Saturday, 28 November 2009

Tries are there to be scored if you've got the balls to have a go...and the skills to pull it off.

New Zealand will finish 2009 as the world's number-one ranked team thanks to an impressive 39-12 win over France at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille on Saturday.

A lot has been said about the state of the game over the past few days, but I challenge anyone calling for a change in the laws to go back and watch this game and then tell me that running rugby is dead.
Tries are there to be scored if you've got the balls to have a go...and the skills to pull it off.

\This is what Test rugby should be all about. A ding-dong battle in the scrums, creativity amongst the backs and, most of all, a high-paced game that tested the skills of both attackers and defenders rather than just the kicking capabilities of the fly-halves and full-backs.

The All Blacks answered their critics with a wonderful display of positive rugby, and were rewarded with five tries.

While Tri-Nations champions South Africa have looked tired and uninspired on tour in November, New Zealand were full of zip and zest.
Unlike against the Springboks, the French were unable to grab a stranglehold on the game with their powerful forwards as the visitors were eager to take the ball out wide at pace.

In fact both sides should be commended for the positive spirit with which they approached the game - the All Blacks however made the difference with their near flawless execution.

Perhaps most the impressive aspect of New Zealand's tour is the fact that - just like last year - they have yet to concede a try.

Power package: Sitiveni Sivivatu (left)

The French front row looked a like a pack of hungry wolves after winning there side a penalty at the first scrum and Julien Dupuy obliged by slotting the three points to give France the early lead. New Zealand however replied with a brilliant try from Sitiveni Sivivatu who simply blitz Vincent Clerc and Damien Traille, slicing between the two Frenchmen, who could little but watch him sailed by.

Les Bleus kept coming as Dupuy added two more penalties, including a second against the kiwi scrum to take the lead back at 9-7. But not for long.

The All Blacks second try was even better than the first as Sivivatu turned on the gas from his own 22 before finding Mils Muliaina up in support. (photo below)Dan Carter added the conversion and then a penalty to give the visitors some breathing space before the All Black scrum took their revenge by pushing the Tricolor pack backwards on the French line. Under the pressure Julien Bonnaire fumbled his pick up, allowing Jerome Kaino to dot down the loose ball.

Francois Trinh-Duc landed a long distance drop goal shortly before the half-time whistle to make the scores 22-12.
The second half however belonged solely to New Zealand.

When Dupuy missed two early attempts at goal it became clear it wasn't to be France's day.

Cory Jane was next to get on the scoreboard with a classic individual try, collecting his own kick ahead from the touchline to score under the posts.

With France running out of ideas and leaving gaps all over the park, Conrad Smith snuck away down an unattended blindside to rub salt into the wounds.

Man of the match: He's had a tough year and was distinctly out of form during the Tri-Nations but Sitiveni Sivivatu was back to his very best - scoring one try, setting up another and putting in some big hits.
Moment of the match: For half an hour it was anyone's game, but when the All Blacks scrum stepped up and earned Jerome Kaino's try, New Zealand moved out of France's reach. It wasn't the prettiest of tries, but it had a telling effect.

Villain of the match:Planty of handbags were flung about, but there was no clear bad guy.

The Scorers

For France:
Pens: Dupuy 3
Drop: Trinh-Duc

For New Zealand:
Tries:Sivivatu, Muliaina, Kaino, Jane, Smith
Cons: Carter 4
Pens: Carter2

Yellow cards: Franks (NZ - 77th - foul play)

France: 15 Damien Traille, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 David Marty, 12 Yannick Jauzion, 11 Maxime Médard, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Julien Bonnaire, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Romain Millo-Chluski, 4 Sébastien Chabal, 3 Sylvain Marconnet, 2 William Servat, 1 Fabien Barcella.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Nicolas Mas, 18 Lionel Nallet, 19 Julien Puricelli, 20 Morgan Parra, 21 Yann David, 22 Cédric Heymans.

New Zealand:15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Luke McAlister.

Venue: Stade Vélodrome
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Television match officials: Nigel Whitehouse(Wales)
Assessor: Paul Bridgman (England)
By Ross Hastie, Planet rugby, with permission.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Young Norwegian leaders, mental institutions in Aceh, and earthquake operations in Padang.

You can judge a country by the way it looks after its most vulnerable people and on Tuesday I saw this adage in action when I was at the inauguration of a large mental hospital in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. I got back last night from a trip to Aceh and West Sumatra provinces.

Berge Brende Secretary General Norwegian Red Cross (right above) and Erik Solheim Minister for Humanitarian Affairs and Environment, Government of Norway (left)were the guests of honour and I had the privilege of spending two days with them in Aceh and Padang, West Sumatra. The Norwegian Red Cross and its Government have given generously to the Tsunami operation in Indonesia and has done some outstanding work in supporting programmes of the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI).
What I found interesting was that Berge was the former Minister for Humanitarian Affairs and Environment, and was travelling with his successor Erik, from different parties at opposite ends of the political spectrum in Norway. They seemed close friends with a high respect for each other.
Iyang Sukandar, Berge Brende and Bob McKerrow having dinner in Aceh. Iyang and Berge were enjoyable travelling companions as you see and feel their commitment and passion for their work. They also have a great sense of fun and we were laughing a lot.
Erik Solheim Minister for Humanitarian Affairs and Environment (left) and Berge Brende (right) Secretary General Norwegian Red Cross at the site of the Norwegian Red Cross funded emergency relief warehouse in Padang. A large media team accompanied them. I travelled with Erik Solheim Minister for Humanitarian Affairs and Environment from Banda Aceh to Padang and he invited me and Berge to brief him on the humanitarian situation in Aceh and West Sumatra, where we are running a large earthquake relief and recovery operation.

