Grand Overland Voyage (2005-2009)

Kabul – Give Us Women

For every victim, they want seven women as compensation. A journalist friend of mine just returned back from Taliban stronghold southeastern province of Paktika. He recounted to me his amazing experience in the surreal region. Mud-houses disappear in the capital, Sharana, because of the constructions of new modern buildings. Mud houses in the districts also disappeared, due to another reason. In this area security is just an empty talk. For security reason in Taliban controlled district, one at least should be Pashtun, bearded, and dress in turbans. But that’s not everything. Being non-local anyhow is dangerous. And my friend was just lucky to be able to drag a local to rent a car and bring him to the districts near Pakistan border. It was a near-to-death journey. The police were surprised to see this Kabuli Pashtun came to this off-limit region. He was so anxious because Taliban was still everywhere. Anybody here can be Taliban, because everybody looks the same – bearded, turbaned, and dressed in traditional costumes. Even the policemen, due to security reason, don’t wear uniform. My friend had the chance to interview the police commander, who completely appeared in Taliban-style. The commander had not so much words [...]

December 9, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Rocket Rains

Winter is usually quiet months of bomb attacks. But it seems the formula does not work for this year. This week is the worst of this year in term of security in the capital. In recent days there had been several fatal bomb blasts all over the capital. It had been part of the daily life here. On November 27, when I was just walking on the street from the Afghan bodybuilding about 7:30 a.m, suddenly I heard a big blast. I am already used to this kind of blast or that kind of rocket rocks; I usually had no any more surprised reaction to this kind of happening. But I usually stay in my room when all of these things happened – in a safe place. Now, I am on road and the blast was heard much louder and shocking. I ran for some steps, but became completely normal again not more than a minute after. The blast happened somewhere near the Pakistan embassy, about 4 kilometer from the place I initially heard the blast. The target was a military vehicle in heavily secured area of Wazir Akbar Khan, where many embassies and foreign aid organizations are located. December [...]

December 6, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – A Failed Mission,2933,312183,00.html A planned attack launched from Pakistan has been foiled, says the spokesman of the ministry. Afghan security forces, meanwhile, arrested a potential homicide bomber as he attempted to board an army bus in Kabul, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary told reporters. Authorities have been wary of attacks targeting army or police buses in Kabul after two such attacks this year. The attacker was from the Pakistani city of Peshawar, Bashary said. Afghan and Western officials say many homicide bombers are trained in neighboring Pakistan and then cross the border into Afghanistan to carry out their attacks. An Afghan soldier kicked the man as he tried to board the bus, and when the attacker fell down, he was unable to detonate his suicide vest, said Kabul police chief Mohammad Salim Hasas. The officials displayed the defused suicide vest for the media and said the attacker was undergoing blood tests because he appeared to be under the influence of drugs. Hasas said the attacker’s identity would not be revealed in hopes he would inform on other attackers. More than 6,000 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year — a record number, according to an Associated Press count based on figures [...]

November 19, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Eid Mobarak

Afghan guards offer prayers in the Presidential Palace People were waiting with anxiety yesterday: whether they had finished their Ramadan fasting or they had to keep fasting one another day. Not until 10 p.m. Kabul time the decision was announced: Eid to be on Friday. President Hamid Karzai offers his Eid prayers in the mosque inside presidential palace compound. These years, as the security situation in Kabul is worsened, it is not wise if the President prays in public place. Two years ago the President still had his Eid prayers in Pul-i Khisthi mosque together with his people. But now any ceremony attended by the President will mean the arrival of armed bodyguards, area sterilization with the security dogs (it was introduced by the Americans to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan), some helicopters patrolling around, and tightened security on all main roads. Letting the President to pray in public mosque under current situation is too much risky. This resource and energy wasting, image gambling, and non-beneficial idea is a no-way choice. The cameramen and photographers are requested to arrive in the Palace at 7:15 a.m. for security clearance. It seems that the program is not so much attractive to photographers. [...]

