Grand Overland Voyage (2005-2009)

Grand Overland Voyage

Exactly ten years ago, I started my four-year overland journey. I started from Beijing with $2000, dreaming to reach South Africa. From an illegal visitor to Tibet until a journalist in the war ridden Afghanistan, this journey has changed my whole life. Today, I’m back to Beijing, my point zero. But journey is a point of no return; I’m not the same person anymore and my point zero is not the same either. That’s indeed a journey of life. 正好十年前的今天,我开始了我漫长的陆路旅行。当时的我拥有2000美元,梦想着从北京出发一直达到南 非。偷渡入西藏到在阿富汗当战地记者,每一步都决定了我的今天。如今我回到北京,回到我的零点,但我相信旅行改变了人生,我已经是不一样的人了,那个零点 [read more]

July 31, 2015 // 0 Comments

Third Book, Titik Nol (Point Zero) is Coming

Faraway. Why everybody is obsessed by that word? Marco Polo traveled faraway from Venice to the Mongolian Empire. The explorers adventured through dangerous seven seas. The climbers put their life on the line just for a few moments conquering majestic peaks. He was also overwhelmed by the “faraway”. The Traveler decided to get involved in globetrotting journey. He sneaked to the forbidden land in Himalaya, staying in mysterious Kashmir, and became witness of warzones and massacres. Started by a dream, flowing like a series of dreams, this is a journey of a traveler searching for a meaning. Until to the point that he had traveled very, very far, he was forced to return home, kneel down besides his mother’s bed. And from the story of the very mother who has never traveled anywhere, little by little he revealed the meanings of journey that he was missing. Paperback, 568 pages Published February 2013 by Gramedia Pustaka Utama ISBN: 9789792292718 edition language: Indonesian For the [read more]

February 7, 2013 // 0 Comments

A Blanket of Dust—New Edition

My first book, A Blanket of Dust (Selimut Debu) is going to be republished with new cover and new photos, to be launched by Gramedia Pustaka Utama this coming 29 September 2011. [Agustinus] tak ingin hanya menjadi penonton isi dunia. Ia mau terlibat sepenuhnya dalam perjalanan itu. Ia tak sekadar melihat pemandangan, berpindah dari satu tempat ke tempat lain, tetapi juga mengenal budaya dan berinteraksi dengan masyarakat setempat. –Kompas– Afghanistan. Nama negeri itu sudah bersinonim dengan perang tanpa henti, kemiskinan, maut, bom bunuh diri, kehancuran, perempuan tanpa wajah, dan ratapan pilu. Nama yang sudah begitu tidak asing, namun tetap menyimpan misteri yang mencekam. Pada setiap langkah di negeri ini, debu menyeruak ke rongga mulut, kerongkongan, lubang hidung, kelopak mata. Bulir-bulir debu yang hampa tanpa makna, tetapi menjadi saksi pertumpahan darah bangsa-bangsa, selama ribuan tahun. Aura petualangan berembus, dari gurun gersang, gunung salju, padang hijau, lembah [read more]

September 17, 2011 // 4 Comments

Garis Batas – Perjalanan di Negeri-Negeri Asia Tengah (Borderlines)

My second published travel writing book, on journey to Central Asian countries (The “Stans”). Indonesian language. Borderlines – Journey to the Central Asian States Everyday, Afghan villagers stare to “a foreign country” which is just a river away. They look at passing cars, without even once experiencing sitting inside the vehicles. They look at Russian-style villas, while they live in dark mud and stone houses. They look at girls in tight jeans, while their own women are illiterate and have no freedom to travel. The country across the river seems magnificent—a magnificent fantasy. The same fantasy brings Agustinus Wibowo travel to the mysterious Central Asian states. Tajikistan. Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan. Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan. The “Stan brothers”. This journey will not only bring you step on snowy mountains, walk accross borderless steppes, adsorbing the greatness of traditions and the glowing Silk Road civilization, or having [read more]

April 25, 2011 // 4 Comments

Mashhad – The Empty Border

The dusty border Two years ago, when I came to Iran for the first time through the Islam Qala border, I was astonished by the scene of hundreds of wild Afghan men fighting to pass the border line, to quit their homeland and reach hope in rich Iran. But now, it’s not anymore the scene. The Afghan-Iranian border in Islam Qala is quite empty. Iran has tightened up the visa approval for Afghans. Land crossing is no more permitted for ordinary Afghans. The Iranian visa from Kabul is mostly stamped “For Air Travel Only”, putting them to obtain roundtrip ticket only with Iranian airlines. In some cases, visa applicants need to spend at least 1000 dollars just to get the entry visa. Indeed, one’s passport determines his or her fate. I arrived in Afghan immigration hall after 100 meter walk. People are sitting idly to wait for the officers come back from their lunch break. There are three officers behind the table. One is examining the passports, one is stamping, and the last one is [read more]

June 9, 2009 // 1 Comment

Kabul – End of Journey?

