Thursday, October 29, 2009

School Visit in Konduz

Rauf (one of SOLA’s 19 year old male students) and I headed to Konduz by plane on Oct. 27th. Rauf’s mother is the Principal of a public kindergarten, serving 120 children. It was Rauf’s idea that we go to his home town and bring songbooks to his mother’s school. I am greatly appreciative of this generous offer.

Konduz is about 160 miles north of Kabul. Driving is slow and dangerous so we opted for the quick 45 min. flight. Konduz has been the target of a lot of Taliban insurgency in recent months so the only way I could safely make this trip was to have Rauf and his family “watch over me” while I was there. It is not safe, as an American woman to travel alone and/or to take taxis (kidnapping is real problem) but Rauf arranged for his family to drive us everywhere we needed to go. I felt very well taken care of.

We landed in Konduz and my first big surprise was to be met at the airport by a group of six children, holding a “WEL COM” sign and showering me with bouquets of flowers. The children were all beautifully attired in their regional dress. Rauf’s mother and one of the teachers from her school stood quietly by in their burqas but as soon as we got into the car, they pulled them off their faces, laughing with me about how they couldn’t see. They rode through town with them off. Burqa’s are worn by all women in Konduz due to the presence of the Taliban. Although dressed in burqa, they were both on their cell phones while we rode in the car!

Our first stop was a meeting with the Konduz Director of Labor and Social Affairs. He and three other men met with me and Rauf. Rauf graciously translated for me as I explained the project and told them how pleased I was to be bringing 120 songbooks to the Konduz Central Kindegarten. He was very appreciative and truly understood the value of having these traditional songs back in the culture. He also appreciated my offer to share ideas with the the teachers about how the books could also be used as a basic literacy tool. Everyone is very aware of the lack of teacher training in Afghanistan. Most teachers have a 5th grade level of education.

At the conclusion of that meeting we headed for the school. As we opened the gates to enter I was shocked to see (and hear) 120 young children, lined up on either side of the walkway, singing a welcoming song to me, in full voice. The girls handed me flowers, the boys gave me a salute while other girls tossed rose petals at my feet! I continue to be overwhelmed by their graciousness. The Afghan have truly invented the real meaning of hospitality.

We were escorted to red velvet couches in front of the stage. For the next 2 hours we were entertained by the children singing many of the songs from the songbook. Rauf had sent up 5 songbooks a week ahead of our arrival, and the teachers had taught the children most of the songs! It was a delight to hear them. There were a group of children in Pashto dress, singing the Pashto song, in Hazaragi dress for the Hazaragi song, etc.. They also performed the national dance, the Atan.

I was asked to speak to the group (again Rauf translating. My Dari is coming back but not well enough to address a group!) and at the end of the program we handed out songbooks to every child. The songbook is the ONLY book they have and they did tell me they plan to use it not only to teach the traditional songs but as a basic reading text. Many of the teachers told me how much they appreciate the inclusion of songs from many ethnic tribes. I give total credit to my wonderful musician collaborator, Vaheed Kaacemy, for insisting we include a wider variety of tribal songs than was in the original songbook .

I was able to talk further with Rauf’s mother who did emphasize the need for more educational resources like this. She also, like others, emphasized the need for a 2nd songbook with even more songs in Pashto (Dari and Pashto are the 2 national languages.) I agree with her assessment and of course, it all comes down to my finding the funding!

To keep this blog to a minimum I will skip some “interesting” stories of staying in the guest house – well-guarded, but I might add I was the only guest and the only woman. I will end with a brief anecdote that I feel sums up this trip. We arrived back at the small Konduz airport the next day, delivered by Rauf’s brother. We walked up the dirt road to a solider, armed with his AK47, standing outside inspecting luggage. (There really isn’t a terminal building.) He asked Rauf to put his luggage up on a cement pillar so he could check it. Rauf’s luggage was full of songbooks upon our arrival but on departure was filled with all the flowers and signs the children had given me! He then spoke to Rauf and looking at me said, “She is doing good things for our country. She is helping the children of Afghanistan. I don’t need to inspect her luggage!” With that we put our luggage into a cart which was pushed by 2 people out to the plane. He had been at the airport the day before, witnessed my arrival and knew all about the project.

