Saturday, January 12, 2008


So today I wrap up my 2 and a half week journey to Afghanistan and head back to Canada this afternoon. I can't say that I've gotten a full taste of Afghanistan, but I hope that I've at least gotten one step closer. On my last day, I decided to wander the city and be amongst the people of Afghanistan (at least those of Kabul). It is hear that poverty is most rampant, and where international aid seldom ever reaches. Despite the poverty and cold weather, people are out in the markets and streets creating opportunity for themselves. The Kabul river cuts the middle of the city, and it a shocking sight. It is so horribly filled with garbage that garbage rather water constitutes the majority of the river. And yet the river is still used for everyday activities such as cleaning (I won't go as far as to saying for drinking). A most interesting sight I saw was a person's house at the side of the river, amongst all the pollution.

The further into the market one gets, the more removed one becomes from the upper echelons of Afghan society. Here people sell even pieces of toilet rolls to make money. Kabul's main mosque is near the market and though it is a decent structure, its surroundings are in a terrible state of disrepair - I can't tell whether it is natural or from the many wars, though I would venture to guess it is a mixture of both. Life may be a day to day ordeal, but it is one where people get by.

The people Afghanistan, as my guesthouse worker told me, are like a person's fingers - all different in sizes and expectations. Historically, Afghan people have been known for their hospitality, and though there are those who cause trouble, one can't simply brush aside the good nature of the former. It's clear that I've been very fortunate in my trip in meeting generally good and hospitable people, including those people in the village on my way to the North (who constitute some of Afghanistan's poorest people). I pray for this country, and hope that its people's aspirations can rebuild the nations after so many generations of war, and I am cautiously hopeful. A paradise can be reborn.

Friday, January 11, 2008

At Work

The majority of my days are spent in the office, so I thought it would be just fair to speak of the work that goes on.

As I mentioned earlier, the organization I work at is called the Women and Children's Legal Research Foundation. It focuses on research on back practices affecting women and children as well as advocacy to spread awareness to the women who are affected. The work progresses slowly but steady. The office research life is definitely a huge difference from the faced paced, dangerous on-the-ground work that needs to be done to secure peace (and dialogue) in the south where the fighting continues. However, the work we do is necessary for eventual change, and thus has kept me on board for my time here. The work uncovers a never-ending pile hugely atrocious problems. Here are a few (don't worry, I'll try to have a point afterwards). In one case, a husband got angry at his wife for going to a party (which she had gotten permission from him to go to earlier) so he saved her head bald, and then cut off her hears and nose. In another instance, a man killed someone over a water dispute and so his niece was given to the deceased family - a practice known as bad. After three years, she escaped but was later capture by the father-in-law and then murdered. In yet another case, a shepherd was not fully able to protect an owner's sheep which were attacked and killed by wolves, and since he did not have enough to repay the owner, he gave his sister to the owner.

The first step to solving a problem is identifying the problem, and the getting to into roots so in can be uprooted (rather than a surface approach). Generation after generation, tribal tradition pass down. The pervasive tribal law is largely viewed the sharia itself (though the practices it endorses may go wholly against it). Tradition, especially with rampant illiteracy and of course vested interests, can be terribly difficult to alter. Next, it must be recognized that there is no one set tribal law. The practice of bad is not practiced by all groups - it is more dominant in the southern Pashtun dominated Afghanistan versus in the center of the country. The frequency of problematic practices cannot really be ascertained without any large estimation since many tribal norms are virtually impermeable to external scrutiny - there isn't even a systematic analysis of the tribal and customary laws that exists in any writing. However, with education more statistics are being created. One research project I worked on concerned divorce. With a new Afghan Independent Human Right Commission and Family Court in each province, women can are now more able to go to court and institute a judicial divorce. Of course, the courts are often very patriarchal, and moreover there are huge social implication of divorcing. So change is slow and needs to be comprehensive, respecting the idiosyncrasies the complexity of the situation.

Corruption makes things doubly difficult. Last night a pair of police wanted to get money off of myself and a friend (Afghani at that) since... well since it was the thing to do... luckily one police changed his mind soon thereafter. Though the country as a whole doesn't face such good luck. In my short time here I've see so much corruption here that I try not to think of it too much or else I'll get lost in confusion. The rule of law is simply not present as a mindset. Well, that's an issue that will need to be tackled, one step at a time. (on a lighter note, what unique office heating system they have ;-)...).