Mama, wearing my academic dress. She did not finish her primary education, as the school was forced to close by the Suharto regime. But her dream is to learn, learn a lot, and be a real university student The last few weeks were very difficult time for me. Once my dad called from Indonesia, “Your mom is going to have an operation. Please pray for her.” It’s very unlikely that my mom gets sick, as my mom is a very active woman, doing physical exercise almost on daily basis. In late few years I have never heard she fell into serious sickness, even for once.The news was not too good. It turned out to be tumor, cells which grow abnormally. It sounds not so serious, my mom just complained of pain in her abdominal. Operation was conducted. It’s not a simple tumor. Doctor said it was malignant tumor, euphemism of saying ‘your mom got cancer’. My mom ovary was lifted. The next diagnosis saying that the cancer has spread to her intestine, and they claimed my mom got a Stage-3C [read more]

May 28, 2009 // 30 Comments

Bomb in front of Indonesian Embassy in Kabul

I am not in Kabul at this moment, but was very much shocked to read a friend’s SMS: Bomb outside of Indian and Indonesian embassies in Kabul. Casualties. All Indonesian friends are safe. Building damaged. Later, I read more on the Internet. The bomb happened at 8:25 a.m., the busy hour when dozens of visa applicants queueing in front of the Indian embassy. The Indonesian embassy was not the target, but unluckily it was located right next to the Indian embassy. The location is on sensitive area of Ministry of Interior street, heavily guarded everyday during office hours as a deadly bomb blast in 2006 here. On the same street is also the Pajhwok Afghan News Office, where I used to live in Kabul. Here is a photo of the scene after the bomb blast, taken by photographer colleague of Pajhwok, Ahmadullah Salemi The deadly bomb blast At the right side, far behind, the white building is the Indonesian embassy. Despite of the worsening security in Kabul, the embassy still puts its office [read more]

July 7, 2008 // 6 Comments

Kabul – Welcome to Ariana Flight

The boarding room of Kabul International Airport. Everybody is ready to fly … The first encounter with Ariana – the Afghan national carrier – is not always thrilling. It might be a unique experience from the Afghan land. In last several months I have been working as a consultant for UN. This, more or less, has changed my preference in traveling. Probably I got spoiled already with those amenities, facilities, and luxuries. Today, the first day of me turning back to be a backpacker again, I feel a sudden shock. Usually I prefer to take overland trip, but this time, on my way going to Iran for a short holiday to change the routine in Kabul, I chose to fly Ariana. The Kabul – Herat’s 1000 kilometer distance can be reached through three different routes. The northern route, through Mazar-e-Sharif, takes at least four days, killing unpaved road full of dust of the desert Dasht-e-Laila at the end of its leg. I have experienced this in 2006 and am not so keen to try again. The [read more]

June 9, 2008 // 3 Comments

Women’s Silk Factory in Kabul

AZANA is an Afghanistan women’s small enterprise aiming to a much bigger dream Not only they weave silk, they also weave their future. “AZANA has changed my life,” says Nazdana, a 16-year-old girl who just recently learned how to weave silk shawls in AZANA, a silk factory managed by a woman director and operated mostly by woman workers, in deep alley of Kabul, where job opportunities for women are still scarce. “Before joining AZANA, I used to only do house works. There are 14 people in my family, and I knew only how to cook food, wash their clothes, and clean our house. But, now I am very happy because I start to earn money from my own hands. Not only does Nazdana learn about silk weaving, now she starts to grab pens to write. Ms Shaima Breshna, the director of AZANA silk factory, provides literacy class for the female employees of the factory. Nazdana remembers, “At the first time [joining the class], I even did not know how to hold pencil. Other [read more]

June 2, 2008 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Assassination Attempt

