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KBI/Tzu Mission to Afghanistan and Cambodia

With Coordination provided by the AFPC - Asia Pacific Initiative

July 18, 2002
Termez, Uzbekistan
Aibak, Afghanistan

Greetings:

As always things are interesting when attempting to get into Afghanistan.

As of our last update, everything was in place for a smooth ride in a diplomatic car from Tashkent to Termez, on Sunday morning, July 14, 2002, and we were relaxing on Saturday evening knowing everything was in order. We were to meet folks in Termez on Sunday afternoon, and proceed directly across the Friendship Bridge. Our trucks with aid should be following the next day.

But....

On Friday night, when returning from dinner in the diplomatic car which we would be using the following morning to go to Termez, we were stopped for questioning by the police. They were not concerned with us, but with the registration of the vehicle. We never did get a really clear idea of what the problem was, but the car was impounded by the KGB, and our driver was to go in to straighten out the confusion on Saturday morning.

Instead of straightening it out, we learned that the car would be impounded for paperwork checking for at least 4 days. We had to react quickly to make other plans to get to Termez.

We did not want to take a chance in driving in a non-diplomatic car and risking all of the red tape that could go along with over zealous check point personnel, so we purchased plane tickets to Termez, and rented a car for our driver to use to take our luggage to Termez. (This was actually less expensive than paying for excess baggage.)

We all arrived in Termez late Sunday night - near midnight - and bunked in at our friend's apartment. Our friends had experienced delays on the Afghanistan side, and had just informed us that they would not make it to Termez until Monday.

On Monday morning, we started making plans to see if all was in order for a successful border crossing. Our convoy of trucks was in town. With about a dozen satellite phone calls back and forth to authorities on the Uzbek side as well as the Afghan side, we learned by 1:30 that we should be prepared to head to the bridge in the next 20 minutes.

Ten minutes later a call came in to tell us that a KGB minister was in town near the bridge, and therefore the bridge would be closed for the rest of the day. Try again zaftra (tomorrow.)

We still are not sure of the whereabouts of our friends arranging transportation on the other side, but we are confident that this is being taken care of.

So, we wait until Tuesday to see what happens.

Tuesday, July 16th:

We were assured all day that everything was in place to cross the bridge with our trucks early this morning or this afternoon.

At around 2:00 we learned that the Afghan commander on the other side of the bridge was coming over to this side for some business, and would personally escort us across.

By the time everything was ready, the bridge was closed, and we are now set to mount our efforts to cross tomorrow morning (Wednesday).

We went to a local restaurant tonight for dinner, and met some people from Samaritan's Purse. One of the guys, Gary Lambert and some new folks that are working with the SP clinic in Kholm. They are returning to the clinic tomorrow morning. During our conversation, Don mentioned that SP has just received a contract from UNHCR to supply 60 wells for potable water in Aibak. This is the same town where we worked primarily last winter providing food and supplies to the refugees. We talked a good bit about solar powering the wells. They think we should look into this since they have no other option for power other than individual diesel generators.

Hopefully, we can get something put together on this project soon.

_________

With any luck, we will be leaving for Aibak tomorrow.

July 17th:

It is now nearly 2:00 p.m. and still no word to move....any minute.....

But the day has not been boring.

Regarding our ongoing Philippine MedCap Support Project, we learned this morning via email that USAID would probably NOT approve our request for waiver to use the approved grant money to purchase drugs made outside the United States. When we submitted the waiver request, we also started the wheels rolling to find out what it would take to purchase US Manufactured drugs from our same source.

We received an email this morning with a quotation - reworked to purchase all US made medicines. (This was approximately twice the cost of the original grant approval.) We also learned from friends in Washington that the grant might be increased to cover the additional costs if we submitted a formal request.

So....this morning we submitted a formal request for an increase in the grant from USAID to allow for purchase of the medicines from US Manufacturers, and sent this request out to all interested parties, so that they can review and hopefully approve it today.

We also took advantage of the time to start the research going on solutions to the solar water pumping project that could be a possibility in Aibak, where we are heading first.

We will see what the next several hours bring.

4:00p.m. July 17th:

We got the word to pack up and move out right away, so we scurried and made the 20 minute run to the bridge.....where we waited, but not for too long. We crossed the bridge by 6:00 p.m., but our aid trucks were still not allowed to pass.

Once we crossed, we met with the Afghan Commander of the border area, Babba Said, for a couple of hours to finalize arrangements for transportation and armed security guards. He graciously provided us with both for the duration of our trip.