Work this week was a real joy, travelling with two youngish leaders from Norway who hold responsible positions and could rise higher on the international political, humanitarian or environmental stages. I was impressed with their breadth and depth of knowledge and willingness to learn. Their open mindedness was refreshing amongst today's leaders.
They are following in the footsteps other great Norwegian leaders such as Fridtjof Nansen, Thorvald Stoltenberg and Dr. Monika Christensen.

Nansen, left, (10 October 1861 – 13 May 1930) a Norwegian explorer, scientist and diplomat. Nansen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his work as a League of Nations High Commissioner, who founded the United Nations Refugee organisation,

Thorvald Stoltenberg, who I spent time with in 2007 when he came to Jakarta to look at the Norwegian Red Cross Tsunami projects, is an amazing man. His son is currently Prime Minister of Norway.
In his youth Thorvald Stoltenberg became heavily involved in the organization of Hungarian refugees fleeing the invading Soviet Army in 1956. In one particular situation, evacuating refugees by boat in the middle of the night, he jumped into the strong currents, risking his own life to save one of the boats. One of the other rescuers, future famous American journalist Barry Farber called this the greatest act of courage he has ever seen in his life. Stoltenberg himself kept the story a secret, until Farber in December 2006 revealed it on the Norwegian talk-show Først & sist. Monika Christensen is another great Norwegian leader, a glaciologist who almost reached the South Pole via the Axel Heiberg Glacier, in 1987, using Greenland huskies and a sledge. A fine leader with courage, vision and amazing knowledge of environmental issues.

Why am I going on about great leaders ? It is a subject I have written a number of articles on and would like to put a few thoughts down while I have your attention, and while the inspiration I got travelling with Erik and Berge. is still percolating.

Are you a leader or a manager ?.

As Dwight Eisenhower once said: "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it".

Having had a mixed bag of leaders and managers over the years I try to jot down my observations. So many of us work for companies or organisations that are management driven, and neither promote leadership or recognise it. With B replacing B in the US of A, we are able to compare George Bush's style with Barack's.
Chalk and Cheese and Night and Day are a bit hackneyed: Barack Obama is resuscitating a nation and a world. God, if ever we needed the kiss of life in leadership, that in the last five years has been like Friday's hot meal served up cold and stale on Monday, the time is nigh.

Distinctions between Manager and Leader:

The manager administers; the leader innovates.

The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.

The manager maintains; the leader develops.

The manager accepts reality; the leader investigates it.

The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.

The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.

The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.

The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.

The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader
has his or her eye on the horizon.

The manager imitates; the leader originates.

The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.

The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.

The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

Leadership is also about:

 Design
 Story
 Symphony
 Empathy
 Play
 Meaning

Not Just function but design

Not just argument but story

Not just focus but also empathy

Not just logic but empathy

Not just seriousness but also play

Not just accumulation but meaning

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Remains of Kazakh climber, Irina Yun, found in New Zealand Alps.

It was with a great sense of relief today that I read that Irina Yun's remains were found. This extraordinary Kazakh woman who went missing on December 31, 2008 while attempting to walk the difficult Cascade Saddle track from Mt Aspiring Hut in the West Matukituki Valley, to the Dart Hut on the Dart River. Her back pack was found but at the time their was no sign of her.

Today 19 November 2009 Police have reportedly found the remains of a Russian migrant who disappeared while tramping 11 months ago in the Southern Alps. (Irina is actually of Kazakh nationality, who was iving in Auckland with her 4 year old daughter Liann when she went missing)
.An extensive search was made for Irina Yun, 36 when she was first reported missing and it continued some weeks later..

Police say a search and rescue dog handler from Oxford, Dave Krehic returned to the area on last week and conducted a private search with his dog Stig.

They subsequently located a femur and pelvis bone in the river bed wedged in between some rocks approximately three kilometres down stream of the Dart Hut.

A view of Mount Aspiring from near Cascade Saddle, the pass Irina crossed.

The Dunedin Coroner, an anthropologist and pathologist have examined the remains and have been able to confirm that the remains are that of Ms Yun.
Her next of kin have been advised.

Missing tramper's daughter Liann, 4, waits for her Mother.

When Irina went missing, I was recovering from an operation in Christchurch and got quite involved in the incident. Irina is from Kazakhstan, as is my wife. A sort of solidarity started.

Irina Yun's ex-parttner Oleg corresponded with me. especially when the newspapers got her nationality wrong. He said:
She is not Uzbek - she is what we call a "Russian Korean". Her grandparents were expelled from Korean border into Kazakhi desert in winter by Chairman Stalin 70 years ago. And they survived there - with no shelters at all!
(her ex-partner)

Friday 20 November 2009

I include an update i got from the Otago Daily Times written by By Marjorie Cook:

Search dog handler Dave Krehic's determination to find the remains of missing Auckland tramper Irina Yun (36) paid off last weekend, when his privately organised search party, including his German short- haired pointer Stig, found bones in the Dart River, about 3km-4km below the Dart Hut.

