A poem by Samay Hamed

us-soldier-afghan-children

Afghan kids with a US soldier. (Source)

My child!
You will grow up even on American donated powdered milk
As I did grow up on Russian donated Moloko,
On counterfeit Pakistani Milk Pack, or
On pasteurized Iranian milk that I drank with insults.
You will grow up, too, even on expired milk from ISAF soldiers,

But you will not become a grown-up.

My Child!
You can write on the body of a donated Indian plane, Ariana!
And fly from Frankfurt to Kabul jan;
You can write on the forehead of a donated Pakistani bus, Milli Bus!
And go from Maiwand Avenue to Darulaman,

But you will not reach anywhere.

________

Original in Persian.

Can Cities Save Afghanistan?

From the article:

Contrary to many other developing countries, where a few people control vast areas of land, the majority of the agricultural lands in Afghanistan are small family plots. However, due to the recent population growth, these plots are increasingly divided into smaller pieces among the heirs, making it even harder for families to live off of them. Plus, the un-mechanized mode of production continues to be a challenge for Afghan agriculture yields. If Afghan leaders want to root out the endemic poverty and malnutrition in the country, they need to focus on city-based economic sectors instead of the underwhelming agricultural one.

Read the full text in Foreign Policy. Or in The Kabul Times, where they’ve reprinted it with no mention of my name.

Christians of Kabul (new article in Persian)

Afghanistan’s new first lady, Rula Ghani, is a Christian woman from Lebanon. Contrary to the popular belief, she is not the first Christian first lady of Afghanistan. In a new piece for Hasht-e Subh daily in Kabul, I’ve written bout the Christian wife of Amir Mohammad Azam Khan, an Afghan king in the mid-19th century and the small group of Armenian Christians in Kabul who lived there mostly as wine makers. In addition, I have discussed the long tradition of religious tolerance in Afghanistan arguing that the followers of Abrahamic religions have always been living peacefully together in the region and the hateful rhetoric promoted by extremist groups these days is a new phenomenon—at least in South Asia.

The full text is available on Hasht-e Subh’s website and also on the Republic of Silence [both in Persian.]

New article on census politics in Afghanistan

A short article of mine, “Afghanistan’s Demographic Drought,” was recently published in Foreign Policy‘s South Asia Channel. Please click here to read the full text.

Update: the Persian translation of the piece appeared in the daily Etilaat Roz (October 25, 2014) in Kabul. You can read it on their website.

Venice, Vienna, Berlin

Grand Canal from Rialto Bridge, Venice, Italy.

Grand Canal from Rialto Bridge, Venice, Italy. (All photos in this post taken by my cellphone)

Venice: The Pilgrimage City

I went to Venice this summer for a two-week summer school on digital visualisation. The workshop was hosted by the Venice International University, a newly-established facility on San Servolo, a nice island in the Venetian lagoon just 10 minutes boat ride outside the main city. The workshop was intense. There were about 20 graduate students and researchers from the US and European universities and me–the only guy from Canada. We learned how to use a number of digital tools commonly used by geographers, planners, and architects in various tasks related to spatial design.

I expected that the summer school would be more “summer” and less “school.” But turned out to be the opposite: everyday from 9am to 5pm we were working in a computer lab at the university with only a launch break at noon. I had to get up at 7am to arrive on time in the workshop using the vaporetto, the water bus moving in the Grand Canal. In the afternoons, sometimes, I was too tired to go out or explore the city. Nevertheless, I went out and explored the city. It was Venice, after all. In that hot weather, it was much nicer to sweat on streets than alone in my tiny hostel room.

We had officially two days off. The first day off was a Sunday and I got on train to visit Basir Ahang, a Hazara journalist/activist living in Padua, a small town near Venice. Basir and I visited all the attractions of this pretty, little city, including the unexpected 9/11 memorial and the city’s university, which is one of the oldest in the world. The second day we were off, we actually were not off: the workshop instructors took all the trainees on a one day long tour of the Venice lagoon stopping by in each island where we had to take photos for using them later in our group projects. There was also a guide accompanying us who knew Venice better than his palm. I had a delicious and overpriced shrimp spaghetti on one of the islands and suffered severely from a very bad sunburn. I didn’t use sunscreen cream because I thought brown people don’t get sunburns. I was wrong.

In Venice, I stayed in a apartment-turned-hostel owned by a young Afghan refugee who has been living in Italy for quite some time. The place was OK but the location was great. It was close to the ghetto, the world’s most renowned Jewish ghetto, and in walking distance from all the attractions central Venice has to offer.

Although in all the three cities I visited in Europe this summer (Venice, Vienna, Berlin), I felt a strong sense of joie de vivre among people, but Venetians, in particular, were laid back and seemed to be very cheerful in comparison to people in Vienna or Berlin whose economic situations are way better than Italy. Canadians too, who are usually work-focused, formal, polite, and quite, look stiff and joyless in comparison to the hot-blooded people I saw in Venice.

