The „Berg“

The „Berg“

Schon die Annäherung an die Drakensberge ist beeindruckend, ja ein wenig furchterregend, wenn man näher kommt. Die „Drachenberge“ sind eine 1500 Meter aufragende Wand, das Escarpment, das sich auf einer Höhe von 3000m über 300 km an der Grenze von Südafrika und Lesotho hinzieht. Aus dem Escarpment können sich in Minuten gewaltige Wolken bilden, die wie Rauchwolken aus dem Schlund von Drachen aussehen – daher der Name.

Nach Lesotho fällt das Escarpment nur leicht ab und bildet ein Hochplateau, das keine technischen Schwierigkeiten zum Durchwandern bereitet.

Entsprechend ist die Tour über die Drakensberge technisch einfach, abgesehen von dem Ein- und Ausstieg über steile Pässe auf die Höhe. Allerdings gibt es auf der Höhe keine Wege und keine Hütten. Auch gibt es nur an wenigen Stellen Wasser. Die größte Gefahr sind aber die schnellen Wetterumschwünge, die durch extreme Gewitter und dichtesten Nebel schnell in kritische Situationen führen können. Entsprechend ist es ratsam, mit einem Führer die Tour zu gehen.

So hatte ich mich im Oktober einer 5 tägigen Durchquerung der nördlichen Drakensberge angeschlossen. Neben dem Führer und einem Träger pro Person fuhren Ferran, ein in Mocambique arbeitender Spanier und Jesse, ein für die WTO arbeitender US-Amerikaner, mit. Unser Führer war Carlos (www.spanafrican-adventures.co.za), ein Spanier, der seine südafrikanische Frau bei einer Radtour von Feuerland nach Alaska kennenlernte und neben Bergtouren in Südafrika auch Fahrradtouren durch das Himalaya veranstaltet. Unsere Führer waren kamen aus einem Dorf am Fuß des Escarpments. Die Wettervorhersage drohte mit 5 Tagen Gewitter und Sturm, wir waren gespannt.

Am Vortag nahm ich die beiden anderen Hiker von Johannesburg zu einem Backpacker in der Nähe des Amphitheaters mit.Am Morgen wurden wir mit einem Kleinbus zu dem Aufstieg zum Sentinel gebracht. An diesem nördlichen Ende der Drakensberge führt der Aufstieg über legendäre „Chain ladders“ auf den Rand des Escarpments. Ein wenig Schwindelfreiheit ist bei dem Aufstieg gefragt.

Am Escarpment angelangt, stehen wir an der 1500 Meter hohen Felswand, die uns die nächsten 5 Tage nicht mehr verlassen wird. Wir sind in der Mitte des „Amphitheatre“, bei dem das Escarpment sich zu einem gewaltigen Halbrund von 10 – 20 km Durchmesser formt. Es braucht ein wenig Zeit, um sich am Rande des Abgrunds wohl zu fühlen, zu gigantisch sind die Dimensionen. Der Tugela-Wasserfall stürzt sich über die Kante für mehr als 600 Meter in die Tiefe, der vierthöchste Wasserfall der Welt. Beim Mittagessen machte dann das Wetter ernst und sandte die ersten Schauer über das Escarpment.

Zum Glück gibt es eine verfallene Berghütte, die etwas Schutz bietet. Nachdem das Schlimmste vorbei war, machten wir uns in Nebel und leichtem Regen auf den Weg zum ersten Übernachtungsplatz in der Nähe der Ifidi Pinnacles. Die Zelte ließen sich gerade noch im Trockenen aufbauen. Kaffee und Rusks wärmten bei nur knapp 10 Grad auf. Dann setzten sich über Nacht die Wolken fest und es gab in der Nacht immer wieder Regen. Die Temperaturen sanken jede Nacht auf knapp über den Gefrierpunkt. An einem Morgen war die Zelthaut vereist. An den Morgen gab es jeden Tag ein ähnliches Bild. Nach den Regenschauern in der Nacht blies der kräftige Westwind die Wolken vom Escarpment weg. Wir wanderten bei heftigen Wind und Sonnenschein, die Wolken hingen fest am Rand des Felsabbruchs und Südafrika versank im Regen. Über den Wolken, da muss die Freiheit ….