Ms Yun had been missing in the Mt Aspiring National Park since late December last year.

Southern region coroner David Crerar yesterday confirmed anthropologists and pathologists Prof John Dennison, Dr Martha Nicholson and Dr Hannah Thorne had examined and ascertained the remains were "those of Irina Yun".

Further tests would be undertaken, but Ms Yun's family had been advised Ms Yun was now considered deceased.

An inquest would be held next year, Mr Crerar said.

Dave Krehic

Ms Yun, an immigrant from Kazakhstan, disappeared in a storm on December 31, while tramping the Cascade Saddle between the Aspiring and Dart Huts.

LandSar Wanaka volunteers spent 350 hours combing the exposed and difficult high country on the route, as well as gullies, river beds and gorges in the immediate area.

A tramping pack positively identified as belonging to Ms Yun was found in a gorge area of the Dart River, below the Dart Hut, on January 5.

Damage to the pack made it clear it had been torn from its wearer with considerable force and had been in the water for some time, Sergeant Aaron Nicholson said yesterday.

The search was called off because it was believed Ms Yun had been subjected to the force of the flooded Dart River and unable to survive it.

Mr Krehic, a Christchurch auto electrician and member of the Oxford search and rescue team, and Stig (8) were involved in the official search in January.

"The family didn't know, but it was of interest to me. I come from that background of being outdoors. And I met her friends at the search and wanted to do something for them," Mr Krehic said.

Mr Krehic, Stig, alpine cliff rescue specialist Masa Sato of Christchurch and Queenstown white water rescue team members Andy Pedley and Mat McLeod began their search last Friday.

They found bones, including a femur and pelvis bone, trapped between large boulders on Saturday, and police retrieved the items on Sunday.

The team also found some shorts, jandals and pieces of a pack cover nearby.

Ownership of those items has not yet been confirmed.

Mr Krehic said he did quite a bit of research before returning to the Dart River.

The rough terrain in the rocky gorge below the Dart Hut contained boulders the size of trucks, and specialist skills were needed to get through it.

The water levels were lower last weekend than in January, but the terrain was still particularly difficult for Stig, who at times had to wear a harness for his safety.

"Without Stig, we wouldn't have found them [Ms Yun's remains]. He showed some interest in an area and I asked Maso and Matt to investigate the area . . .

"He [Stig] was well worn out after two days in the gorge. We were pushing him into cracks and holes and tunnel systems that the river makes its way through in flood . . .

"But we treated him just like any other team member, which was safety first," Mr Krehic said.

On Saturday, the day of the discovery, the team started its search about 7km below Dart Hut and worked its way back up.

Within 2km the team had found the personal items, and Ms Yun's remains were found another 1km up.

Mr Krehic said he and his team-mates were prepared to pay for last weekend's search themselves, but he understood police and LandSar New Zealand were now considering helping out with helicopter expenses.

Ms Yun's ex-husband, Oleg Amiton, of Auckland, said, when contacted yesterday, the discovery provided some closure for him.

A memorial service had been held earlier in the year, he said.

Their 4-year-old daughter Liann was getting a lot of attention from himself, her grandmother and friends, and was doing well, he said.

Now this news is out, my thoughts and prayers are with Irina's daughter Liann and her Dad Oleg. May God comfort you and may Irina rest in peace. I know the area well and couldn't think of a better place for ones spirit to rest in peace.

I salute Dave Krehic, and his dog Stig, for an amazing rescue. Dave is one of those hardy and caring outdoorsmen who deserves the highest praise for helping a grieving familiy find closure, and to solve another NZ alpine mystery.

If you would like to view some of Irina's photography, click on this website:

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The teacher who wants to bring change, climate changes.

Kelimutu volcanoe lake, East Nusa Tenggara

With so much talk and hype about climate change, and of course another global conference coming up soon, it is heart-warming to see what difference one teacher can make to his school and environment.

Hendrikus Nita, principal of an elementary school in Wolodesa hamlet in East Nusa Tenggara, showed off his school with pride.

"It used to be so dry here, now it's green," Hendrikus said.
The modest school, which sits at the foot of a hill 43 kilometers from the capital of Sikka regency, Maumere, has potted plants in front of the classes and banana trees around the area. The hill itself is lush with vegetation; in the 1980s, Hendrikus said, it was dry and barren.

As the school principal and the village facilitator for a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programme, Hendrikus is an important figure in ensuring the community is aware of the need and measures for disaster preparedness and environmental conservation.

Sikka regency in Flores, which in 1992 was hit by a strong earthquake that triggered a deadly tsunami, is prone to several natural and manmade disasters. Earthquakes, fl oods, landslides, forest fires and typhoons are among the threats to the community's lives and livelihoods.

To ensure the Wolodesa community is prepared in the case of emergencies and to help the next generation adapt to disasters, Hendrikus holds meetings with villagers and students, to raise awareness of how to be prepared when disaster strikes.

In the workshops for students, which include disaster preparedness simulations, Hendrikus asks the children and teens to assess the potential risks of disasters in the area and to locate a safe place for people to run to during a disaster.

