Afghanistan Today Or Was It 1906?, on July 20th, 2006
We had several visitors. PP PETER MORE introduced Karen Baker, from the Toledo West RC, who was with her grandson, Harrison Ryan. Mike Yousem had what he described as TWO Special Guests one being Curt Smith, who was with us last week, and the other, Shiela, apparently related by marriage to MIKE. I had one and a half Special Guests the first being David Hawkins, who has been with us before, and the other, BARRY MARLIN, who has now become a member. SHERRY DEWANE, our other new member, was re-introduced.
We began with the Pledge, led by PP STEVE SCHERER. RICK CULLEN and LENNY FRIEDMAN gave us My Country Tis of Thee, and PP PETER MORE provided the Invocation. “In our fellowship, please inspire us to do good work through Rotary. Continue to hold in your loving hands our men and women in uniform, as they protect us.” Two important messages thanks, PETER.
I came forward with at least three announcements. First, somehow we ended up with two extra white robes from the recent Demotion party. Anyone who wishes to claim them, may. I also offer, but without any immediate takers, a book on Poker. This tome had moved me from being a pigeon to a consistent loser, somehow. I did, however, have a bit of more useful material the compilation of all the Windmills during DON’S term, which are now in a three ring binder. DON came up to receive these, and stayed up while RALPH BEASOM showed off the wonderful photo and text album he so faithfully puts together every year. DON will find much to peruse on his most successful year. While DON was up front, Prexy MIKE asked the following members to come forward PP JIM DOWNIE, CHRIS BRADFORD, SEAN MCMILLAN, PP MIKE NEWMAN, SHANE WAARBROEK, LILLIAN KLIEWER, MIKE YOUSEM, and PP STEVE DAY.
This is the hard-working team that provided the Demotion Skit for DON’s affair, and they were warmly applauded. Before that, Prexy MIKE asked if anyone knew why this particular group was up there, but the myriad answers don’t really deserve repeating…
SEAN MCMILLAN reappeared, to announce the annual. Combined, Family Picnic and Summer Fun Party, which will be Sunday August 20th, at the home and gardens of ELOISE SISKEL. It will start at 1 pm, the food may be a surprise, and please do save the date. PP DON reminded everyone that he is updating last year’s Roster Book, so please be sure to check with him right away if you have additions or corrections.
Prexy MIKE offered a story, the sometimes danger of emails. A man took a trip to Florida. Upon arrival, he intended to send a message to his wife, who was to join him there. However, he missed her address by one stroke, and instead the message was sent to an elderly preacher’s wife whose husband had passed away only the day before. Upon receipt, the widow let out a piercing scream, and fell to the floor in a dead faint. The family rushed into the room, and read the message “Dearest wife: Just got checked in -everything is OK for your arrival tomorrow. PS, It’s hot down here”.
SHANE WAARBROEK introduced our Speaker, Professor Jamil Momand. SHANE first thanked ELLIOTT TURNER for putting him in touch with Dr. Momand, who is a Biochemistry Professor at Cal State LA. He has written extensively, and is the Director of the Southern California Biometrics Institute, which trains students for a career in Biometrics. His specialty is Cancer and Ageing. Dr. Momand is an active member of the local Muslim community, and is a past Chairman of the Islamic Society of Southern California. His visit to Afghanistan was to investigate the possibility of training Kabul University faculty in the area of Biomedicine.
Professor Momand started with a joke. There was a taxicab driver and a preacher, both of whom passed away on the same day. When they arrived in heaven, God, in his infinite wisdom, decided to install the taxicab driver in a tremendous mansion, where he lived like a king. He gave the preacher a little shack nearby. The preacher was a bit put off, saying “I don’t mean to complain, but I’ve been preaching your word for the past fifty years now. I don’t understand why I have this little shack and the taxicab driver has such a mansion.” “Well, when you preached, the people slept but when the taxicab driver drove, the people prayed”.
He then gave as background some well-known material from Rudyard Kipling, which even today forms the concept of what Afghanistan is really like. His short story, written in 1888, was titled, “The Man Who Would Be King”. This was the basis for a 1975 movie directed by John Houston, starring Sean Connery. There are two characters discussing their time in India, Kevin and Dan. They conclude that there really isn’t room for them there they need a better place to show their talents. They will go to another place, where they plan to be kings. They choose a corner of Afghanistan, believing the women there to be very beautiful. Their plan was to train the locals in how to fight, and then overthrow the king, taking his place. Getting across Afghanistan would be difficult, since it is an arid and forbidding place and even today, that is how Afghanistan is perceived.