He has managed to escape several assassination attempts. Who knows what happens next. Since the beginning of 2008, there had not been any big incidence in Kabul yet, until today, when the government and people of Afghanistan was proudly celebrating the victory of the Holy War, to commemorate the withdrawal of Russian troops. I did not go to the scene myself, as the program is restricted to accredited journalits (I am now a freelancer), but some colleagues from Pajhwok went there for reportage since early morning. Nobody expected that the yearly military parade turned to be assassination attempt to President Karzai, and the attack turned bloody. Some TV cameramen and photographers lost their cameras amid the chaos. Here is the updated news: ——————– Afghanistan’s President Karzai Is Safe After Attack (Update1) By Jay Shankar April 27 (Bloomberg) – Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and [read more]

April 27, 2008 // 1 Comment

Kabul – Women Carpenters from Afghanistan

Woman carpenters from Dasht Barchi. Most if not all of them are Hazaras. Most people believe that carpentry is a man’s trade, but for the 60 carpentresses of Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi district, it simply isn’t true. “Women are able to do all kinds of work that men do,” they proclaim proudly. Hidden among mud houses which sit idly off of the main road, the center for carpentry is a local shura (council) where women learn about basic carpentry and build various items from cupboards, tables, computer desks, chairs to sandalis (heaters). A middle-aged woman is too happy to take me to the production center, where everything seems to happen all at once, located inside a small hut. “See, we are now able to handle heavy machinery,” she points out to several woodworking equipments that are modern-looking, where two or three women work in tandem to produce wood chops or create nail punctures and screw holes. Nails, chisels, hammers, sawing machines, screwdrivers are as familiar to [read more]

April 3, 2008 // 3 Comments

Taliban Attack on Luxury Hotel in Afghan Capital Kills Eight

The luxurious, five star Serena Hotel. With such heavy tiered security system, who expects this hotel can be attacked? Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) – Taliban insurgents killed as many as eight people in a suicide bomb attack on a luxury hotel in the Afghan capital, Kabul, where Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store was hosting a meeting. A Norwegian journalist accompanying the foreign minister and a U.S. citizen were among those killed in yesterday’s bomb- and-gunfire assault at the Serena Hotel. Store was uninjured, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. The assault is a “serious crime against humanity,’’ Ban told reporters in New York. Store was the target of the attack, he said, without elaborating. Suicide bombings in Afghanistan have risen sevenfold over the past two years and Taliban fighters are increasingly carrying out attacks in the capital. The assault may signal a [read more]

January 14, 2008 // 0 Comments

Kabul – A Midnight Jog

Kabul taxi, can be dangerous day or night People tend to have more things to say when they are angry or disappointed. And today I do the same. I regret I didn’t tell you earlier how I was impressed by hospitality of Kabul taxi drivers, who usually refuse to receive money from a foreign guest (only lip service mostly, but anyway it makes me happy), but now I have to tell a scary experience with a Kabul driver. I was invited by a friend to a dinner in Wazir Akbar Khan area, the rich part of Kabul where many embassies, foreign organizations, and expatriate housings are located. I usually don’t stay until late night, but yesterday we talked until completely forgetting about the time. At the end, an AFP French reporter friend of mine realized that it was already 10:30, and we had to leave. She offered me to walk together to the main road, from where I can find taxi to go home and she went back to her house on foot. We walked together to the direction of the main road. Usually, at this [read more]

January 9, 2008 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Shocked

Benazir Bhutto I was terribly shocked by the unexpected news of the assassination of Pakistani Former Prime Minister, Ms Benazir Bhutto. A friend from the UN called me, “Hey, have you heard about Benazir Bhutto? She was shot dead.” “Are you joking?” It was serious, a fact which I really didn’t want to believe. Benazir was shot three times in a political rally in Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi, somewhere I used to stay two years before. I couldn’t believe that Pakistan, which I used to love because of the people’s extreme hospitality, turn to boiling hell. I remembered, sometime in winter 2005, in a village in northern Karakoram Mountains, a vertical tricolor flag was hoisted on a pole on top of a house. Black-red-green. “Is that flag of Afghanistan?” “No. That’s flag of PPP,” explained an old villager, “Pakistan People Party. That’s the party of Benazir Bhutto. We loved her very much.” I remembered, deep in Thar Parkar desert town of Umerkot, a Hindu friend [read more]

December 27, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Christmas in Kabul