October 12, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – A Blast in Baharistan

Bomb blast in the middle of holy month An early morning in the middle of Ramadan, the Muslim’s holy month, Kabul once again saw one of deadliest terrorism attacks this year. A crowded bus loading soldiers of Afghan National Army (ANA) was ripped into two parts. All passengers on-board were feared dead. Civilians were among the victims. The holy month has not brought quiet peaceful moment in the country. It is 6:45 a.m. I was slapped from my lazy sleep by a big blast. After living in Kabul for a while, I am pretty much used to bomb blasts. “It must be another bomb blast,” I thought. But considering that the blast was very loud, it should be a big one. But what can I do? Nobody arrived in our news office and for sure it was not recommended for me to go alone. I tried to go back to my sleep. I just wished it was not a bomb, but an accident from the near Chinese construction site. But I could not sleep. Sirens of police cars or ambulance could be heard from my room. I know it was indeed a bomb blast, and for sure, a huge one. [...]

September 29, 2007 // 1 Comment

Kabul – A Lunch in Chinese Embassy

The grand complex of Chinese embassy. Not big enough? This is just one among dozen of buildings in the complex. It’s grand. It’s just like a Chinese garden from the Middle Kingdom being transported to the middle of dusty Kabul. Mr. Yang, Mr. Li, and Mr. Yu were waiting outside the grand embassy building with strong Chinese-style architecture. Mr. Yang is the ambassador, Mr. Li is the counselor, and Mr. Yu is the protocol staff. They have been waiting for about 30 minutes. We came very late, due to jammed Kabul traffic. And we, two women and two men, felt very much embarrassed. How suddenly an ordinary man like me being invited to have lunch with his Excellency Chinese Ambassador? In a diplomatic function held for the Indonesian National Day, the Chinese Ambassador and his very two staffs paid a visit. A friend of mine, a Chinese Indonesian working in UN, expressed her curiousness on Chinese culture. The hospitable Ambassador then invited her to come to the embassy to have lunch together. A month after it is proved that the invitation was not a mere lip service. She received an email from the protocol staff about the meeting and she [...]

September 24, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – A Peace Day and A Bomb

Children celebrate Peace Day. “Peace is for all!” they say. International Peace Day may be just an ordinary day to most countries in the world, but in Afghanistan it is treated very seriously. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) declared September 21 as Peace Day in Afghanistan since July this year. This date, the one day of peace in Afghanistan, is the day without violence, one day of peace to start a peace era in the war-torn country. A series of activities were conducted to promote the peace day campaign extensively since the previous week. Yesterday, more than one hundred street children were collected to fly kites together from top of a hill. This, with media collaboration, became headlines in newspapers and brought the peace message through the TVs and radio. A day before, the Kabul Municipality inaugurated a Peace Junction: a simple junction transformed to be a pleasant green park. UNAMA also conducted an exhibition of 18 photos of an Afghan female photographer, Freshta Dunya, in the restored fabled garden of Babur. The number of 18 in such a big place of exhibition is considerably modest. But UNAMA made it big anyway, by inviting numerous TV cameramen to [...]

September 21, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Peace Day in Afghanistan

“It’s not enough to talk about peace. One should believe in it. And it’s not enough to believe in it. One should work on it.” A Taliban member was caught and now displayed to the journalists I read this strong message in a local newspaper today. Three days to go, and Afghanistan is going to celebrate the Peace Day in the country. What a beautiful day. Imagine a day without bomb blast, a day without fire and explosion. Peace, in Afghanistan where never-ending wars have crushed the country to its worst, is a dear thing that has been awaited for decades. UNAMA, the main UN agency in Afghanistan, declared 21 September to be celebrated as Peace Day throughout Afghanistan. They work together with a global campaign group called Peace One Day. The date is to be marked by a countrywide total cessation of violence. I also cannot wait to see the arrival of peace in Afghanistan. I am tired of news of bomb blasts and fire. I am tired of news of ethnic clash and demonstrations of the discriminated minorities. I am tired reading about anger towards American, Pakistani, and Iranian intervention in Afghanistan. And I am waiting the day [...]

