Thursday, October 8, 2009

Arrival in Kabul

Having spent 2 days in Dubai, sightseeing and adjusting to the time change, I flew into Kabul on Oct. 7, accompanied by Ted Achilles, Director of the NGO, SOLA (School of Leadership, Afghanistan). SOLA is generously hosting my stay.
Upon arrival, I was immediately struck with the size of the Kabul airport, now triple in size from my last visit 40 years ago. The place was hopping and filled with planes and people. We hauled our luggage out to the parking lot in anticipation of being picked up by one of Ted’s students. Much to our surprise, a greeting party of about 8 of Ted’s students was waiting for us. I was presented with a bouquet of roses, warm greetings and friendly, welcoming smiles. As we negotiated our way through the heavy traffic, our jeep was filled with laughter, singing and general excitement of our arrival. With all my anxiety and anxiousness about coming to Kabul, the sound of giggles and joyful singing from the backseat put me immediately at ease.

I found it almost impossible to get my bearings after being away so long. Almost all of Kabul has been rebuilt after being nearly completely destroyed in the late 90’s. New construction is happening everywhere and houses now take up every inch of space on the hillsides that were once barren. The familiar green fa├žade of the bazaar shops, the piles of bags of grain, the wooden carts lining the streets piled high with fruits and vegetables did bring the Kabul I remember vividly back into focus. The city, it is clear, is alive and vibrant and people, despite adversity, are getting on with their lives.

Given the enormous burst in population (from 400,000 in the early 70’s to now almost 4 million) it is no surprise that traffic is a challenge. Cars, bicycles, trucks, buses, taxis and pedestrians all weave their way through the streets while traffic cops stand almost perplexed in the middle of various traffic circles looking as if they haven’t a clue what to do. Interspersed with the array of traffic were various military vehicles amply armed. I was told that it is a well-understood fact that when a convoy of large tanks appear, everyone moves out of the way.

Upon our arrival to the SOLA compound I was treated to delicious Afghan chay and many photographs documenting the event were taken. I felt immediately welcomed into the SOLA family. The area in which I’m living, Karte Seh, is exceedingly quiet and pleasant and coincidently is the same area I lived in when I was here in the late 60’s. As I chatted with the students, I discovered that most of them had, at one time or other, helped distribute the songbooks to schools or orphanages. They all spoke fondly of hearing the songs again and one young woman recounted a time 3 years ago when, as a refuge living in Islamabad, it was those children’s songs that comforted her and kept her culturally grounded.

All this good news does not deny that unrest does exist. This morning while eating breakfast one of the students reported he had just heard that there was an large explosion across town somewhere. News of these events seems to travel quickly. None of us heard it from here. The news was taken in by all of us, and then life went on as usual. We later heard the explosion was near the Indian Embassy and there were serious casualities.

In the already short time I’ve been here, there are lots of plans in the works. This Saturday there will be a kebab luncheon at SOLA which will provide me with an opportunity to meet many YES (Youth Exchange and Study Program) alums who Ted has worked with in the past and who have been instrumental is the effort to distribute the songbooks. I look forward to this event.

I’ve heard from many of you already and I thank you for your interest, support and good wishes. More to follow in the days to come. I’ve only been here a day and a half and I am already quite convinced this trip will be so worthwhile and a valuable for the future of the Songbook Project. I’m so happy to be here once again.


  1. Louise
    Wow! It is hard to believe that you are finally there. It is great that the students were there to greet you and I love that they had flowers for you. It is amazing how connections are made. It will be great to collect the stories of when these students delivered the songbooks or were able to connect with these songs in some way. The blog really helps us to stay in touch with you and all you are accomplishing.
    Take care

  2. Can't believe you are really there! Can't believe Kabul has a population of 4 million! Sounds like the traffic cops haven't changed. Looking forward to your next entry.
    Take care, Bettyanne

  3. Chiming in October 10--I teach next weekend in Port Townsend, WA, and it will be wonderful to have this recent news of you to tell the students as I share your songs and songbook with them. Thanks for updating us! Meg

  4. Hi Louise,
    Glad to know that you had arrived safely in Afghanistan. Oh my gosh! You had a wonderful welcome "home" treat especially the rendition of the songs by the students. That must have given you powerful nostalgic feelings of the 70s when you were there. Stay well and I'll keep tracking what's up on your blog.