Christmas trees in Kabul streets, who expected? In devout, conservative Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Christmas is just like another day. It’s an ordinary day when people go to office, children go to school, and nobody is aware of what Christmas is. But since last some few years, the Christmas trees start to decorate the Kabul again. It is in the Flower Street, across the rows of foreigner-oriented souvenir shops of Chicken Street, where most flower shops in Kabul are located. Christmas trees, considered as variation of flowers, along with Christmas accessories like stars, Santa Claus, colorful ribbons, et cetera, are offered in the roadside of the narrow alley. It is indeed a bizarre combination between the artificial Christmas trees, mostly imported and costs around US$25, with women clad in blue burqas passing by. Under Taliban, said Muhammad, a shop owner, selling Christmas trees was totally prohibited. But he claimed that the Christmas trees were already available in Flower [read more]

December 25, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Rocked by Rockets

Rockets rocking the capital An early morning in Kabul was rocked when sound of blasts reverberated throughout the capital. 8:20 A.M. I heard a blast, sounds very near. Not as loud as a bomb blast, and even initially I thought it was a car incident. The second blast came afterwards. It was not at all car incident, but rocket attacks toward the Kabul police headquarters about a block away from where I am working. A reporter and I immediately ran to the site. A big fire was seen on the emptied road. The police tried hard to seal the area from onlookers and prevented the journalists, photographers, and cameramen to get closer. “The attacker is still here,” said a police, “he is running away and we are looking for him. It’s very dangerous.” Police is quick in cleaning up the debris The road is messy. This area was full of street hawkers and in the morning it was very busy of people shopping. I saw many shoes and sandals, offered at roadside, left away by the scared owners. The [read more]

December 15, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Give Us Women

For every victim, they want seven women as compensation. A journalist friend of mine just returned back from Taliban stronghold southeastern province of Paktika. He recounted to me his amazing experience in the surreal region. Mud-houses disappear in the capital, Sharana, because of the constructions of new modern buildings. Mud houses in the districts also disappeared, due to another reason. In this area security is just an empty talk. For security reason in Taliban controlled district, one at least should be Pashtun, bearded, and dress in turbans. But that’s not everything. Being non-local anyhow is dangerous. And my friend was just lucky to be able to drag a local to rent a car and bring him to the districts near Pakistan border. It was a near-to-death journey. The police were surprised to see this Kabuli Pashtun came to this off-limit region. He was so anxious because Taliban was still everywhere. Anybody here can be Taliban, because everybody looks the same – bearded, [read more]

December 9, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Rocket Rains

Winter is usually quiet months of bomb attacks. But it seems the formula does not work for this year. This week is the worst of this year in term of security in the capital. In recent days there had been several fatal bomb blasts all over the capital. It had been part of the daily life here. On November 27, when I was just walking on the street from the Afghan bodybuilding about 7:30 a.m, suddenly I heard a big blast. I am already used to this kind of blast or that kind of rocket rocks; I usually had no any more surprised reaction to this kind of happening. But I usually stay in my room when all of these things happened – in a safe place. Now, I am on road and the blast was heard much louder and shocking. I ran for some steps, but became completely normal again not more than a minute after. The blast happened somewhere near the Pakistan embassy, about 4 kilometer from the place I initially heard the blast. The target was a military vehicle in heavily secured area of Wazir Akbar [read more]

December 6, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – A Failed Mission,2933,312183,00.html A planned attack launched from Pakistan has been foiled, says the spokesman of the ministry. Afghan security forces, meanwhile, arrested a potential homicide bomber as he attempted to board an army bus in Kabul, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary told reporters. Authorities have been wary of attacks targeting army or police buses in Kabul after two such attacks this year. The attacker was from the Pakistani city of Peshawar, Bashary said. Afghan and Western officials say many homicide bombers are trained in neighboring Pakistan and then cross the border into Afghanistan to carry out their attacks. An Afghan soldier kicked the man as he tried to board the bus, and when the attacker fell down, he was unable to detonate his suicide vest, said Kabul police chief Mohammad Salim Hasas. The officials displayed the defused suicide vest for the media and said the attacker was undergoing blood tests because he appeared to be under the [read more]

November 19, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Eid Mobarak

Afghan guards offer prayers in the Presidential Palace People were waiting with anxiety yesterday: whether they had finished their Ramadan fasting or they had to keep fasting one another day. Not until 10 p.m. Kabul time the decision was announced: Eid to be on Friday. President Hamid Karzai offers his Eid prayers in the mosque inside presidential palace compound. These years, as the security situation in Kabul is worsened, it is not wise if the President prays in public place. Two years ago the President still had his Eid prayers in Pul-i Khisthi mosque together with his people. But now any ceremony attended by the President will mean the arrival of armed bodyguards, area sterilization with the security dogs (it was introduced by the Americans to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan), some helicopters patrolling around, and tightened security on all main roads. Letting the President to pray in public mosque under current situation is too much risky. This resource and energy wasting, [read more]

