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Sunday, December 17, 2006


Pass the news of progress along

We are home and recovering from our long journeys. Already missing our friends in Kabul and burning up the Internet with follow-up emails on the various projects underway. We are looking forward to our return and early Spring missions are in the planning stages already.

In the meantime, thanks for the support from afar. Many of you posted and some of you read and then sent emails (both the shy and the blog challenged). You woke up each morning to read and and we woke up each morning to see your reaction to our experience . . . Thanks for the interest.

One request, pass your interest and this blog address along. There is progress happening in Afghanistan. The international community, too easily overloaded with news of instability and tempted to throw up their hands in resignation, needs to know that there remains hope in Afghanistan. Afghans who seek a future of peace are working hard to create economic opportunity for themselves and the next generation so that a breeding environment for peace is built. Bpeace stands with them.

Friday, December 15, 2006


Red sweaters of joy

Kate, Steve and 8 of the 10 Bpeace associates who have come in partnership proudly beneath their new sign and storefront.

Steve works with Laila to intake the inventory.

Suria is radiant as she shows Kate her new handbag design.

A rack of Suria's handbags.

Marketing team take note: red was the most popular color among the Afghan girls receiving one of the brand new sweaters knit by Suria and her team of 14 widows.

Najib, Athena, a teacher and some of the 162 students who received "gifts of warmth" sweaters through Bpeace donors, members and friends.


Highlights included the rest of the RKA associates see their fittings for the first time and the first product is ticketed. Kate cried at their words of appreciation and request that the team not leave (no pictures of the boo hoo).

Athena had the joy of accompanying Najib to one of the schools that Afghans for Tomorrow, the non-profit he heads up, sponsors in Kabul. The 162 children needed sweaters, so loads of Bpeacers--especially lots of friends of Pam Varkony in Allentown, PA area, and friends of Wendy Summer in CT--donated money so we could hire one of our associates, Suria, to knit the sweaters. The kids were thrilled to receive the sweaters and when Athena visited the play ground she saw many of them had already put them on. Winter in Kabul is cold! A few of the girls knew exactly what color they wanted -- there was an early run on the red ones!

Najib spends much of his time helping the schools his organization supports. Athena: The eyes and smiles of these girls were irresistible. And once again I felt the cultural divisions melt as we smiled and giggled together, picking the right sweater, and exchanging the very basic greetings: "Hello! How are you? I am fine!" several of them said with glee. And when I responded they giggled some more and took their new, warm sweaters and went back to study.

I am imagining children in happy red running through the streets of Kabul. Punctation marks of joy against the muddy brown streets.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Who shall you tell?

Steve (behind the lens) and Katrin Fataki, at right, meets with the RKA Finance Team.

An exciting moment for Kate, Laila, and Bakhnazera -- The sign is up! We are official!

Bakhnazera in front of the beautiful fitting room curtain.

Kate demonstrates how to use one of the store fixtures designed by Pam.

Athena and Kate with the AWBF board. Their Vision Journey is on the wall behind them.

Bpeace Associate Nasima is a member of the AWBF board. Here she is with Athena
in front of the Vision Journey the Board created together.

Dinner among friends.

Kate, the sparkling birthday girl.

Tomorrow we will crush a day's activities into a few hours and then there will be rushed airport goodbyes, tears (waterfalls) and a hesitant step onto the plane home.

But today our hearts our full with hope.

We saw the store begin to take shape. Fixtures arriving, curtains being hung, lovely furniture being being delivered piece by piece. A sign proudly set in place. A dream coming to life. Not ours, but theirs. Tomorrow we will work on nuts and bolts. Inventory check-in, SKU numbers and merchandise displays. In the coming weeks there will be many small disasters. But today a group of 10 Afghan women came together to make a business together . . .

We were witnesses to progress. Who shall we tell?

We felt the connection that comes with spending time with our associates. Steve and RKA's finance committee (Laila, Suria and BK) met with Katrin. It was Steve's first time leading an associate meeting. Laila told Kate that it was a "great meeting". Steve watched the team work through some tough decisions. They came together in productive conflict. Then Steve went on to meet with and Sultana and Nargis at Venus System. Yoga will be offered at a women's gym in Kabul

We were witnesses to progress. Who shall we tell?

We saw a board of directors begin to take its place as role models for Afghan women.
Athena: It is almost impossible to describe the feeling that comes when everyone in the room knows that something big has happened between a group of people. This is what Kate and I had the privilege of feeling and witnessing with the AWBF board today. After a journey of four days together we arrived at the end with a sense of joy and real hope for this group of leaders -- that they indeed have the potential to effect real change for the women of Afghanistan. The journey had ups and downs, surprises and conflicts, moments of tension and gales of laughter. We were not sure what the ultimate result would be. These women took it all on and brought their full selves to the process. Witnessing their engagement in their own development created an indelible memory for both Kate and me. . . .

