Don’t blink – life goes faster than you think…

…so true.  But then, most of us don’t realize it until much later in life…

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The spirit of the great heart… South Africa…

Here is a little bit of memory for my children:  how we loved the songs Savuka and Johnny Clegg sang in those heady days in South Africa, after Nelson Mandela had been elected President.  I can honestly say I am humbled and privileged to have lived, worked, served in South Africa during such a historically unique time as the early 1990’s.

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American troops – around 850,000 plus contractors – have gotten to know us…

“… in ways that very few people have known our country.  I agree.  What every single person I have ever met, both soldier or contractor, who has ever worked/served in Afghanistan has said the same thing to me:  the Afghan people are unique and Afghanistan gets under your skin, forever.

President Ghani:

Today, we’ve been very privileged – Dr. Abdullah and I and our colleagues – to engage in a discussion that characterizes a discussion among enduring partners. First of all, again, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women in uniform who have done the ultimate sacrifice: 2,215 Americans have lost – members of the armed forces have lost their lives; numerous members of the Secret Service and civilians. They will be part of our enduring memories, and we pay tribute to them. Equally, over 20,000 American military members have been wounded in action. We pray for their recovery and we hope that their families will recover from the trauma.

American troops – around 850,000 plus contractors – have gotten to know us in ways that very few people have known our country. They know locations that most Afghans probably don’t. They served in the highest peaks, in the most difficult deserts, and the barest of places with the minimum – with minimum support structures. But what they brought was a difference in attitude. We Afghans are fiercely proud, but we always know the difference between those who come in anger and those who come to support us.

It’s not Dr. Abdullah and I alone who want to say thank you. The parliament of Afghanistan by overwhelmingly supporting the Bilateral Security Agreement, previously the consultative Loya Jirga endorsing this, speaks for a consensus. This is a foundational relationship, and we are very proud that this relationship will be transformed into an enduring relationship.

The government of national unity is an enduring phenomenon, and one of its key characteristics is its honesty in dealing with the balance sheet that we have inherited. We have had accomplishments. but we also have inherited corruption, impunity regarding rule of law, gender disparities, disparities between rich and poor, and the enduring poverty – 36 percent of our population still lives under the poverty line. Our determination is to make sure that our people live not just in peace, but with dignity and prosperity.

Dr. Abdullah:

And on behalf of the unity government, President Ghani spoke this morning eloquently and that was expression of our thoughts, our feelings towards your servicemen, towards your country, towards your people. I join him in every word, and our commitment to make the unity government a functioning – a more functioning idea – not only idea, but an opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and opportunity for our partners is that we still rely on your support, but we are moving towards self-reliance. And as a result of that, Afghanistan will be a better place. Our region will be a more prosperous place.

Once again, thank you.

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“No mistakes in the tango, not like life.”

No mistakes in the tango, not like life.  It’s simple.  That’s what makes the tango so great. If you make a mistake, get all tangled up, just tango on.

Thinking of Afghanistan and Argentina, chatting with a friend in Poland, brought back memories of a link he shared many moons ago: the tango scene of Scent of a Woman. I just watched it again, and must admit that it is special beyond belief. Al Pacino (I like him, but am not crazy about him) does a beautiful rendition of what EVERYONE thinks is a beautiful love song. Indeed, this tango has to be one of the most beautiful melodies around. The dancing scene is one of the most touching scenes in film and Al Pacino is great. The truth behind the song is that the lyrics refer to a horse race and losing by a head:

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Afghanistan: Team of Rivals.

A very interesting review of the two Afghan leaders, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading, and which gives me hope, as I continue working with Afghanistan and will soon be traveling back to Kabul…

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Reflections: Letters to my Granddaughter.

The last time I was in Kabul, I reflected on the ominous thought that I had become a Grand-Mother for the first time.  I kept wondering how I could convey to this little child the magnitude of my experiences, in case I died before she became of age.  So, I decided to start writing letters to her, just in case!

Posting the Merle Haggard songs reminded me of a reflection I had the last time I visited Afghanistan, where, for protection, I had to wear a Kevlar vest.  Below were my thoughts to my Granddaughter:

We put on the bullet proof vests. Oh my, truly, my vest must have weighed half my weight. I barely could lift it, and I could not put it through my head. I eventually slithered in it through a side vent. It must have been comical and pathetic to watch me try to climb up the SUV. I had to heave myself in 2-3 times, and eventually the momentum almost made me fall into the car. But I managed.