Die beiden nächsten Tage boten Sonne, starken Wind und leichten Regen im Wechsel.

Das zweite Nachtlager war bei der „Madonna and her Worshippers“, eine Gruppe von mehreren hundert Metern aufragenden Felszacken. Am Tag ging es über die hügelige Hochebene entlang. Der Blick nach Lesotho streifte über die Hochebene und nach Südafrika über endlose Wolken. Am Vormittag kamen wir an dem ersten begehbaren Pass vorbei, der bei sehr schlechtem Wetter die Flucht in das Tal ermöglicht hätte. Von dem Pass kam ein sichtbarer Weg nach oben, ein Indiz für den nicht unbedeutenden Grenzverkehr – vermutlich zum Schmuggel von Marihuana, das in den Bergdörfern angebaut wird. Die Tour geht auf dem Escarpment. Immer wieder geht es kleinere Anstiege hinauf und kleine Täler hinein, so dass jeden Tag um die 1000 Höhenmeter zu bewältigen sind. Mit Hilfe der Träger beschränkt sich aber mein Tourenrucksack auf knapp 10 kg, so dass die 12 – 17km langen Etappen gut zu bewältigen sind.

Die dritte Nacht verbrachten wir dann auf der Hochebene in der Nähe der Mnweni Pinnacles. Ein kleiner Bach entspring hier, es ist der Ursprung des größten südafrikanischen Flusses, dem Orange River.

 

Am Morgen klärten nun auch die Wolken über der Ebene auf. Vom Escarpment geht der Blick 2000 Meter in die Tiefe und 50 km in die Weite. Es ist ein einzigartiges Erlebnis, da nicht wie in den Alpen die nächste Bergkette die Weite beschränkt, sondern das Land in seiner Unbegrenztheit zu erleben ist. Was ist das richtige Wort dafür; erheben?

 

Der Vormittag bot zweimal die Möglichkeit große Kolonien von Cape Vultures von oben zu betrachten. Die riesigen Geier drehten über uns ihre Kreise. Wir sahen bis in die Nestplätze hinein und bestaunten die Fütterung der Jungen. Nachdem sich die Geier an unsere Anwesenheit etwas gewöhnt hatten, kreisten sie immer näher und auch die riesigen Lämmergeier (bearded vultures) kamen im Abstand von nur 10 Meter vorbeigeflogen. Ein unglaubliches Erlebnis, diese beiden riesigen Vögelarten mit bis zu 2 Meter Spannbreite in der Hochgebirgswelt zu beobachten. Für mich der Höhepunkt der Wanderung.

Die letzte Nacht wollten wir  in einer Höhle beim Cathedral Peak verbringen, aber wieder ließen es die ab späten Nachmittag aufziehenden Wolken nicht zu. Ein Bad im Gebirgsbach ließ die Mühen vergessen. Am nächsten Morgen wollten sich die Wolken nicht mehr verziehen, so dass der geplante Abstieg über die ausgesetzte Belle Terrasse durch einen langen, harten Abstieg über einen Pass zum Cathedral Peak Hotel ersetzt werden muss.

5 Tage in der afrikanischen Bergwelt, konstant auf 3000 Metern, keine Spuren, kein Mensch, einige Geier und zur Linken das bis zu 2000 Meter tiefe  Escarpment.

Hiking in South Africa

This is a picture gallery including three hikes in South Africa: Last year christmas with our friends Dylan,  Tina and Nadja; a hike with Sonja in the Golden Gate and a day hike with my brother Hartmut and his sons David and Paul.

Flying in Mpumalanga

Last weekend to got ready to get out the dust of Sonja’s glider and to get my brandnew Sigma 8 a try. iWe drove up towards Kruger. 100 km before Kruger where the escarpement drops to the Lowveld there are some good sites to explore. Most of them are somehow hidden and you need a friend to show it to you. We could explore three sites. The first one was Bambi which was described in an earlier post. We had a day long flying, with an epic and endless valley release.