October 12, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – A Blast in Baharistan

Bomb blast in the middle of holy month An early morning in the middle of Ramadan, the Muslim’s holy month, Kabul once again saw one of deadliest terrorism attacks this year. A crowded bus loading soldiers of Afghan National Army (ANA) was ripped into two parts. All passengers on-board were feared dead. Civilians were among the victims. The holy month has not brought quiet peaceful moment in the country. It is 6:45 a.m. I was slapped from my lazy sleep by a big blast. After living in Kabul for a while, I am pretty much used to bomb blasts. “It must be another bomb blast,” I thought. But considering that the blast was very loud, it should be a big one. But what can I do? Nobody arrived in our news office and for sure it was not recommended for me to go alone. I tried to go back to my sleep. I just wished it was not a bomb, but an accident from the near Chinese construction site. But I could not sleep. Sirens of police cars or ambulance could be heard from my room. I know it was [read more]

September 29, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – A Lunch in Chinese Embassy

The grand complex of Chinese embassy. Not big enough? This is just one among dozen of buildings in the complex. It’s grand. It’s just like a Chinese garden from the Middle Kingdom being transported to the middle of dusty Kabul. Mr. Yang, Mr. Li, and Mr. Yu were waiting outside the grand embassy building with strong Chinese-style architecture. Mr. Yang is the ambassador, Mr. Li is the counselor, and Mr. Yu is the protocol staff. They have been waiting for about 30 minutes. We came very late, due to jammed Kabul traffic. And we, two women and two men, felt very much embarrassed. How suddenly an ordinary man like me being invited to have lunch with his Excellency Chinese Ambassador? In a diplomatic function held for the Indonesian National Day, the Chinese Ambassador and his very two staffs paid a visit. A friend of mine, a Chinese Indonesian working in UN, expressed her curiousness on Chinese culture. The hospitable Ambassador then invited her to come to the embassy to have lunch [read more]

September 24, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – A Peace Day and A Bomb

Children celebrate Peace Day. “Peace is for all!” they say. International Peace Day may be just an ordinary day to most countries in the world, but in Afghanistan it is treated very seriously. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) declared September 21 as Peace Day in Afghanistan since July this year. This date, the one day of peace in Afghanistan, is the day without violence, one day of peace to start a peace era in the war-torn country. A series of activities were conducted to promote the peace day campaign extensively since the previous week. Yesterday, more than one hundred street children were collected to fly kites together from top of a hill. This, with media collaboration, became headlines in newspapers and brought the peace message through the TVs and radio. A day before, the Kabul Municipality inaugurated a Peace Junction: a simple junction transformed to be a pleasant green park. UNAMA also conducted an exhibition of 18 photos of an Afghan female [read more]

September 21, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Peace Day in Afghanistan

“It’s not enough to talk about peace. One should believe in it. And it’s not enough to believe in it. One should work on it.” A Taliban member was caught and now displayed to the journalists I read this strong message in a local newspaper today. Three days to go, and Afghanistan is going to celebrate the Peace Day in the country. What a beautiful day. Imagine a day without bomb blast, a day without fire and explosion. Peace, in Afghanistan where never-ending wars have crushed the country to its worst, is a dear thing that has been awaited for decades. UNAMA, the main UN agency in Afghanistan, declared 21 September to be celebrated as Peace Day throughout Afghanistan. They work together with a global campaign group called Peace One Day. The date is to be marked by a countrywide total cessation of violence. I also cannot wait to see the arrival of peace in Afghanistan. I am tired of news of bomb blasts and fire. I am tired of news of ethnic clash and demonstrations of the [read more]

September 18, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Massoud Day: An Unfinished Speech

“Massoud never left his country, and sacrificed his life for the fatherland” – President Hamid Karzai The supporters of Massoud remembering the 6th anniversary of the martyrdom Two day before the 9-11, a significant event happened in Afghanistan. On September 9, 2001, Ahmad Shah Massoud, one of the greatest and charismatic Afghan’s commanders, was assassinated in a suicide blast by Al Qaeda agents posing as journalist and photographer. He died on September 14, 2001 after few days in comma. This was the first time Afghanistan saw suicide bombing, which in later years become more popular. This was also the beginning why cameras are treated with full suspects as sensitive and possibly dangerous item in Afghanistan. But the most significant of all was Afghan-nation-in-struggle its great leader. Massoud was regarded as the hero who defeated the Red Army and successfully slapped Islamism fanaticism exactly in the face. His unexpected assassination by two Arab religious extremists [read more]