Fast-forwarding to today According to the Civil Rights Commission, over 600 civilians have been killed this year alone in Kandahar, which is in southern Afghanistan. The US Military reports 314 casualties, half of them due to non-hostile means, since we drove the Taliban out in 2001. But there is another side to the story, and that is what Dr. Momand wants to present to us. To do this, he showed a number of color slides, with commentary.
He visited Afghanistan this past March, during the time of Garuth (sp?) which is the beginning of spring. It is a landlocked country, bordered on the south and east by Pakistan, on the north by the former provinces of Russia, and on the west by Iran.
Kabul, the capital, is toward the northern end of the country, and that is where he spent his entire visit. 99.9% of the country is Muslim there is no other religion, just as no English is spoken. Kabul itself is about the same altitude as Denver a mile high, that is. It is surrounded by high, snow-covered mountains. He stayed in a guesthouse, and had a small but pleasant room.
His cousins in the US surprised him by wanting him to carry some money to their relatives Turned out it was $8,000, in one hundred dollar bills! This worked out OK, but it made him nervous to be carrying that much cash, of course. He showed a slide of a cook, who travels twenty mile per day by bicycle to his job he is part of the almost permanent servant class. The middle class is couples where the husband works and the wife takes care of everything in the home. The upper class consists of both husband and wife working, and they have their own servants.
There are no traffic rules cars, as shown in his slides simply drive along in both directions, on whichever side of the road they want. This, plus completely reckless pedestrians, make driving a really scary way to go. There are no large markets or stores no Ralph’s, Costco, etc and every enterprise appears to be a mom and pop operation. He lost weight during his visit, but doesn’t recommend it as a weight-loss method! Sanitation is almost non-existent, with open sewers the norm. Toilets are simply open to the sewer below. Women are rarely seen on the street, except to go shopping, and the parks are barren plots without grass. There is almost no running water it must be drawn from deep wells, which are perhaps a half-mile apart. He showed slides of bread being made it is called tandur, and is stacked at the bakery for sale.
What about the women? About 50% of the women he saw were still wearing the full Chadur, which covers them from head to toe they can see out through a veil, but cannot be seen themselves. When asked why they persist in this practice, which was initiated by the Taliban, they often reply that it is easier to follow their long-time habits, which were required for so many years. They do not wish to be photographed, so his slides were taken from the rear. The population is 95% Sunni the only country with a majority of Shiites is Iraq! He visited the high school where his Mother-in-Law was formerly the principal (she was with him on the trip), and found some of the students to be older than expected. This is because, under the Taliban, women were not educated, period and thus they have a lot of catching-up to do.
He showed a building that was the Omar Mining Camp. Afghanistan is the most heavily mined country in the world, since so many forces have continued to fight over its territory. Collection of these mines (harvesting?) is underway, but the accepted method is to drive over the mine with a heavy truck, causing it to blow up. Since these are mostly personnel mines, they don’t destroy a heavy truck, but it can’t be much fun to do this harvesting.
He spoke briefly on education. The basic problem is that it is so hard to earn enough to survive that it takes all of your time getting an education takes away from that time. The University is good, but its textbooks are terribly out of date. Sometimes they are updated by listening to one of the videos for sale, and incorporating its information into lectures. Kabul University was built in the 70’s, and has an attractive campus and now there are women students, of course. One of Dr. Momand’s objectives is to gather drugs which are desperately needed and ship them to Kabul.
PDG ANDY ANDERSON asked about reports that poppy production has soared since the Taliban were pushed out. This is true the Taliban actually controlled and cut way down on poppy production, but for many farmers, it is their crop of choice. The main reason is that they are required to sell their other crops to the government for below-market prices, and thus they cannot survive on that income. This system of poppy production is defended by the local warlords, and Dr. Momand feels they are a greater danger to the future of Afghanistan than the Taliban. LENORE MULRYAN asked the last question recalling the National Geographic article of several years ago showing a lovely young woman on it’s cover. He had seen the article, of course, and the woman is now completely changed she looks terrible, since life in Afghanistan is so very hard. Average life expectancy is not very long. Dr. Momand, thank you for telling us about an area, which for most of us was totally unknown.
Last comment, by new member BARRY MARLIN as we were driving home. “I was there in 1979 on business, and all the scenes look exactly the same, except for the vehicles!” Not good news, but worth remembering.