A young man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk...and apparently, back again.

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Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

The details of my life are quite inconsequential, really. Summers in Rangoon...luge lessons...

Friday, October 29, 2010


"Dear AfghaniDan: What season is it over there?"

It's the best season of all...Pomegranate Season!  Having only known the juice made from this fruit, I'm really digging the abundance of them in Afghanistan at this time of year.  The above photo was not mine...none of my attempts to catch a pom cart or pom stand have turned out well, but they are everywhere in the city.  Since I saw it as an obligation, I dug into one the other day and haven't looked back.

Esmat shows how to open up the sucker.

Eat with great care, I was warned...for this stuff STAINS.

Sweet messy goodness.  I'm hooked.

"Dear AfghaniDan: What's the weather like in Kabul?"

 I have an inability to quit photographing roses.

It's quite pleasant, in fact.  The nights have turned cool to occasionally cold, but the days still warm up.  It's a lot like Denver, honestly, only a bit more mild and in no precipitation, ever.  There were two occasions in the past few days when it sprinkled a couple of drops -- not even enough to cover a leaf -- yet still, it felt amazing.  I have felt actual raindrops three times in the past 5.5 months, which is weird.  About a week ago we had a hell of a dust storm, which toppled a lot and coated everyone & everything in dirt, yet never brought rain.  It reminded me of the thunderstorms in Khost, which were usually all thunder and wind.  Thanks for asking, stranger!

It's nice enough to practice video outdoors.
(A scene from the Basic Public Affairs Course.)

Mock interviews are always fun... 
Unless there are explosives in the camera.
(see: Massoud, Ahmad Shah)

In fact, it's the perfect weather for a drive around the neighborhood and its "poppy palaces"...ornate houses so named for the strong suspicion that only income augmented by drug profits could possibly afford to have them built.  Of course, some turn out to be funded by "development" money...that goes a long way here, too.

Poppy one.

Poppy two.

Poppy three.

Poppy school?  Sure, why not.

"Dear AfghaniDan: Why all the links lately, and what's with the increased focus on national and international level happenings?"

 When at a Soviet-style podium, play the part!

This answer isn't as simple.  I read a ridiculously high volume of Afghanistan-related stories each day, and try to post the most relevant to a point I'm making about my own experiences, or simply the best of the bunch.  The ones about life 'downrange', the life of the warrior engaged in regular combat, are simply in tribute to them.  The ones about Kabul or the fate of this war are shared because that's what I am engaged in (or at least on the periphery of) on a daily basis: decisions that shape the future of national institutions, and by extension, Afghanistan's future.  It's mentally challenging in its own way...though as you've picked up if you've read a few entries, I'm often resentful of being here in relative safety while thousands of Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen face deadly danger in their missions.

A Defense Ministry press conference in the palatial GMIC.

The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of U.S. and NATO service members here are as safe as I am, and only a relatively small number are clearing mine-ridden farmland, patrolling desolate villages, or convoying across ambush roads.  But something a fine officer and simply decent human being said tonight at his farewell dinner gave me pause.  Speaking directly of that nagging feeling, he pointed out that by building institutions, we are giving Afghans something they haven't had in over 30 years: hope.  "And hope is a whole lot more important than another dead bad guy."

Gen. Azimi takes another round of questions from the press.

And dons the shades for a few more interviews outside.

For my own beat reporting on what was said at the press conference above, please check out the writeup by yours truly (not in the job description these days, but straight journalism is still fun to me).

My main man House and I by the Gov't of Afghanistan seal.

And because I simply can't quit this link addiction, here's another...from Time, but highlighting a letter to the Washington Post that has a fairly excellent point.  Let's just show the text of it.

"A few days ago we were hearing that peace talks with the Taliban were growing more serious, in part because we were decimating their leadership. Now we're hearing that the Taliban is doing more or less fine, thank you very much.
As one of your readers, what in the world am I supposed to make of an article in yesterday's newspaper claiming that the United States and its allies are kicking the holy crap out of the Taliban, and another article today that claims that, no, actually, U.S. and allied operations are not having much of an effect at all on the Taliban's ability to conduct operations?...
Can you see how this is confusing?... Here's a radical proposition: why don't you direct your reporters to pool their sources, work together, and write an article that highlights the conflicting assessments rather than write two articles taking each set of sources at face value?

Because I shouldn't forget to read the newspaper one day and miss the news that we're winning. Or losing."

Read more:

Inventory, old school. 

The photos earlier of video camera practice show a portion of a training day at the basic Public Affairs Course my team coordinates.  It's a surprising venture when you first hear of it: an Afghan media company (of which there are several very good ones) is contracted to provide five weeks of training in everything from photography to story structure to editing a broadcast segment.  Our colleagues at the ministries provide as many soldiers, NCOs and officers as they can from the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police, the border police, and so on.  I like it because it's one of the more tangible examples of something we're actually doing...since so much of the 'heavy lifting' is hard to see, hard to quantify, and hard to explain.

Instruction from a nationally known actor, it turns out.

Video instruction: it ain't sexy, but it pays off.

Chai breaks break up the class day.
(Yes, I wish it was beer in those cups.)

Social time under the barbed wire.

Cascading vines surround each building in this compound.

House and the great Colonel Murad.

AND, JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT... A couple of my favorite shots from the chow hall here at camp.

A large crowd of Afghan employees enjoying...'South Park'.
Some things you can't make up.

"StratCom" (IO), Army-style.
Choose your destiny, soldier.  And make the analogy.
Army strong is to a rack of ribbons as death is to a cemetery.
(I think someone needs to re-take his SATs...)


Anonymous Gollum said...

Good stuff as always

October 30, 2010 at 7:45 PM  
Blogger yomistast said...

rAfghanidan- How do you feel about Sandy Alderson, a Marine, to be named GM of the Mets?

October 31, 2010 at 6:41 PM  
Blogger FrenchFried said...

First time I ate pomegranate was in Senegal, Africa...and it was the last, too many seeds to chew on. Thankfully, I survived on mangos!
No "saffron palaces" yet? I read saffron (crocus)is supposed to replace poppy fields, due to its high added value (see in Herat Province)
And what Gen. Azimi said about the necessary, if not imperative, involvement of women in the ANA is... revolutionary. Burn down your burkas, Afghan Sisters!

November 1, 2010 at 11:50 AM  
Blogger Major Dan said...

Thanks, Gollum! YoMista, that's an outstanding question. I feel it's a very positive development, provided the fans and the NY media have the patience to see through the actual repair of a very dysfunctional organization, top to bottom...which they don't. Still, it's good to have a professional GM!

November 2, 2010 at 1:49 PM  
Anonymous GodfathaSlap said...

I bet you DO wish it were beer in those cups, Panama Red. Get your ass back here and my Godsons will ensure that your glass never drops below half full ...


November 2, 2010 at 9:35 PM  
Anonymous Leigh said...

Dan - my students want to write you letters....I need an address. Can you email it to me or Facebook it? - Leigh

November 29, 2010 at 7:54 AM  

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