KABUL, Afghanistan –

Many years ago in Bangladesh I was in a hot pepper eating frenzy. Then I stuck my finger in my eye. Blinded and flailing, I vowed never to do that again. It only took 17 years to break my promise (which is surprising since I normally break my promises much more quickly). Less surprising since I’ve been eating almost exclusively with my hands, and when I’m home tomorrow the first thing to go is the utensil drawer. I need that drawer for all the Afghan candy I’m bringing back anyway.

It’s good to be back – and interesting to see how Kabul has changed since October 2013. Expats once considered Kabul “Kabubble,” and it’s safe to say that bubble has burst. It’s no joke that the Taliban and other groups are following through on their promises to target westerners. A German woman was kidnapped two days ago in broad daylight – snatched right out of her car. The abduction happened 15 minutes after a security warning went out from INSO (International NGO Safety Organization) about increased risk of abduction in that exact neighborhood. (Insert wtf emoticon.)

The key – or at least we convince ourselves that the key – is to keep the lowest possible profile which means no visiting friends, no restaurants, and no shopping for my daughter’s upcoming birthday. I probably wouldn’t have been able to decide between the “Team Infidel” and “Somebody in Afghanistan Loves Me” T-shirts anyway.

Plus there’s no time to shop – I’m busy celebrating the groundbreaking of the Razia Jan Community College! – and finishing up filming of our documentary What Tomorrow Brings that features the first school Jan started – a K-12 school for girls in this same small village.

Razia Jan surrounded by village elders as they listen to students singing.

The groundbreaking was spectacular, and the girls were even more poised and beautiful than I could have imagined – singing, reciting poetry, giving speeches in Dari and English. To imagine that some of them arrived in 2008 unable to write their own names…
Jan only wanted the girls in the spotlight during the ceremony – and did they shine! To see all their fathers and the village elders cheering them on (as much as Afghan men cheer – they weren’t all pom-pommy or anything) made it all that much more of a celebration – not only because of what the college will make possible in the future, but also for what has been achieved so far.

When Jan opened the K-12 school 8 years ago, there wasn’t much enthusiasm for her project. But during this weekend’s ceremony, the men were all smiles and full of praise as one-by-one they laid the first bricks for the foundation.

To give you a sense of how much young women in this area want this college – the day after the groundbreaking, three teens arrived to talk to Razia. They’d walked eight miles to tell her their story: They are in 11th grade, but are worried that when they graduate, the college will be full. So they want to register now to attend in two years.

Senior Shakira recites an original poem. Behind her is classmate Mursal who is Master of Ceremonies for the college groundbreaking, and the youngest Zabuli graduate. Mursal is 14-years-old and has skipped two grades during her time at the Zabuli Education Center.

I’d tell you everything, but don’t want to have to announce a spoiler alert for the film. What I can tell you is that hidden in the college foundation is a candy treasure. Mounds of candy were dumped into wet cement at the close of the ceremony (save a handful pocketed by the mason). If you go after it, don’t be surprised by the sticky red stuff – that’s goat blood from the celebratory sacrifice. Don’t be sad. They feed the goat candy before slitting its throat. Seriously.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 11.58.13 PM A spoonful of sugar…

Today is Independence Day in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the fireworks they’re expecting aren’t the kind you want to leave your house to see. The General in charge of security in the city has assured everyone that “there is no security vacuum.” But maybe that’s exactly what’s needed. Dyson boasts the ability to pick up bowling balls, and according to its website, the vacuum giant “uses patented cyclone technology to spin dirt out of the air.” Trap the bad guys in a man-made cyclone? That sounds like a good plan to me.

The head of security for Deh’Subz District tells the crowd he is honored to lay one of the first stones of the foundation for The Razia Jan Community College.

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