Sunday, March 22, 2009

Brush, Bowels, and Becoming Gender Neutral

The Brush

We are experiencing a brush with royalty in Kabul. The 5-bedroom home where we are staying also has visitors from Afghanistan's royal family. The daughter-in-law and father-in-law of Mohammed Daoud, the country's first President, came in from the United States and Sweden for Daoud's funeral last week. Daoud had staged a coup against his own cousin, King Zahir Shah in order to take power in 1973, and then himself was killed in a bloody coup in 1978 that sent the country into decades of bloodshed and turmoil.

"If you ask any Afghan when did it all start, they will say it is because of that, the assassination of Daoud, this was the turning point," said Nadir Naeem, Daoud's grandson who left behind a white shirt on the coat rack in the room where I'm now staying. "The last day that Afghanistan was independent was 27th April, 1978." (Quoted from IHT)

Only a couple members of Daoud's family survived the massacre at the Presidential Palace. Those killed were buried secretly in the dead of night and the location of their bodies was unknown until last year when two mass graves were discovered in Kabul. It took six months for DNA and dental record tests to confirm their identities. This past Tuesday a state funeral was held for Daoud, and there are posters of him wearing Jackie-O-like sunglasses all over the city (and on the front and back windshields of an SUV parked in our driveway).

It's interesting to me that all this comes at a time when America's increasing criticism of President Karzai is causing him to warm up to Russia - some have even asked whether there's a New Cold War brewing. Karzai seems to be taking a lesson out of the Daoud playbook - as Daoud was the master manipulator of Cold War superpowers. He once famously said, "I light my American cigarettes with Russian matches."

Bowels

No, not those bowels! This morning I journeyed into the bowels of the Kabul International Airport. Long story short: things got a little crazy on our way out of the airport yesterday and we left behind one of our personal bags. The question was - would it still be there?

On our way through the heavily fortified airport entrance, our car was stopped and Kevin was ordered to get out for searching. When our driver, Zia Jan, also started to open his door, the Afghan police officer motioned for him to stay in the car, "No, you're too old," he said chuckling. "You're not going to carry any guns. You're too old." Interesting security technique.

The luggage handler who annoyed us yesterday when he was grabbing at our bags and trying to "help" push our cart was a very welcome smiling face to see, and he was really there to help. Later he showed us a picture of himself as a younger man wearing a uniform - See, his eyes told me, I did something important once. I wasn't always a baggage boy. As a uniformed officer he would check visas, but was forced to retire. They told him to retire, to relax. But he has a family to support, and being near the airport is the only thing he knows.

My journey into the Luggage Dungeon took me underground - past dilapidated couches piled high and through metal prison doors. Inside, there was a maze of luggage - unorganized, covered in dust, mold and droppings. "Yes, there are lots of mice that start living in the bags," said the claims officer. "There's luggage here from ten years ago." I did not find the bag here. It was still inside the terminal, safely stowed underneath another officer's desk. They'd even wrapped thick tape around it to keep someone from getting inside. I'd like to credit the honesty of all the airport personnel, but some of the good karma, Kevin believes, comes from the 2004 Boston Red Sox hat he takes with him on every trip as a symbol of good luck.

Becoming Gender Neutral

People always ask me - "What's it like to be a woman traveling and working in Afghanistan?" It occurred to me last night that it's better than being a man and it's a bit like becoming gender neutral. It could even be said that there is some gender privilege. So what if a few men here and there don't shake my hand? Western men cannot meet Afghan women as easily as I can meet with both Afghan men and women.

13 comments:

Scott said...

Beth, this is awesome. I'm still trying to figure out what you're doing, but the blog is aweseome. Look forward to reading more about it.

Hope things are well

Beth Murphy said...

Scott, thanks for reading! I'm doing a new documentary following young girls at a new all girls' school. I'm planning to film them, their families and teachers over a full school year. Knowing people are reading inspires me to keep writing - so, thanks!

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