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The second one is Paradise Falls (before called Densa). A good soaring site with some XC potential if you manage to jump over the first few km of forest without landing possibilities. After a long day waiting, the wind picked up in the afternoon and we could get another two hours of airtime with beautiful soaring. The next day, the ridge was just 20 meter below cloudbase. So it was an art to stay up, but to prevent to get more than 20m height not to get in the clouds.

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Finally, we could explore Mt. Carmel. Unfortunately now pics here. It is a really great side with lots of XC potential. It was tricky to find the first thermals, so I had to lend in after half an hour flight. But Sonja went away with a nice cross-country flight of 15 km.

I love my new wing. It was so easy to get used to it. The feel is very compact and responsive, the glide is way beyond my previous glider and I am just keen to fly and fly more!

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Sure, we will come back to see more of Mpumalanga from above!

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More pics: https://plus.google.com/photos/114988969560173040443/albums/5793257737536542273

Golden Gate

It is a country of unlimited outdoor posibilities. South Africa is just wonderful for hikers.

We explored one of the smallest National Park, the Golden Gate National Park, for a long weekend. It is nestled in the middle of South Africa at the border to Lesotho, a three hours drive from Jozi.

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The names stems from the golden colour of its sound stone.

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But also the grass is gleaming red-gold in the sunshine.

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We did three great day hikes. If you head of from the central valley the landscape is of epic width and great sandstone formations. We hiked on two days in the back valley to the north. That’s how I imagine Africa 2000 years ago: Plenty of Wildebeest, Eland and Rheebok roaming peacefully over the highland.

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We were alone on all our paths for the first two days before the weekend. And even on the weekend, apart from the direct vicinity of the starting points at Glen Reenen Rest Camp, we didn’t see more than a handful of people. It is good to leave the central valley through which a road is trailing. Because of the imposing mountains on both sides you can hear the road everywhere in this part of the park. But once you are behind the next corner or around the ridge, it is quiet, quiet, quiet. The chalets are booked out early so we opted for the only hotel in the park. It’s operated by the National Park and just recently renovated. Modern,well managed, but not very cosy and the food buffet-style. Clarens is just 20 km away and is a very nice, though touristy little town with some nice restaurants, many art gallerys and a kitsch paradise. If you want to go to the Golden Gate, book early and try to get a place in the marvelous Mountain Retreat, nestled at 2200m like an eagles nest. The houses are beautiful wooden chalets and the view perfect.

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We just loved the great emptiness and grandness of the nature of the Golden Gate. It is excellent hiking for a few days. The hikes close to the herds of wildebeest and other game are something very special.  A great illusion of freedom in Africa.

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The full photo album is here:

https://plus.google.com/photos/114988969560173040443/albums/5771411896370829697

Kabul weiredness

It feels very strange and remote. You are alone (or nearly alone) in a run-down hotel in Kabul city. I woke up an hour ago after very light sleep and after hours of reports about fightings a various places in town.

Drowsy, I hear a bomb. Two more. Single-shot fire. Than more machine gun fire. a few flashes from bombs shine through your tightly closed curtains, 2 seconds later you hear the bomb. What did I learn at school: One second delay of the sound is 300 m distance?

In your hotel is no guard on duty who speaks English. even the words “saferoom” or “bunker” are unknown. I send  the risk management office from my company a SMS about where I think the fighting is and remind them  about my location. More fighting. Some helis. Why is nobody else in this bloody hotel so we can chat a bit? Well the risk management office (RMO) calls me and assures me where the fighting is. It IS actually 1 – 2 km away. The otherwise silent night let every shoot sound like being in your backyard.

It calms down. First  SMS of RMO informs us that fighting is at two places.Shall I take a sleeping pill to find some sleep? Well at least, pack a run back with money and Passport, who never knows. Ok, let’s have half a sleeping pill, it calms down outside.

But than more bombs, wow, really, strong, sounds definitely much nearer know! Full awake. The dark sky is full of helicopter, presumably bringing troops and heavy arms to the other fighting site. full awake. Definitely not over. Good, that I bought a bottle of good old malt, I need a sip. but not too much, in case we have to be relocated.

