Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Picture(s) of the Week-ish

The Olympic Stadium.  If you've ever read anything about Kabul, you've probably read about the infamous Olympic Stadium.  It was the sight of applause free soccer matches and public executions.  It is now a place for buzkashi matches and Afghanistan's few olympians' training ground.

From Kabul City Tour

No, the Olympics have never been in Kabul.  No, Kabul has never had an olympic bid.  And yes, there are many copyright infringements in Kabul (like KFC or Kabul Fried Chicken).  Just another one of those things about Kabul that makes me smile.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Baku, Azerbaijan: We could TOTALLY live here

Sitting at the Cafe Mozart in Baku, I turned to Joey and exclaimed, "We could TOTALLY live here!"  Ahh, Baku. . . it's a little bit Persian, it's a little bit European, it's suprisingly lacking in the stereotypical Soviet Bloc architectural blocks, it's bustling with newness, it has some ancient history, it has great coffee shops (seriously, best cappuccino ever), amazing food, and being the first stop on our vacation it was, well fantastic!  I could imagine myself strolling down it's tree lined avenues or eating breakfast on our very own Baku balcony (all of the houses have these amazing balconies).  And I think I actually said "Awesome!" out loud when we walked past a group of stylish Muslim girls rocking their hijab;  they made conservative look cool.  After months of burqa vision, it was a little bit refreshing to see some hip hijab.  Really, Baku was an all around breath of fresh air, which is saying something about air quality in Kabul since Baku is nestled up to the Caspian Sea and about 1000 oil rigs.

Side note about the Caspian Sea: You know how when your out on a boat in a lake or the Sound and the boat leaves a little rainbow of oil behind it?  That's what the Caspian Sea looks like all the time.  It has such a high oil content.  It's not really considered an ideal swimming locale (although I suppose some people take the plunge).  But after months of being land locked, we sat for hours on the bulvar (the park by the sea) and people/wave watched.

After the tension that is living in Kabul, it was nice to kick back and relax in the many shaded squares and cafes of Baku.  By the way, has anyone noticed that the rest of the world seems way laid back compared to the states?  Seriously, Joey and I kept asking each other if it was a holiday or something because no one seemed in a hurry, all of the cafes were full, people were so leisurely.  It made me a little jealous.

So, to any of my readers looking for a vacation spot, I highly recommend Baku.  I will admit that towards the end of our trip, both of us realized that the "We could TOTALLY live here" comment was heard at every one of our destinations.  And realistically, we see ourselves settling in Istanbul before Baku.  But Baku was my first of many loves on this trip.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Picture(s) of the Week-ish

Eid Mubarak!  Has Starbucks come out with the holiday cups in the states yet?  When we were in Dubai, we were pleasantly surprised to see how culturally relevant Starbucks was attempting to be with their Islamic Holiday Cup.  They even had dates on counter for those breaking the daily Ramadan fast.

From Eid Cup

From Eid Cup

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Eid Mubarak! Right?

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Eid-ul-Fitr, the three day holiday at the end of Ramadan.  Or at least I think it is.  The thing is that the Islamic Calendar can be a little confusing.  It's kind of like the lunar calendar, but it's not.  Like the lunar calendar, the Islamic month has 29 or 30 days.  Unlike the lunar calendar, the Islamic month begins when the rescent moon is sighted .  This means that if it's cloudy on the 29th day of the month, welp, the month is 30 days instead.  So, Eid might start tonight/tomorrow since it's the 29th day of the month of Ramadan.  But if the moon isn't sighted, it will start tomorrow night/Monday.  This means that it's impossible to plan when a holiday will be, and holidays fall at different times of the year (last year Eid was 10 days later than this year).

I've always been pretty confused by this, maybe even had a bit of a superiority complex about it.  I mean, doesn't the Gregorian calendar just make so much more sense?  But then today I was discussing all of this with an Afghan friend.  I said, "Yeah, all of our holidays are always on the same date. . . like Christmas and Martin Luther King Junior Day.  Well, except the holidays that are on the same day of the week a certain week of the month . . . like Labor Day, Thanksgiving, or Memorial Day.  But then there's Easter which is always on a Sunday but is anywhere between March and May."  At this point, I realized that I don't really know why Easter is on a different day each year.  I'll wikipedia it.  But really, our holiday calendar is pretty confusing too.  It makes for easy scheduling for work and things, but it's a little complex!

So, I might have the rest of the week off of work.  I don't really know how I'll find that out since I didn't stand outside waiting to sight the moon.  Hmm, complicated.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Home Improvements

The other day my washer exploded.  Well, technically the outlet blew a fuse in its adaptor and said fuse caught on fire.  And it wasn't a huge deal.  My neighbor Ruth and I stripped the wire and put a new outlet on it.  Being a Kabul housewife can be a dangerous profession!  Admittedly, I didn't trust my own electric work and made Joey plug it in when he got home!  He's still alive, so apparently I know what I'm doing.  Here are some photos of the ordeal.  And I went over the outlet with more tap than is shown in the final photo.

