Thursday, July 13, 2006

Kabul 7/13/06

Kabul Airport

Dear Friends

At the moment I am sitting at an internet café inside the Kabul airport. The deal is 200 Afs for 30 minutes of internet and a connection speed, the connection is so slow that it allows you to have a conversation with everyone in the room between web pages. In a few moments I will be traveling away from Afghanistan. Every day I spent here in Kabul has been an emotional rollercoaster.

This is a country of contrasts. People are very poor or very rich. One thing is for sure, seeing both sides makes you smarter, and I think it has helped me understand the children better. I also got a chance to see the Afghan country side- I am going to write about it below. It is such a contrast to the city.

After this e-mail I will write one more and let everyone know that I made it home safe and sound. Maybe I also will tell a few more stories, I think it will make it a little more fun.

Afghan Music Video?

There are two projects I have been working on here in Afghanistan. The first one is to teach children circus and help them improve for their up coming tour to Japan. The second is being the c
amera man for the first ever music video featuring the kids from the circus.

The circus consists of comedy, singing, dancing, juggling, unicycle, etc.

The music video highlights the young girls in the circus who sing. Two musicians accompany them, Mauari plays the tabala and Shashir plays the harmonium.


Renee and I wake up around
4:30 or 5:00 am. The sun sets around 8pm and I find that keeping farmers hours works best. Often times we don’t have any electricity so it makes sense.

One of the songs the children sing is called “the pigeons of peace”, this will be the first music video about pigeons.

We asked the children, do you mean the doves of peace? No the pigeons of peace is the name of the song… OK then.

After some brain storming we decided to film the singers feeding pigeons in front of a famous mosque in the city. The sunlight is spectacular early in the morning, we head on out at 6am. The little girls are dressed up in their traditional Afghan dress. We skip on down the pot-holed road to get to an intersection where we have a chance to catch a taxi this early in the morning. We arrive at the mosque and before I know it I am herding pigeons towards the camera. Its hysterical, we get a crowd of Afghans who want to watch. So now we are hearing Afghans away from the background of the video shoot and pigeons into the foreground. The footage turns out to be great, lots of smiles and giggles. The Pigeons of Peace turns out to be a success and an instant trip to the shower.

We rush on home re-pack because today the entire circus is going to get into two large busses and head off to the country side.

The next song in the music video is about Afghanistan being a wonderful country. Afghans love their mountains, streams, watermelon, and kabobs. There is nothing more patriotic than a picnic in the country side with yogurt cucumber drink, oil soup, and kabobs. I luck out, this bus is one of coolest busses in Afghanistan, this bus inspires me to deck out the circus school bus. Tassels are everywhere, pictures of Indian film stars are wheat pasted on the wall and the bus driver has an awesome set of side burns.

We drive up into the mountains, to Pagmon. The bus overheats a few times. The bus driver has a kid assistant who constantly jumps out and checks the oil level and the brakes as we drive; he likes to ride on the roof. (In Afghanistan nobody wears a seat belts; infants sit on the drivers lap). We get to Pagmon and the children spill out of the bus and start gulping down stream water. Splashing battles happen. Renee and I are running around recoding all of the action. Finally it’s lunch time. I sit down and eat kabob. For some reason the meat is very different. At the end of the meal I ask what kind of meat did I eat? The answer is goat. This is a horrible answer, here in Afghanistan the goats are the trash disposal service. Shepards heard goats through the city and they pick at all the trash that is lying in the streets. I try not to think about it too much and carry on with my day. Since being here in Afghanistan I have not gotten to breathe fresh air. The city is filled with cars deported from other countries because they did not meet the air pollution standards. The city is constantly filled with dust and diesel fumes. From 4-6 every day dust storms become sand paper against your skin. Here in Pagmon the air is fresh- oh my respiratory system needed the break. The remainder of the day goes great. I get to juggle with some of my students and get to take a nap beside the stream. The children don’t get to swim very often and this is a big treat.

There is an old man who has dammed up the small stream and created a swimming hole. He sits by his creation and charges people 20 Afs to swim. This is normal here in Afghanistan, people just take over a public space, do a very small modification to it and rent it out. Parking spaces are a favorite to rent out.

The children don’t get to swim very often, however they are masters of the doggie paddle. At the end of the day everyone is exhausted. We climb into our bus and bounce up and down on the pot-holes the entire way home causing my bum to get very sore.