Hendrikus said that he tried to make everyone think of the future and, as much as possible, to reduce risks relating to disasters. In one instance, he discussed the importance in conserving the environment to save water.

"If there's no water, we're the ones who will be in trouble," he said.

Water is an issue in the area, which is prone to fl ooding during the wet season and to water shortages in the dry season.

"That's why I took my students to the village's water source and planted trees there," he said. The students hiked for 2 kilometers from the school to the location of the water source.

"That's why it's best to train people who really live in the village, like teachers or the village leaders," he said.

Hendrikus said that not all village facilitators had put their knowledge about disaster risk reduction into practice.

"The hills of the neighboring village are still bald, without many trees there. That can cause flooding," he said.

Hendrikus said that some people also sometimes intentionally set fires in the forest during the dry season.

"That way they can easily spot a wild boar on the hills while they hunt the animal," he said.

"The villagers and the students here know that burning the forest is not right, because of our meetings."

Hendrikus said that he wanted to bring improvements to the village. Having led a very disciplined life since he was a child, he wants to teach his students and other teachers that discipline as well.

"I've always arrived earlier than the others," he said.

Hendrikus, who graduated from a vocational school for teachers said that he was gained his undergraduate degree in an Open University in Maumere. He drives the 43 kilometers three times a week after work.

"Even at Maumere, where people are coming from a lot closer than me, I arrive earlier than the others," he added with a smile.

"Only with discipline and hard work we can make this village better."

Thanks to the Jakarta Post for permission to run this article.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Pinky-winky-Doodle-doodle Dum-dumm

"I and my stories are completely banned by the BBC as far as children are concerned - not one story has ever been broadcast," writes Enid Blyton.

As a young boy in remote New Zealand I was brought up on milk, rugby and Enid Blyton, and every night read Noddy and Big Ears, and later, the Famous Five or the Secret Seven. Today I discovered the BBC deprived me as a boy of Enid's great stories on air. Is this something I should be consulting my lawyers about ?

Now let's be honest, most of our life and work is about Pinky-winky-Doodle-doodle Dum-dumm and the BBC deprived us from life's preparedness !

Head of the BBC schools department Jean Sutcliffe said in an internal memo dated 1938: "My impression of her (Enid Blyton left) stories is that they might do for Children's Hour but certainly not for Schools Dept, they haven't much literary value."There is rather a lot of the Pinky-winky-Doodle-doodle Dum-dumm type of name - and lots of pixies - in the original tales."

She added that they were "competently written".

In August 1940, the BBC's radio show Children's Hour rejected her play The Monkey and the Barrel Organ, saying it was "stilted and long winded".

In 1950 programme head Derek McCulloch, known as Uncle Mac, confirmed the existence of the ban in a "strictly confidential and urgent" memo.

Ms Blyton was also clearly aware of it. In a memo to a BBC producer she wrote: "I and my stories are completely banned by the BBC as far as children are concerned - not one story has ever been broadcast, and, so it is said, not one ever will be."
In 1954, responding to a query from the Woman's Hour editor as to whether Blyton could be interviewed, Ms Sutcliffe said she was concerned that the BBC would become "just another victim of the amazing advertising campaign which has raised this competent and tenacious second-rater to such astronomical heights of success."

The corporation eventually decided her material was fit for broadcast and she appeared on Woman's Hour in 1963.

A new drama telling the life story of the author, starring Helena Bonham Carter, is to be broadcast on BBC Four at 2100 GMT on Monday.

Friday, 13 November 2009

The Road to Balkh

The road from Termez on the Oxus River to Balkh and then over the Hindu Kush to Kabul, has inspired great writers such as Robert Byron (The Road to Oxiana) Arnold Toynbee (Between Oxus and Jumna). Fitzroy Maclean (Eastern Approaches) and the two outstanding Great Game writers, Robert Keay and Peter Hopkirk. Even Eric Newby's 'A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush' was motivated by Byron's earlier writings.

On the day the US and British forced launched their attack on Iraq, I was in the Mother of all cities, Balkh. It was also my birthday. March 21, 2003. I travelled with Ali Hassan Quoreshi and Zaman. Here is an extract from my diary and photos I have taken along that road over a 30 year period.

The entrance to The Salang tunnel as you see it coming from Mazar I Sharif, and the men who keep the road open. The Salang Pass (Persian: كتل سالنگ Kotal-e Sālang) (el. 3878 m.) is the major mountain pass connecting northern Afghanistan and Kabul province, with further connections to southern Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Salang River originates nearby and flows south.

The pass crosses the Hindu Kush but is now bypassed through the Salang tunnel, built by the Soviet Union in 1964, which runs underneath it at a height of about 3,400 m. It links Charikar and Kabul with Mazar I Sharif and Termez.