From Election Day

From Election Day

From Election Day

From Election Day

And our downstairs neighbor found a rat in her bedroom with her husband out of town.  Joey took care of it.  He swears he didn't mean to kill it.

From Election Day

Friday, September 11, 2009

Picture of the Week-ish: The City Wall

From Kabul City Tour

Here's something interesting: Joey and I didn't realize it was September 11th until I read it on someone's facebook status at 7:00 PM.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Flashback: The Caucuses

It seems like ages ago, but earlier this summer we went on vacation to the Caucuses.  You may be thinking, "The where?"  The Caucuses, this little area of land sandwiched between Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Central Asia.  You may have heard of Georgia recently in the news, Russian occupation, civil (and not so civil) protests, etc..  Or you may have heard of Azerbaijan, oil boom, new money, etc.  But let's be honest, most of us haven't heard of these little countries.  Here's a map for reference:

View Larger Map

After months and months of CNN International commercials for Azerbaijan, we just couldn't take it anymore!  So, off we went.  Our initial plan was to go from Azerbaijan to Georgia to Armenia to the Black Sea Coast of Turkey to Istanbul.  Unforeseen circumstances caused us to take out Armenia and the Black Sea Coast and spend more time in Tbilisi, Georgia and Istanbul, Turkey.  We'll get there next time.  And there will definitely be a next time.  These countries were amazing!  Beautiful scenery, unique cultures and languages, incredible foods, incredibly old history . . . what's not to love!

So, along with my Picture of the Week-ish and Election Updates, I will also be featuring some flashback travelogues of our fantastic adventure.  Stay tuned and keep reading!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Afghan Embassy Anniversary

There is nothing quite so romantic as spending an anniversary in an overcrowded consulate filled with fasting Afghans and irritated journalist, right?

Last Thursday we found out that we had to leave the country to renew our visas.  Visas and the developing world are an extremely frustrating combination.  In December, we got six month multiple entry visas in about 15 minutes at the Dubai consulate.  In July, we got one month single entry visit visas with the explanation that these were the only visas being issued now.  We were also assured that we would be able to renew these visas once we arrived in Kabul.  Fast forward three weeks and we're on our way back to Dubai.  Visit visas cannot be renewed in country.

Our plan was to get there on Friday, renew our visas Saturday, hop on a plane back to Kabul on Sunday.  Of course, the consulate in Dubai has no website, an outdated phone number, and a PO box address listed in the phone book.  Therefore, we had no way of knowing that although they used to be closed on Thursday-Friday, they are now closed on Friday-Saturday.

I have to admit that I wasn't severely disappointed when we had to extend our trip by one more day.  Sunday August 30th was our 6th wedding anniversary.  In our six blissful years of marriage, we've celebrated anniversaries on the first day of school, during a move to El Paso, on lockdown in Kabul.  I was excited to actually be someplace to celebrate, even if it was unplanned.  We just had to quickly get those pesky little visas out of the way and then spend the rest of the day being in love.  It would be easy. Run by the consulate, pay to get a number, wait for the number to be called, turn in our applications, pay for our visas, go find a lunch place open during Ramadan, run back to pick up our visas. . . so easy.

So we headed to the consulate, got in the extremely long line to get our number, went into the waiting room, had to sit separately, waited for our number to be called, waiting for ANY number to be called, watched Afghans yell at the man behind the window, watched expats yell at the man behind the window, talked to the marketing guy for the cell phone company we use (he asked if we had any complaints, we told him we get too many marketing text messages), talked to a Fox News guy, talked to an LA Times reporter, shared stories of places we've been and visa offices we've frequented, finally got called up to the window, were told the visa laws had changed again, pleaded for a little grace, were told to pick up our visas in an hour, waited three hours, walked out with 3 month visit visas.  All told, we were there for 7 hours.  Not exactly how I had envisioned celebrating our 6 years of marriage.

When relating this story to my boss, he commented, "Nothing's as easy as it is, and everything takes longer than it does."  That could very well be my new "living in the developing world" motto.  I'm not claiming that the western way of doing things is right, I'm simply stating it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 7 hours to get a visa.  It's better to be geared up for 7 hours and pleasantly surprised on those times it takes 15 minutes.

The day wasn't a complete bust.  Joey finished Kitchen Confidential, I have a new appreciation for the DMV and it's orderly ways, we involuntarily practiced the Ramadan fast, and I found out that I don't want to be a full time journalist (although I do love writing).

The day was salvaged with coffee at Cafe Nero, fabulous French cuisine, a great bottle of wine, and lots of moments that reminded me how glad I am that I'm married to my best friend.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Picture of the week-ish

We went on a city tour a few weeks ago.  We took a ton of pictures, way too many for one post.  So, here's one for starters.

From Kabul City Tour