Saturday, January 28, 2012

Razia's Ray of Hope

Le Jardin, the restaurant where the fashion show was to take place, is a new restaurant. To me, it is slightly similar to an old favorite, Le Bistro. Walking into the restaurant (after passing through a series of check points, purse search and a body scan with a hand held metal detector--the airport isn't so bad) you come across the low dark wood coffee/display tables with glass tops that allow you to peak in to see a about a cup full of assorted cut gems laid out in white bowls. Afghanistan is famous for its Lapis Lazuli, Emeralds, Azure, Rubies, Kunzite, etc. (see NPR for more info) and they are for sale everywhere popular on the expat circuit cut, uncut, as individual stones and imbedded in jewelry. The walls of the dinning room are covered in rugs for sale though the selection is limited.

However, today we were not there to shop for rugs and gems, but for handmade clothing, jewelry, bags and scarves by the woman who runs Razia's Ray of Hope, Razia Jan. We finally sat down around 11 am and ordered the brunch. Waiting for the food, I went to check out the silent auction which contained several types of necklaces, a painting, a rug, a water set, a bronze vase and drum looking thing. Loved one necklace and earring set but did not bid. Went to the area they called the "bizarre" that was full of amazing things and got so overwhelmed I had to go back to the brunch table. I looked at the nicely printed brochure describing the foundation and made a commitment to buy a few things that day.

The fashion show and entire event was to raise money for the Zabuli Education Center. This school provides free education for girls in the village of Deh'Sabz which is right outside of Kabul. The school provides education for more than 300 girls who would not otherwise get an education. Some of these girls walk 45 minutes each way to get to school.

Several hours and two hundred and some dollars later I had joined and won the silent auction for a necklace and earring set entitled "Kissing Rainbows" from Herat which, according to the sign, was "an exquisite silver-wear comprising of a sun-shaped necklace and earrings that hang like an upside down rainbow. From Herat, this refined adornment is a gentle addition to an evening wear."

We all left hundreds of dollars lighter, but having had great food, shopping, conversation, and an interesting fashion show. The excitement and several pots of tea worked perfectly and I left thrilled to have met Razia and some of the girls from the school. I also had a personal ray of hope shine through in that I have been looking for projects to volunteer with while in Kabul and this might be one of them...

Unisex Toilets in Kabul

Unisex toilets in Kabul were not something I would have thought possible. The problem is that when they built the school where I work (I suppose they did not expect females to attend or, perhaps, the men designing it forgot that women have needs as well) they only put in the toilets for men. This means that we females have to share the toilet with them.While that doesn't bother me too much with the doors on the stalls and all in the U.S. or other places, I feel extremely timid here in Kabul. Entering the bathroom I most frequently use is like walking into a long hallway. You pass two sinks on your right hand side, a tiny separating wall that juts out to cover the two urinals and then the end of the hall where are two stalls. One contains a squatter (think Thailand, China, Malaysia, etc.) and the other a sitter (western sit down style toilet). Actually, if I am honest, the whole idea of walking past the urinals is traumatizing. Not because I'm nervous about sharing the bathroom if there are stalls (as previously stated), whatever, but, given the cultural context, I don't want to upset anyone by walking in on them.

One time, I knocked and knocked on the door with no response. I figured, empty. I opened the door and nearly ran into a man in the middle of absolution for prayer. I'm sure the almost contact set him back a bit and he had to redo everything because after I left the bathroom offering profuse apologies, it took him almost a half an hour to leave. I was practically doubled over in front of the bathroom contracted in pain when he left. Passed by me without a second glance.

Another time, I sent a young man in to check the bathroom for me. I watched him check the entire room and then report back "all clear". I thanked him as I entered the bathroom and locked the door behind me. I walked past the sinks, urinals and got into the squat toilet at the end of the corridor. I closed the door to the stall, started lowering my pants and suddenly heard a male voice saying,
"I'm here."
"AHHHH! Why didn't you answer when we asked if anyone was in here (in both Dari and English!)? Are you finished?" I pull up my pants ready to run out of the bathroom.
"Then get out, get out, get out." I heard him leave the stall, wash his hands, unlock the door and leave the bathroom. I take one or two seconds to contemplate whether or not to run out and re-lock the door but nature calls and I drop my pants. I figured I'll hear someone if they came in the bathroom and could wait quietly till they left again. Quiet as a mute mouse, the person would not have even known I was there--no harm done.  

I now knock, call out and then listen very closely. If I hear a cough, sneeze, the tinkling of a small water flow, or anything that would alert me to another person I step outside, close the door and wait.Good listening is an asset for all involved.