Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Adventure in Afghanistan - slumdog travels east

Afghanistan has never been a land for tourists. Thus Oxford-Johnny and myself only got a kind of transit visa with a 14-day-limit.

We arrived and left Herat, near the Iranian border and continued to push forward to Kandahar, right in the middle of this strange country. We were in a hurry because 14 days is not much when hitchhiking, meaning www waiting, waiting, waiting. Here the story begins.

At that time, Kandahar was somehow an American zone of influence. Thus the city had a slight Western tinge to it, shops , restaurants with chairs and selling beer, things like that. Thus, instead of camping somewhere, we went to a cheap hotel and stayed there.

Next day we set out in the morning to hit the road. You don't start to hitchhike in the middle of a town and it took us quite a long time with our heavy backpack to reach the outskirts of Kandahar and the road leading to Kabul.

Road is just of way of talking. It was a large dirt path with wide and deep potholes everywhere. So we were squatting by the roadside, waiting for a car. Since Turkey, we never met many cars or lorries but those we saw invariably stopped.

Noon was coming and going, the heat was getting severe but no car, no lorry, no truck, nothing. At about three in the afternoon I got upset and desperate. "Johnny", I said to my pal, "we have to do something, otherwise we'll stay here for all eternity".

In a Third World Country, the only authority worthwhile is the police. So we trudged back to town and went straight to the Kandahar Police Headquarters. Johnny did most of the talking "take us to your leader", he told the cop in rags sporting a gleaming rifle in front of the entry door.

Inside, we explained our problem. "You see, Sir, we just can't find the British and German embassy! We must go there to ask for money. And we know there is one here in Kabul but nobody could show us the way". Naturally, the police officer told us "this is Kandahar, not Kabul" and then "In Kandahar, no embassy".

We explained in length that we thought we were already in Kabul and that we must go there in order to fetch our money. "What can you do for us? Please help us".

And he did. First, he walked us to the hotel where we stayed the previous night and ordered the manager to put up with us till next morning. The hotel manager was disgusted. He had to serve us food for free by order of police. First thing he did was to empty the room completely to show us who is the master of the premises.

We were used to rough it. Having a good meal under our belts we spread our sleeping bags and slept soundly till next morning waiting for our free breakfast. At around noon, the police officer came back and took us to the the bus station for a free trip to Kabul.

We thanked him effusively, he did a great job on us two leeches. At the bus station, we were to ride to Kabul in two buses. I suppose he did not want to put too much strain on the drivers who were probably the owners and who were under order to ferry us to Kabul for free.

The bus started around 5 pm because of the intense heat during day time. Sitting on the roof of the bus, the wind dried up my face in no time. I really felt my skin turning into parchment. Next to me were sitting some Afghanis about my age. "Want some snap". I said no because the stuff smelled foul and was green. Till now, I don't know what "snap" is. It had a smell like synthetic shit, really, no kidding. Was it dope?

Eventually, the bus stopped somewhere near a shag-like restaurant. For me there was another problem. I was hungry like everybody else. But my free ride hinged on the fact that I had no money.

The idea to have very little money, something like the minimum does not sound convincing in a desperately poor country like this one. Furthermore, lots of the passengers were carrying some kind of weapon with them. So I stayed mum near the bus waiting for things to happen (or not).

Then some nice and friendly people people invited me into the restaurant. Sure, I was thankful but very much annoyed and uneasy, too. Annoyed with myself and I wowed to avoid such ambiguous situations in the future.

The bus ride was an adventure in itself. The cooling system of the motor had sprung a leak and fresh water had to be added all the time. Thus the motor slave* sat or better straddled the motor servicing it during the ride with a iron watering can, spilling more than half of the precious stuff.

We drove through the night, desert country. Never seen a sky like that, clean deep blue, the Milky Way clearly visible!

We arrived in Kabul around noon. A bit shaky, I felt every bone inside and was hungry, too . Early in the morning we had a second stop for ritual prayer washing and breakfast. But I refused to be invited again pretending to have stomach trouble.

*Motor slave: I met them again and again in Iran and Afghanistan when I managed to pick up a truck. Normally, these young men of about my age were always clad in greasy rags and made the trip sitting somewhere behind and when off duty outside on the running board. They had to do all the dirty work and when we were eating with the driver he was never invited to join us.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Every year again - preparing of firewood

Some of my blogger friends suggested to go on with some more chapters about my travels in far away lands. Well, I'll do this, but not right now.

Life being as it is, each winter I have to buy and prepare firewood. And this job keeps me busy outside, not much time left for computering or blogging.

