• U.S. Denies Visas for Afghanistan’s All-Girl Robotics Team (0)

    The Washington Post
    July 4, 2017
    Amanda Erickson

    It’s not easy to get robotics equipment through customs in Afghanistan, but that didn’t deter this plucky bunch.

    For months, a team of six teenage girls has been scrambling to build a ball-sorting robot that will compete in an international competition. Other teams received their raw materials in March. But the box sent from America had been held up for months amid concerns about terrorism. So the young engineers improvised, building motorized machines from household materials.

    They didn’t have time to waste if they were going to compete in the First Global Challenge, an international robotics competition to be held in Washington, D.C., this month. Young teams from around the world face off against each other, in an effort to engage people in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

    To participate, the girls from the city of Herat in western Afghanistan needed permission to travel to the United States. So, after they persuaded their parents to let them go, they made the 500-mile journey to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to apply for their visas. They did this twice, even though that location was targeted by a deadly truck bomb.

    Things seemed to be lining up. But then the team got some bad news: Their visa applications had been denied.

    Roya Mahboob, who founded Citadel software company in Afghanistan and was the country’s first female technology chief executive, is one of the team’s sponsors. When the girls heard the news, she said, “they were crying all the day.”

    “The first time [they were rejected] it was very difficult talking with the students,” Mahboob told Mashable.   “They’re young and they were very upset.”

    Fourteen-year-old Fatemah told Forbes, “We want to show the world we can do it; we just need a chance.”

    On their competition page, the girls wrote:

    We want to make a difference, and most breakthroughs in science, technology, and other industries normally start with the dream of a child to do something great. We want to be that child and pursue our dreams to make a difference in peoples’ lives.

    The State Department does not comment on specific visa denials. According to recent State Department records, it’s particularly hard to get a business travel visa from Afghanistan. Just 112 were granted in May 2017; 780 visas were issued to visitors from Iraq and 4,067 from Pakistan.

    The Afghan girls are not alone. On Tuesday, the leader of a robotics team from the West African nation of Gambia announced that they too had been denied visas to enter the United States. Mucktarr M.Y. Darboe, a Higher Education ministry director, told the Associated Press that no reason was given for the visa denials in April. Gambia is a largely Muslim nation. AP could not immediately reach anyone at the U.S. Embassy in Banjul for comment.

    Amanda Erickson writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Previously, she worked as an editor for Outlook and PostEverything.








    Donald Trump’s executive order to ban travel to the US from countries that are majority Muslim, has compelled me to re-visit “Little Women of Baghlan,” and explore the reasons why I wrote it.

    I began the project by writing about a personal story—a young woman who joins the Peace Corps. And so by definition, it is a story about tolerance and acceptance. It is about sacrifice. Ultimately, it is about love.

    But her story is also about a time in America when the best and brightest young Americans gave up two years of their lives to live in another country. They taught, established hospitals, and dug wells. And yet, their work paled in comparison to what they learned–that deep down we are all the same. We laugh and cry. We love. All of us want a safe home, an education for our children, and the freedom to practice our religion.

    As we enter a new era in our nation’s history—one fueled by bigotry, fear, and ultimately, hate—her story is more important than ever.

    My America is generous and welcoming. I refuse to allow myself or my country to be defined by racist, xenophobic policies that undermine our moral credibility.






    Afghanistan reached the second phase of the World Twenty20 for the first time with a 59-run win over Zimbabwe.

    Having won their three group games in this tournament, they face defending champions Sri Lanka in their opening Super 10 encounter on 17 March in Kolkata.

    For full coverage, click on the link



  • Finding Good News in Afghanistan: National Cricket Team Ranked 9th at ICC World 20 (0)

    cricket bowler

    Finding good news in Afghanistan is not easy, but there are stories that defy the tragic and often hopeless living conditions the Afghan people endure.

    The Afghan National Cricket Team is one of those stories–a tribute to the spirit and resilience of the Afghan people.

    Afghanistan has lost only two of its last 13 matches, and has qualified to play in India, at the ICC World Twenty20 Cup. Afghanistan is currently ranked at 9th out of the 16 teams represented.