The response of this one soldier, I have come to learn, is typical of most Afghans. We hear a lot of news about anti-American sentiment. The Afghan people truly appreciate Americans and other foreigners who are actually doing something, something that is tangible. They need so much and this one kindergarten was only one small example. Imagine running a school for 120 children, ages 4-6, with virtually no educational materials. It is these small projects, one by one, that make a difference. Unfortunately, U.S. dollars are often spent on enormously expensive projects that do not make a difference, that do not really connect or are meaningful to Afghans. Many of those projects are implemented with absolutely no input from Afghans and many do not create jobs and do not make a difference to the ordinary Afghan trying to provide for his family and give an education to his children. (Last week I was part of a very interesting and hopeful meeting with Ambassador Mussomeli at the U.S. Embassy. Seven NGO’s, headed by Americans or Afghan Americans who have been working in Afghanistan for at least 5-7 years, came together with Embassy personnel to offer their services and expertise given their long-term commitment and experience in the field, meeting Afghans, going to villages, speaking the language, hearing what is going on. The U.S. Embassy personnel spends between 6-12 months here at best and due to security constraints rarely leave the Embassy grounds. They admit there is a disconnect. More about all of that in another blog! I will say it was a hopeful meeting.)

I come away from this experience moved, once again, by the tenacity and determination of the ordinary Afghan, trying to move this county forward. We arrived back in Kabul the day of the attacks on the UN Guest House. The Taliban are trying hard to sabotage the elections thus proving Afghanistan is no place for democracy. We drove home the long way, avoiding downtown where many roads were blocked. I noticed many soldiers out and about but life seemed to be going on as usual. The Afghans have put up with war and unrest so long they find no other option but to just keep going. As Vaheed said to me once, “We just need to get on with our lives.”

Based on several conversations with people helping me with this project, I see my job is cut out for me. I need to find funding to print another 5000 songbooks (we are down to 100 at the moment) and to begin the process of creating a second songbook. Vaheed has already researched more traditional songs, many in Pashto. Unlike the first book, we can now do the recording and printing in Kabul.

Despite what you are reading and hearing, all is well here and I continue to greatly appreciate this opportunity to connect once again with these wonderful people here and with you.

A large green banner hung over the stage at the school and a reminder to all of us: The Children are the Future of Afghanistan.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Women in Afghanistan

In my 2 ½ weeks here I have just begun to learn about some of the many, complex, multi-layered issues that surround women in Afghanistan. I’ve heard stories, I’ve read accounts, I’ve had long conversations with my students. When I go out, I see women wearing a burqa and women wearing head scarves or at times I see no women out at all. Each has a story. I know that my students, with all their varied family experiences, want more than anything else, to get an education, to improve the situation for women in Afghanistan, and to push for the rights of all women. These young women represent the “Taliban generation” and they are determined to make Afghanistan a better place for the women who follow them. I am inspired by their tenacity.

There are heartwarming stories about fathers who would and continue to do anything to ensure their daughters as well as sons have an education. They risked cutting their daughter's hair, dressing them as boys, and sending them off to secret schools during the Taliban era. There are equally heartbreaking stories about families who sell their daughters off to marriage, eliminating any hope of further education or families with deceased fathers whose sons rule the roost and forbid the girls to even have a voice in the smallest of family decisions. Those girls become invisible and lose all sense of self.

There was recently an excellent article written by an Afghan woman, Wazhma Frogh, published in the Washington Post on Sun., Oct 18th that addresses many of these issues and challenges the international community to stay the course.

“I find unbearable the thought of what will happen to the women of my country if it once again falls under the control of the insurgents and militants who now threaten it. In 2001, when the war in Afghanistan began, the liberation of Afghan women was one of the most important justifications for military intervention. Has the world now changed its mind about Afghan women? Is it ready to let them once again be killed and tortured by militants? Does the world no longer believe in the principles it supported in 2001?”

She makes a strong case, I believe, by relaying what she heard from a group of taxi drivers sitting by the side of the road at the airport. They were mourning the loss of Italian soldiers in a recent suicide attack in Kabul. "Today, after eight years, if the foreign troops leave . . . we will go back to the same Afghanistan that seemed like a funeral every day," one of the drivers said. "This time, the loss will be huge, because during the past eight years we have made significant progress in becoming part of the rest of the world, so much so that our enemies despise us for it."
Despite that story coming from a male perspective, many women, most certainly the young women I’m working with, feel exactly the same. They have dipped their toes in the water, they know life can be better, they so want to move forward.