I want to look out. But that’s what you are not supposed to do. They say most incidents are from nasty window glas splitter after explosions.

But I can’t keep it back: Nothing to see. Dark  with dark shades and the sound of more helicopter. Only a few shots. Pough, another two grenades with weak lightning.

The moon has risen, a slime nice start of the moon. It reminds of my first Eid (breaking the fast of Ramadan) I had hear a few years ago. Nothing is more joyful in Kabul than that. So I take it as a good sign of peace and calm. Sure, it will be back in about an hour or so.

How must people in Homs feel to have this every day and every night and amplified by ten???? Brothers and sisters in Homs, my heart is with you!!

Wow, it is now 3:30 am. Two laters after the first explosions. Still going on. Very few shootings. You think, it has calmed down, it is over. Than anoter big explosion., followed by gun fire and again silence. Just the helicopters are circling. And again a blast, one more, more gun fire. A few helis coming over. more shooting.

Hey guys, it is fine. You have shown us, you are there. The Talibs weren’t tired or interested in peace talks. We know, you are there, you took a deep breath. you have no interested in reconciliation. And yes, I guess, you want us foreigners out of the country. Just I have so many friends who wants us to stay. and I like them more, so I stay and I will work politically that we will stay. that is a promise!

But for now, please stop. Let’s have another malt and get some sleep.

Porterville

Flying Porterville

This fading summer I had the pleasure to fly in Porterville a few times. It is a great, great area for flying. This site is not only marking my personal best. I had lots of fun, I met great people and flying is made easy by the very well organised environment for paragliders.

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I was in Porterville first for some free flying in November 2011 and then for the SA Open in December.

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Porterville is located about100 km north of Cape Town and a good hour drive from there. The area is marked by a ridge of about 50 (!) km which is marking the end of the Cedarberg. The ridge is facing west towards the ocean (about 60 km away).

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Flying in Porterville is one of the best sites I have experienced so far. In the South African summer you can fly on more than half of the days. Between November – March you have a really great chance of fantastic thermal conditions.

But it is not for beginners. Or let’s say, beginners should start very early (starting late doesn’t work out on most of the days) and might have not a lot flying during the day. The good start window is at many days only for one or two hours before and around noon. Before you might not stay at the ridge and later the take off conditions can get very turbulent. But there are days where you can fly from 10 – 6.

Well, and then Porterville rocks. Most flights start with some dynamic and thermal flying along the ridge. You can go about 20 km South and more than 30 km North on the ridge. So if you the wind allows and you can fly the ridge completely in both directions you will get your (frist) 100 km fligth. My best flights (and that’s what a lot of people do) started with a few km to the south and then about 20 km to the north on the ridge. In the middle of the ridge you might jump over in the valley of Citrusdal and head there north as far as you can. If you reach Clanwillam you might have concluded your (first) 100 km flight. Often flights stop earlier as the winds get strong in the afternoon. So was my 68 km flight which you find here: http://xc.dhv.de/xc/modules/leonardo/index.php?name=leonardo&op=show_flight&flightID=300055.

Conditions are really strong and if you are only used to European flying it might remind you of flying in the dolomites or in Spain. I had a nice flight from Piketberg which illustrates that quite nicely: http://xc.dhv.de/xc/modules/leonardo/index.php?name=leonardo&op=show_flight&flightID=299140

It was 13 km in the flatlands and I used only two thermals: 6 m/s up and also 6 m/s down. It is for the first time really breathtaking. But you get addicted and want more!!! In the middle, these thermals are surprisingly smooth, but the lower you get the more turbulences will hit you. Also, to hit the inversion at the top of the thermals can be rocky.

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My second stay was during the Winelands Open. The biggest paragliding competition in South Africa in which of international pilots take part. That was such a good fun! The main problem is to avoid too much of drinking to stay fit for the next day of flying.

It opened for me another dimension of flying, of really trying hard to get some distance in. Even if you are not really competing, the buzz of it is very energising and fun.

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I learnt a lot about flying and improved a lot. Just to try to make the waypoints of a set track in the comp and to see what the others are doing teaches so much. I really can recommend every paraglider to try it once. It is fun and great training.