    Afghanistan will face Hong Kong, Scotland and Zimbabwe in Group B of the first round of the World T20. If it tops that group, it will qualify for the Super 10 stage of the tournament and be clubbed with England, South Africa, Sri Lanka and West Indies.

    Before it kicks off its campaign against Scotland on March 8, Afghanistan is due to play two warm-up matches in Mohali — against Netherlands on March 4 and Oman on March 6.




    Squad: Asghar Stanikzai (capt), Noor Ali Zadran, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Usman Ghani, Mohammad Nabi, Karim Sadiq, Shafiqullah, Rashid Khan, Amir Hamza, Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Samiullah Shenwari, Najibullah Zadran, Hamid Hassan.

    © ESPN Sports Media Ltd.








    I never heard of Kim Barker until just a few days ago when I caught her interview on NPR. Who is Kim Barker?  She is a reporter at ProPublica and served as the South Asia bureau chief for The Chicago Tribune from 2004 to 2009. And now she has written an account of her experiences covering Afghanistan and Pakistan in a book titled “The Taliban Shuffle.” According to New York Times writer Michiko Kakutani, Barker’s book  “…manages to be hilarious and harrowing, witty and illuminating, all at the same time.”

    Barker’s experience working as a female reporter  is hauntingly similar to Jo’s experience as a female Peace Corps worker nearly 50 years ago. Barker speaks of the poverty, mistreatment of women, and general misery of the Afghan people–juxtaposed with the western lifestyle of American and European journalists; the parties, and the alcohol. We drank partly to “numb ourselves” against what we saw every day, she said.

    As far back as 1968, Jo Carter also witnessed the plight of the Afghans, along with the foreshadowing of the Russian invasion of 1979. She comes across the body of a dead soldier, left to rot in the roadway, and the incident is captured in the book, “Little Women of Baghlan.”

    Jo hardly remembered the rest of the ride to Puli-Khumri, or how they met up with a group of vaccinators stationed there. She only knew it had been a very disturbing experience, and yet, as they had a few drinks and something to eat with the Puli-Khumri Volunteers, the incident became daring and exciting—a story with overtones of international intrigue. They thrilled to the sensationalism of it all, and repeated the story again and again, each time with more braggadocio and swagger. A few more drinks, and they were making jokes and laughing.

    Barker also speaks of the female journalists, and how they are considered a “third gender” among the Afghans, something akin to Jo’s experience.

    “The peculiar gender distinction was something she (Jo) had grasped almost as soon as she arrived in Afghanistan. She traveled alone, with her head uncovered. Therefore, she didn’t fit the traditional perception of female. She certainly was not male. What was she then, but an entity somewhere in between? And so, out of necessity, the Afghans devised a convenient niche that placed Western women into a category of their own—a third gender—with the rights and privileges of Afghan men. As such, Jo and the other female Peace Corps Volunteers moved about freely in Afghan society.”

    Above all, Kim Barker is impressed with the generosity and hospitality of the Afghan people. She alluded to the fact that the Afghans would invite her into their homes, and treat her like a long lost relative. I was happy to hear that has not changed–Jo shared countless meals and cups of tea with her students and families.

    Lastly, I think both women fell in love with the country itself.  Jo’s first impression of Afghanistan was from the plane window:

    The land mass beneath her appeared creased and folded: millions of tons of earth and rock that had been crushed and crumpled like so many pieces of discarded paper. The ridges were bleak and unadorned with vegetation; shades of brown deepened to a blue haze in the narrow valleys. Jo felt a shiver run up her spine, a thrill at being in the presence of the Hindu Kush.

    Of course there are differences between Ms Barker and Jo Carter. One went with the intent of learning everything about Afghanistan, the power and politics that ruled the country, and reporting on the news without bias; the other went with instructions start a nursing school, and not become involved in politics.  The Volunteers were instructed to:

    …make Afghanistan their home. They would shop at the local bazaars, eat the same food, and have the same necessities of daily life as the ordinary Afghan citizen. They were expected to become part of the community, not maintain an American lifestyle with imported goods and amenities.

    And yet the Volunteers did party, just as the journalists partied. It was a relief, a way to maintain their sanity. Each woman, in her own way, has tried to make Afghanistan a better place–one by allowing the Afghans to be portrayed as real people, and not terrorists, and the other by working in the medical field.