Venice is a Pilgrimage city. Somehow, it is like Mashad in Iran where the economy is almost entirely dependent on the millions of tourists who come to kiss the shrine of Imam Reza every year. In Venice, a city of 60,000 people, I was told, 30 million tourists visit each year. During a normal day the winding, narrow alleyways of the city are packed with tourists and street vendors (mostly Bengali) who try to sell fake designer bags to these wandering crowd. In the evening, though, the city suddenly goes to sleep. At around 9pm the tired tourists creep back into their hotels and the shopkeepers of city close down their shops and go home. It’s beautiful to walk around the city at night when the old buildings and the canal look magical in the dim street lights.

The locals, however, along with some of the young tourists in pursuit of fun, go out at midnights and usually gather at a campo, small town squares. At campos, young Venetians come together after work to drink, talk, fight, laugh, and hook up until around 4am. It’s called the “Venetian time”: you go out at 11-12 midnight and have fun until 4am but you gotta get up at 8am for work. This is life for every single night, not only on weekends.

The Afghans I met there were very active. Most are refugees, but all have jobs. One of them, Hamed Haidari, was a young man who owned two restaurants serving Afghan cuisine and was planning to open a bar as well. It was June and the Venice Biennale was on. He somehow had managed to find a place in Giardini, the main venue of the Biennale and set up a food stand selling Afghan food to the hungry artists and tourists who came from all over the world. One day, he took me on a boat tour of the city. His grumpy Roman waiter was driving. We visited many places including Lido, the island where the Venice International Film Festival is held. Mustafa K. was also with us, who is one of the many Afghan filmmakers who have migrated to Italy in recent years.

The night prior to departure, the workshop organisers invited all the trainees to a delicious dinner in a beautiful island outside Venice. The next day I flew to Vienna for an exciting 24 hours.

Opera house in Vienna, Austria.

Opera house in Vienna, Austria.

Vienna: The Boutique City

In some neighbourhoods in Vienna, the identical apartment buildings and neat streets felt like I was living in a good-looking animation movie. Everything looked so, let’s say, boringly perfect and clean. There is very little diversity of architectural styles in the city, except for some older churches, and the modern suburban areas, everything looked like they were built at the same time by the same guy sometime  in mid-19th century. In fact, Vienna was the pioneer of modern urban planning and architecture, it was Vienna which inspired Baron Haussmann to destroy old Paris and build a new modern city with standardized buildings and boulevards.

In Vienna, a good friend picked me up from the airport and showed me around the city for the whole day. Later in the day, I met a former roommate from Kabul University dorm who hosted me for the night.

I loved Vienna’s city trams. There were two kinds of them: classic old ones and the sleek new ones.  We rode one of the old ones from somewhere in the city to where the opera house is located.

In the opera house, there was a show going on and flocks of dressed up Viennese were going inside. There was a big projector installed outside where people could watch the show outdoor. A huge crowd gathered there to sit outside and watch the opera live. It was the first time I was seeing a live opera–of curse via a projector. But still it was exciting. After the opera, we had a very big and delicious hot dog that I was told is an speciality of the city.

I forgot to mention: in the morning, when I arrived we visited the cathedral which was right outside the metro station at the center of the city . Then, we visited Cafe Central, the famed Viennese coffee house where the some of the leading European literati and revolutionaries used to frequent there, including Freud, Trotsky, Tito, Hitler, and Lenin, among other legendary bads and goods of the last century. The coffee was awesome and the cake was great and the place looked magical. Perfect for rich, pretentious, schooled, folks.

I visited the royal palace and the gardens around it before visiting the house of Sigmund Freud which was located in a beautiful neighborhood of almost identical 4-5 story apartment buildings. The house is now a museum where you have to pay to see the rooms. We stepped into his apartment’s hallway, took a short look around before stepping out. I am too cheap to pay for such stupid things. It was enough to earn the brag right to visiting Freud’s house.

We then had a beer in an outdoor bar with big projectors showing a World Cup match between two teams that I no longer remember. It was chilly and I found the mach rather lame. I was in good company though.

I was also impressed by the University of Vienna with its amazing architecture and a study room in its library which was too good to be true.

Probably the highlight of my short visit to Vienna was meeting old friends and making a new one: Dawood Sarkhosh the legendary Hazara folk singer. He was too nice to come and meet me in that friend’s house. We had a long conversation about music. He seemed fatigued, but I was excited to meet him.

An areal view of Berlin, Germany.

An areal view of Berlin, Germany.

Berlin: The City Without a Downtown

Berlin is probably Europe’s number one party town. Well, it may sound odd considering Germans’ international reputation for being humor-less and anti-fun, but in Berlin everything is set  for a non-stop wild party from sunset to sunrise. The city is hipster, young, careless, energetic, and remarkably diverse. Reunified after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city is now scattered throughout a large urban area with multiple centers, therefore, it feels like the city has no single downtown. There is no such thing as a CBD, even business and government facilities are distributed all around the city. It’s a good thing for the residents: you don’t need to travel far to find a place to drink, dance, eat or just kill time.