September 18, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Massoud Day: An Unfinished Speech

“Massoud never left his country, and sacrificed his life for the fatherland” – President Hamid Karzai The supporters of Massoud remembering the 6th anniversary of the martyrdom Two day before the 9-11, a significant event happened in Afghanistan. On September 9, 2001, Ahmad Shah Massoud, one of the greatest and charismatic Afghan’s commanders, was assassinated in a suicide blast by Al Qaeda agents posing as journalist and photographer. He died on September 14, 2001 after few days in comma. This was the first time Afghanistan saw suicide bombing, which in later years become more popular. This was also the beginning why cameras are treated with full suspects as sensitive and possibly dangerous item in Afghanistan. But the most significant of all was Afghan-nation-in-struggle its great leader. Massoud was regarded as the hero who defeated the Red Army and successfully slapped Islamism fanaticism exactly in the face. His unexpected assassination by two Arab religious extremists was mourned by millions of Afghan. In 2002 the American-raised new government of Afghanistan declared Ahmad Shah Massoud as Afghan’s National Hero, as celebration of victory of Mujahiddin over communism. September 9 is then remembered every year nationwide as ‘Massoud Day’, to remember the spirit struggle [...]

September 9, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Bom Blast (Again)

What? A bomb blast? Come on, it’s just a bomb blast. Let’s continue with the party and plenty of food here. It was like a morning call. A big blast even rocked me from my sleep. I opened my eyes, thought a while, “it might be a bomb blast”, and continued sleeping. Later I just found out that it was a suicide bomb. The location is nearby the airport, about 4 km from my place. But as the sound was very loud, this should be a big bomb, a car bomb. The attacker targeted a NATO-led ISAF military airport, just next to the main military airport. But the target seemed to be very miraculous, as always, as the attacker only killed two Afghan soldiers and injured some others. Suicide attacks have been quite rampant in Kabul in last three months, since the big blast which killed 35 Afghan police cadets and other minor blasts targeted to ISAF soldiers. Calculation on casualties shows that most of the attacks kill civilians or locals rather than foreign ‘enemies’. As it becomes routine, the morning attack didn’t change so much for the people mood. The ladies in our embassy were busier on cooking food [...]

August 31, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – An Afghan Style Swimming Contest

Who swims the fastest? The first time I see such a bizarre swimming contest, where many of the participants escape from the swimming pool in the middle of the race. The previous swimming exhibition 3 days ago brought me back to the crowded swimming pool of Youth Club (Klab-e-Jawanan). As before, they also made early announcement time for reporters to come. The original schedule for the competition was to be held at 9 in the morning, but not until 3 p.m. the swimming contest was started. The program organizer, a man in his 30’s and a body completely wrapped by stack hairs, requested the half-naked young boys to sit nicely in the provided benches. He, just like his swimming students, also dressed minimally. First time I saw an event organizer dressing only in singlet and pants, not even a swim pack. “OK, boys. Go back to your seat, we will start our program!” said him with the microphone. After noticing me taking photos of him only in white pants and talking on MC desk, he immediately grabbed jeans trousers to cover his hairy legs. The competition started, finally. There are only 4 lanes in this tiny pool, which means only [...]

August 30, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Indonesian Role in the Hostage Crisis

The diplomat-in-charge announces the detail of the story to the community of Indonesian expats in Kabul (which is less than a dozen) If there is one more reason to be proud as an Indonesian, then this comes from the southern part of Afghanistan. Yesterday we were very relieved to hear that a breakthrough had been achieved in the negotiation between Taliban and Korean delegates after a face-to-face meeting held in Ghazni city. The two sides agreed at 5 points of agreement: first, all Koreans will quit Afghanistan by the end of 2007; second, Koreans working for NGOs in Afghanistan will leave the country by the end of this month; third, no more Korean Christian missionaries are allowed to enter Afghanistan; fourth, Koreans will not be attacked when evacuating from this country; five, Taliban have canceled the demands of prisoners exchange. There is not much known by the media and international world, that Indonesia has a big role in this breakthrough of the hostage crisis. A quote from The News When asked whether there was any secret deal also, Taliban commander Abdullah said there was none. He said an Indonesian diplomat, an official from the ICRC and Afghan tribal elder Haji [...]