I share these thoughts with you as a way to begin to make sense of it all. It’s not simple. The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know.
Again – thanks for following along…………………….
Oh...for those of you who might have read in the news (my daugthter did, of course)we did indeed had an earthquake here a couple of nights ago. I awoke to shaking and my good old S. Calif. upbringing kept me calm as I got out of bed and headed to a door jamb. The possibility of it being an explosion and not an earthquake did cross my mind but I decided not to dwell on that! It was not a big one. The houses built up on the hillsides in Kabul would come tumbling down and cause enormous destruction. Thankfully all is well here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A contrast of experiences

I headed outside to the backyard this afternoon to study a little Dari, only to find Fatimeh and Husnia playing ball with Kadija. Kadija, who is deaf, lives in a nearby orphanage but is part of the SOLA "family". She comes here daily and Maria, an American living nearby comes over to teach her ASL. All the other students are learning ASL in the process. Up until SOLA “adopted” Kadija she had no language at all. She’s about 7 yrs. old. She is the only deaf child in the orphanage. I’ve noticed a remarkable change in her development in 2 weeks. I took a couple of semesters of ASL years ago and it’s coming back although it's stretching me a bit to try to recall both ASL and Dari at the same time! Soon Shiehk joined in with the ball game. He’s on crutches due to an injury early on in his life and really only has one functional leg. I gave up on my Dari and joined in. They were having too much fun. We tossed the ball, kicked it, soon everyone was trying to bounce it off their head. I taught them the concept of “hot potato” which got translated somehow. The laughter was contagious. Simple fun, everyone having a good time. Shiehk managed olympic moves on one foot. Life is simple here. I’m continuously struck by how easy it is to have fun with seemingly very little.

In contrast, last evening we were out to dinner with an American who is working with the election, trying to sort out the mess. He told us, but I’m sure you now all know, that there is to be a run off. Karzai, after all the fraudulent ballots were thrown out, ended up with about 48%. He believes the run off must occur within a week or two because otherwise the weather gets bad in places and no one can get to the polls. It is predicted that Karzai will win but this runoff will at least try to make it seem legitimate. The outright fraud that occurred was ridiculous and does make Karzai look quite bad. There was a story of one polling station in Kabul was checked at 8:05AM, only minutes after opening, and 5000 ballots were already submitted! I liked this fellow and was particularly struck with his care and respect for the Afghans. This is not true, unfortunately, of all “internationals” who work here.

GOOD NEWS! He was very excited about the Songbook Project and made a sizeable donation on the spot. Oh my. I was beside myself. His comment – What you and the work SOLA are doing restores the kind of image we used to have in Afghanistan. I think the same goes for him. A big Tashakor goes to him as well.

Getting to the restaurant, by the way, provided the contrast in living here. We went through 3 check points on the road to the restaurant at which point policeman look into our car. Ted's jeep is well known and we were waved through fairly quickly. Then, in order to get down the road to the restaurant there was a check point barrier, a guy with an AK47 who checked us out, another gate, another guard. And a guy at the door of the restaurant was also armed. Before going to the restaurant we stopped at the super market to get cash at the ATM. Again, at least 3 armed guards were standing in front of the market. I find it scary, sobering but also reassuring. Someone, it feels, is paying attention. Perhaps it's false security but even so, they are there. All of it, though, a reminder that Afghanistan is on high alert.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sometimes things happen in the realm of miracles............

Today while working in my office, I was told to we had a visitor - Fakhreia and her mother and grandmother had arrived. There was great excitement. I was told I must come downstairs to meet them. Here’s her story……..

Fakhreia is 7 years old. She was born with a serious heart defect and was not expected to live. Miraculously she made it to her 7th year at which point she was identified to be part of the SOLACE program, a program based in Charlotte, NC that raises funds to bring children identified with life-threatening illnesses from Afghanistan to the U.S. for treatment. This is a tremendous undertaking as you can imagine and involves arranging visas, identifying “flight leaders” who are SOLA students, (The SOLA students, as part of their leadership training, stay with the students, help translate for the doctors and keep in contact with the child’s family) finding host families for each child (last year they brought 34 children over for treatment) and selecting doctors willing to donate their services. Each child stays in the U.S. for at least 4-6 weeks, sometimes longer, if needed.

Fakhreia arrived in the U.S. early last summer with her flight leader, Husnia. Afghan doctors were unable to diagnose her condition and after careful diagnoses by American doctors, it was determined that she needed open heart surgery. It was the only way she could survive. SOLACE could not find a surgeon/cardiologist team who could perform the needed surgery. She returned home, still very ill. At that point, given her condition she was able to only walk a few steps without being completely exhausted. Everyone was keenly aware of the seriousness of her condition. In late August, the SOLACE folks identified a cardiologist and surgeon willing to perform the open heart surgery needed to save her life.

In early October, after having recovered from a successful operation and well enough to travel, Fahkreia returned to Afghanistan with Husnia and was met by her most grateful family. Today she arrived here at the SOLA compound a happy, normal child. Her prognosis: she is expected to live a normal, healthy life. (The photo is of Husnia and her “little sister” Fahkreia, taken today.)