Here are some pictures from the comp. A few a borrowed from Itay Takserman, a great Israeli pilot I had a wonderful time with in Porterville.

Some practical hints for Porterville:

How to start there? I just checked in the Flyers Lodge (….) in Porterville. You arrive, can’t avoid to have immediately your first cold beer and will find yourself after hours still chatting with other pilots or the owner Rob Manzoni about flying in Porterville and elsewhere in the world. There are some modern rooms as well as dormitories. If you are not arriving in peak season, space is amble. There are not many options for eating out, but at least three restaurants cater for very good steaks and acceptable pizza or salad. Rob can give you good advice on the wheather situation and prints out on busy days the wheather reports including some more technical stuff.

For the days of flying I always used the fantastic services of Coral and Paul. They have by far the best informations on the internet (http://www.flyporterville.info/) and are posting daily on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/flyporterville). Paul can give you a great update about tomorrows and todays flying conditions including the recommendations where to take off and to fly to. Coral is organising retrieval. Basically, she is getting you a driver to fetch you in your own car. They got a radio, know the region pretty well and have done retrieval many times. Give them a call (+27.727806483) at best two days before you arrive and everything will be sorted out for you!

If it is not flyable, there are very few options close to Porterville (one or two hikes), but plenty of options if you drive a bit. The winelands start with Tulbagh about 40 min from Porterville, the Cedarberg are nearby though the best hikes are 1 – 2 hours away and the coast with the superb kite-surfing spot Langebaan is about 75 mins away.

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Not so wild Wild Coast

Blue skies, white clouds, dark cliffs, whales jumping, dolphins playing.

A country beautiful and divided, stunning and frustrating.

We had it all at a fantastic five day hike at the west coast.

We, that was Nadja & Markus (friends from Germany) and Sonja and myself, were hiking on the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape, North of East London. For those of you who are not too familiar with South Africa’s geography: It is at the southern coast about half way between Cape Town and Durban.

We started not much more than 100 km direct line from East London away. But still, the ride from East London is more than three hours. And the social distance between the places is even longer. Some of us came from East London, others from the Drakensberg. The tour starts in the former Transkei. Travelling through the former Transkei, now part of the Eastern Cape province, is a journey between first and third world. The coast resembles the Garden Route, but the “locations” certainly not. Transkei was one of the pseudo-independent and infamous homelands in South Africa. You can see the dire state of the region today. If you want to know whether it is true that 40% of South Africans are very poor (means living from less than 1, 25 USD per day). Just go to the former Transkei. It feels more like Zambia or Lesotho than like South Africa.

The road leads to a stunning landscape with hills and valleys from another dimension. You feel like little Liliputs in these grand surroundings.

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The small resort Wavecrest is nestled at the mouth of the Nxaxo river inbetween subtropical forests. You might see whales from your own deck. After a good and full cooked breakfast the decadence of an organised hike started. Our porters arrived from the next village and took our baggage. The slight feel of guilt is made up by the knowledge that employing porters and a local guide is the most direct way of channelling tourist money in the local economy…. Of we went through some wild banana forests and a light jungle.

The walk is gentle and the sea breeze cooling. After 14 km of light hiking (or more accurately walking) we reached “Trennery’s”. You feel set back in the good ol’ times. Everything is a bit outdated, but charming. So the Gin & Tonic just tastes better than ever. The complimentary snacks served with the sundowner were Kudu meat balls and local Oysters! The golf course and airfield are closed since long times, but pool and snooker billiard survived the times. A late addition is the trampoline.

Next day we went along the beach and over some rocks. The weather was meandering between sun and a bit of drizzling rain. The coast is just empty, empty and empty. We saw every few kilometres a local guy looking for some fish or fire wood. That’s it. Are there no tourists in the former Transkei? The infrastructure is non-existing. The start of this social disaster was just along our route. We are crossing the Gxarha River where in the mid-19th century the Xhosa girl Nongqawuse had the vision that the Xhosa nation should kill all their cattle and burn their grain to become unvulnerable for the British soldiers. Not only did the Xhosa warriors die, but about three fourth of the population of the area died of famine. It is said people turned to cannibalism.

