Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mazar i Sharif

I had to pick up Mr. Atefi which proved a little more challenging in the dark.  He lives near the airport and we found him and headed for the security gauntlet that is part of flying in Afghanistan.  We were now bound for Mazar I Sharif.  The flight was great on a Pamir Air Boeing 737 and the plane conveniently dropped us off right at baggage claim, which was basically outside next to the plane.  There is a long walk through and past several security stations and checkpoints to where we found our car.  We went to the unnamed Guesthouse which is trying hard.  It has a doorman both outside and inside the door, both armed.  There I met Patty who is teaching ESL to the Law Faculty who managed my schedule for Mazar.

Joe & the Dean of the Sharia Faculty
I first addressed the Sharia law faculty which went well.  After giving my prepared remarks about the importance of the law to facilitate orderly development and investment in Afghanistan, I presented three analogies between my prison teaching and what I thought Afghanistan needs.  Finally we extended the time and I spoke (and listened) about Law and Religion.  It was very enlightening and led to some lively questions and, as is typical on discussions of religion, few answers.  Later that day I addressed the Law and Political Science faculty, including a professor who had been among the top legal scholars in Afghanistan who Maureen and I were pleased to welcome for dinner at our home in Seattle two years ago (pictured below). 

They were so kind to host me for a dinner of some traditional Northern Afghani dishes at a restaurant near the University.  I thoroughly enjoyed the dinner, which I made it through, notwithstanding the fact that I had slept only about 8 of the preceding 48 hours.  Back home I slept like a baby, even on a thin mattress with a plywood boxsprings.

Side note - One of my favorite things about the "memory lane" aspect of being  back in Afghanistan is that, it was apparently here that I learned to put my hand on your heart as a sign of friendship.  I have done it for 35 years but I didn't remember where I had picked up the habit.

Thursday was the festival of Ashura which is a remembrance of the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad at the Battle of Karbala on 10th of Muharram in the year 61 AH.  It meant things were shut down but the shrine was very active.  I walked through crowds with Hussein who warned me about pickpockets who come out whenever there are more people than space.  I was more concerned about someone realizing that even Christians think I am an infidel.  It was interesting and not too nerve-wracking.  I didn’t feed the birds but enjoyed everyone who did. 

I love the irony of the hands shaking in peace with the guys with guns right below.  
I get nervous about a leader who puts his super-sized photo everywhere.  I recall seeing photos like the one of Karzai below, but they were of the Shah in Iran in 1975.  He didn't last much longer.

There are daily reminders of how lucky we are on our worst day:

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