Saturday, September 18, 2010


By the time the United States goes to sleep tonight, polls will be opening in Afghanistan. However, all the security and other complications already noted, the fact that an earthquake hit Badakhshan Province in the northeast certainly can't help matters any.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

On Afghanistan, in Cambridge

The Kennedy School has a way of taking up as much time as you'll allow it to - the return to classes has proven no exception to that rule. I haven't forgotten the summer, however, and I still have posts drafted on Mazar-i Sharif, my final days in Kabul, and on the bigger lessons learned. For the moment, however, the student newspaper wanted to present a point-counterpoint on the U.S. mission in Afghanistan in its first issue. The resulting op-ed is now on the Citizen website.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Kite Sellers

To her credit, Natalie found the kite shop first. Over dinner one evening, she told the group about Phalawan Kareem's shop in the old city and described the kites, from incredibly simple sheets of plastic molded into flying shape by a pair of crossed sticks to the elaborate tissue-paper affairs he had supplied as props in The Kite Runner. I took a copy of his business card and made plans with my roommate Solmaz to visit a few days later.

The "Kite Runner shop" sits among a city block of kite-sellers in the neighborhood of Jadeh Maiwand, the city center for flying paper toys, as they are called in Dari. As Solmaz and I said our "salaams," I noticed the framed photographs and newspaper articles perched above the spools of string and stacks of delicate finished kites both small and large. The edges of the open storefront and the low ceiling displayed oversized, elaborately-decorated but eminently airworthy models each marked with a scorpion logo - the mark of Noor Agha. Profiled in Time and written about by Reuters, Noor Agha designs and makes the most beautiful - and the most responsive - fighting kites in Afghanistan today.

Though these flying canvasses decorate the shop, its primary sales are in small children's models made of simpler tissue-paper patterns and even plastic models. They hang along the awning alongside wooden spools decorated with CDs and Bollywood stars.

I selected a mix of medium flying kites and larger Noor Agha designs while Phalawan Kareem told stories of his friends in NATO, his clients the movie producers, and the difficult Taliban years, when no kites could be flown. After helping load my delicate stack of purchases into a garbage bag, he threw in ten of the small paper kites as a gift, demonstrating how to tie the kite-string to the body for maximum flying control. Solmaz and I offered our thanks and returned home to test our new toys.