Ginny Barahona (Afghanistan)

Ginny Barahona (Afghan Women’s Network): Ginny worked with the North Philadelphia Public School System where she organized tutoring programs for four middle schools. This experience gave Ginny an interest in building communities through institutions and in the relationship between access to services and progress. At the time of her fellowship, Ginny was pursuing a Master’s degree at the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University.

Initial Impressions

08 Jul

90lbs. of crayons, $145 in overweight charges, a frightening 2.5 hours on Ariana Afghan Airlines, and I finally arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan. The city is extremely dry, hot and dusty. Kabul looks like a city torn in 2 horizontally with bombed out buildings everywhere. Other than that and the high number of UN, ICRC and military vehicles, it looks like a small city in any developing nation. Small shops selling shampoo, plastics, and soda, kids playing on the streets, handpainted billboards in Dari and lots of garbage line the streets.

When we first arrived, it was difficult to get out of the AWN building. Due to understandable security concerns, they demanded that we never leave the building. We met another American intern who was scheduled to leave the next day. Thankfully she hooked us up with some expats working in media before she left. Therefore, in a city where women should neither be seen nor heard, we have been able to get around this and see the city with them.

West Kabul is really in shambles. Most of the destruction in the city was committed by Afghan warlords fighting each other for power during the 1990s. The Taliban rose to power in 1996 with promises of peace that naturally appealed to desperate Afghans. But of course, once their popular support started to wane, oppression took on full swing. Currently the Taliban is no longer in power but there are weekly sometimes daily rocket attacks into Kabul and a new threat of suicide bombing. (The city is surrounded by large hills so attackers can easily launch from above there.)

However, I think they are trying to attack the American Embassy. Their equipment isn’t that good so it never actually reaches it. We’re not close to that area and since we work for an Afghan association, no one has thought of attacking our organization building. In any event, no one is sure who is launching the rockets.

It must be an organized group with money who may support the Taliban or any international terrorist group (i.e., Al-Qaeda) who wants foreigners out since rocket launchers are expensive. There is little information about this. I am reminded of watching GW Bush remove Afghanistan for Iraq as the first front on the war on terror. Now, I wonder whether risking American development workers lives is worth garnering election votes. Hmmm….

Recently, there are threats of suicide bombings which is unusual to Afghan culture. It is seen as cowardly. So, it’s suspected that another group is responsible for them but exactly who is anybody’s guess. We went to eat at a place that had a suicide bomb threat so few people were out. (Obviously we were unaware of this at the time.)

Lots of aid workers though have reached a point where you simply must live and work as you have to. So getting used to the threats is a bit of a challenge. Though the threats are significantly lessened if you stay out of white SUVs with big foreign flags or large UN letters. On the flip side, Afghans are extremely hospitable and friendly. (Though men can be harrassing on the streets.) It’s not hard to believe that the security threats are at least partly from non-Afghan sources.

Dressing in Kabul is somewhat of a challenge. The “appropriate” dress consists of pretty much a chadar or head covering, long shirts and long pants. Nothing shows except my face and hands or if I’m feeling particularly daring – arms below my elbows. It’s not a bad deal since the sun beats down so hard. Many women still wear the burka, particularly in their own neighborhoods, so you can see them take them off and on outside on the streets.

Women’s issues here are concentrated on far greater things than clothing such as violence, forced marriage, education, voting rights, etc. In Kabul, political and social freedoms are highly divided. Many of the women’s groups focus on political freedoms with little attention to social ones.

I look forward to working on the education project. Our project manager has yet to arrive from the US but we are already working on some other things for capacity building. There exists a lot of hope here in Kabul for the development of the country as a whole. However, it’s a challenge since people are so used to war – reflected even in children’s games.

Kite running is a game in which kids tie shards of glass to their strings in hopes of cutting each other’s kites down. Then they all run after the fallen kite for ownership. Kids play soccer around garbage and craters where rockets landed. All the while they laugh easily, yell out “howaryoo!” to us and love to have their pictures taken.

Posted By Ginny Barahona (Afghanistan)

Posted Jul 8th, 2004

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