Well, I don’t doubt that there are some Amazonian gals who might not have a problem carrying 70-lbs extra on their bodies, but I do doubt that most women can, no matter how buff they are. Add to that the possibility that, in the battlefield, you might have to carry a fallen fellow soldier in addition to those 70 lbs., and I don’t see a very happy ending as a result. Funny what a very heavy bullet proof vest can make you understand. Funny, too, that it brought back memories of my two flights, where in both instances, four men helped me out. They took my backpack in and out of the overhead compartment because they could tell that 1) I was too short to reach it, and 2) that the backpack was too heavy for me to lift. True, maybe they were gentlemen who saw an older lady (after all, I am your Grandmother!) in need of help. But, frankly, I think, they saw someone who had neither the height nor the strength to manage the chore. They handled that backpack as if it were a small box of popcorn. I know men are stronger than women. But these gracious gestures made me reflect on the implication of that biological difference. You see, when you are going to a war zone, you pay more attention to your own physical vulnerability.

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Merle Haggard and Bob Dylan.

As I have grown older and maybe a little wiser, I understand and better appreciate the poignant lyrics of country-songs and ballads.  So, the other day, I posted Merle Haggard’s song that he wrote because he was so upset about the desecration of national symbols: Me and Crippled Soldiers.

Ann Althouse points us to Bob Dylan’s reaction to Merle Haggard’s interview about Merle’s song “Fighting Side of Me”.    Said Bob Dylan:

“Merle had that song out called “Fighting Side of Me” and I’d seen an interview with him where he was going on about hippies and Dylan and the counter culture, and it kind of stuck in my mind and hurt, lumping me in with everything he didn’t like. But of course times have changed and he’s changed too. “

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Afghanistan: One Buzkashi Boy.

I have always found the story behind the film “Buzkashi Boys” quite intriguing.   I wrote about it a while back (check below).  Now Radio Free Europe has a great video telling the story behind one of the film’s actors, which I recommend checking out:  “From Street Urchin to Movie Star”.  What a difference the support of one person can make!

He set out to change Western perceptions through film-making and decided to center his first project around the story of two young boys. One is a street beggar dreaming of a better life, the other, a young boy daring to walk beyond his blacksmith father’s footsteps.

French was particularly inspired by the children he met here, because just like their American counterparts who dream of growing up to basketball or football stars, they hope to become national buzkashi stars.

“We wanted to tell a story about two kids who have larger than life dreams. And show that even here, in a country wracked by war, the hope of a better life connects us all”, said French.  “There are people here doing things and dreaming of things just like everyone else in the world.”

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Argentine Empanadas.

Rather, my Mother’s empanadas. Today I needed “comfort” food. There is nothing nicer than a mixture of ground beef with sauteed onions and red peppers, with green olives and raisins added, together with cumin, garlic, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper, stuffed into round thin dough.   After wetting the dough with a little bit of egg white and sprinkling a little bit of sugar on top, you bake the little meat pies in the oven at 350 degrees until the dough turns gold.  They are delicious, either warm or cold.  A glass of Malbec crowns the eating experience.   I am baking them right now.  Will add a pic after they come out of the oven.
IMG_0477 IMG_0478 IMG_0479 IMG_0481 IMG_0482

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Asimbonanga brings back memories of South Africa.

“It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world and at peace with myself”. Nelson Mandela.

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End of the Line.

Thanks to American Digest, that always finds a treasure trove of songs, poems, and visual treats.

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Thoughts on leaving Poland – Part 1 – Discovery

Moving in the Foreign Service.

We are hitting the last leg of our unaccompanied tour in Warsaw. Only 6 weeks left before we depart to go home. Bitter-sweet thoughts come to mind.

Poland is a beautiful country, rich in magnificent though tragic history. Whenever I have traveled the country, whether by train or by car, I can’t help but notice how flat much of it is, and how easy it was to be invaded by marauding hordes, either riding horses or tanks.