    A print version of Michiko Kakutani’s review appears on March 15, 2011, on page C1 of the New York Times edition with the headline:” Battle-Zone Absurdity and Adrenaline-Fueled Folly.”

    Barkers’s book has been made into the movie “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” starring Tina Fey, due for release March 4, 2016.

    To see Michiko Kakutani’s full review, click on the link

    http://Battle-Zone Absurdity and Adrenaline-Fueled Folly



  • Afghans Skirt Strict Rules to Find Love on Social Media (0)

    I wonder if we all have a love/hate relationship with social media. Oh, we find out what our friends and family are up to, we get a great recipe, a good joke, and once in awhile a post will make us stop and think. On the other hand, it can be a massive waste of our time. “Only a couple of minutes,” we tell ourselves, and find to our chagrin that we have squandered an hour. We love it or hate it,  and yet it’s the first thing we check in the morning, and the last thing we check at night.

    Social media in Afghanistan has a new twist, a free voice in a suppressed society. Maybe today I like social media. To see the full story, click on the link.










    Afghan civil activist Hadi Sadiqi had long been using social media to share news, commentary and his own musings on politics when he got into a heated exchange with another member of his Facebook forum.

    Sadiqi and Maleka Yawari took their argument offline, and soon their exchanges grew more personal, with articles and opinion pieces giving way to photographs, love letters — and eventually wedding vows.


  • It’s Valentines Day, 2016 around the world (0)

    Afghan men prune roses on Valentine’s Day in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, Feb. 14, 2016.

    (Xinhua Photo by Rahmat Alizadah)


    Valentine’s Day–a Holiday we take for granted. In spite of the traditional conservatives which make up the majority of Afghanistan, some Afghans are celebrating Valentine’s Day.  They deliver the message of love by sending flowers to their beloved ones and by expressing it via cell phone or the Internet.



    The Taliban have declared education for women “un-Islamic,” however Afghanistan’s First Lady, Rula Ghani, announced recently that she plans to open the first Women’s University in Kabul.

    Click on the link “School for Afghan Women” to see the video from the the Huffington Post:

    School for Afghan Women



  • RHETORIC (0)
    According to the dictionary, “rhetoric” is language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience. A more recent nuance indicated that rhetoric is often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.
    There seems to be a lot of campaign ‘rhetoric’ these days, particularly hate rhetoric for those who may disagree with the speaker.
    Which brings me to a phone call I received from a reader recently. She had been horrified to realize one day just how far she had been sucked into the ‘hate rhetoric’ against Muslims. “I found myself agreeing with the speaker,” she told me. “And then I read your book, and I felt as if my humanity had been restored. Muslims are people–ordinary people like you and me, with families and dreams.”
    Well, she inspired me to resume my blog postings–if for no other reason than to push back against the “rhetoric” that pervades the current campaign.

    It’s hard to believe that Little Women of Baghlan has been in publication for over a year. And what a year 2014 has been! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting people from all over Illinois, and a few in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. I’ve been to Rotary Clubs, Libraries, Women’s Clubs, Book Clubs, Community Colleges, Universities, and hospitals.  I have spoken to groups of barely a dozen people, and groups of over one hundred. I have attended lunches, eaten cookies, and signed books. I have spoken with microphones and state of the art audio/visual systems, and spoken with nothing but my notes.

    But what I remember most are the people—the gracious hosts, the librarians, the committee chairs—all those who made me feel so welcome. And of course I remember my husband Ken, who has heard it all before, sitting in the back, ready to help carry books and keep track of the transactions. Thank you Ken!


2 Responses

  1. Teri Sullivan lutz says:

    I am so eager to read this book. I was a PCV in Afghanistan 1972-1974 I lived in Jalalabad and taught English in a girls’ high school One of my most special times was spent in Baghlan during our training. I student taught in a girls’ school outside of Baghlan. I rode my bike about 30 minutes to get to a very small school where no foreigner had ever taught. I loved it. The girls were sweet and delightful. I had a handful of books and made up lessons for them Every day when I went to my bike to ride home there were flowers on it the girls had picked. I feel so fortunate to have had that time

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