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Field Reporting – Afgan Irony

September 16th, 2009 Tristan No comments

Last night, after bowling three games at UzBowl, I was sitting in the shoe return area waiting for Peretz to come back from a phone call. I had on my blue MBL (Marine Biological Laboratory) shirt, when a hefty, well dressed gentleman of Central Asian ethnicity sat down next to me. I heard him mutter MBL, huh?, and immediately he slapped me on the shoulder in a jovial manner and asked, So what state are you from?Pleasantly surprised to hear some English (the last few countries have, at times, been very linguistically isolating) I responded that I grew in New Jersey and now live in California. Turns out he went to high school in Philly, and is now the head of an Afghani construction company. Over the next few minutes of speedy conversation I assembled the following picture. The US military hires his firm as a primary contractor for reconstruction projects in the war torn regions of Afghanistan. He manages the projects, finding local sub-contractors to perform various, specific construction tasks like masonry, carpentry or excavation.As in the US, the sub-contractors are chosen in a bidding process; specific plans are laid out, costs are estimated in-detail for labor, materials, and transportation. From the primary cash flow his company receives from the US military, he sub-divides it to the subcontractors. Mixed in with the seemingly innocuous costs of each sub-contract is a non-trivial local business tax. Want to take a guess? Yup, thats right, its a payoff in cold hard cash to the Taliban, after all, we wouldnt want any unfortunate accidents to happen on your construction site. In typical bureaucratic style, the US military tracks where each dollar is spent and is fully aware of this cost of doing business.I guess I find it funny that the US military knowinglypays off the Taliban so that buildings can be rebuilt after US bombs destroyed them in an effort to eradicate the Taliban … ahhh … the sad irony of it all. Reporting from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, this is Tristan Ursell for Offsilkroadin.

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Boy did I get lucky with this shot ;)

September 16th, 2009 peretz 4 comments

This was a timely capture

I was waiting for my visa outside of the Kyrgyz embassy in Tashkent and I heard the sounds of animal battle and instinctively snapped the camera.

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1$ Haircut in Samarkand

September 12th, 2009 peretz No comments

So long as you are willing to listen, many people are eager to tell you their life stories.  Zofar was a hair dresser recommended by Askar, “he cuts it like you tell him.”  He wears blue scrubs and is shadowed by an apprentice, who keeps his nose close to to the action but doesn’t get any hands on practice.

Zofar pointed to elements of my hair and head and talked out his scheme to fit my specifications.  ”In case you are worried that you won’t like it, we’ll issue you a gauarantee, one meal at Zofar’s restaurant.”

Considering we agreed for 1$ for the cut, I told him that I had complete trust in him, and it turned out to be with good reason.

“I was always drawn to cutting hair.  I didn’t do so well in school, and I stopped studying at 13.  My uncle was a hair dresser and took me as an apprentice.  I followed him around, occasionally I got to practice, but he wounldn’t give me advice, just said work it out on your own — fix your own mistakes.”

“Eventually, I came up with a plan.  I woke at dawn and went to the Army baraks near by, just as the soldiers were waking up, and hung a sign advertising free haircuts since I needed the practice.  The soldiers didn’t care what it looked like, only that it was clean around the neck, and so I had a whole line and worked through them quickly.  I worked all day, taking breaks when the soldiers were summoned for lunches, and by the time 3AM rolled around, I leaned back in the hairdresser’s chair to relax and started counting the names which I asked the soldiers to write down for me.”

“There were 529 names on it…  My uncle took notice, and let me weild the scissors in his shop.  He’d leave me alone in the morning and only pop by to count and take the money from the drawer at lunch time and again at dinner, seemingly pleased.  Three months later, he let me keep some profits.  In six months, I moved into the center of town [Samarkand] and opened this shop.”

“Not everyone can cut hair, it takes a particular constitution.  I can be on my feet all day and not get tired.  When I was in the army my commander tried to wear me down by making me stand and march all day, but eventually they moved me to the honor guard — that is how long and firm I can stand!”

“Do you have barber schools in America?  We don’t.  We study by shadowing a master.  See this kid.  He is my apprentice.  If he screws up with a hair cut, I punch him in the face.”

When he finished the cut and styled my hair, he said, “to keep this shape you have to get haircuts frequently.  Once every 6 months is not enough, hair dressers have families also!”

He found Tristan’s beard offensive and insisted on trimming it down with scissors.  He suggested that having mustache hairs long enough to bite was unsanitary (on top of being againt Muslim tradition).

Zofar shares the shop with Tatiana, who cuts women’s hair and was wearing purple shoes, shorts, belt, top, bracelet,ring, earings, eyeliner and headband.  Tristan and I paid 3$ for two haircuts (including the tip).  And they liked us so much that, Tatiana gave us a jar of honey from her husband’s apiary.

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