August 29, 2007 // 1 Comment

Kabul – Midnight Rocket Attack

The target was US Embassy “Blaaaaarrrrrrr!!!” I heard a blast, quite shocking, when chatting with a friend. This friend is an Afghan journalist based in Wazir Akbar Khan area, about 2 km from my place, and heard the same strange sound. “Did you hear the sound? What is that?” he messaged me on my chat messenger. “Maybe it is a rocket,” he answered his own question, and disappeared immediately. It was 11.00 p.m. I was thinking it was a bomb blast, but who will blast a bomb at the middle of the night, and if it was indeed a bomb why it could be heard so loud both from Wazir Akbar Khan and from my place, which are separated by 2 km of distance. My friend was probably right: it was a rocket. I talked with a Pakistani colleague, Mr. Mudasser, about the sound. He didn’t hear anything. But when I said it might be a rocket, he just showed a very normal expression, “Well, in this kind of country, this is not something extraordinary. People are get used.” The second day (today) I just get it confirmed. Yes, it was a rocket attack in the vicinity of the US [...]

August 25, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Another Kidnap Attempt

The roads of Kabul look normal today. But with the Korean hostage krisis is still in the air, and also some other foreigner kidnappings, no foreigners are supposed to travel freely on the streets. After the German woman hostage case which already brought earthquake to international media, today there is another similar case, but much more quieter. I received an SMS from a friend: “There has been a shooting within the last 30 minutes in the Qala E Fatullah area in an attempt to kidnap a local businessman. The attempt was believed to have been unsuccessful. However all personnel should be extra vigilant.” 19:51:12 23/08/2007 A local businesswomen interviewed by the TIME said, security in Kabul was merely a joke. In fact, kidnapping is not only towards foreigners. The Christina Meier case went to the news because it was a foreign woman kidnapped. But for local nationals, it’s just a routine occurrence, and this never goes to the news. In recent days, Kabul probably is not anymore a nice place to wander around [...]

August 23, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – School Inauguration

The President himself innaugurates the school A school inauguration in Kabul is attended by the President Hamid Karzai. In the situation when suicide bombing is rampant in the capital, violent attacks are getting common on Kabul streets, and foreigners are kidnapped, there should be something special that the Afghan President decide to inaugurate construction of a high school building. The Ghazi High School was among the oldest, famous, and historical schools in Kabul in its time. The school was originally built in 1923, just 4 years after the independence of Afghanistan from the British control. The civil wars in Afghanistan destroyed the school. In 1994 the school turned to be ruins with empty hollows and walls scattered by bullet holes. The school, the alma mater of current Minister of Higher Education Dr. Dadfar, hibernated. Today, American strip and stars flies proudly next to Afghan flag over a tablet written: “Ghazi High School – The foundation stone of Ghazi High School was laid by H.E. Hamid Karzai, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on 21st August 2007. The school was constructed through the financial assistance of USAID.” The costs of the reconstruction of the Ghazi School is millions of dollars [...]

August 21, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – The Afghan Independence Day

The happy parade inside the stadium When an independence day is celebrated with fading pride as an independent country… If Indonesia is still in splendor of the 62nd anniversary of its independence day, Afghanistan is celebrating its 88th today. The British Treaty of Rawalpindi on August 8, 1919 admitted the self-determination of Afghanistan, of which foreign affairs formerly under British subject. Afghanistan had been arena of power struggle between nations since the beginning of its history, and at the end of the 19th century it became arena of the Great Game between Russian and British imperials. As both imperial powers were almost equally strong, Afghanistan was used as buffer to delimit Russian empire from the British India. Under British and Russian influence, the northern border with Russia (Amu-Darya River), the eastern border with British India (Durand Line) and the border with Persia were drawn. Afghanistan, under subject of Russian-British agreement, was given independence but not in its foreign affairs, which is under the British control. The king Amanullah Khan succeeded to force British to admit Afghanistan as fully independent country, by his invasion to India in 1919 and resulted the Treaty of Rawalpindi. The full independence of Afghanistan was proclaimed [...]