I watched her mother and grandmother today as we took pictures and fussed over Fakhreia. They were so, so happy and so relieved. As a mother, I thought about how incredibly hard it would be for me to part with my 7 year old child, not knowing if she would survive. I thought about the courage it took for Fahkreia to leave her country and her family and the trust she put in Husnia and the trust Fahkreia’s family put in the Americans who were going to take care of her. I thought about the hundreds of people from Afghanistan to North Carolina who were involved in making this small miracle happen. People who are really doing good work, making things happen, changing lives, working towards a common good. It is inspiring and I’m happy to be able to witness it firsthand.

This is most certainly not what you hear about in the news. It’s not the picture that’s painted about Afghanistan. Each day I hear about more and more people from around the world who are working here, working hand in hand with Afghans to improve life here, build opportunities for a better life for everyone.
Today, as they were leaving, I asked Husnia if Fahkreia was scared during the operation. “No”, she said. “She took it all in stride. When they took her into ICU after the operation, the nurses asked her if she wanted anything. Her response was – a cheeseburger!”
I just had to share this story with you. I seem to find myself daily faced with new surprises! Thanks for reading along. It's nice to be able to share these stories with you.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Story from Roya

After visiting Afghanistan for the second time last year, the novelist Masha Hamilton started the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. The project connects Afghan women with American writers and teachers and gives the women space on the blog to share their stories.

I am now in the presence of these young woman and this writing is even more meaningful. With permission, I’ve copied one of the essays for you to read. If you are interested in reading more or supporting the blog, go to: Or contact They are eager for your comments and support.

Wedding or Jail? October 2, 2009 by Roya
During Taliban years, all wedding parties were at home, and taking pictures or video was forbidden. The wedding guests were always thirsty to hear a song, but it wasn’t allowed. Sometimes, close relatives to the bride or groom hid a cassette in a pocket or under a dress. Then the music was played low, and young boys stood as security near the door or at the street. The girls would dance, but we couldn’t clap for the girls who were dancing. Fear was the only word we had in our mind. Often, after two or three songs, the boys would come and shout: “Stop, stop. Taliban are coming.” The party would stop and the guests would escape.
My cousin’s wedding was different. I had very nice blue dress. It was color of hope for me, the color of sky and the sky has great secrets in it. I was happy for his wedding and for my blue dress. Everyone was dancing and singing and clapping, forgetting the Taliban. My hands hurt from all the clapping, and my voice was wearing out from the singing, and I was dancing in that blue dress—oh, I can’t forget.
Some of the relatives were afraid and they came and said, “Please stop singing, stop dancing, don’t clap.” The woman playing drums was fantastic. She said, “If Taliban comes here, then they will enjoy from our party and they will start to dance with us.” But the groom’s father told her, “That it is not funny. Please don’t be careless.” No one paid attention. That day, from morning until evening, we sang and danced. Everyone was enjoying the party.
At last we went to bride’s house to bring her to the groom and her new house. The mother of the bride was crying because it was her daughter’s last minutes to stay with her. The bride was happy to start a new life. She bid goodbye to her past and we, dancing, separated her from her house. A car full of flowers waited to carry her to her new house. The bride’s eyes were blue and that day, the sky was blue, and the car waiting for her was blue and she looked beautiful with her blue and white dress. The groom wore Afghani white clothes with a hat which had mirrors on it. They held each other’s hand. It was like a promise to stay together for all of life and to live with love.
Finally, we arrived at the bride’s new home. We were still singing and dancing and it was 11 p.m. The father of the groom came. His face was red, his eyes worried, and he asked, where was his son? Everyone stopped dancing. We turned off the music and the singer stopped singing. We were all worried.
My mother and I were in the bridal suite. There were flowers everywhere, a very nice bed and a red carpet, cake and Sprite. I think the groom’s sister decorated the room. My mom was crying. All the women and girls were crying, and everyone felt regretful. Why had we danced? Why had we been happy? Yes, happiness was a fault at that time.
The men were outside the house. They were talking with the Taliban. The father of the groom was swearing to God that there was no music in the house. The men were trying not to let them enter the house, because there were cassette tapes and drums in the house. Everyone was trying to think where to hide them, but no one took responsibility to hide them.
Suddenly the Taliban entered the house and searched everywhere. I was afraid because I wasn’t wearing a veil and my dress didn’t have sleeves. My mom was worried for me. We were still in the bridal suite and the room was dark. My mom was crying and praying and looking for something for me to wear on my head. Finally I wore the bedspread and my mom wore a curtain on her head.
The Taliban found everything: cassettes and drums and tape player. They had the elderly father of the groom with them, and they told him: “We want you to go with us until you find your son, the groom, for us.”
The groom was hiding in the mosque next to their house, but when he heard about his father, he came out of the mosque and apologized to the Taliban. They didn’t accept the apology. They took my cousin and his father.
It is very difficult to think about it. Think, dear reader, if you were there? If it was your wedding? If you were the groom?
The groom who was to spend his first night with his bride, and his father, who had waited all his life to see his son married. Both of them were taken to jail.
After the Taliban took them away, I was in the bride’s room. She was crying and saying she wanted to stay in jail with the man she’d married. It was hard for her to be in that room, to sleep in that bed. Her eyes were looking like a garden waits for rain.
After one week they released from jail. But the groom’s father was suffering heart pain after being in jail, and he died within a few days. We went to pray at his grave, and some flowers grew there, and I thought perhaps that was a sign he was happy at last. May God bless him.
By Roya
From the blog: Afghan Women’s Writing Project.
To subscribe, go to: or contact