September 9, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Bom Blast (Again)

What? A bomb blast? Come on, it’s just a bomb blast. Let’s continue with the party and plenty of food here. It was like a morning call. A big blast even rocked me from my sleep. I opened my eyes, thought a while, “it might be a bomb blast”, and continued sleeping. Later I just found out that it was a suicide bomb. The location is nearby the airport, about 4 km from my place. But as the sound was very loud, this should be a big bomb, a car bomb. The attacker targeted a NATO-led ISAF military airport, just next to the main military airport. But the target seemed to be very miraculous, as always, as the attacker only killed two Afghan soldiers and injured some others. Suicide attacks have been quite rampant in Kabul in last three months, since the big blast which killed 35 Afghan police cadets and other minor blasts targeted to ISAF soldiers. Calculation on casualties shows that most of the attacks kill civilians or locals rather than foreign ‘enemies’. As it [read more]

August 31, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – An Afghan Style Swimming Contest

Who swims the fastest? The first time I see such a bizarre swimming contest, where many of the participants escape from the swimming pool in the middle of the race. The previous swimming exhibition 3 days ago brought me back to the crowded swimming pool of Youth Club (Klab-e-Jawanan). As before, they also made early announcement time for reporters to come. The original schedule for the competition was to be held at 9 in the morning, but not until 3 p.m. the swimming contest was started. The program organizer, a man in his 30’s and a body completely wrapped by stack hairs, requested the half-naked young boys to sit nicely in the provided benches. He, just like his swimming students, also dressed minimally. First time I saw an event organizer dressing only in singlet and pants, not even a swim pack. “OK, boys. Go back to your seat, we will start our program!” said him with the microphone. After noticing me taking photos of him only in white pants and talking on MC desk, he [read more]

August 30, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Indonesian Role in the Hostage Crisis

The diplomat-in-charge announces the detail of the story to the community of Indonesian expats in Kabul (which is less than a dozen) If there is one more reason to be proud as an Indonesian, then this comes from the southern part of Afghanistan. Yesterday we were very relieved to hear that a breakthrough had been achieved in the negotiation between Taliban and Korean delegates after a face-to-face meeting held in Ghazni city. The two sides agreed at 5 points of agreement: first, all Koreans will quit Afghanistan by the end of 2007; second, Koreans working for NGOs in Afghanistan will leave the country by the end of this month; third, no more Korean Christian missionaries are allowed to enter Afghanistan; fourth, Koreans will not be attacked when evacuating from this country; five, Taliban have canceled the demands of prisoners exchange. There is not much known by the media and international world, that Indonesia has a big role in this breakthrough of the hostage crisis. A quote from [read more]

August 29, 2007 // 1 Comment

Kabul – Midnight Rocket Attack

The target was US Embassy “Blaaaaarrrrrrr!!!” I heard a blast, quite shocking, when chatting with a friend. This friend is an Afghan journalist based in Wazir Akbar Khan area, about 2 km from my place, and heard the same strange sound. “Did you hear the sound? What is that?” he messaged me on my chat messenger. “Maybe it is a rocket,” he answered his own question, and disappeared immediately. It was 11.00 p.m. I was thinking it was a bomb blast, but who will blast a bomb at the middle of the night, and if it was indeed a bomb why it could be heard so loud both from Wazir Akbar Khan and from my place, which are separated by 2 km of distance. My friend was probably right: it was a rocket. I talked with a Pakistani colleague, Mr. Mudasser, about the sound. He didn’t hear anything. But when I said it might be a rocket, he just showed a very normal expression, “Well, in this kind of country, this is not something extraordinary. People are get used.” The second day (today) [read more]

August 25, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Another Kidnap Attempt

The roads of Kabul look normal today. But with the Korean hostage crisis is still in the air, and also some other foreigner kidnappings, no foreigners are supposed to travel freely on the streets. After the German woman hostage case which already brought earthquake to international media, today there is another similar case, but much more quieter. I received an SMS from a friend: “There has been a shooting within the last 30 minutes in the Qala E Fatullah area in an attempt to kidnap a local businessman. The attempt was believed to have been unsuccessful. However all personnel should be extra vigilant.” 19:51:12 23/08/2007 A local businesswomen interviewed by the TIME said, security in Kabul was merely a joke. In fact, kidnapping is not only towards foreigners. The Christina Meier case went to the news because it was a foreign woman kidnapped. But for local nationals, it’s just a routine occurrence, and this never goes to the news. In recent days, Kabul probably is not anymore a [read more]