August 19, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – My Red and White in Kabul

Red-and-White in Kabul What a feeling. I see the Red-and-White flag flying proudly on Kabul sky. Today we celebrate again our independence day. Indonesia is celebrating its 62nd anniversary. And for the Indonesian community in Afghanistan, this day is as special as it is for our other countrymen in Indonesia. Flag ceremony was a routine for most of us when we were receiving education in Indonesian schools. Who had never experienced boredom of attending flag ceremony? Who had never grumbled to be given task to be flag-ceremony commandant or national anthem choir? At least I did. When I was in elementary school and high school in Indonesia, I used to hate Saturday after-school time as it’s the rehearsal schedule for weekly Monday morning flag ceremony. I used to grumble for this so-called nationalism development, discipline training, citizenship building (bla, bla, bla) to justify the routine flag ceremony. I used to grumble when my headmaster forgot to stop his long and dull speech while we, the poor little students, have to stand helplessly under the scorching sun. But all of the dull memories of flag ceremony turned when I left Indonesia to study in China. In my five and half year [...]

August 17, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Indonesian Products in Afghanistan

Indonesian exhibition booth in Kabul, Afghanistan The first Asia-Europe International Trade Exhibition and Conference is held in Kabul for five days to commemorate the 88th anniversary of independence Afghanistan. The exhibition was attended by several Afghan national and international companies, but we may be proud as Indonesia joined the exhibition as the sole country participant. Indonesia, represented by the embassy, has quite a sizeable booth in the exhibition. The ambassador himself, with full contingent of all diplomats (we have 5), attended the opening ceremony. There were all ladies from the embassy wearing kebaya national dress. Compared to other booths (TV companies, supermarket, design company, carpet products, etc), Republic of Indonesia booth was an obvious distinguished one. Why Indonesia has to be represented as a country and not by any national companies? “It’s a pity that our businessmen are not interested at business in Afghanistan. Actually if we dare to risk, the market in Afghanistan is quite good. We (the embassy) have offered to Indonesian companies, but as they are not interested, so we come to exhibit here,” said a diplomat friend told me. Indonesian embassy is not a company, so what they can bring to exhibit? You can see a [...]

August 13, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Lobotomy

Now I know the feeling if my memory is lobotomized. Actually I have been in depression since the last two weeks. I celebrated my birthday with smiles on my face but tears flooding my heart. I tried to hide this feeling, but I just could not. How it happened might be important, might be not. But the result is the same. I found my hard disk, full of my photos and writing which I have made during my journey, completely died. This happened one day after the funeral of the last Afghan King, Zahir Shah. The day before I had big quarrel with a fellow photographer who felt resented as the office didn’t allow him to go and chose me instead to cover the event. My hard disk is damaged. Suddenly my day turned dark. I just could not afford to loose all of the images I made in my traveling around Afghanistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. All of the photos were in the hard disk. And now the hard disk is broken. Along with the photos, I also lost my writing documents, some unpublished blog posts, some photos of my family members and friends. All is gone. [...]

August 9, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – One Year Older

Chinese Food in Kabul Happy Birthday to….. me Today is my birthday. Well… it’s not something special. I have birthday once in a year anyway. One year pass, and I get one year older. I am used not to make my birthday as a special day. I am used to spend birthday lonely, on road, on mountain, in the middle of nowhere, with absence of family and close friends. I am used to it, and I am prepared to it. I was conditioned to live alone. My family sent me to study in China when I was 19. I remembered my last birthday celebrated, when I was 18, was just few days before being enrolled to a university in Surabaya. High school friends came and congratulated me. It was simple, but there were at least 20 friends coming to my little house. That was the birthday party with the biggest numbers of guests. The most terrific in my history, I think. The yellow rice ‘tumpeng’ replaced my birthday cake, and laughter of newly graduated high school students filled the air. That night I remembered as the last moment of mine being a happy high school students, had no other pressure [...]

August 8, 2007 // 1 Comment

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