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October 14, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, October 14, 2005

A new letter: Stasek returns to Kabul A new letter: Stasek returns to Kabul (October 14, 2005)

Candidates in the zoo, and trading beads in Afghan election

By Rosemary Stasek

KABUL -- The inside story of Afghan elections: I spent Election Day sitting at my precinct trading jewelry with the poll workers.

It was time to vote in the national and provincial assemblies here, and while everyone seemed to have a vague sense of what was supposed to happen, it managed to be every bit as ridiculous as one of our elections.

There were stinging accusations of improper tactics: "He bought dinner for every voter the night before the election!" I pointed out they did that in Chicago. "He spent $3 million on his campaign!" I wished I had his fund-raiser for my Assembly campaign. "She had a sexy Bollywood poster and all the taxi drivers put it in their windows!" You go girl.

My favorite election story was the one of the newspaper editor who wouldn't publish candidate photos. All the candidates kept calling him and demanding he publish their picture. Over the last month Kabul had become one big campaign poster, candidates' faces were plastered on every flat surface whether stationary or in motion. Billboards covered. Walls covered. Car windshields covered. Front and rear. So the editor took a picture of a wall that had all the candidate posters on them and ran one big photo, claiming to have taken care of them all at once. Only problem for the candidates was that the wall also had the sign of its location clearly showing at the top of the photo: Kabul Zoo.

But despite it all, people went to the polls and voted and took it as seriously as you can when candidates pick their noses on television. I spent the whole day sitting in the women's voting section at the high school in my neighborhood and shook the hand of every woman who voted. I sobbed the first time I saw a woman flip up her burqua and push her ballot into the box. Lots of tea was drunk, lots of gossip was exchanged and lots of jewelry was traded. I ended up with four great glass bangles. The final results still aren't known, and so far eight candidates have been murdered. There is a clause in the election law that if a candidate dies, the office goes to the next-highest vote getter. Not a good clause for the front-runner.

The only thing taking attention away from the election is Ramadan. The Islamic month of fasting started last week and things are grim for us hungry heathens. Muslims don't eat, drink, smoke or have sex during daylight hours during Ramadan. Which means there isn't any food being cooked in our house or in any of the restaurants from sunrise to sunset. Around lunchtime I get desperate and I've been hiding in my room eating MREs -- military meals ready to eat. They are actually really, really good, although I might not think that by the end of the month.

If I missed California, it felt like home the other day when I was anchored in a doorway watching the whole house sway around me. Thankfully we were spared the destruction Pakistan suffered, but it rolled and rolled for a good long time. Seismic standards in the states build flex into building designs to absorb rolling earthquakes, and buildings in Kabul have nothing BUT flex, so I watched my bedroom walls move like Jello but stay up.

Can't believe I've been here a month already. Members of the fall beauty school class are making their way through increased layer haircuts, my puppies just got fixed, I'm now terrorizing drivers and pedestrians in a Toyota Corolla station wagon, and new restaurants are opening nearly every week. Oh, and my dream of working at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul has finally come true. I'm the bartender.

All the best from Kabul. Vote early, vote often.
Rosemary Stasek, a former Mountain View mayor and city council member, sends occasional dispatches from her new home in Afghanistan.

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