August 23, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – School Inauguration

The President himself innaugurates the school A school inauguration in Kabul is attended by the President Hamid Karzai. In the situation when suicide bombing is rampant in the capital, violent attacks are getting common on Kabul streets, and foreigners are kidnapped, there should be something special that the Afghan President decide to inaugurate construction of a high school building. The Ghazi High School was among the oldest, famous, and historical schools in Kabul in its time. The school was originally built in 1923, just 4 years after the independence of Afghanistan from the British control. The civil wars in Afghanistan destroyed the school. In 1994 the school turned to be ruins with empty hollows and walls scattered by bullet holes. The school, the alma mater of current Minister of Higher Education Dr. Dadfar, hibernated. Today, American strip and stars flies proudly next to Afghan flag over a tablet written: “Ghazi High School – The foundation stone of Ghazi High School [read more]

August 21, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – The Afghan Independence Day

The happy parade inside the stadium When an independence day is celebrated with fading pride as an independent country… If Indonesia is still in splendor of the 62nd anniversary of its independence day, Afghanistan is celebrating its 88th today. The British Treaty of Rawalpindi on August 8, 1919 admitted the self-determination of Afghanistan, of which foreign affairs formerly under British subject. Afghanistan had been arena of power struggle between nations since the beginning of its history, and at the end of the 19th century it became arena of the Great Game between Russian and British imperials. As both imperial powers were almost equally strong, Afghanistan was used as buffer to delimit Russian empire from the British India. Under British and Russian influence, the northern border with Russia (Amu-Darya River), the eastern border with British India (Durand Line) and the border with Persia were drawn. Afghanistan, under subject of Russian-British agreement, was given [read more]

August 19, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – My Red and White in Kabul

Red-and-White in Kabul What a feeling. I see the Red-and-White flag flying proudly on Kabul sky. Today we celebrate again our independence day. Indonesia is celebrating its 62nd anniversary. And for the Indonesian community in Afghanistan, this day is as special as it is for our other countrymen in Indonesia. Flag ceremony was a routine for most of us when we were receiving education in Indonesian schools. Who had never experienced boredom of attending flag ceremony? Who had never grumbled to be given task to be flag-ceremony commandant or national anthem choir? At least I did. When I was in elementary school and high school in Indonesia, I used to hate Saturday after-school time as it’s the rehearsal schedule for weekly Monday morning flag ceremony. I used to grumble for this so-called nationalism development, discipline training, citizenship building (bla, bla, bla) to justify the routine flag ceremony. I used to grumble when my headmaster forgot to stop his long and dull speech [read more]

August 17, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Indonesian Products in Afghanistan

Indonesian exhibition booth in Kabul, Afghanistan The first Asia-Europe International Trade Exhibition and Conference is held in Kabul for five days to commemorate the 88th anniversary of independence Afghanistan. The exhibition was attended by several Afghan national and international companies, but we may be proud as Indonesia joined the exhibition as the sole country participant. Indonesia, represented by the embassy, has quite a sizeable booth in the exhibition. The ambassador himself, with full contingent of all diplomats (we have 5), attended the opening ceremony. There were all ladies from the embassy wearing kebaya national dress. Compared to other booths (TV companies, supermarket, design company, carpet products, etc), Republic of Indonesia booth was an obvious distinguished one. Why Indonesia has to be represented as a country and not by any national companies? “It’s a pity that our businessmen are not interested at business in Afghanistan. Actually if we dare to risk, [read more]

August 13, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Lobotomy

Now I know the feeling if my memory is lobotomized. Actually I have been in depression since the last two weeks. I celebrated my birthday with smiles on my face but tears flooding my heart. I tried to hide this feeling, but I just could not. How it happened might be important, might be not. But the result is the same. I found my hard disk, full of my photos and writing which I have made during my journey, completely died. This happened one day after the funeral of the last Afghan King, Zahir Shah. The day before I had big quarrel with a fellow photographer who felt resented as the office didn’t allow him to go and chose me instead to cover the event. My hard disk is damaged. Suddenly my day turned dark. I just could not afford to loose all of the images I made in my traveling around Afghanistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. All of the photos were in the hard disk. And now the hard disk is broken. Along with the photos, I also lost my writing documents, [read more]