Ok- if you read all of this than you deserve captions for the pictures. The first one is of two of my students hanging out in Carte-Sei. The second is Aseam the flute player, his story is amazing. He is one of the best traditional musicians in Kabul. He would hike all over Afghanistan playing his flute; he once was a muja hadine fighter, part of the northern alliance who fought against the Taliban. He would end this e-mail by saying Chabas. Thanks again for all the support. best wishes- Ben

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Kabul 7/8/06

Salam Alekom

Since my last e-mail I have grown and learned so much. Proof lies in that my beard is an inch longer.

The teachers at the circus are amazing. Every morning I wake up and great all the men with smiles and kisses on the cheek. Interactions with women are more reserved, a greeting is interment if I shake their hands. I have seen less than 10 unveiled women’s faces and I have seen thousands of people.

Eye contact is such an important part of the Afghan culture. People really take the time to look at each other and check in on one another. Afghans have the most brilliant eyes, alive and excited.

I have been working with the children almost every day now for two and a half weeks. I have learned a few things. The first is that Afghanistan is a culture of change.

The children have spent a long time juggling, a number of my lessons teach them juggling that is counterintuitive to their muscle memory.

A good example is the concept of teaching a juggler to spin a juggling pin in the opposite direction. Normally it takes a juggler a few days to months to wrap their minds around this reverse movement, these children have learned reverse concepts in hours.

The children grab on to counter intuitive concepts exceptionally well, they have the ability to let go.

Here is an excerpt from my travel journal.


I woke up, drank half a box of grapefruit juice from Russia, put nutella on my Nan and ran out the door to the circus bus. Today I am not going to get sick. We all crowd on the bus, today is a performance day!

Just as we get ready to head out a merchant pushes his cart filled with candy, soda, and pictures of movie stars from India on over to the bus. In the movie star pictures the women are not wearing a head scarf, very scandalous. Some of the children escape to get some sugar however most can’t afford it. The bus pulls away in a cloud of blue-green diesel smoke. We are off, headed north. Many of the main roads have been paved in asphalt; the tertiary roads however are a roller coaster of pot-holes. After driving for about an hour we make a left turn onto an unmarked street (99.9 percent of streets are unmarked). The bus takes up the entire road. Running down the middle is an open sewer. The bus come within inches of mud built walls that that reach 15 ft in the air and support thatched roofs. We arrive at the school and start to unload. The children at the school are so excited, this may be the only school assembly for the entire year. The kids unload the props, sets, etc. from the bus. The sound system in ingenious, it runs off of DC car batter power.

The school consists of Unicef tents and a few smaller buildings. School happens in the summer, boys and girls do not go to school at the same time. In many instances the boys will go to one school and the girls will go to another. In this instance the school is scheduled so that sometimes it teaches boys and in other parts of the day girls attends class.

The performance begins- I am using my video camera wedged in against a post and Renee is taking photos. The laugher is contagious; from time to time my chuckles vibrate the camera. The music consists of Mauari on the Tabala, and Shashir on the harmonium. The performance consists of singing, comedy skits, juggling, unicycle, and acrobatics. The children range in age, I believe from 8 until 14. Slapstick comedy is what really gets the audience excited; Afghanistan is a place of physical prowess and people who are very proud of who they are and what they do. Just recently Body Building has become the rage here in Kabul. Its very weird- y
ou see signs of Arnold Swertseneger all pumped up.

The performance comes to an end a
nd everything gets packed up with in minutes. The school presents the performers with plastic flowers, pastries, and chi. They don’t have much and it’s really a kind. We pile on the bus and back down the little alley. All of a sudden two of the wheels drop 3 ft and fall into the open sewer. The bus almost flips over. Instantly we jump to the high side of the bus and climb out the door. The entire community starts to push the bus; shit literally is flying through the air as the tires spin. The bus pulls out of the ditch, the axel is not bent. We climb back in and head back to the circus. Its not event noon, my journal goes one for about 4 more pages and it is over 50 pages long…

Every day here in Kabul is something to write about. Moments contrast each other. The human
spirit soars and falls. I will try and write another e-mail before I travel back home in 4 days. The internet often times can only be happen if a generator is fired up, the connection speed is very slow. Thank you once again for helping me have this incredible experience. With Love, Laughter, and Kindness from Kabul- Ben