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April 01, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, April 01, 2005

Letter from Kabul Letter from Kabul (April 01, 2005)

From the heartbreaking to the ridiculous

By Rosemary Stasek

My feet were on international television.

Life here veers from the heartbreaking to the ridiculous in 30-minute increments and being taped by the Fox News Network while getting a pedicure isn't even the most ridiculous thing to happen lately.

In the heartbreaking department, it came to light that some of the women in the prison I had helped rebuild on a previous trip were being moved to another facility. I wanted to see the situation for myself and became one of four women granted access to one of the most feared places in Afghanistan.

Pul-e Charki prison was built before the Soviet invasion to house heinous criminals, the most heinous being political dissidents. Over the decades, tens of thousands of Afghans have disappeared from their homes and been incarcerated behind its walls. A few have lived to tell their stories but most are believed to lie in mass graves that fill the dusty, barren fields you drive through to reach the gates.

We visited with women most of us had known for almost three years. I saw a baby who had been born when I first worked in the prison, now a toddler who had spent her whole life in jail. (The U.N. is monitoring and rebuilding the prison now, but many believe that such a horrible place should be made a memorial.)

From the ridiculous department came the saga of buying a clothes dryer. The Kabul Beauty School got funding from the U.S. Embassy to buy a washer and dryer for the mountain of towels but the "procurement specialist" at the embassy here is an Afghan man who had never actually seen a clothes dryer. Washers here don't have a spin cycle; they just swoosh the water around, and then you drain it out. They sell separate devices that spin the water out. No amount of argument from some foreign woman was going to contradict his belief that a spinner was a dryer, so I was left with wet towels.

I later managed to find one of the few actual dryers in the city but it didn't heat up. Back to the appliance store I went with my driver, plumber, electrician and his son to discuss this cold dryer. (Doesn't everyone bring her electrician to the store to complain about a dryer?) Another machine was pulled out, and no less than 15 Afghan guys stood around a dryer the size of a dorm refrigerator with their hands over the back vent, waiting for the warm air that never came.

After five days, three dryers, four blown power strips, a smoking generator and a UL-condemned wiring configuration, we have clean, fluffy towels.

Back at the beauty school, in between visits from the Fox News journalists, the women are learning how to cut hair and are practicing on each other. After the perms they gave each other last month, this is actually a merciful thing.

Spring has arrived. The Kabul River is flowing for the first time in 20 years and people are saying it is Allah's blessing for peace. For the past 26 years, spring here has brought violence. We're all holding our breath that the New Year this week will be the start of a blessed, peaceful year.
Rosemary Stasek is a former Mountain View mayor. Her column appears monthly in the Voice while she serves as the logistics manager for the Kabul Beauty School. More about her project and trips to Afghanistan can be found at

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