Monday, October 12, 2009

BLOG #3 First week in Kabul - Kites and Kebabs

On Wednesday, I will have been in Kabul a week. I feel I’ve been here for months! So much is going on; I’ve met many people, experienced and observed many new things. My perceptions of Afghanistan are rapidly shifting. Here is a brief list of recent observations for you to ponder.
*Kabul is much cleaner than it used to be. There are now garbage trucks which pick up neatly swept of piles of garbage. Plastic is now included in the piles since bottled water is readily available. *Driving through Kabul is crazy – hazardous at best. Air pollution is terrible in downtown Kabul since there are so many vehicles.
*The Afghans are known to be wonderfully hospitable people and I have, after only a week, experienced more than my share of that fact. I have been treated to a scrumptious meals, been given presents (head scarves, shawls), and been treated with great respect. I receive brief glances when riding around in the car, but there has not, as of yet, been anything hostile in those looks.
*We are reminded and must be always aware that we are, living in country at war. We daily read the State Dept. Incident Reports. U.S. tanks move through Kabul on occasion but our daily lives, when we are home, function in a normal manner. No one mentions the conflict unless there is an explosion or something that takes place in Kabul.
*We stopped today on the way home from the bank at a café and the guard at the door was fully armed with some kind of impressive machine gun. There was a sign at the entrance – No weapons allowed! We had a smoothie as an afternoon treat! Imagine – a banana/yogurt smoothie!
*The word on the street is that there will be a run off election. Most feel this is a good thing and that Kharzi will probably still win but it will legitimize the election.
*All the Afghans I have spoken to feel strongly that education is essential to bringing peace to this country.
*I had dinner with Mrs. Fahima Haliz, Director of Kindergartens in Afghanistan. Fahima is an impressive woman, probably in her late 50’s with an overwhelmingly important and difficult job. When I asked her what her biggest concerns were she listed, in this order: developing a standard kindergarten curriculum, obtaining supplies and educational materials and providing children with nutritious food. Some of the kindergartens are residential schools and feeding children a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables is not typical. Fahima knew about the songbooks and was very grateful they were available. She would like to have more distributed in the Provinces. She knew the people from Save the Children who help me distribute the books and she also knew and really respected Vaheed Kaacemy, the musician. All of this great news for me!
*I held my first seminar class today with 5 young women here at SOLA to work on their college interviews. I continue to be impressed and truly moved with how hard each of them is working to improve their English and push themselves beyond the expected cultural norm of being a reserved, quiet, somewhat self-effacing Afghan woman to being one who is full of confidence and articulate. Given they quite literally have no role models for this, they are doing amazingly well. Their desire to succeed, to study in the U.S. and to return to make Afghanistan a better place is inspiring.
*We have plans to drive Thursday, Oct. 15th to Bamyan for a celebration hosted by PARSA, a NGO supporting Afghan women and children. They are opening a new Family Park. While there, I will visit the Ayenda Learning Center and meet with the headmaster. This is a newly built school/orphanage that recently received 500 songbooks.

As you can see, a lot is happening here. There are hundreds of individuals, NGO’s and Afghan organizations working hard to put this country back on its feet. Sadly, these stories don’t make the news. I will try to continue to paint the picture as I experience it here. Oh....and yes, kites darting through the sky are a familiar site , particularly on Friday, the day of rest. And last Saturday we had a little one year anniversary party for SOLA and Khafir Mohammad, who works here at SOLA, made ,by far, the most delicious kebabs in the world! (see photo)

I welcome your questions and comments. Thank you again for following along.

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 façade 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.