Saturday, October 31, 2009

"The Daily Show" of Kabul

I don't think I've ever seen a more lovely blond mullet wig on a man.

Afghans don't celebrate Halloween, but in the spirit of my favorite dress-up holiday, I decided to post some photos from a political satire television show here in Kabul that I visited with Laura King from the Los Angeles Times. (Read the LA Times story here.)

The show is called "Zang-e Khatar," or "Alarm Bell," and is styled after shows like Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" and nighttime talk shows like Letterman and Leno. Kabul's Tolo Television airs the show. Afghanistan's election fraud scandal has provided ample material for the lead comics on the program, Hanif Hangam and Ghulam Nabi Sakhri.

The cast gets ready to tape the wildly-popular weekly show. Sakhri, second from left, and Hangam, second from right, write almost all their own material.

Hangam, the show's director, jots down a script just before taping.

Sakhri dons sunglasses during the opening monologue. Like Ed McMahon did for Johnny Carson, the main role of each person on the end of the table is to laugh at the jokes.

The taping studio's equipment is not the worst, nor the best available.

Instead of a New York skyline, the digital image of a Kabul slum at night provides a backdrop for Hangam's satire and commentary.

During the Taliban, television was banned, as were most forms of entertainment. And, of course, dissent was out of the question.

Sakhri watches as crew members arrange props for the next segment. The props are rudimentary, consisting of battered furniture, cardboard and understated costumes.

Sakhri and Hangam prepare to tape a skit spoofing Kabul's waste disposal department. In the skit, the actors made fun of people going to the bathroom in the streets--surprisingly frank for Afghanistan's more conservative culture. Like satire shows in the U.S., almost nothing is sacred.

I am glad that Afghans still have a great sense of humor and can laugh at themselves. I wish I could understand the language so I could laugh along with the jokes, some of which certainly make fun of foreigners like me.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Medic! (Cough, cough)

My bedside table is full of drugs. Antibiotics, steroids (not THOSE kind of steroids) decongestants and expectorants. Yes, that is an inhaler. (Gasp.)

Almost three weeks ago, I went on a short embed in Uruzgan province for an assignment. The day I traveled to Uruzgan, I came down with a cold. No big deal. I wasn't at my best, but just carried on as well as I could, shooting the assignment, then hopping military and commercial planes over the following three days back to Kabul. I was exhausted and sick, but tried to get lots of rest and drink fluids. A cold is not normally something I worry about and I just thought I'd get over it in a couple days. Plus I was hoping to avoid seeking medical treatment in Kabul.

Afghanistan had other plans. It's not a good place to get sick. Dust, air pollution, stress and lack of sleep would be enough to make one ill anywhere, let alone here. I finally went to the nearby German Clinic and learned that I had pneumonia. Awesome.

Two doctor visits and two weeks later, my health is steadily improving. The illness has brought work to a standstill, but I hope to be well enough in a week or two to get back at it. Until then, I'll be sleeping, drinking tea and taking all my drugs.

(More on Uruzgan coming up soon...)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Sometimes it's necessary to get out of this place, even if it's just for a couple of days. A couple of friends invited me to come with them to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, shortly after the Afghan presidential election. It was a nice break. We could walk around or ride local taxis freely, the city was clean and orderly and I didn't have to wear a scarf. We spent the time exploring, eating good food and taking pictures just for fun.

Above, a boy tries to stay warm while drip-drying after a swim in the Varzob River.

My friend Jon sits in the Soviet-esque apartment the three of us rented next to Secret Police headquarters, after one of our long jaunts around town.

At night the streets of the city are nearly empty, except for impromptu police checkpoints, where officers try to shake-down passing motorists for bribes.

The language is Tajik, very similar to Farsi, but they use the Cyrillic alphabet to write. Dushanbe feels like a capital still in transition: a strong Soviet presence and infrastructure with a developing Tajik identity.

A fruit vendor rubs her eyes at the Green Market.

In a park near the Dushanbe Opera.

The Soviet seal at a monument for those who died during World War II.

People know how to drive in Dushanbe. They even stop at red lights.

Tajikistan, a former Soviet Republic, has maintained close ties to Russia culturally, economically and politically, and I sensed a bit of nostalgia for the days of the great empire. Now Tajikistan is just a small under-developed fish in an ocean.

This is the back of the apartment block where we stayed.

I like this picture best. She has an interesting face.

A group of dudes hanging out by the river after a swim.

The saddest bear I have ever seen at the Dushanbe Zoo.

I'm not sure if the billboard photograph of tulips is to help prevent road rage or just to beautify the city, but I like it!