I never appreciate Poland as much as I do when I have visitors who, though well-educated and well-read, marvel at the fact that Poland remains an enigma. Despite some of its well-known sons and daughters, it is only when one comes to this country that one discovers the richness of the Polish tapestry, which is not as widely known.

A decisively emotional moment always comes when my visitors visit Wawel Castle in Krakow and discover the tomb of General Thaddeus Kosciusko.


Either American Revolutionary History is not taught that well in schools or memories are very dusty, because most of my many visitors are astounded that this General was a hero of the American Revolution, a friend of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, the Father of West Point, and a firm believer in the equality of all. George Washington presented him with lands in the USA, and, Kosciusko requested that, upon his death, the money from his estate be used to purchase the freedom of as many black slaves as it could.

Another Polish hero of the time, General Casimir Pulaski, died in Savannah, Georgia, after becoming the “Father of the American Cavalry”. Alas, not many remember him either.

I sometimes wonder if some of our ignorance derives from the fact that Polish names are virtually impossible to master unless one has some training in the language… After all, it is easier to remember Joseph Conrad as an English author rather than Teodor Josef Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski, as a Polish author who wrote in English! (It was thanks to reading his Victory that I discovered the word “garrulous”… at the tender age of 16 I knew a lot of many garrulous types, and was pleasantly surprised I could now apply the right moniker to them!!!).

One of the most painful memories of Polish history is World War II. I cannot count the times I have had Poles say to me that they are baffled that the world does not really know that there were two uprisings: the Jewish Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw ’44 Uprising. The world at large seems to have lumped the two together, which is a travesty, because both of these uprisings were devastatingly tragic in their own right. A New York Times’ review of Norman Davies’ devastating book, “Rising 44″, explains

In April 1943 the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto revolted. Despite their valiant and desperate fight, the rebellion was brutally suppressed. The ghetto was smashed; 36,000 people were either killed or sent to death camps.

As Davies explains, the Warsaw uprising of 1944 — which should not be confused with the ghetto uprising — ended just as tragically. After Hitler commanded the SS chief Heinrich Himmler to take charge of operations in the city, orders were issued to put down the rebellion and reduce the Polish capital to ruins: ”We shall finish them off,” Himmler declared. ”Warsaw will be liquidated.” Every inhabitant was to be killed, every house burned. By October the rebellion had been crushed. Fifteen thousand of the partisans had been killed, and between 200,000 and 250,000 civilians lay dead.warsaw-destroyed.jpg

Warsaw destroyed

The neighborhood I live in, Mokotow, had its citizen soldiers evacuated through the sewers. You can read a poignant description of the evacuation here. There is an incredible movie, Kanal, by Andrzej Wajda, that tells the story of the Polish Resistance fighters who end up having to retreat into the sewers. By today’s standards, some would say the film is too melodramatic. Yet, considering it was made 13 years after the horrid events, I cannot agree. The Old Town section of Warsaw burnt like a furnace for more than two months. Warsaw was more than 85% liquidated.

The forces of history are always playing tricks. Why should UNESCO have had to revise its name of the nefarious Auschwitz death camp? And why should Poland have had to ask that the name be changed to “ensure that people understand it had no role in establishing or running the camp where the Nazis killed more than 1 million people, most of them Jews”?


To be continued…

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Daddy’s Little Girl

A sweet, syrupy, song that captures what all Fathers feel about their daughters, no matter how old those daughters may be!!!!

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“Me and Crippled Soldiers”.

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“How We See Ourselves in Afghanistan”.

I highly recommend reading Mina Sharif’s article in The Huffington Post:

I am about to celebrate 10 years since I moved to Afghanistan from Canada. I live in Kabul and I hear about most attacks, political turmoil or general negative drama on Facebook or Twitter when someone posts about how sad it is. Or someone abroad will ask if I’m OK, which means a bomb went off somewhere.

I’m aware of the horrors that the media insists I fixate on, but I’m more absorbed in eye witnessing a whole new generation flourish. Before you roll your eyes at how naive I must be, know that I witness health issues, lack of security and limited education access. I witness the whole list of words that go with a war torn country — especially poverty. In fact, this flourishing generation I’m referring to is actually a group of over 1,500 very underprivileged Afghan children, mostly orphans. Also known as the Afghan Scouts.

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