Archive | February, 2011
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Remembering the Buddha statues of Bamiyan

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Bamiyan was awe-inspiring.  We were driving up in this van on a curvy road.  You could see the side of this mountain for 45 minutes, and closer you realize there are these monstrous statues of Buddha carved out and these holes on either side of it, praying rooms or monastery rooms, where you could climb up stairs carved in stone and pray and reflect.  We westerners wanted to go to the top and stand on the head.  The front part of the head had been sheered off by a previous assault by one of Genghis Khan’s family relatives.  The Afghans have repelled every major invasion that had happened, including (after I left) the Russians.

In one of the cities we visited before we went to Bamiyan, it was a ghost town.  This was one of two haunting experiences I had in Afghanistan.  The city was reduced to rubble, but you could, if you stared at it, figure out where streets were and buildings were.  The city had revolted against Genghis Khan’s cousin/nephew’s son and killed them.  The army came through and said let nothing be left living in this valley, and to this day no one has moved back into this valley.


NPR: Bit By Bit, Afghanistan Rebuilds Buddhist Statues

NPR: Bit By Bit, Afghanistan Rebuilds Buddhist Statues


As I was standing there, I know I was hot and I know it was a hundred, I can swear I could hear voices of kids running up and down the street.  I could hear all the sounds I heard in Kabul around me as if I was being transported back to that time.  I can’t explain it.  It’s never happened since.  Nobody put that thought in my head, but I had vision.

Bamiyan, having that baked into the back of my consciousness, it was not a religious experience, the awe and magnitude of it.  Here I am with donkeys and water buffalo and this thing that was created a thousand years ago, this monument to another culture’s religion.  The air was cool.  It was so fresh to be out of the city.  It was a wonderful experience to move from Kabul to the countryside, the harvest was going, the ground was very rich…

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[Listen to the haunting experience and the rest of the story]

Afghani exchange students go missing

Three Afghani exchange students went missing from Nazareth College in my hometown of Rochester, NY.  I swear I didn’t kidnap them!

Iran flag

Eating Chicken in Iran, 1964


English: Chicken in public market, Mazatlan, S...

Image via Wikipedia

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Iranians are very, very polite if nothing. 

I mean, just the essence of diplomacy and grace.  And so very few people were going to say anything that could ever be perceived as offensive.

There was one time that I remember though, when I must have surprised them.  They kept a few chickens out in the courtyard, and we would usually have a hard-boiled egg in the morning for breakfast, which I’m assuming came from those chickens as a rule.  Every now and then we would have chicken for dinner or lunch or whatever, and they served the chicken with the head and the feet cooked with the chicken as well.

And it was the guest of — oh God I still remember it — the guest of honor’s prerogative to have the head of the chicken.  Oh man.  So that was a little challenging to negotiate, and finally I just had to say, “I just can’t do this.”

It’s odd because as a child I grew up in the country, and we had chickens and we slaughtered them and ate them all the time.  But I guess I made some kind of comment about, “was this one of the chickens that had been out there?”

And then they started teasing me, and they would tease me unmercifully about did I feel the same way about breaking the eggs as I did about eating the chicken?  (Laughter)

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It’s the perspective that matters

I try to explain to my friends who have kids why it’s so important, how specifically it will make your life better.  You get an international perspective.  If you haven’t done it it’s hard to understand everything that’s implied when you say you have an international perspective.

You see that there are so many viewpoints and so many ways to perceive experiences and you can’t appreciate it if you haven’t done it.

It’s not always fun or easy, but it makes you who you are.  You see the world, and you can’t imagine seeing your life without that experience, that perspective.

Don’t point that broom at me!

My best friend sat next to me at school.  She was so patient with me.  For lunch we would walk home from school for two hours and had time to hang in the park.  One day I had an assignment from school and a presentation to give and she had no idea what to talk about.  I was telling her that in the US we had a similar type of assignment and we did demonstrations.  We had this one boy who did a demonstration on how to use a gun and take it apart.  He was a hunter and he showed the parts of the gun.  I was explaining this to her and she had this very puzzled look on her face and she kept asking me strange questions like, why would you want to present something like that?  It seems so basic and simple.  Doesn’t everyone know how to use a gun?  I was thinking, well no, not really.  Then finally we realized that I had been telling her that he had given a presentation on how to use a broom.  I was using the word escoba instead of escopeta.

Host Father Executed in Iranian Revolution

My father was a very independent intellectual.  I was at Yale as an undergrad.  I became friendly with a kid from Tehran whose father was in the Air Force.

In 1979 during  the revolution, there was a lot of tumult, chaos and anarchy, and factions were vying for control after the Shah left.  Constant change, purge the opponents, then another group comes in, imprisonment and executions.

The Shah with President Nixon

The Shah with President Nixon, Image via Wikipedia

In 1979 I learned that Father had been arrested by one of the groups that had been in power at the time.  I don’t know the charges that were brought against him, but clearly whoever was in power at the time didn’t like what he was saying.  He was very outspoken.

I remember he was critical of the Shah and not necessarily always supportive of the government at the time, an independent thinking person, and very tragically he was executed.  I learned about it—and I’ll never forget it–I was in law school at the time—I picked up The New York Times and they reported that he was executed.  I felt horrible.