We left for Aibak around 8:00 p.m. with intentions of stopping at Kholm, about one-third of the way, to meet with the folks from Samaritan's Purse. These are the people we met in the restaurant last night who are participating in a program to install 60 deep water wells in the Samangan province, most around Aibak.

Not too far out of the bridge crossing area, it got dark, and we noticed our head lights were blinking on and off, but that problem went away soon, - the headlights went completely out!! Luckily, we had a second vehicle with us, so we followed the that vehicle fairly closely to Kholm. Our driver thought he could repair the wiring problem while we were meeting with Samaritan's Purse, but he could not.

So, we continued to on our way to Aibak around 10:30 at night, with no lights. (no headlihgts, taillights, dash lights- you get the picture.)

Also, we had been unable to contact anyone in Aibak to let them know we were coming, so we were not sure what we would find.

As we were driving into Aibak, the security there was great. We got stopped 4 or 5 times by a loud STOP in Farsi, coupled with two soldiers. One soldier came to talk to us while the other held his AK-47 raised and aimed at our vehicle. While somewhat unnerving in the middle of the night (after midnight), we were glad to see that the security in the town was well organized and efficient.

As we got closer to the Governor's house, everyone recognized us from before, and the aimed rifles turned into hugs and handshakes. They made us comfortable, sleeping outside on the porch of the same place we stayed on our last two trips. (inside was way too hot, as the temperature during the day was way over 100)

July 18th:

Our first order of business was to check on the trucks. We were assured that they would probably be on their way across the bridge by 9:00. After checking, we learned that they were still on the Uzbekistan side, and there was a problem.

We then found out that the Uzbek authorities were saying that the trucks would be delayed for between 5 days and 2 weeks, and would need a letter from the American Embassy to the Uzbek Foreign Affairs. At this point, we were ready to make plans on how we could completely revise the mission to accommodate this problem. Abandoning the mission was seriously considered. Redirecting the aid to Uzbekistan was also considered.

We asked our friend, General Babba Said to intervene if he could. Apparently he did because we got the word later in the day, that the trucks had crossed over the border and should be in town tonight. We are still keeping our fingers crossed, because it is nearly 11:00 p.m. and we have not seen them. We do have scouts out for them now.

We also learned today that this town no longer has any power. When we were here before, electricity was available in our "camp" for about 4 hours per night. The generator in the town has been broken now for a couple of months so there is no electricity.

Luckily, we brought our solar panels for backup. We spent the morning setting up our power system, complete with a truck battery, and charge controllers. So, now we are completely on our own power.

Tomorrow, we hope to unload the two Aibak trucks, except for the solar oven. We have to wait until Saturday to do this because Friday is a religious holiday. From there, we will be making our detailed plans as we go. The trucks for Kabul and Bamiyan should be leaving Aibak in a couple of days, to get there about the time we do.

While visiting the girls' school, we found that a lot of work has been done since we left to clean up the school, paint it, equip it with desks, and chalkboards. There are 2900 girls in this school, and it appears as they have nearly no school supplies such as paper and writing instruments. The solar oven should be a natural here - both for teaching the benefits of solar cooking, and for providing the basis of a micro-enterprise for purchasing school supplies.

Hopefully, enshala, our trucks arrive tonight, and we can finally be following our plan under more of our control, instead of left to the mercy of paperwork, beauracracies, and people who can only say no.

For those interested in weather, today was well over 100 degrees and very sunny.

We just received the word this minute that our nine trucks are here in town now.!!! (11:30 p.m.)

This is a great way to end this update, and go to bed. After a month of chasing this paperwork and logistic nightmare, we now have all of the aid safely in Afghanistan, where we feel much more comfortable.

Pictures attached to this update are:

  • 3688: Ed, Walt and Commander Babba Said immediately crossing over the bridge into Afghanistan.
  • 3694: Ed and Walt setting up solar power and satellite communication at Aibak camp.
  • 3709: Inside of a classroom in girls' school showing the work that has been done here.
  • 3711: Front of Girls' School showing the improvement in the building structure since we were here before.

We should be back in the business of delivering aid tomorrow and look forward to bringing you a good report then.

Sincerely,

Walt Ratterman, with Ed Artis and Adrian Belic
Knightsbridge International
Aibak, Afghanistan
July 18, 2002

Our website, www.kbi.org is now being updated with a much improved grouping of these updates, inclusive of photographs, indexed by date.

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