Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Best Night to Date

I had the most amazing evening of my tour last night. An independent film maker has been filming at the Kabul Military Training Center for the past six weeks, living amongst the Afghan soldiers and shooting video without many restrictions thanks to the access that we have provided him. The young man, Weise Azimi, who is Afghan by heritage but American by birth, has travelled much of the globe thanks to his father's career with the Asian Development Bank and his own zeitgeist for travel. As a thank you for the cooperative relationship we have established, he invited several of us that he has worked with most closely to attend an event at his father's home in downtown Kabul. All we knew was that it would be diner with a likely visit from the U.S. Ambassador. On arrival, Colonel Jim Lyman, 1st Sergeant Don Weber, 2nd Lieutenant Amanda Straub and I, entered behind the walls of the safe house to a beautifully landscaped lawn, decorated with rugs and pillows, a patio filled with world citizens and an atmosphere at once informal and stately in this safe house in a side of Kabul that we have not seen to date. We removed our very heavy gear, to include helmets, body armor, weapons, and, in Amanda and I's case, cameras, in the vain hope that it would help us to assimilate with the audience of State representatives, Ambassadors, Artists and NGO leaders. Immediately , Weise introduced us to his stunning younger sister, Sara, a new graduate of Marylhurst College in Northern Virginia, and the obvious center of the party, as she was soon departing from her summer stay in Kabul to "Trek the Himalayas, visit Thailand and Vietnam before starting my graduate studies at the University of Manchester, my first visit to the United Kingdom." Indeed. Ah, to be 22 and embarking on a world tour.

After a brief tour of the house, seeing the artifacts of a lifetime of travel and collecting, Weise introduced us to his father, our host, Ali Azimi. While I was speaking to Ali, learning more of his career and life, Weise took over the DJ function and shifted the music to Thievery Corporation's collection from the Verve Archives...I was in heaven and in my element.

All I needed was a suit, a martini, and Margaret at my side, and I could have been at any party of a hundred over the past decade in Berlin, Paris, Cairo, Istanbul or Portland. Suffice it to say, it was a Jet Set night to remember.

I surveyed an audience that included the Ambassadors from the United States and India, the directors of several NGOs, the only female General Officer in the Afghan National Army, two professsional photographers that I now plan to work with later this month and into the winter, and several others, a diverse crowd from all ranks.

Of course, with the Ambassadorial presence, there were State Department Security Agents wandering the grounds in the dark of the shadows with MP5s and who knows what other weapons, as well as a big-ass German Shepherd that wandered the garden, loving everyone but those outside the gate.

Once I got into my groove and had befriended the kitchen staff and spoken with several of the guests, many of them started to realize that the guys in uniform were not so strange, we had a wonderful time. The most rewarding conversations I had that evening were those held over a Ginger Ale with our host and the Ambassador from India. We seemed to fall into a smooth groove of concurrence over the tremendous improvement of Afghanistan and Kabul in general over the past four years and ow little the international community seems to notice. With news reports from major American and Western media often coming from editors who have either never visited the city or jump in for a 48 hour wild cruise, during which time it is so very hard to find out the truths of any location. We discussed how vitally important the next three to four months are for Afghanistan, with the U.S. mid-term elections happening in the fall and so much being held in the balance over our commitment to Afghanistan and this region. So much of world opinion is based, in the words of one of us "on information that is clearly erroneous, but which falls upon ears looking for problems and shortcomings rather than success."

From there, Straub and I moved to the rugs in the yard with two photographers to discuss a project that Zalmai, a world-renowned photographer that knew two of the photographers I had already worked with here, planned to commence at the earliest opportunity. We exchanged contact information and plan rto meet up again later this week.

Incredible Afghan food, engaging and intelligent conversation, charming international guests which painted, like I said, a Jet Set ambassadorial class of world citizens concerned for the future flowering of this country made for a memorable evening.

An insanely cool party with way too many relationships established or reinforced.
And all this in a war zone; the parallel unverses of this city and country are sometimes, really, too much.

We started the ritual of replacing our gear, and prepared to, in the words of one of the guests, "Make yourselves back up to look like modern knights in armor," and commenced our journey home, from the Westernized comfort of the city through the desolate streets Eastward through the slums of the East side to the suburbs where we make our home. Changing back from statesman into soldier modes, made the evening seem like an illusion; but an illusion of a better, future Afghanistan laced with hopes that I might someday return to this place with my family, my sons playing with Afghan teens and wandering the shops, drinking tea and remembering that their father was part of a team that helped the people of Afghanistan get to where they are.

That will be nice.

-out here


Blogger Papa Ray said...

Are you really sure that it was not just an illusion?

Papa Ray

11:13 PM  

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