The potter and his family at Istalif. Photo: Bob McKerrow

A boy and his donkey on the roadside. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The Chamar valley in the Hindu Kush. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Mainly Uzbek soldiers at a Nowruz celebration in Mazar I Sharif. Photo: Bob McKerrow

A carpet repairer on the roadside. Photo: Bob McKerrow

At the Blue Mosque in Mazar I Sharif on Nowruz, the fertility pole is raised. Photo: Bob McKerrow

An hour and a half after leaving Kabul the road starts climbing up towards the Hindu Kush. Photo: Bob McKerrow

River Crossing

The game of Bushkashi celebrating Nowruz in Kabul. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Jewett's Tower at Jabal Seraj. In 1911 an American Engineer camne to Jebal Seraj to install Afghanistan's first hydro-electric plant for Amir Habibullah. A.C. Jewett stayed here eight years and built his home and published a book, An American Engineer in Afghanistan. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Trip from Mazar I Sharif to Kabul 21 March 2003

Had a very informative and interesting visit to Mazar I Sharif. We were due to fly back Saturday 22 March 2003 by Red Cross flight but due to bad weather, it was cancelled. Then, we found out early Sunday that the flight was going from Mazar to Peshawar, Pakistan, and not Kabul. Not wanting to get stuck in Peshawar with events happening in Iraq, Quoreshi and I drove from Mazar I Sharif to Kabul. It was a 13 and a half hour trip

The Afghan Red Crescent Society, supported by the Federation in the north are doing a superb job with 17 very well run Mother and Child Health Clinics.

We also travelled up to Hairaton, on the banks of the Oxus (Amu Daraya River), just near the border of Uzbekistan to visit one project. I marvelled at the history of this great river.

We also went to watch Buskashi, Afghanistan's version of rugby on horseback where they use a headless goat instead of a ball. Great spectacle to watch,

With the war intensifying in Iraq I was expecting some strong protests here but things have been quiet so far. It could flare up at any time.

Trip schedule

0845 Left Mazar with its the typical planted fields mixed with desert patches and blowing sand over the road up to Gowr e Mar, just before the turn-off to Hairaton. Passed a herd of camels grazing just after the turn-off.

0915 50 km. Arrived at Kulm (Tashqurghan) famed for its covered bazaar. I worked here in 1976 after the big Kulm earthquake.. The city has a delightful backdrop of rocky peaks. We are now into ancient Afghanistan with its dried mud houses and from the exterior, it could be the 10th Century . For the next few km the road closes in with villages hemmed in by mud walled as the road narrows to Tangi Tashqurghan, that spectacular gap in high mountain walls through which flows the Tashqurghan River.

0945 Talhuki (now in Samanghan province). There is a distinct lack of animals compared to previous visits to this area.. With 4 years of drought animals have died, been sold or eaten for survival.

0955 Arrived at the outskirts of Samanghan (Aibak) where the trees were blooming with walnut and almond flowers, a hue of pink and white.

For the past 10 km I’ve seen many bomb craters on the road or in nearby fields that were dropped by the American on the fleeing Taliban/suspected Al Quaida. From Alexander's coins on sale in local bazaars, to recent US bomb craters, history is etched into every footstep of this journey.

0957 110 km Arrived in Aibak.

From here you leave the Tashqurghan River and climb up to Kotali Robatak with Mt. Robatak on the left. Grand views of the lower Hindu Kush and across parts of Hazarajat are so striking..

1025 (147 km) Aikak, a small settlement where the road has been washed out by heavy rains in the past few days, is so typical of these old roadside villages.

1040 Enter Baghlan province and drive through Shismasher with either freshly dug or recently planted fields on either side of the road.. Some still being ploughed. This village is nestled in a semi circle of snow covered mountains, the nearest a mere 8 km away.

1220 Arrived at Doshi at the confluence of the Surkhab and Anderab rivers. Here the road branches to Bamiyan and Salang. On entering Doshi there is a delightful tree lined avenue with a disappearing perspective up to the massive heights of the Hindu Kush

From here we then followed the Anderab river up into Khenjan district small, high-walled villages. Pink blossoms gladden the eye on the harsh mud and rocky landscape.

1240 Reached Khenjan where there is a checkpoint. The landscape gets steeper with small, well irrigated wheat fields..

1250 (264 km) climbed up to Walian another small and pretty village. It is surprising how high they plant the wheat fields here..

1255 (267 km) one reaches the first of three new bridges built by the Government of Uzbekistan
The second bridge at 1258 and next at 1303. These strong and smart looking bridges have done much to improve the road and passage of heavy vehicles.

Passed Char Zah the steep roadsides lined with neat rock walls, with old tanks and APC’s littering the road side (Photo above). Good to see stunted pines thriving in the harsh alpine environment, leaving some semblance of bio diversity in the alpine regions.

At about 1330 about 6 km from the tunnel a large volume of vehicles decide to play ‘Machina Bushkashi’ as an undisciplined bunch of drivers try to pass each others with wheels literally hanging over precipices to get ahead of the other car.. Hundreds of trucks lined one side of the road waiting to get through the tunnel.

The author reading from Eric Newby's ' A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush' to some local lads in the Panjsher valley. Photo: Ian Clarke.

1338 Made very little progress and now stuck in traffic. I was bursting for a pee and ventured slightly off the road to relieve myself when I saw a red rock. “Mines,” shouted an Afghan in English. The red painted rock indicated the spot where the mines had been cleared too.

1346 Moved a hundred metres or so and then stopped again.

1420 Nearing the first portal

1445 After a lot of stops and starts, through and out of the first portal.

The next hour the ‘machina bushkashi’ continued as the traffic in one direction kept trying to pass one an other, often three abreast for no gain. A real dog eats dog madness interspersed with halts.