Here is the description how I proceed. Enters Mr. Bornet who supplies the tree trunks in lengths of 2 meters,(about 7 feet or 3 yards - and here the 100 Dollar question: is there any chance the US-Americans decide to switch over to meters and liters, to square meters and cubic meters like nearly everyone else on our planet Earth? Even the English did so, though reluctantly, I admit.

We need about 16 m3 (cubic meter) of firewood per year and sorry, I am unable to compute this into cubic feet. This batch is for the Winter 2010/11, so as to enable the logs to dry peacefully.

To see the video, don't click on the photo, click on the writing under the pic.

Have a look, please. May I present you Mr. Bornet. If ever someone comes here to settle permanently, this is the guy to approach for firewood. Admire how he handles his grapnel. He is really a wizard with this contraption and could draw you a tooth with this in no time. He told me it took him 6 weeks to handle those eight levers correctly. Having done the job, see how he manages to drive backwards. The video ends when he disappears behind the house. But that is only half of the distance. He has to circle round our cherry tree, go down the lane and reach the street by passing the gate, leaving only about 15 to 20 cm (half a foot) on each side.

Three cheers to Mr. Bornet, king of precision backwards driving.

Chapter too

To see the video, don't click on the photo, click on the writing under it!!

Now I have to get busy with my chain saw to cut those trunks into lengths of 50 cm (about 1 1/2 feet). Tiresome job, nevertheless, because some of the trunks are really heavy and I have to move them out of the sawing area first and then to my log splitting machine. The sawing area behind me must be free so that I can jump backwards at a seconds' notice when the log heap suddenly decides to collapse or to crumble, whatever you prefer, anyway, kind of garden avalanche. Bad for health.

Well, right now, all this is just beginning. One of the next posts will show my wonderful log splitter and the self-made-high-rise-log-wall. Great things to come. Stay tuned everybody and try to remain interested in non political slightly boring subjects.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Homage to English language - smile a bit

Some years ago, I went to Northern Wales for a hiking holiday. In one of those boutiques where they sell stuff for tourists, I found this advertisement of old.

Let me tell you I love it. Such funny phonetic English. Whenever some guests come here for a visit and knowing more than the basics, I cannot resist to show this text.

Success and appreciation is by no means guaranteed. Some don't find this readable at all, others don't care and don't see why they should bother reading this when a Martini, Whiskey or Muscat is waiting.

I just hope some of you like and appreciate Roger Giles' message to humanity.

For easier reading, try the second photo.

In fact, I found it in a little town near Carnarvon Castle. For those who are not familiar with British history, it's there that the English created the Prince of Wales. A very clever publicity stunt invented 700 years ago to convince the Welsh to stop fighting and become part of England.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Letter to the editor - refused by Newsweek

Normally, I am not very keen on writing letters to the weekly I read. But in this case, something rankled.

Many economists, I think, can be compared to psychologists or meteorologists. Very learned coves indeed and thus always ready and available for an exhaustive explanation. But when the events prove them wrong - that happens not infrequently - , don't wait for an excuse, you are wasting your time.

Thus I wrote a letter to the editor of Newsweek but they did not publish it. So I thought nothing should be wasted in these hard times. My letter might be worthwhile reading inside this wonderful blog.

All this is about Robert J. Samuelson's article "It's really a global crisis".

So, if someone needs to smile a bit, here is Georgyporgy's idea of how to save the economy pronto.

It might be a great help if one of these economics pundits would admit the fact that they are clueless, more or less. This recession will subside until people finally operate a change of mind and start spending again. Not before.

All those government induced spending programs won't change this situation. You could built new roads, you could even level the Mojave dcsert and cover it with a slab of concrete three feet thick: that would certainly boost the cement industry but not the manufacturer of toothpaste or the shipyards. Etc, etc, etc.

However, let yourself be inspired by Roosevelt's inauguration speech, back in 1933. He asked for special powers to tackle the problem at hand. "I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis—broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe".

Having achieved this, the incumbent president could vote to have the National Guard be equipped with axes or heavy clubs. Nationwide. Then these so armed recession fighters would enter every home and start destroying the following items in each household: 1 TV set - 1 car - 1 washing machine - 1 cell phone plus about 100 items of more or less value laying around.

Before leaving they should paste a written recommendation saying those goods have to be replaced by items manufactured inside the country. No need to boost those Asiatic economies, right?

These harsh measures would get the country humming in no time and once again the rest of the world would rush to imitate.

Here in France, however, we would start by going on strike, sure.


Your comments, please. As to me, I am busy these days with the chain saw and the log splitting machine. Hard work.