see are soldiers with guns or rich celebrities. He wondered if some American cowboys might be able to find some common ground with people living in rural areas in Afghanistan, where the horseback sport of buzkashi is a big deal. The idea sounded good enough to the Embassy and good enough to Candra, Linda Svendsen, and me to give it a shot.

Flying from Dubai to Kabul is about as big a contrast as I've ever seen. Dubai takes western excess to a new plateau. Chrome and glitter everywhere. Unbelievably tall high rise buildings, Ferrarris, Yves St Laurent, Glenlivet...

Kabul has been pounded. Rubble everywhere. Simple block structures, mostly. Soldiers and policemen with AK -47s on every corner. Horse drawn carts rattling down the street at a high trot.

We went to some meetings. Solid metal high walls with guards at solid metal doors. Two story stucco and tile that showed a lot of wear. We met Hajji Rashid, Director and founder of the National Buzkashi Federation. He knew instantly just what we were talking about. He said yes, people who live a life in the country can understand each other better than politicians from the city. He admired the bucking horses in Candra's dvd on the Miles City, MT bucking horse sale. He told us about his family with pride. Three wives, 14 sons, 22 grandchildren ...

We flew from Kabul to Chaghcharan, in the Ghor Province. The country was beautiful to me. Mountains everywhere. No roads. No cars. Little settlements with 2 or 3 adobe houses and a walled compound in every little valley. Some cultivation down there. Greening up too. Finally. Just like our spring here. Soil temperature finally got high enough to grow some grass. Saw some goats on the ridges and some cattle. Looked like a good place to live.

The average annual income in the Ghor province, where we spent most of our time, is $58/ year.

Here are a few other things I learned:

Afghanistan has been at war of one kind or another for the last 30 years. Throughout history they have been occupied by foreign powers but never completely conquered. The interpreter who first suggested our visit is 31 years old. He has never lived in a time of peace.

Honor is the most important thing a person in Afghanistan can have.

Honor requires an Afghan to extend hospitality to all visitors who ask for refuge, even if they are enemies.

Honor requires an Afghan to protect women from corrupting attention and influences. A reporter in Kabul said to me "we have the utmost respect for women, just like you cowboys do..."

Honor requires all male relatives of a person who is attacked and injured to avenge that injury, even if it takes a lifetime to do so.

Honor requires a person to live a good and simple life, and to give thanks frequently for the blessings they have recieved.

We were extended an honored guest's welcome in Chaghcharan. I drank a lot of tea and watched a great buzkashi match. Same thing happened in Kabul.

We met some great people. Everywhere. Leaders of the Afghan community, our soldiers, our Embassy staff, Lithuanian soldiers who ran the PRT in Chaghcharan, a USDA guy from Georgia who was trying to help local farmers, a great guy from Japan who was there for the Japanese Govt., trying to administer a Grassroots Program... all trying to make the world a better place, ... all of whom invited us to come back when we could and promised to help as much as they could. Without exception we were recieved graciously in Afghanistan and offered hospitality and assistance should we really return.

The average literacy rate in Afghanistan is 17%. Most news comes orally, from tribal leaders or local Mullahs.

The tv stations in Kabul had some channels that were EXTREMELY anti-American... "America doesn't really want to help in the mid-east, they are only after our oil. America has joined with Satan to corrupt the mid-east ... Hillary Clinton is the Secretary of Satan ..., etc."

We flew out of Kabul on Monday, May 2nd. We heard that Osama Bin Laden had been killed from an Egyptian cab driver in Dubai, on our way to see the ski mountain in the most expensive, luxurious shopping mall I've ever been in. He said, "You have killed Osama. This is good, as he killed 5000 Americans." I asked him what he thought about it? He replied "After 2001 you had the support of everyone, Arab, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist ... everyone. But then you killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Irag. Why? Why? Why?"

I couldn't find a good answer to give him.

We were waiting for our plane later, watching a bunch of drunk college kids in the US on CNN rejoicing, shouting "We're #1! We're #1!". There were a couple of Americans watching with us. Turns out they were Halliburton contract employees. I asked them if private contracting was really more efficient? They said, "Man, you wouldn't believe the money we waste! We have a saying - **** up, move up."

I'm still trying to digest the whole experience. I met a bunch of great people in Afghanistan... I saw a poor, beautiful country with people trying to live good lives in spite of razor wire and machine guns on every corner. I don't think they "hate our freedom". I can certainly see why they might be wary of western culture ... skeptical about the possibility of finding happiness at the mall...

I don't have any answers but I know that anybody in America who gets all their information from FOX news and thinks the world is black and white and WE are the good guys and THEY are the bad guys is JUST as ignorant as the people in Afghanistan who get all their news from the most radical mullahs.

My partner, Amy, tells me "everybody pretty much does the best they can, every day." We all act according to the information we have and the culture we were raised in.

I'm really thankful to have had the opportunity to see a tiny slice of Afghanistan first hand. The nomads there have been practicing their herding traditions for thousands of years. I'll definitely go back and try to learn more from them if I get a chance...

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