1515 Away again, and another 100 metre gained. The car in front of us got stuck in a gaping hole which we managed to avoid.

1530 We got stuck at the second portal close to the entrance to the Salang Tunnel (on the northern side) at 3,800 metres for about 3 hours surrounded by deep snow. A beautiful place to get stuck and we enjoyed the awesome mountain scenery and the very fresh air. A complete stranger in another car shared his dried mulberries with us and then as always, Afghan hospitality is there every time you turn. It was nice to get out and talk to people in the middle of this mountain madness as cars and buses tried the impossible to pass cars that were two and sometimes three abreast, causing even a greater jam.

At 1615 the sun set behind the Hindu Kush and there was a few moments of tranquility as the evening cold starts gnawing at your bones.. Quoreshi and I seemed the only foreigners in a crowd of over 800 Afghans in buses trucks, taxis and cars.

Then it was announced by ACTED road men that a truck and convoy were coming with a dead body from the southern side, despite the road being open only in our direction. Imagine the scene of cars and buses and trucks some three abreast, having to maneuver themselves into a single lane to let a northbound convoy through. I felt there was a need for a mountain giant to appear with a barrel of oil and a crow bar, and to pour oil over all the vehicles and prise them out one by one and stack them in an orderly line. Much to my amazement, a giant wasn’t called for somehow, the vehicles slithered and maneuvered themselves in such a way that the convoy carrying the dead body managed to crawl by.

Looking down from the Salang Pass at the road which winds up from Kabul. Photo: Bob McKerrow

After about half an hour we took off our chains and joined in a race, something like a rally car race, as all and sundry raced for Jebal Seraj and distant Kabul., passing Walang and Salang villages. Looking back over my shoulder I marvelled at the view, the star studded sky and a trail of cars and bus headlights snaking down from the skyline of the Hindu Kush.

2015 Once at Jebal Seraj, after consultation with ICRC through Younis, we decided to head for Kabul as many other cars were doing the same.

What has changed in Kabul is the rainbow colour lights you see miles ahead which illuminates and indicate the many new gas stations.

Passed three checkpoints, the final one being at Khair Khanna as we entered Kabul at 2130. At this checkpoint there was a huge illuminated portrait of Ahmed Shah Massoud, watching over Kabul and its twinkling lights.

Arrived at our House in Wazi Akbar Khan just after 2200 hours.

Another way to cross the Hindu Kush is via the Khotali Anjuman which takes you from the Panjsher valley to the Anjuman valley. Crossing the pass in 1995 with Ian Clarke. Photo: Bob McKerrow

For further reading I recommend The Road to Balkh by Nancy Nancy Hatch Dupree. Afghan Tourist Organisation, 1967

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Afghanistan and the lessons of history

Buskashi, the ancient game of Afghanistan requiring outstanding horsemanship and courage. Photo: Bob McKerrow

My last posting was mainly about what I see as the lines between aid agencies and the community work of the military becoming blurred in Afghanistan and other countries where there is conflict. I was also lamenting the fact that more and more humanitarian workers are being shot, maimed or killed. Little did I know then that it would come closer to home a few days later.

Last Thursday morning I went to Banda Aceh where the Red Cross is near to completing its large Tsunami rehabilitation programme. I was stunned to get a phone call late afternoon from one of the staff of the German Red Cross saying that Dr. Erhard Bauer had been shot not too far down the road from where I was. He was travelling with three Indonesian staff when a motorcycle drew up beside the vehicle with two passengers, the rear passenger fired three shots into the front passenger side window and one bullet passed through his left side and lodged inside Erhard's abdomen. Our Red Cross team in Banda Aceh speedily organised an evacuation to Singapore so the bullet could be removed. Surgery was successfully carried out and he is now stable and recovering. Thank God he was only wounded.

It was strange standing by Erhard's bedside in the hospital in Banda Aceh last Thursday night trying to provide moral support to him as he was struggling on life support equipment. Only five days early we met at a football match in Jakarta where our children were playing in opposing teams and as we both have a love of Afghanistan, we began talking about the places in Afghanistan where he lived for many years with his wife and children.

After a few hours on oxygen, Erhard removed his mask and although in pain, started talking about Afghanistan and surprisingly, we got onto the subject of Dr. Brydon, who was the sole survivor of a sixteen thousand five hundred strong retreating British army that fled Kabul in 1842 - all but Brydon were mercilessly massacred with horrific efficiency by Afghan forces lying in wait (depicted below).

For those of us who have worked in Afghanistan, the painting of Dr. Brydon (above) evokes an array of feelings. Recently, my good friend Paul Conneally posted an article on his outstanding blog

Paul give his take on recent events in Afghanistan:
Last week's suicide bombing and armed raids on a guest house frequented by UN staff in Kabul got me thinking, not for the first time, of this interminable part of the world. The UN bombing had been preceded a few days before hand by a suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul that left at least 17 dead and dozens severely injured. Then, a few days after the UN bomb we had massive explosions in the crowded alleys of Peshawar's sprawling street markets that left more than a hundred civilians dead.