We were witnesses to progress. Who shall we tell?

Tonight the team went out to dinner with Kabul friends: Beth, Amy, Jon, Sam and Virginia joined Kate, Athena and Steve for another Lebanese dinner. Kate was surprised with a cake replete with sparklers. Suspect I might remember this one. Next to us was a family out for the evening with their small children. A birthday cake was presented with great fanfare. A scene unimaginable in our first visits . . .

We were witnesses to progress. Who shall we tell?

We left the US with too little time and then Dubai stole three more days. A few days ago there were doubts we could complete the tasks at hand, let alone make this time truly meaningful. But the team is transformed tonight. We have made an impact and more importantly have felt the impact which comes from the momentum built on each visit. Bpeace can be proud of the associates who let us in to their lives . . .

You are witnesses to progress. Who shall you tell?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Still working on the lights

Kate explains the new materials (by The Grove) to Kamela and how she can use them in her training.

Kamela checks out the new strategic planning materials that Kate has brought her.

Kamela has a new employee, Bhawna, who has moved from India to work with
Kamela on strategy and business development.

Sign arrives! Logo created by Bpeacer Christina Rodriguez back in the states!

Hope Pam likes this.

A table for tea we hope Pam will like.

An AWBF board member explains the results of her team's brainstorming session.

Life goes on in Kabul with shops that carry everything you might need.

A pastry shop displays neat stacks of yummy treats.

Perspective always refreshed here. It is the great gift of Afghanistan to those of us who live otherwise spoiled lives, rich with security and comforts. Athena and I had JUST finished a discussion regarding the Serena hotel and how it has made the difference for us this trip. Our energies have been sustained why working 16 to 18 hour days to have this beautiful and comfortable refuge after days spent shivering --- cold and grimy in the city's shops, offices and homes.

But perspective was waiting on the laptop's inbox. The rest of the city is not quite as comfortable. Most neigborhoods get 2 or 3 hours of electricity every other day. Of course the well-to-do spend thousands of dollars on batteries to run electric powered machinery and generators to light their homes. But most residents do without. It is eerie to stand in the street as the last light leaves the sky and hear the sizzle and snap of lights which have been dark for days begin to come on. Kabul residents rush to run their appliances in the few hours allotted.

From: ANSO
Sent: Tuesday, December 12, 2006 5:38 PM
General Advisory - Possible Demonstration

Dear Colleagues,

The media has publicized that Kabul citizens
should take part in a demonstration against the Government to protest a lack of electricity.

Should a demonstration take place, ANSO advises the humanitarian community to restrict movement in the city centre in order to avoid any disturbances or possible traffic delays.

ANSO Central will be monitoring the situation and will update as relevant.



Another very full day here. It's after 9pm and we are still working as we have been since 5am (Kate getting cranking as its day 2 with no time for a run). Athena and I just finished dinner meeting with Kamela and her wonderful new associate and partner Bhanna Agarwal who will help finish the business plan. This is a powerhouse pair. We felt lucky that they have invited us along for the ride. Kamela is preparing to deliver training in Kandahar to a group of men! She has promised to take pictures. Before dessert Kate delivered a set of strategy training curriculmn she has fallen in love with from a California company called The Grove. Athena found them and is huge fan. The graphic approach absolutely crosses cultures. Kamela was wowed. The group agreed to complete refining the business plan for end of January and then to actively search for a U.S. sponsor for Kamela and her business.

Athena and Kate spent day 3 with the AWBF board: Communication, creativity, and commitment were the big topics of the leadership development workshop. The board found new solutions to old communication issues that they believe will make a big change in the way they work together.

These women are sharp and were ready to roll up their sleeves and make some real changes. They loved learning and practicing techniques for generating, choosing and committing to ideas. By the end of the day they were pleased to recognize that when they understand the fundamental nature of a problem, they are capable of coming up with numerous solutions. We learned that some things transcend culture: Communication is key to a team's success; creativity and learning happen when you get out of your chair and try new things to access your thinking; and everyone likes to have fun!

Steve is outside the Serena smoking a cigar among the big trucks coming and going with armed guards. He spent the evening with room service (Afghan stew) and a computer documenting RKA store processes. We will review them together when he returns. He spent day finishing up outfitting the store, getting furniture delivered. His afternoon was spent with Nargis for her second tutorial on yoga.