We kept alive and after another hour of walk the river Kei is insight. The ferry carries us from Transkei to Ciskei and we are crossing a social and economic border as deep as through Apartheid times. On the other side is Kei Mouth, tarred roads and a nice Palm hut.

The coast is getting more rocky and even more stunning. We are reaching Morgan Bay and its Hotel overviewing the sea. From our terrace we can spot whales in not far a distance. In the morning, two groups of dolphins are playing in the water. Finally, the walk turns into a real hike and we climb over high cliffs towards Haga Haga. The beach is just stunning, the surf is great. It is wonderful to bath. The hotel is outdated and without any charm, but the pool billiard is matched by a music box. We can convince the barmen to hand in the keys and we have a great evening all by ourselves.

More deserted beaches are following for another 15 km. The walk is turning into a promenade. The wind is taking up until we reach the final destinations Crawford Cabins. More Gin & Tonics with a splendid few over the ocean is the climax of pampering ourselves.

It is a great hike through beautiful landscapes, remote beaches as you can find them only in Africa, a country divided under an endless sky and ashore a neverending sea.

A tale of two towns

A: „I live in Joburg.“

B: „—-„

A: „Yes, in Joburg.“

B: „I never could live there. Can you live there?”

A: “Yes, actually, I find this town really exciting. Sometimes challenging, but really, really interesting.”

B: “I never could live there. No beaches. So much crime. All the blacks.”

A: “This diversity produces such an energy. That’s really South Africa.”

B: “But nowhere to surf.”

I had this conversation abouth 30 times in the last month. Guess in which town B is living?

Babur Gardens

There is a good things about bombs in Kabul. You stay home and have time to post the pictures of your lovely day before: So yesterday, we were in Babur Gardens. A 300 year old garden built by one of the Moguls governing the whole of South Asia and living in Kabul. It was rebuild from 2003 – 2006 and is now a wonderful garden close to the centre of Kabul.It’s beautifully restored with some old graves, a mosque and some space for concerts and alikes.  On a Friday it is packed with families gathering for a picknick. A real oasis and treat, until the pack of 20 kids sitting around you and starring gets on your nerves.

Back in Afghanistan

Afghanistan 2011. Coming back after 5 years. It was very much unclear how that would feel like. Did Kabul change dramatically? How to rebuild the ties with friends from the good ol‘ times? How to get on with increased insecurity and eve more increased security efforts?

Is it allowed to say „Kabul was fantastic“? Yes, it was. An unbelievalbe hectic and drama at work. An even more unbelievable optimism with many (but by far not all) Afghans. The complexity of the surroundings and the limits of the daily live.

The city, at least in the centre, looks very much the same, though walls around international and government institutions have doubled in heigth. But otherwise, the dusty bowl of Kabul is still surrounded by the magnificient mountains with the snowcapped Hindukush in the far distance. Sand storms in the afternoon.

In the middle of the town, the percentage of women on the streets rose from 5 to 10 percent, now half of them without Burka. Well, can we call that progress?

The private life is even more limited than before. For every little visit you have to call in a car from the central dispatch monitoring all your movements (well, sort of…). The number of restaurants remained the same. Places with alcohol are even more limited. Still, party life is hectic and intense. The dance on the vulcano goes on.

My friends grew older. The young Afghan elite is preparing to take over the power. So the hope is on them and their dedication to found a new, better nation. But is not sure what is in the near future. A compromise with the Taliban is around and nobody knows how it would look like and how it will change the daily life of men and, more importantly, of women.

The international community is bend to the Afghan government in their hamsterwheel. SStill, after 9 years, a lot of 100 day plans are drafted right now and the drafting takes 200 days and the implementation is put on hold until the next 100 days plan is drafted. So, 10 years after the fall of those Taliban still the same wish to change things in 100 days? I can realign with most of the debates about economic policy and institutions instantly. Just because change and progress is so slow. I wish I wouldn’t have understand a thing….

But also, good things doesn’t change. Friendship and hospitality in Afghanistan have a depth rarely found somewhere else.