I remember back in 1999 when I had my Afghanistan time, the country - apart from a territory in the north - was presided over by the Taliban and an assembly of war lords. At that time there was no alcohol allowed, no women in the workforce (or anywhere else except mostly indoors), no television, no music - no fun basically. It was a tough time on many levels not least the psychological one. You have no idea how dreadfully depressing it can be to work with some twelve hundred colleagues all of whom are male with an average age of about 50! I longed for female company and I longed also for a cold beer at the end of the day.

Given the lack of social outlet and the very real security threats life was confined to work and (heavily guarded) home - a good time to catch up on my reading and experiment with some herbal teas. At that time I became fascinated with the historical writings on what is know as the Great Game - the great rivalry between the British and Russian empires that lasted the best part of one hundred intriguing years ending in 1921 with a friendship treaty between the two great foes. The prize for the Great Game was the Indian sub-continent which Britain declared the jewel in its crown and feared mightily that Russia would conquer Afghanistan and use it as a launching pad to snatch India.

So, not for the first or last time in her long and illustrious history, the nation of Afghanistan found itself at odds - through no real fault of its own - with major military powers. A victim of its own geography. But, not being one to turn down a decent offer of a good fight, Afghanistan embraced the Great Game and played both sides off against each other, much like they did with Persia during the same period and of course the Americans and the Soviets in the 1980's.

Never conquered. Never Divided.
History will show that the whole of Afghanistan has never, not once, been controlled from the centre. And, while (in western eyes) treachery and deceit are a frequent feature of their methods of warfare (rendering the Geneva Conventions culturally biased?) Afghanistan has incredibly remained solidly intact, never fragmenting along ethnic or religious lines and maintaining its borders since its inception. It clings fiercely to the origin of its name which is Sanskrit for "land of the allied tribes".

But, I digress. I did not intend a historical account, even a brief one. But it is necessary for the remainder of my tale. During those turbulent days back in 1999 we did manage to escape on rest and recreation every few months to Peshawar where the first destination was the long-established American Club - a place with cold beer, conversation with women and late night darts. At the entrance of this modest but grand old building, just before you climbed the stairs to the bar, hung a gilt-framed oil painting which always stopped me in my tracks and urged me to ponder awhile. It was an original copy of "Remnants of an Army" depicting a lone soldier, Scotsman Dr. William Brydon, at the gates of Jalalabad, which lie approximately half way along the 200 mile road between Kabul and Peshawar.

Brydon was the sole survivor of a sixteen thousand five hundred strong retreating British army that fled Kabul in 1842 - all but Brydon were mercilessly massacred with horrific efficiency by Afghan forces lying in wait (depicted above). The same Afghan forces, it should be mentioned, with whom they had been allied just a few days before - things can change very quickly in Afghanistan.

This effectively brought to an end the First Anglo Afghan War (1839 - 1842) and one of the lessons learned (for evaluation it seems was also a practice back then - makes you wonder if it is really possible to learn from our mistakes) was a telling and succinct recommendation whose relevance today is undeniable: The First Afghan War provided the clear lesson to the British authorities that while it may be relatively straightforward to invade Afghanistan it is wholly impracticable to occupy the country or attempt to impose a government not welcomed by the inhabitants. The only result will be failure and great expense in treasure and lives.

From Tipperary to Afghanistan and back
Now, that painting (shown at the top of this post), as mentioned, fairly captivated me at the time especially as I was so enamored with Peter Hopkirk's writings of the Great Game that repeatedly recalled the resilience of the Afghans throughout their long and combative history. Staring at the forlorn figure of Brydon, the lone horseman, one didn't know whether to feel pity or pride. His form embodied defeat, set against an unforgiving and alien landscape; and such were the incredible odds against his survival that you were forced to wonder whether the Afghans let him loose on purpose - a barely living testimony to their military might.

The painting was the work of an artist called Lady Elizabeth Butler. When writing this post I could not remember her name so scoured the internet until I found it - and I found out a few other aspects which struck me as interesting. Elizabeth was born in Lausanne (Switzerland) but married an Irish soldier, writer and adventurer called William Francis Butler.

William hailed from the impoverished famine fields of Tipperary and had risen to great heights in the British army. The couple returned to Ireland upon William's retirement and lived in Bansha Castle before moving eventually to the east coast of Ireland, settling down in Gormanstown Castle where they stayed till their final days and are buried at nearby Stamullen Graveyard.

Year's after my own Afghan adventure I tracked down some of Elizabeth's paintings at the Imperial War Museum in London, and I was not disappointed. I have heard that the painting of Brydon - the last remnant of a decimated army - now hangs at the Tate but will have to confirm that at a later date. It may be coincidence that a painting which had such a hold over me ten years ago somehow turned out to have strong Irish connections. Whatever the case, I'll be making my way to Stamullen cemetery the next chance I get to track down the last resting place of this incredible couple and pay them my respects.

My sincere thanks to Paul Coneally from Head Down Eyes Open

Praying for more unemployed grave-diggers in Afghanistan.

The lines between aid agencies and the community work of the military have become blurred in Afghanistan.