The store's sign was delivered! Tomorrow the rest of the fixtures are due. Inshallah. Thursday morning Kate and Steve will train the associates on ticketing and receiving so they can begin to move inventory into the shop over the 'weekend'. Store should open next week!

Got to go back to work. Later

Monday, December 11, 2006


Praying for snow

AWBF board members practice team work.

We found a fun way for AWBF board members to learn about collaboration.

The entire drapery selection team.

Kate and Athena stumble onto the drapery selection team.

Foot traffic in front of the new RKA store.
But we're not worried, there's a hot new restaurant down the street.

Our cleaning crew polishing the RKA window to a sparkle--a first in Kabul.

Leading one of these missions means you have to keep track of talent, brains, passion and ambition as it runs all over town. Appointments to be confirmed, drivers and translators to be assigned, interview guides to be prepared for interviews, presentation decks to be prepared for meetings, new resources and partners to be identified, supplies to be delivered, samples to be picked up, debriefs and adjustments, you name it. We four on this mission all miss Marla not only for her capacity to handle all of this with ease, but for her easy humor and good thinking.

So what do the four of us share? Same as all people on these missons: A desire for impact. And frustration that we can not expand the space time continuum. Never enough time. Pam left this afternoon, the rest of leave Thursday. I am actually praying for snow to keep us here a few more days. Pam and I tried to stay, but all seats out of Kabul are booked through late December.

So instead we forge ahead with the time we have.

Athena and Kate were with the Afghan Women's Business Federation (AWBF) board of directors today, leading a collaborative leadership seminar. This project is a consulting project for them, seperate from the Bpeace TOT training which we delivered earlier in the week. Both projects are aimed at making AWBF successful. More on this tomorrow.

Pam wrapped up her loose ends (fixture plans, shopping lists, process definitions), right up until the second she got on her plane, meeting with Steve, Laila and some of the associates at the store and then the hotel this morning. Najib and Steve were on a mission to outfit the RKA store, as per Pam's instructions. Armed with shopping lists and fixture plans, they set out to to accomplish the impossible: Find perfect fittings for the store.

The team had been having some challenges locating their vision of Afghan soul. Kate suggested showing Najib some of the furniture pieces which line the Serena lobby. Yureka! Najib, immediately said "Chicken Street", the infamous Kabul shopping area as it has attracted foreigners (as well as crime and insurgent activity) for years. So today the team started in the glass shop area, to purchase glass tops to match the 'branch' tables purchased yesterday. On Chicken street, they went to a fantastic furniture store filled to the ceiling with Afghan soul and purchased a number of pieces, spending $660. Najib and Steve bargained hard on behalf of RKA and everyone walked away happy.

Najib and Steve met up with other Bpeace associates Laila, Bakht Naziara and her husband Khan Aga to choose fabrics for the dressing room and slipper chairs at Khan Aga's friend shop. Lots of lively conversation with the store owner, as we viewed sample upon sample of embroidered bed coverings. Several selections and spirited negotiations were completed with pictures, hand shakes and hugs. A final stop around the corner led to the purchase of the wrap station, another beautiful Afghan piece that will decorate the store.

Kate: Athena and I are were in the car headed to Nasima's shop after we had completed the day's AWBF training. As we pass a shop window I see that it is crowded with many familiar faces. It's Steve and what is now HIS entourage. The group are in the midst of what is now a familar scene, piles of samples. Jump out in time to be shown several pieces of wonderful Afghan fabric which was being purchased for RKA. The owner of the shop was quite the model, showboating coin covered hats and embroidered coats for the group and the camera. Steve looked so damn happy I am wondering if he won't soon be requesting we move. It isn't the worst idea I have heard, but know that we have been staying at the Serena, which insulates you from the day to day challenges of living in Kabul.

As Athena and Kate returned to the Serena they ran into Wendy Summer's Kabul business partner, Shalha, who was at the Serena searching for them to arrange the exchange of some samples. Shalha owns a construction company and we discussed the Apprentice Road Trip. Women in construction in Afghanistan? Shalha promised to take us on a picnic up north if (when) we return in the Spring to see some of the spectactular scenery which graces this country.

Dinner was with CIPE and Aid to Artisan teams at L' Taverna. CIPE was our host for refreshments at their comfortable compound before we headed to dinner. Bpeace, AKB (Kate and Athena) and ATA are all doing projects with AWBF, which for those who follow the money in NGO speak is a USAID funded project led by CIPE. It was so so great to FINALLY get outside at night. We have been too busy to leave the Serena. Shared road tales and lessons: beware of dead fish in overhead compartments.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


You can all let a collective AWHHHH and we will hear it.

Still working.

