At which city to stay?

Abul-Fazl Bayhaqi (995-1077) the great historian at the court of Ghaznavid Empire has said:

Do not stay in a city which does not have a just ruler, a proficient physician, and running water.

.در شهری مقام مکنید که در آن حاکمی عادل، طبیبی حاذق، و آبی روان وجود ندارد

Does Kabul have any one of these three?

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The quote from Mosafer’s blog (in Persian).

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The garbages in Kabul

Kabul city, September 2010

In Jebrael, a small well-managed neighborhood in west of Herat city, people pay a monthly fee to a private contractor who collects their garbages. That area is a Hazara quarter, so it is very natural that they should take care of themselves because the government trucks will not come even close to their homes in a million years. However, there is one thing that Kabul a city with a non-functioning municipality, can learn from Jebrael: privatization of public services.

In Kabul tons of garbage is produced each day, but the City is not able to collect even half of it with the 80 trucks it has. So what to do? The municipality has already privitised some city services, like the bus system – which didn’t get any better for inadequate vehicles and bad management.  Probably they should also try it on other services as well, like the garbage collection. The city of Toronto has recently decided to privative some public services, starting from garbage collection.   Of course Toronto – with all the resources it has, is not comparable to Kabul in anyway, but from  a managerial point of view, it works better for the City to privatize the tasks like garbage collection,  and focus more on planning, regularisation of housing and urban re-development projects, enforcing these regularization and fighting corruption.

Because in this case people would “pay” to this private contractor and expect them to take responsibility for the public sanitation of the city. Right now, the “safayee” money that residents pay, is so small and even that small amount gets lost in the corridors of corruption in the municipality.  The real problem in Kabul city (and whole Afghanistan at large) is that people are used to heavily subsided and free public services since the King Zahir, on the other hand government is weak and corrupt and can’t afford these services. So if the private monsters take over these works, they will deliver services and ask the “price” for it from the people, and the municipality should act as a regulatory body who controls the things.

The westerners introduce only a caricature of the “values” they have back home to Afghanistan; the democracy is the dirty farce we are forced to wittniss in general elections, the free market is the loose borders through which the neighborer stuff the country with their outdated garbages, all the money-lending governmnet banks, like the Bank-e Zeraati (agriculture) and Bank-e Rahni (mortgage), are closed and the people are told to go to Kabul Bank! it is a free market after all. Privatization is selling the government properties  under-priced to your brothers….

It’s more than one year that I’m in Canada, I don’t see anything like that in this country, they have free market, they have a capitalist system, they are privatizing the public services, but also they have the laws and regulations for all these. Libraries are full of law books, they have rules for literally anything, and they enforce these laws. Afghanistan comparing to Canada, looks like a wild jungle. Of course, I hate to say the west should do this and do that for us, while it’s our country and we should take care of it. But what can we do?everything is under the control of the westerners particularly Americas, we can’t afford even a lunch for our solders let alone anything else. An american private can order an Afghan general, Karzai looks like a lazy first-grader in front of the principle, when meets a US official, we are a colonized country, even though they don’t write such in newspapers. Thus, I expect the westerners to take responsibly for most of the problems we have now in the sectors of governance and economy in Afghanistan.

I think the west namely the US, should have taught us the rules before pushing us into the game. We are playing the games we don’t know the rules, those few who know the rules, keep fooling the nation and manipulating the entire system.

I am not against privatization, in some cases and circumstances I find it very helpful, like the Kabul’s solid garbage collection, but we have to set the rules first.

Kabul at sunset

I think it was the evening of  September 23, last year when I went to Cinema Ariana to watch a very bad movie called The Black Tulip. After the movie, I walked from Forushgah to Shah Doshamshira bridge to catch the bus to West Kabul. On my way to bus station, I felt lost in the flooding river of crowd pressing me from all sides, it was like impossible to walk through all those cars, carts, men, women, porters, vendors, bicycles, motor bikes which intermingled under a thick blanket of sunset dust. It was the time when everyone especially the laborers, clerks, street children, beggars headed towards home and used the last minute chance to get the best bargains from fruit vendors who constantly shouted some repetitive words. In that crazy environment, I saw an old man standing on the edge of the Kabul river and praying with a relaxed and care-free attitude, it was impressive to watch him how he found a moment of solitude in  the middle of that massive hysteric chaos.

I tried to take better photos, but everybody was pushing me, so all my efforts resulted in  these shaky blurry shots that you see three of them here:

Pul-e Bagh Umomi, Kabul / September 23, 2010

Praying on the edge of Kabul river, Kabul / September 23, 2010

Shah Doshamshira mosque, Kabul / September 23, 2010

The paradoxical burqas

Sahraa Karimi is an award-winning Afghan filmmaker based in Kabul-Bratislava-Tehran, whose films are mostly about women. In one of her films there is a naked woman in a room dancing under a blue burqa while a light wind is blowing and a mystique sound of music is accompanying the movements of her body; this was  the most surrealistic image I’ve ever seen in an Afghan film. Indeed very captivating and well-crafted as well. The two contradicting ideas of nakedness and hijab were shown in one single body.

In most Afghan movies and in most foreign movies about Afghanistan, the burqa is a compulsory element. It’s aesthetically, dramatically and ideologically necessary to show an Afghan woman in a burqa to give  a believable sense of Afghanistan to the story.   Although a large number of Afghan women both in urban centers and rural areas appear in public without burqas, we cannot overlook the blue streetscape in some smaller Afghan towns were women have a very limited access to personal freedom. So burqa is there on streets, even though some of our “progressive” women may don’t like it.

There is another independent Afghan film called Sunglasses by Mustafa Kia, a young filmmaker in Kabul, who has also used the burqa in a paradoxical way – and probably realistic as well.  In this short film that you can watch the full version here, a woman under burqa goes to bazar and buys a pair of fancy sunglasses.  She never takes off the burqa while in the public, so one wonders why she needs sunglasses anyway? The answer is at the end of the film, but the whole story is very meaningful and thought-provoking – if you forgive the quality of the image.

It’s summer time in Kabul, and burqas get more interesting on streets, you will see a lot of women under burqa who hold an umbrella as well to protect themselves against the sun light. Well, if you don’t have a burqa and you got an umbrella that is understandable, given the burning sun of Kabul in summers. But if you are already under a burqa which is totally sun-proof, why do you have to carry a half kilo umbrella on your head to exhaust yourself even more? I think these type of women are missing the raison d’etre of the umbrella and following the fashion in a wrong way! — unless all of them are surrealist artists who are participating in a city-wide show of performance art, that we are not aware of.

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I’m not done yet, I’ll come back to Afghan women’s sense of style later again- and again!