August 9, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – One Year Older

Chinese Food in Kabul Happy Birthday to….. me Today is my birthday. Well… it’s not something special. I have birthday once in a year anyway. One year pass, and I get one year older. I am used not to make my birthday as a special day. I am used to spend birthday lonely, on road, on mountain, in the middle of nowhere, with absence of family and close friends. I am used to it, and I am prepared to it. I was conditioned to live alone. My family sent me to study in China when I was 19. I remembered my last birthday celebrated, when I was 18, was just few days before being enrolled to a university in Surabaya. High school friends came and congratulated me. It was simple, but there were at least 20 friends coming to my little house. That was the birthday party with the biggest numbers of guests. The most terrific in my history, I think. The yellow rice ‘tumpeng’ replaced my birthday cake, and laughter of newly graduated high school students filled the air. That night I remembered [read more]

August 8, 2007 // 1 Comment

Kabul – Bodybuilding Fever (Again)

Ready to compete After the waves of bodybuilding craze when Mr. Kabul of the year was elected, almost exactly one month ago, now the national bodybuilding championship invites all bodybuilders nationwide to join the craze. Contestants from 24 cities in the country competed in 9 different weight classes in the championship. I had heard previously that the contest today was to choose Mr. Afghanistan of the year, but I was mistaken. A Herat contestant from 75-kg class said that Mr. Afghanistan title is abolished this year, in order not to make bad feeling on contestants who failed to win. The guy who won title of the man of Afghanistan last year was also from Herat, is absent from today’s final contest. Even the newly elected Mr. Kabul did not attend this contest either. So what is the contest for? This national bodybuilding contest is to choose the athletes for the Afghan national team. Quite a pride, isn’t it? The master of ceremony repeated the praise over and over, that [read more]

August 6, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Women Call for Justice

Blue Demonstration Under the scorching sun they yelled, they cried, they screamed. Many of them were completely wrapped by blue burqas. Many of them were invisible. But grieves and cries were heard and tears were felt. The message was clear: call for justice. A group of more than 100 protesters, mostly women, held a demonstration in front of a UN mission office in Kabul today. They brought photos of men. The photos, seen from the fading black and white, are presumed old portraits. Who are the women? Who are the men? Before we go further, let me introduced you to a happening in Kabul some weeks ago. A discovery of mass graves located in Dasht-e-Chamtala, a desert some kilometers away from Central Kabul, in early and mid-July, shocked the country. The last mass grave contained at least 1000 bodies. The human remains reminded all to the two and half decades of wars in the war-torn republic. Bones, skeletons, even scraps of clothes of various colors, each has their own history and [read more]

August 5, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – A Dilemma

Afghan government is really in dillematic problem due to the Korean hostage crisis Yesterday, in the party in the embassy, an Indonesian friend told me about the new announcement that foreigners in Kabul are requested not to do any unnecessary journey inside the city. Attack towards foreigners may occur, says the guy who is close to the American embassy. “Oh…ya…, if you believe American warning you will go nowhere. Even they put Bali in the travel warning,” said a guy. But I also believe Kabul is not Bali. Here, after the several kidnappings in just order of days, the security situation is tightening. It should be something behind it, and this time I prefer to believe announcement ‘from the intelligence source’. Today, there was a press conference held. Here, the presidential spokesman expressed the government commitment to do the best to free the Korean hostages. The details can not be unveiled yet, but the promise is for sure. The 23 Korean hostages, 2 males among which [read more]

July 31, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – The Indonesian Family

The only place to taste genuine Indonesian food in Afghanistan ‘If you are abroad, remember, embassy is your home,’ said my elementary school teacher, explaining the function of embassy in a moral education class. This, at least in Afghanistan, is proven true. Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Shahr-e-Nao Kabul is indeed warm shelters for small Indonesian community in this Islamic Republic. There are not too many Indonesians in Afghanistan, and for sure less in Kabul. Not more than 30 Indonesians seen regularly in the embassy in the capital, and that already includes the embassy staff. People come and go. This small community always welcomes newcomers with smiles and prepares farewell party (sometimes almost rained by tears) for those who leave. In the last three months of my stay here, already two long-term Indonesians leave the country. For small family like this, the feeling of losing a member always hurts. The embassy people dominate this little community. Not before [read more]

July 30, 2007 // 0 Comments

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