It's 10:30pm in Kabul and we are all still at laptops working. Lights keep going off so flashlights are in use. Steve studying RKA spreadsheets, Pam writing to do lists and fixture plans, Kate juggling the agenda and logistics while studying for tomorrow session with AWBF while Athena rewrites the session's timeline. Most of us have a few more hours of work and a 5am wake-up call. So no blog tonite. Later all . . .Oh wait . . .Athena has sent me an email:

This morning there were snow flurries in Kabul. Kate and I spent today doing one-on-one interviews with AWBF board members in preparation for leadership training beginning tomorrow. Two of them cried (Note from Kate: only Athena made them cry) talking about their desire to help other Afghan women who are less fortunate than them. One told Athena about how when the Taliban were here she continued to train girls volley ball teams and once she was interviewed in her burqa, holding a volley ball underneath it. Can you imagine? She loves sports and is passionate about teaching girls to be athletes. That's so amazing to me in this environment. She said she was beaten three times during the Taliban regime...but hastened to say that so many other women had it much worse. No matter how many times we hear these stories, they are always horrifying. These women are determined to claim their place in society and make a difference for all the women of Afghanistan.

Ok, that will need to leave you all satisfied until tomorrow . . .

Saturday, December 09, 2006



Pam's entourage in front of RKA with its temporary signage courtesy of Kate Meth's daughter Hayley.

Cool boxes ... good for rolled up carpets!

This is a lot colder than Phoenix: Athena with the Artemis fellows.

Stop the car!

Pam was late for a meeting with the RKA associates at the Serena and rushing through Kabul traffic. But after a frustrating afternoon searching for the perfect piece of furniture with Farid, Steve and Najib she spied a furniture maker on the street. Quick turn around of the van and 15 minutes later a new table had been designed and a $20 deposit paid. Pick up is scheduled for Tuesday. It was that kind of day. The afternoon was spent with the RKA associates at the Serena discussing co-operative policies around merchandise selection and quality control. We really felt good about their consensus around key issues.

The store sign has been ordered . . .makes it feel official somehow.

So here is where the RKA store stands: fixtures ordered, store painted, sign ordered, furniture pieces falling into place, store to be cleaned tomorrow, store supplies on site and boxed (thanks Kate Meth and Steve), fixture plans to be discussed Sunday with Merchandise Team, inventory and sales recording processes to be taught to the Finance Committee on Tuesday (by Steve:), fixtures to be installed on Wednesday, another clean-up to follow, associates to begin bringing their merchandise to the store Thursday (after Bpeace team leaves for home) and Saturday. Long distance problem solving and fixture adjustment by email with Pam, Steve and Kate late Saturday and Sunday. MONDAY is targeted as our SOFT OPEN.

Bpeace in the news again
Kate and Laila gave an interview to a local reporter at the Serena who was eager to take a picture with the RKA associates who were meeting in the Residents Lounge so he could include it in the story. Proud moment for Kate and Pam. They also have television so reporter has requested time for television interviews. Time? Sure we have SO MUCH FREE TIME? Yikes!

Education continues: Theirs and Ours
Meanwhile Athena and Kate spent the morning (and Athena the afternoon) at AWBF's Training Center (where they smiled to see pictures themselves on lobby bulletin boards from the July training). Kate was leading "How to Export" and Athena was working with the latest batch of Artemis graduates. Really great sessions. Kate gave got on her soapbox one more time to ask the teachers to guide their students toward the modernization of Afghan soul and not allow it, and the accompanying business opprtunity, to be swallowed by imported goods.

Phoenix in Kabul This year and last, the Artemis Program at Thunderbird University in Phoenix brought a total of 30 Afghan businesswomen to the US for two weeks of business training. Bpeace has been lucky to have 9 of its Associates participate in the program. This year’s group left Phoenix only a month ago. Athena, who taught at this year’s Artemis program, was engaged by Thunderbird to do some follow-up with the Artemis Fellows while she was in Kabul. Nasima and Habiba, two of the Bpeace Associates who were in this year’s Artemis program were there..

Athena split them into two groups to talk together about what inspired them about the Artemis program to get them re-connected to that. She had them draw pictures and write on flip chart pages on the table in front of them. Then they reported back to each other -- which took a bit too long, but some great stuff came out of it. They loved their mentors, the Grand Canyon, the hospitality...but the really interesting thing was there were a lot of circles of people in their drawings, holding hands or with arrows between them. They told me that was all about what they learned about networking and team work and how working together is so much better than working individually. This was a really strong theme, which was great to hear.

Food Dinner again tonite at the Serena. The buffet is too good and we are all eating too much dessert. We get out tomorrow nite for dinner and refreshments in town with our CIPE collegues.

