Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Great Day in Kabul

Evidently Information and Culture are targets
Mr. Atefi

I have been traveling in Kabul without the benefit of the security team that theoretically keeps you safer but basically keeps you in a cage. I have felt very comfortable in a Toyota Tercel with the windows down. I am lucky to have some Afghanis to hang out with, including my former student (at the UW Law school) Hussein Ali Atefi.

Today, because I would be addressing the judges in the anti-corruption courts, I had to start out at the base of a USAID contractor. It was the full meal deal in terms of security. [I have a theory; Every third guy in Kabul seems to have a gun, but I am betting that most of them haven’s been fired in a long time and may not include ammunition.] These guys’ guns looked polished and freshly fired. We were transported to the court in a fully armored vehicle with bullet proof windows (although I got burned on a waterproof watch once… they may have been just bullet resistant.) I was disappointed that we didn’t seem to have a cellphone jamming antenna like most of the SUV’s with tinted windows seem to have (jamming prevents IED’s from being set off, theoretically). There was a serious coordinated suicide bombing this morning here in Kabul, a couple miles away so these wound tight security guys are wound even tighter.

Joe with Chief Judge of Anti-corruption Court for Afghanistan

The judges were really nice and a great audience. I spoke about evidentiary tools for proving guilt in financial crimes, but also wanted to remind them how important their job is in the emerging Afghanistan. Corruption is endemic and the flood of money into this poor country faster than it can be put to good use is creating an entire corrupt sub-economy. Because we are filling a coffee cup with a fire hose, it is no surprise that we are teaching people to live off the amounts we spill.

The judges were wonderfully receptive and welcoming. We talked about power and corruption and temptation and rationalization. Their job is one of the toughest in the country. While I was there, one of the judges in the same court but in Mazar I Sharif was arrested and charged with corruption. He claims that he was set up by someone senior in the government. Who knows?

Hammer and 3 Burkas

After my talk, I was anxious to get back in a regular car with Afghanis and windows which roll down. We called my guy and my hosts called their security contingent. My guy was there in a couple minutes and the fancy guys were stuck in traffic.

I went to Chicken street to do a little shopping and mostly to hang out in a place I hadn’t been for 36 years. It was the neighborhood where a lot of people on the hippie trail hung out in the 70’s. There was a bombing which killed a foreign girl there a few years back but it has been safe since and some things haven’t changed.

Later in the evening, I had dinner with an old friend and client. He is over here doing deals and about to take the chance of his lifetime starting a new company in an industry that is vital for Afghanistan and one which he knows well. How cool to be in the same city with him at this unusual time after all these years.

There are so many  faces in Afghanistan that there isn't one look.  That helped me be unobtrusive.  With my beard and hat I didn't look quiote right and didn't look quite wrong, so unless someone talked to me, I did not attract much attention.  One of my favorite things was that in north (Mazar) I never saw another Westerner.

Kids are kids everywhere and I remember being amazed years ago seeing kids rolling a wheel (bike tire or equivalent) in the street.  It reminded me of photos I had seen of America in the last century.  It is common in Africa and as the following video shows, it is till the norm in Afghanistan.  The kid in the video came so close to being one of the hundreds hit by cars each day that my heart almost stopped while watching it....

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