Author Archives: Tim Bisbee

A Place Where Hope Can Soar

Friday is kite-flying day.  Their bright colors swirl into the cloudless blue sky. Some are shooting straight up reaching, soaring. Many are hanging, appearing motionless, stationary in an ocean of glaring blue. The vast majority are active, they dance across the sky performing loops and dives and spins, all manner of daring acrobatics.

I have lived and worked in Kabul, Afghanistan for six months now and every day I witness the incredible spectacle of this nation’s favorite pastime… kite flying. The vision is really something to behold, hundreds, oft-times, thousands of multi-colored kites stretching, reaching towards the heavens. They really are quite amazing, built of nothing but brightly colored tissue paper and bamboo sticks. Some are constructed or reconstructed of plastic shopping bags and all manner of replacement materials.

On Friday, the only day off during the week, the “holiday”, the sky is literally filled with kites. From very early in the morning, even before the sun peeks over the horizon, there is an excitement, a feeling of anticipation amongst the children as they ready themselves for the day. Small kiosks and street shops are buzzing with animated children buying kite line, spools, transparent tape (for repairs), little foil stickers for the corners of the kites and of course, the kites themselves.   In anticipation of the “rush”, shops are stocked with everything necessary for the kite enthusiast. There is laughter but also seriousness…decisions have to be made, sizes, colors…do I have enough line…and of course the heated negotiations over prices. Another nuance, easily missed by the casual observer, is the sizing up of the competition. In addition to being fun, kite flying is also serious business. Kite flying in Afghanistan is competitive.  My guess is that since most of the flyers are young boys and young men, there is a spirit that one must dominate. A discernable “flexing” to be the first to successfully prepare and launch, to reach higher, to perform the best tricks, to gain a solid kite flying reputation.  There are even huge competitions where flyers “fight” with kites.

One of my close colleagues says, “I just don’t get the kite flying thing”, but I do. For me kite flying represents a metaphor for entrepreneurship. There is investment, planning, strategy, competition, and certainly risk. There is in almost every tree and tangled around the few power lines and telephone wires that exist, the telltale signs of risk. There are faded and shredded reminders that until skills are more developed, until one learns to read the environment, until one can coax his kite beyond the lurking danger, there is a distinct possibility for failure.  Like Charlie Brown and the “kite-eating tree” from the Peanuts comic strip made famous by Charles Shultz, there is a constant element of risk…yet Charlie Brown still strives to get his kite airborne. Like the children of Afghanistan it’s the hope of success that keeps them trying to fly.

In a place like Afghanistan, which for so many years has been ravaged by wars, kites also represent hope and freedom. It occurs to me that at the end of each one of those beautiful kites are children who strive for the wind to fill their sails, for their kites to take off and fly. It is as though the kite line is tied directly to their hearts, reflecting the yearning to break free from the dusty ground, to rise up and view the world from a higher place. Perhaps with the introduction of democratic practices their hopes can truly soar.

Reaching Out to Students…From Afghanistan

On Wednesday, May 31st, at Peak to Peak School in Lafayette, CO, some 40+ students had their worlds enlarged through an amazing opportunity!  On that date, I visited an AP Human Geography class – virtually, from Afghanistan.  Through this technology-laden visit, students had the opportunity to learn firsthand about the various projects currently ongoing through CIPE in Afghanistan, and the response was tremendous.  As you will read, eyes were opened, paradigms shifted, and possibly most important, career ideas for change were planted in these high school sophomores’ minds.

Instructor, Carla Flanhofer, sought out ways to make this visit happen through arranging the classroom for a “Skype” (voice-over-internet protocol or VOIP) session — my face was projected onto the classroom screen, and the voice came through the computer into “surround sound speakers.” 

The sessions began with introductions, and I provided a brief explanation of what CIPE is and what we do in Afghanistan.  I then invited the students to fire away with their questions.  The students came to the front of the room and introduced themselves and proceeded to offer their questions.  While my expectations were too narrow, you will see below the students were: informed, interested, and investigating.

Below are the questions I did my best to answer:

Period 2 Questions:

1. What have you found to be the biggest cultural aspect that hinders democracy?  How does religion and culture affect the development of democracy and the shape it takes?
2.  Who has been the biggest vocal opposition to the development of democracy in Afghanistan?
3.  What actions do you take in order to start building democracy?
4.  Do you or your co-workers ever feel that your safety is threatened?
5.  What is the biggest difference you see between Afghan culture and American culture?
6.  How do you structure a democracy around the cultural social structure (especially in regards to women) without disrupting and dislodging religion and culture?
7.  Is there any opposition to your presence in Afghanistan?  What kind?
8.  Are the native Afghan people glad to have you (Americans) there, or do they prefer to structure their own government/programs without Western help?
9.  What were some of your expectations when you arrived?  Were they met?
10.  What are the medical facilities like and how strong is the military presence there?
11.  How much forward progress has been made thus far?
12.  Right now, what obstacles are the CIPE employees facing?
13.   What are some of the roles of men/women?  How does this dynamic affect your job?
14.  Are there women’s activists in the country, and if so, how are they treated?  What progress have they made?  Do Afghan women generally believe their situation is unequal?
15.  What has surprised you the most about the people you have been working with?
16.  What was the most intense experience you have had in Afghanistan?
 
Period 4 questions (additional questions, many are repetitive)

 1. What is daily life like there in comparison to American?
2.  How do potential entrepreneurs get the capital to innovate new business?
3.  What potential markets exist in that area?  (entertainment, communications, transportation, etc.?)
4.  How does CIPE promote independent/private business in war torn countries (what are the steps?)?
5.  Does Afghanistan (in your opinion) have a chance at establishing a strong democracy?  How would it differ from what we are familiar with?
6.  Without the US doing this, how long would it take for Afghanistan to rebuild itself?  Would it ever?
7.  How many projects like this are the US involved in (both in this region and others)?
8.  What do you think is the biggest misconception that Americans have about the situation in Afghanistan? 
9.  Is there any sort of deadline when you hope to have your goals accomplished?

With rapt attention, the students eagerly awaited their turn, while taking in everything that was being shared.  There wasn’t a “bored” eye in the place!  With questions ranging from the implementation of the democratic process, through sustainability and the time it will take to see the fruit from these projects, they were not simply interested in “how the food tastes there”! 

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