Kate's Jewelry Exhibition
About to begin room exhibition of some jewelry Kate bought in 10 minutes as she dashed between AWBF and meetings at the Serena. She always finds a way!

Friday, December 08, 2006


Typical day building knowledge, muscles and display cases

Passionate discussion about customers' emotional and functional needs.

Arif tells us about his marketing map.

Another cold crystal clear day here. Struck once again how much like Colorado Kabul can seem in winter.

Team was off in three different directions today:

1. Athena trained at AWBF and learned a few things about the latest in mosque marketing

2. Kate and Steve worked with Nargis and Zuhra at The Venus Fitness Center where despite cool temperatures, Steve was able to work up a sweat

3. Pam and Najib were all over town on the RKA store mission. So much to order and so little time (and money)

Afghan Women’s Business Federation
Athena spent the day with 21 AWBF trainers taking them through the Marketing Map, a tool for entrepreneurs to map out a marketing communications strategy. The participants loved the topic -- they were practically jumping out of their seats to volunteer answers and offer their ideas about how to market products and services in Afghanistan.

The most interesting discussions were about how to apply marketing principles to their students who live in the provinces and are mostly illiterate. It turns out that local radio is a great promotional opportunity because most people have radios and there are special shows for women. And, depending on your product or service, sometimes you can announce things over the loudspeakers of mosques. Who knew? ...But it was quickly pointed out that a beauty parlor could not take advantage of this opportunity.

Another fascinating cultural moment was when Athena realized that in the provinces it is the men who buy clothing and other accessories for their wives -- not the women themselves, who are seldom allowed to leave their houses. So, the men are also target customers who have to be considered...Even though, one of the men informed us, the women tell their men what to buy -- usually because they have seen another woman wearing something they liked at a wedding or other social gathering. Aaahhh the nuances of marketing!

Venus Fitness
It’s a slow time of year as clients don’t like the cold weather work-outs. Colder inside most buildings than outside this time of year. Lots of marketing plans for Spring and a possible move to a new location.

In the meantime Zuhra, Venus’s trainer, put us through the paces of The Venus System circuits 1 and 2. Steve and Kate satisfied to see that she was well versed in the program. Zuhra is a tough trainer. 15 to 20 reps are a must. The group had fun as Kate and Steve walked everyone through the 3rd phase. Steve was very happy as they allowed him to participate in the training.

Steve then guided the ladies through some beginner yoga training. He started with warm ups and quickly transitioned to standing poses (as the group was pretty limber from all the Venus System activity!). The ladies tried mountain pose, standing forward bend, warrior 2, side angle pose and triangle pose. The session had its challenges as Steve had Nargis translate while Kate helped the ladies make adjustments (Steve could not touch the women of course!) while Kate took a logistics related mobile call from Athena while in mountain pose.

Kate: It was a moment for me to sit in a class taught by Steve in Kabul. He was such a great teacher, sharing his enthusiasm for yoga in such a genuine way. He really came through.

There was lots of giggling and laughter over the tucking of sits bones and the audible inhaling and exhaling. They were a bit daunted by the difficulty the yoga postures presented and barefoot toes were frozen by class end but all were very happy with the initiation and want to learn more. Steve returns Tuesday for the next session.

Rangeen Kamen Artisans
Kate, Steve and Pam met up in the afternoon for the second half of a big day for Pam and RKA. Lots to tell and Pam is drafting a blog entry. Stay tuned but leave it said for now that Bakhnazera made us proud stepping into a negotiation with the carpenter on behalf of the co-operatives and Najib made us laugh (read Pam's entry for more.


Najib, Fahid and Pam's fixture shopping adventure.

Farid, the carpenter, his brother and Najib pour over Pam's fixture photo.

Our list: A cabinet that will function as a wrap station (the place where your purchase is wrapped in tissue and placed in a bag) that is multi functional so can serve as storage, display and so forth; pedestals or tables for displays and merchandise; another functional piece such as a table or desk for the store manager that will also be the sales transaction point; furniture for the tea area; coat stands; decorative hooks; and anything else we could find to house or display merchandise. Our objective, find one or two beautiful pieces that are identifiably Afghan as focal points and make do with the balance on the cheap.

The ever courtly Najib inquired if we should stop by the expensive or cheap furniture store first, as the expensive one was closer that's where we started. Unfortunately since today is Friday (the equivalent of our Sunday only more so) not all stores are open, this being one. (Looking forward to returning tomorrow since what was visible beyond the window looked ideal, also expensive. Kate suggested we scout without Najib, so he can return later to negotiate, as a national he most likely gets a better deal.)