Bamiyan where New Zealand troops are doing humanitarian work alongside their military duties. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The earthquake in West Sumatra has occupied every waking moment of my life in the past five weeks and has even stolen many of my sleeping hours. Midst the hundreds of emails I received was one from my good friend in Kabul, Steve Masty entitled "PIRATES.'

dear bob

i went into spinneys, the dubai-based supermarket in kabul, and looked at your 'Mountains of your Mind' book and, while well produced it looks to be a pirate addition, with no isbn number. when i go back i will bring a pencil to jot down the web address of the second publisher, different than the real one on the title page.


When I told Anuj , my publisher in New Delhi, he replied " you should be ‘HAPPY’ if your book is pirated. The pirates only ‘GO FOR THE BEST’."
So the book I published on Afghanistan in 2003 has been pirated, so I am flattered. Photo: Tara Press New Delhi

However, thinking of my book is a bit selfish at this time because I am more concerned by the blurring of lines and mandates between aid agencies and the military in Afghanistan.

The other day there was a headline in most New Zealand newspapers announcing in shocked tones that there has been a shooting incident involving New Zealand troops in Afghanistan.

It went on to say "Government sources say our troops have been fired on."

When you call a plumber to unblock a sewerage pipe, he gets shit on his hands. Send soldiers into Afghanistan they are likely to get blood on their hands, especially the New Zealand soldiers who do humanitarian work in communities with an automatic rifle slung across their back. Soldiers should be in a country to support the regime their Governments are backing politically, or doing UN-type peacekeeping work. Mixing military intervention with humanitarian works only contributes to genuine humanitarian workers being mistaken as soldier/humanitarian workers.

In his recent article Empire Games in the New Zealand Listener, Gordon Campbell observes:

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, Taliban forces have mounted major attacks in recent weeks, rendering the provinces of Zabol, Helmand and Oruzgan highly dangerous for foreign and local ground troops. Aid workers have been withdrawn from many provincial areas. In both countries, foreigners and locals engaged in humanitarian work – including the reconstruction tasks that our deployment of 61 armed engineers have been set in Iraq – are being singled out as “soft targets”.

I am terrified when I read that 61 armed New Zealand Army engineers are doing humanitarian work, probably in areas where non-armed humanitarian workers are working.

Coalition Forces doing a form of humanitarian work in Afghanistan.

In his article Afghan aid as a military weapon, Thalif Deen in Asia Times Online in August 2004 was one of the first journalists to signal the growing problem about communities that humanitarian workers and soldiers work, Afghans have become confused as to the lines between aid agencies and the military. He writes:

"There are times when aid agencies need the support of the military - as in Bosnia - but we are concerned about the increased involvement of the US and UK military in the provision of aid," said Caroline Green of Oxfam International.

"Our impartiality is vital for us to carry out our work on the ground but this has become undermined by the United States giving aid to people not on the basis of need but in exchange for information," Green told Inter Press Service (IPS).

Besides aid agencies, humanitarian assistance - including food aid and relief supplies - have also been provided by coalition forces, including the US, the UK, France, Germany and Italy, according to the US State Department. "Communities that we work with have become confused as the lines between aid agencies and the military have become blurred in Afghanistan," Green said.

Those charges have been strongly endorsed by several other international aid organizations, including Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF or Doctors Without Borders), Christian Aid and Concern Worldwide. Last week, MSF pulled out of Afghanistan after having provided humanitarian assistance there for nearly 24 years. The reasons for the organization's withdrawal included a deterioration of the security environment in Afghanistan and, more important, the misuse of humanitarian aid by US military forces in the country.

MSF also said it was unhappy with the lack of progress in a government investigation of the killing of five of its aid workers in the northern province of Baghdis in June, presumably by insurgents. MSF, which employed about 1,400 local staff and 80 international staff, ended all its operations last week.

How many more soldiers and aid workers will be buried here ? The Christian cemetery in Kabul. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I remember the first time I went to that graveyard.
It was a cold winter’s day in early 1994 when I first met Rahimullah, grave digger and caretaker of the British Cemetery in Kabul. He looked poor in tattered Shalwah Kamez and a shawl wrapped round his shoulders to keep out the biting cold. The headstones and graves were dusted with snow. In the distance the Hindu Kush range stood high above Koh Daman, the hills that skirt Kabul. Rahimullah looked about 50 then. Since the Soviets withdrew from Kabul in 1989 he hadn’t been paid. I knew that Aurel Stein, the famous Hungarian born British Archaeologist was buried here in 1943. I didn’t know that this would to prove to be the most interesting grave yard I had ever seen. Its oldest residents are British soldiers from the Anglo-Afghan wars. Like the 29 members of the 67th Foot (South Hampshire Regiment), buried in a mass grave after a failed attempt to climb a hill south of Kabul on the 13th December 1879.
All that really remains of them is part of their grave stone, stuck along one side of the cemetery wall with other fragments of history. Long lists that tell no stories other than the staccato military details of name, rank, regiment and date. In between are assorted ranks of other visitors who never made it home. Explorers, journalists, hippies who lost the trail, engineers and aid workers; Italians and Germans and Canadians and Polish and many from other countries. Their headstones tell a snippet of Afghanistan’s rich history.

Fifteen years later my heart bleeds for the killing that is going on in Afghanistan, the country that deserves peace, a country that has been penalised by its geographic locations for more than two thousand years. I FERVENTLY PRAY FOR MORE UNEMPLOYED GRAVE-DIGGERS IN AFGHANISTAN.