Welcome to IMAGES-VOICES-WORDS
March 25, 2013
Two weeks. That’s about how long I’ve been preparing for my cross-country trip and about how much time I have remaining before I pack my camera and digital voice recorder, hop on my motorcycle and motor across the country (that would be the United States of America, for those of you following this blog from somewhere outside the United States).
[Update – April 16, 2013: I’ll be departing Vermont on Wednesday, April 17th. First stop, Pawling New York]
If you read my About statement you already know what inspired me to create IMAGES-VOICES-WORDS. In 2012 I lived in Afghanistan. I’ve had some difficult, challenging years in my life. 2012 made it into Steve’s Top Five Most Difficult Years list. Simply said, Afghanistan is a hell-hole. It’s so unfortunate, given the immense need of its populace. But honestly speaking, the majority of the aid money being spent there is not reaching the truly needy. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are, to be perfectly blunt, either completely duped or a liar. I’ve been approached by a handful of people who have said to me, “I loved living there!” In my estimation, those folks fall into one of three categories:
- They worked for the US Agency for International Development, the State Department, or as a contractor for one of them and lived inside the U.S. Embassy compound in Kabul. I referred to the compound as Klub Kabul while I was there. It was a heavily fortified and barricaded fantasy land with the best bar, gyms, pool and social events in the country. I’d love to show you a picture of what Klub Kabul looks like, but if I had taken any pictures of the compound and gotten caught I would have gotten a good ole American bureaucratic ass-whippin’. Here’s a picture taken of me swimming in the roof-top pool in the hotel I used to stay at in Dubai whenever I flew in and out of Afghanistan. I’m adding it to this post because it closely resembles what poolside at Klub Kabul looks like. Those who live and work there rarely, if ever leave it. They have no perspective on the country – none whatsoever.
- Before they came to Afghanistan they had no life. They continued to have no life in Afghanistan, but what’s the difference, eh?
- They are what is referred to as a “War Whore”. They love guns, guts and gusto. Afghanistan’s full of that sort of stuff … and a lot of testosterone, for those who love that sort of thing, too.
To put it simply it’s not a top tourist destination. But believe it or not, it’s on some people’s lists. If you don’t believe me, read this article. Afghanistan even has a Minister of Tourism! Any takers?
I went to Afghanistan with the enthusiasm of a schoolboy and the insane notion that I’d be able to make a positive difference in people’s lives. It’s something I’ve done with relative success throughout my career in international development assistance, even when that work was technology-centric. I’ve traveled on every continent of this world with the exception of Antarctica. Each place has had its unique challenges. Nevertheless, I’ve always welcomed the challenges that come with learning a new culture – even sub-cultures within my own. So I went to Afghanistan thinking this challenge wouldn’t be any different.
It was and is.
Daily, it seemed, I confronted one of several combinations of the following:
- Extreme anger
- An untenable security situation that required me to be driven in an armored vehicle and escorted by American and Albanian Special Forces whenever I traveled outside the Army base where I was forced to live.
- Complacent American bureaucrats who cared more about the money they were making and their careers than any of the many Afghans who truly needed assistance.
- The threat of an “insider attack” by armed Afghan guards inside the base.
It wore me down. I remained exhausted for weeks after returning home. After the bliss of being back home wore off and the reality of finding a house and job settled in, I became cognizant of the fact that Afghanistan was apparently still making me weary. In reflecting deeper, I discovered my country was also contributing to my weariness. A couple of weeks ago I had a lucid dream. In that dream I saw all the violence in America as fed to us by our media every moment of the day. The violence was represented as a current of fast flowing images projected like a video – rapes, murders, corruption, greed. This, apparently, was America through the lens of CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, the New York Times, the New York Post, the major news networks and media outlets. But a voice spoke to me and said, “This isn’t your country’s soul. You know better!”
There’s that dream. And there are these very, very, very valuable lessons I learned as a result of my Afghanistan experience.
- Never take life for granted!
- Follow your dreams and don’t allow anyone to convince you your dreams are foolish.
- Love. Love more. And love even more.
- (I’m learning this one) God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
And there are these two hobbies I’ve had most of my life that I’ve never truly pursued with my heart and soul – photography and writing.
I’m not going to forget that lucid dream. I’m going to take to heart those very important lessons I harvested from Afghanistan. Those hobbies I’ve always wanted to turn into something more? It’s time to pursue them with gusto. With my Honda 750 cc motorcycle as the vehicle that will transport me throughout my country, I’m going to photograph the people of America while I also record my conversations with them. I want to discover the true soul of my country. I’ll post excerpts on this blog. I expect my archive to be voluminous, so I can’t possibly post it all here. I’m also going to work on a few stories I’ve been meaning to write for a long time (I’m not sure any of that rough work will make it here, but my blog will be the words I’ll share with the public for now). The time seems ripe. I feel supported by the universe. That’s what I’m going to do and this is where I’m going to start recording it, right here on IMAGES-VOICES-WORDS. What more may come from it, I do not know. I’ll leave some of that for the universe to unveil as this journey unfolds.
I welcome your company. Please join me!