Off to the “cheap” market, and it was. Store after store of pressed wood, Formica, modern, non-Afghan stuff. For those of you in the northeast, think Bob's without the cheesy commercials. Pam said, "no dice", Najib always quick on the uptake got the idiom and agreed this would not work. In the interim, a carpenter had been called who took a taxi to the “cheap” market to meet us. After joining us there in a nice green plaid headscarf whirling around, we proceeded to “cheap” market #2. So Najib, Fahid, the carpenter, and Pam traipsed through the market, which was wildly interesting since it was completely populated by locals. Ugh, more of the same. We threw in the towel, and the four of us headed back to RKA to begin working with the carpenter on the fixtures. Eventually his brother, who was clearly in charge, arrived in a fabulous Afghan wrap (pattoo), and after what seemed like hours (Kate’s notes: it was hours) we finally had defined all the specifications for the requested fixtures and it was time for the price quote, which coincided with sundown. Which meant prayer time for Najib. So he borrowed Fahid’s scarf, said to Kate, "I'm going to pray this pricing discussion will end soon", and ignoring the commotion, kneeled.

Simultaneously, after hearing the initial quote of $1,000, Bahktnazira and her husband Khan Aga, taken aback, began to chatter away at the brother carpenter in charge. Bahktnazira was not backing down. Najib soon rejoined us as the store became darker and darker (no electricity) to add to the excitement, while Kate, Steve and Pam listened, with an occasional translation. It was truly great seeing Bahktnazira in action, what a ball of fire wrapped in that under 4.5' frame of hers. FINALLY we reached an agreement, $650 for a window display unit, three racks for apparel, several shelves, accent carvings, and a bracket and rod for hanging carpets. Time for the deposit, it was so dark a lighter was used to count the money.

What fun . . .what an interesting day in Kabul.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Mazar Sharif, Parwan, Herat, Bamyan . . .

Kate, Pam and Athena, together at last in Kabul.

Kate and Pam putting in overtime at the Serena before dinner.


Director of the English program in one of the bare classrooms.

A few of Hanifa's English students. The girls wouldn't let us take their picture.

As Athena was landing safely at Kabul International, Bpeace expanded its presence further in the provinces! Today was kick-off day at Train the Trainer Sessions with the Afghan Women's Business Federation. In July there were 12 student teachers, today 22 . . .many from the provinces. Topic: How to Understand Fashion Trends, led by Pam with an assist by Kate. (Leadership for development of this module at home was Pam and fellow Bpeacer Debbie Farah, both experienced retailers.)

Great AHA moments in discussion over integrating Afghan soul and modernism in ways that are culturally appropriate yet reflect today's trends and tastes. A western cinched waist on a mini-dress to become a big Afghan embroidered belt over a long sweater tunic in Kabul and in Kandahar, simple embroidery around the waistline.

So great to finally meet Cristina Grecu from CIPE! Months of email conversation culminating in this week's training. Great day.

Now while Pam and Kate were comfortable (and being served tea) at the AWBF training center, Steve and Najib were back on work detail for RKA. Painter hired ($10 a day) and new paint color chosen.

Notes from Steve's Blonde Ambition Tour . . .
Najib and I returned to the paint store first thing, hoping to exchange 4 gallons of "blush white" paint for "flat white" paint. This was the 4th trip back to the store to either purchase or exchange paint, as we were having great difficulty matching the pantone shade 11-0907 that had been selected. I believe that we had been to just about every paint store in west Kabul.

The shop owner laughed when he saw us enter, paint cans in hand. Najib began to explain the need for the exchange. I told Najib to merely explain that the women had again changed their minds. This sent the shop owner into gales of laughter, speaking in rapid fire Dari that Najib quickly translated as "Yes, they are powerful". We all agreed, shaking our heads and laughing in our shared experience!

Athena landed and went to work. Well not right to work as immediately upon her arrival, Steve and Najib treated Athena to a yummy kebob lunch at a locals restaurant where the tall blonde was the lone goddess in a sea of 65 men. No one wanted to sit next to her so Najib and Steve came to the rescue.

After picking up Laila they were off to a meeting at Hanifa's school: The Oxford Scientific and Cultural Association. Steve and Athena had been tasked by Toni, Marla and Carol Fallon (Hanifa's mentor) to assess the school from top to bottom -- the teachers, equipment, facilities, curriculum, teaching methodologies, materials, text books, and students - with a focus on English and computer classes.