One of my best nights in Berlin was a Sunday night which we went out for drink and food with a group of friends from Kabul, Berlin,  and London–another friend from Amsterdam joined us the next day. There was this cozy little bar with loud music and cheap beer where you could drink till mooring and most importantly smoke inside. It was a shock to realise that they allow to smoke inside in 2014. I am not a smoker, but that night I smoked many cigarettes just to think we were in the Berlin of 1970s. The company was great and we spent several hours smoking, drinking and telling jokes–in­ Farsi.

One day, we spent in Potsdam, a small town one hour train ride outside Berlin where we found an Afghan restaurant owed by an Ismaeli Hazara family from Kabul. They offered all 7 of us free Afghan food, because we had a celebrity with us who just blew their minds. Later, we visited the Sanssouci Palace, the summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia who is credited for bringing potato to Germany. My friends joked that I had to take a photo on his grave because I’m  a “potato expert” for having written an article on the history of potato in Afghanistan. I took a selfie there, his grave was full of potatoes, instead of flowers.

I spent several days and nights exploring the city, seeing the  touristic sights, and getting lost. I found Berlin to be a very lively place, a city open for fun and business. Things are cheap there. I saw bottles of wine sold for 2 Euros in a supermarket. In Canada, the cheapest wine is 8-9 dollars.

I would probably go back to that city. I spent the week in a friend’s apartment who with his very nice partner made a great deal of  efforts to make sure I was having a good time. I’m very grateful for their hospitality.

Two book reviews

I recently had the pleasure of reading the following two wonderful books and reviewing them for CJC and JCG (click on the journal titles below to see the texts):

The Production of Modernization: Daniel Lerner, Mass Media, and the Passing of Traditional Society. By Hemant Shah. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2011. Canadian Journal of Communication (2014). Vol. 39, Issue 2, pp. 297-299  

The Politics of the Encounter: Urban Theory and Protest Under Planetary Urbanization. By Andy Merrifield. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013. Journal of Cultural Geography (2014). Vol, 31, Issue 02, pp. 249-250

I’ll be back soon with a post on my trip to Europe.

No country for Afghan men: California, 1928

27 F.2d 568 (1928)

In re FEROZ DIN.

No. 12501.

District Court, N. D. California, S. D., at San Francisco.

May 23, 1928.

BOURQUIN, District Judge.

This applicant for citizenship is a typical Afghan and a native of Afghanistan. He is readily distinguishable from “white” persons of this country, and approximates to Hindus. The conclusion is that he is not a white person, nor of African nativity or descent, to whom naturalization in general is limited by section 359, title 8, U. S. C. (8 USCA § 359).

Accordingly his petition is denied. This action is required by the principle of United States v. Thind, 261 U. S. 204, 43 S. Ct. 338, 67 L. Ed. 616, and much of the comment in that case is applicable to this. What ethnologists, anthropologists, and other so-called scientists may speculate and conjecture in respect to races and origins may interest the curious and convince the credulous, but is of no moment in arriving at the intent of Congress in the statute aforesaid.

Decree accordingly.

Source

A cinema article in Spanish

spliced-histories-64-anos-de-cine-afgano

In 2008, I worked for a group of three German filmmakers/women rights activists in Kabul to organise the Second Take, a film festival in Kabul with the central theme of gender and society. There were films by and about women from different countries. In addition to helping the organising team, I was also asked, at the end, to write a review of the festival and the films.

In absence of clear instructions from my good friend Sandra, the editor, I wrote a rather long article reviewing every single film in the festival,dedicating one or two paragraphs to each. Not what I would liked, but this was the structure Sandra wanted.

Anyway, that article got translated into Spanish and was published in Spliced histories: 64 años de cine afgano (2010), a book on Afghan cinema edited by Sandra and published by Asociación de amigos del cine experimental de Madrid. Today, by accident, I came across an electronic copy of the book.I would like to thank Sandra, after almost four years, for the efforts she put in helping me write that article. The entire book is available in PDF here.

Al-Biruni (973-1046) on grant proposals

al-biruni

Al-Biruni on Afghan stamp, 1973.

Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (973-1046) was a brilliant medieval man of science born in Khwarazm, Uzbekistan, and died in Ghazni, Afghanistan. Due to the many political turmoils of his time, he had to frequently migrate from city to city and each time, had to persuade princes and emperors to finance his numerous scientific expeditions and experiments, mostly pioneering works in the fields of astronomy and geography.

The way he worked with his sponsors might have been different from how the scientific research works today, but in general, the painful process of grant application has remained the same and a lot of scientists would say a similar thing about today’s funding agencies as the ‘sage’ in the following anecdote, quoted in Al-Biruni’s India, says about the medieval rich:

Once a sage was asked why scholars always flock to the doors of the rich, whilst the rich are not inclined to call at the doors of scholars. “The scholars”, he answered, “are well aware of the use of money, but the rich are ignorant of the nobility of science.”

In June 1974, UNESCO’s Courier magazine published an especial issue on Al-Biruni. The above quote was copied from there (available online).