They were greeted by Hanifa and an enthusiastic group of teachers. After a long conversation and a tour of the school, Steve and Athena came away with a clear picture of the strengths, challenges, and opportunities that Hanifa faces. The good news is that the teachers are passionate and believe in what they are doing. Hanifa has clearly identified a viable business opportunity. She has 245 students paying to study English and computers -- 150 boys and 95 girls. The students are willing to travel long distances on foot to come to her school.

But the challenges are substantial. The English teachers do not speak English well. They had a hard time understanding Steve and Athena and the experience was mutual. Hanifa could not have assessed their skills since she does not speak English herself. The school has one laptop computer and no electricity. The nine-room facility is unheated, many windows are broken and there is almost no furniture. The students and teachers are clearly a committed bunch to study and teach in these conditions.

The business and educational opportunity here is huge and there is a lot to do to leverage that opportunity. The first and most critical step is for the teachers to significantly improve their English.

The Bpeace team is considering all the options. We believe in Hanifa and are impressed with the big steps she has already taken to make her dream a reality. Our part will be to help her strengthen the foundations of her vision so she can be truly successful in this important venture.

Tonite we had our first team dinner. Dumplings on the buffet. Hoorah to be together at last. Here with a contingent of military type folks (some still in, most consultants). Lots of side arms at the dinner table. Pakistan Foreign Minister is also visiting with a delegation, a bunch of narcotics units and a group of women who look like they are headed to a mid-western shopping mall. We can't figure THEM out. Interesting scene with all the various "work costumes". The military guys are apparently training the Afghani police. Work out with some of them each morning in the gym at the Serena (Kate discovered that if you run early, before people start firing up their heaters all over town, you can breathe, kinda). Met one of them at breakfast and again at dinner. Turns out he retired colonel working for Dyncorp. Been living at Serena for a year. Hotel warden. Nice way about him as he sort of checked us out. Toni and Marla you will be happy to know that he was very satisfied when he inquired whether we had registered at the US Embassy and we were able to say YES.

Thinking of you all.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


A co-operative store is opening in Kabul

Pam helping Suria, Bakhtnazira and Nasima choose the shop's wall color.

Steve and Najib and the other men taking a tea break.

Suria at work.

After this we decided to hire professionals.

What color paint on the walls?
What merchandise?
What is the logo?
Is it a good idea to hire a relative as a manager?
What merchandise zones?
Can we build shelves and cabinets?
How much will that sign cost?
1 or 2 fitting rooms?
Curtains or no curtains on the windows?
How are we going to hang those shelves?
Where is the charger for the drill?
Are men allowed to join the co-operative?
Do we need a tea area?
Can we build ottomans?
And cover them with fabric?
Do we need to hire a carpenter?
And finally despite best efforts . . .
Do we need to hire a painter?
Endless questions and lots of decisions.

Pam has immediately adapted and has made amazing progress in a short time . . .so comfortable and at ease in this environment and with the Bpeace associates. Kate and she had a wonderful day helping 10 of the associates who have formed themselves into RKA (Rangeen Kaman Artisians) reach big decisions with their new co-operative store. Equally wonderful to watch the discussions among the associates.

Steve and Najib spent the day "doing man's work" . . .painting and moving heavy things. Sent back to store as they brought home unsatisfactory paint color. Same everywhere in the world. Women loved it!


Kabul at last

Last look at Dubai Terminal 2.

Kate and Bpeace Associate Rahima: familiar faces in the strangest of places.

I apologize now for a rushing post with only the barest facts. But first a fun message from ANSO Operations:

Dear All,

Please be advised that Kabul International Airport has permitted certain airlines to leave and depart Kabul International Airport. According to airport officials, airplanes cannot fly under 31,000 feet due to communications equipment failure, therefore airplanes must ‘spiral’ into and out of Kabul International Airport rather than gradually decent.


SO 4 days late Pam, Kate and Steve arrived in Kabul . . .Dubai airport madness. Crush of people, bags and flying rumors among NGOs frantic for news. The most wonderful airport moment was Kate,Steve and Rahima finding each other at the boarding gate. What a wonderful surprise it was! She was returning from Jakharta with 11 other Afghan government provincial council members and spent 2 days stranded in Terminal 2 along with all the other Afghans without Dubai entry visas. Some were stranded as long as 4. Perspective moment for the rest of us. But we all got in the air for that crazy flight to Kabul . . .

Other notes as I dash this off before beginning our day here:
Pam arrived earlier and was able to spend the afternoon with some of the associates on RKA store preparations. More later when she has a chance to write some of her first impressions

Laila hosted a press conference announcing the Apprentice Road Trip at the Serena. Toni to add a post to fill us all in. Apparently big success

That's it for now. Substance to follow

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


BART Looks for the Next Group of Bpeace Associates

From left, Mahbooba, Kamela and Laila presiding over the
Bpeace Apprentice Road Trip press conference in Kabul.

Radio is medium with the widest distribution in Afghanistan.
So Laila and Kamela fielding these radio interviews is very important to
getting the word out across the entire country.

One of the scheduled items that Kate, Pam and Steve missed while marooned in Dubai, was the Tuesday, December 5th press conference in Kabul announcing the Bpeace Apprentice Road Trip. Not to worry, Toni asked Laila, our program manager in Kabul, to go ahead with the press conference and to ask a few of the Bpeace Associates to join her.

Amid TV cameras and tape recorders for the radio stations, Laila joined by Kamela and Mahbooba announced a nationwide Afghanistan talent competition in search of Afghan businesswomen in non-traditional industries to participate in on-the-job training in U.S. The Bpeace Apprentice Road Trip (BART) is an unprecedented opportunity for Afghan businesswomen to gain practical experience in the U.S. in their chosen industries. This talent search will result in Bpeace recruiting its second group of Bpeace Afghan Associates, and we will bring 12 of them to the US in 2008 for three-week internships and apprenticeships with different U.S. firms.

While it would have been great had Kate, Pam and Steve been there, seeing the photos of a confident Laila and team making the announcement was quite emotional for some Bpeacers viewing from stateside. Having our first group of Afghan Associates, announcing the search for the second group of Associates…well…that’s pretty damn amazing.

Those blog readers who know Bpeace well, know that the Bpeace Apprentice Road Trip to the U.S. will be the highlight of a three-year program for this next group of Associates. As we have done before, Bpeace volunteers will train these entrepreneurs in Afghanistan and Dubai; assess their progress; distance mentor them by email and phone; provide access to financing and, in some cases, to international markets. After 18 months in the Bpeace program and receiving training and mentoring to strengthen their businesses, as well as improve their English and computer skills, the qualifying Afghan businesswomen will make the trip to the US in 2008.

Our BART Partners

Once again, Bpeace is partnering with Women for Afghan Women, an organization of Afghan and non-Afghan women dedicated to the empowerment of Afghan women in the U.S. and Afghanistan.

The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Citizen Exchanges in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is providing $250,000 in partial funding for this program over the next two years, assuming Bpeace can match this grant through its own fundraising from Bpeace members, individual donors, foundations and corporations. (Donate here)

There is no question it is going to be challenging locating businesswomen across Afghanistan in non-traditional industries (no sewing, rugs, jewelry or handicraft). We are working with many organizations to cast a wide net among their contacts to locate these businesswomen, including: The Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce; Afghan Women’s Business Council; Afghan Investment Support Agency (AISA); The Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C.

How American Businesses Can Assist
Once Bpeace identifies the non-traditional industries in which the Afghan businesswomen are clustering, we will reach out to U.S. firms of all sizes in the same industries to be “host businesses.” Bpeace will match each of the new Associates in the program with a host U.S. business where she can apprentice for several weeks. Host businesses can be located anywhere in the continental U.S. Potential host businesses should contact us at Apprentice@bpeace.org or call 212-851-6758.

Monday, December 04, 2006


And when you thought it couldn't get worse . . .it did

Airport Advisory

Mon, Dec 4, 2006 at 3:52 PM

Dear All,

Please be advised that Kabul International Airport is temporarily closed to all commercial air traffic. Airport officials have stated that the problem is related to satellite communications equipment (VSAT) which will not allow commercial airlines to use Afghan airspace. Kabul International Airport technicians are currently engaged in rectifying the problem however there is no indication as to when Kabul Airport operations will resume as normal. NGO staff scheduled to fly should expect delays and possible backlog with respect to bookings. Please be reminded that Haji travelers have also been delayed. Will update as soon as there is more information.


Current Conditions

Rel. Humidity: 88%Wind: ENE at 1 mph (2 km/h)Barometric Pressure: 26.1"Hg (F)

Monday37°F (3°C) 21°F (-6°C) ICY
Tuesday36°F (2°C) 28°F (-2°C) SNOW
Wednesday39°F (4°C) 16°F (-9°C) SNOW
Thursday43°F (6°C) 19°F (-7°C) PCLOUDY
Friday43°F (6°C) 23°F (-5°C) PCLOUDY

p.s. It's Monday morning and we are snowed out for DAY Three.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


We are tired of looking at Dubai and at each other

Here we are at dinner with all our newfound airport buddies. From left, Steve, John, Samuel, Amy, Pam, Kate, Simon, and Beth.

Cloudy dramatic sunset in Dubai followed by dinner with new friends . . . fellow stranded passengers. Try again tomorrow . . .still snowing in Kabul.

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