Saturday, October 06, 2007

Is American Influence in Afghanistan Good or Bad?

Just when I hear how Afghan women are moving forward with the Afghanistan version of "Top Model," I hear about the child stars of the upcoming "Kite Runner" movie being in danger. I think it's terrific Afghan women are finally shedding their burqas and other Afghan women are showing them it's okay to do so. Modeling may seem superficial in a war-torn country where car bombings seem to occur daily and electricity is a luxury, but it's a step forward in advancing the country. It helps empower women.

As for the boys in the movie, because they acted out a boy-on-boy rape scene, their families and community feel as though they've shamed them. The parents feel as though they were lied to and not told what was the scenes entailed. From the Washington Post article (Kite Runner: Danger On and Off the Screen) however, the scene was dramatically changed and relies on the power of suggestion and not showing the actually act.

As I learned from visiting Afghanistan last year, pride and honor is very important. A similar thing has happened with the women written about in Debbie Rodriguez's book, Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil. Many of the women written about in the book felt their lives were in danger after the release. Their families feel as though they shamed them by revealing too much and a handful of the women believed Debbie took advantage of them. She left Kabul for a book tour in the U.S. and the women didn't understand her leaving. Upon her return, she was quickly removed from the country, her husband feeling as though she left in shame (under Afghan law, she'd need his permission to leave the country).

In an NPR interview, Debbie said the girls didn't understand what she was doing and plans to follow through on her promises. Last I knew, she was trying to get visas for the women to come to the U.S. I requested an interview with Debbie (I had written this article previously) to get her side of the story and she directed me to her publicist. The publicist ignored my request.

As for my thoughts about the boys starring in the "Kite Runner," I don't know what their families were told about the film and I'm sure they feel their lives are in danger. It seems whenever we (Americans) get involved in things over there, we can't do it right. We go over with good intentions but fall short of expectations, causing animosity and putting others i danger. What's the answer?

[Top photo: Young Afghan men in Kabul; Bottom photo: an Afghan boy in Istalif; March, 2006]

Planning a Trip to Use Your Passport? Consider the UK

I learned from a former travel agent friend the best place an American should travel when wanting to visit Europe: the United Kingdom (UK). Why? Her logic makes sense: when traveling outside the U.S., it's a bit overwhelming the first time and in the UK, English is spoken.

Things are a little bit different over there (they drive on the opposite side of the road and London hotels,
Edinburgh hotels and Glasgow hotels may be a bit smaller for our super-sized American bodies) but not overwhelmingly different (just bring a face cloth, they seem to be absent in Europe).

Having traveled to the UK several times, I can attest it's a safe, excellent destination to visit. The people are extremely friendly. I remember going out to a London pub by myself for dinner. All the tables were full but a family visiting from somewhere else in the UK invited me to join them. UK pubs have a warm, cozy feeling, almost like Cheers except everyone doesn't know your name when you walk in but will know it when the pub closes. The staff in the London hotels are friendly, too, looking out for their American cousins.

And hitting the town, one never knows who'll they'll run into. On my last trip to London in Feb. 2005, my UK reps took me out for a chichi dinner at a place called Oxo where we saw the real Bridget Jones! Renee Zellweger was sitting at the next table over, very cool. Not sure which of the London hotels she was staying at but maybe she was renting a flat.

I also saw the "Jerry Springer Opera" while in London. No, Springer didn't star in it but the play was based on his show. I love London's sassy edge.

While the people and activities are fabulous in London, Scotland is wonderful, too. You've already heard my evening with the porcelain god in one of the Edinburgh hotels (for those unfamiliar, I had food poisoning from a Thai restaurant) but I don't let that mar the pleasant experience I had in Scotland's capital city. From the folks at the visitor information center (which has Internet kiosks) to the folks at the hotel trying to make me feel better, I was surrounded by warm hospitality.

Unfortunately, my travels haven't taken me to Glasgow yet and I think I'd fall in love with the city, too. After all, "Glasgow" means "dear green city." Thanks to my friends over at, I've learned Glasgow is Scotland's style capital for it's buzz, edge and creative class. I imagine something like Seattle or Portland with all types of art everywhere and hip sounds floating from pubs. Glasgow hotels range in all types and although I'm usually brand-loyal, I'd stay in one of the trendy, boutique types.

Are you ready to visit the UK? Dust off the passport and head over to to find deals for London hotels, Edinburgh hotels and Glasgow hotels.

[Top photo: Look kids! Big Ben!; photo to the right: Not sure what I was doing but I liked the sculpture; bottom photo: roller skaters down a London street]

Mmm, Moth! It's What's For Lunch!

Ever hear of Marty Stouffer? When he was a teenager he explored and survived in the wilderness, documenting his journey. He's the creator of Wild America and is probably the most famous wildlife documentary filmmaker. Well, I know I'm not going to be the next great American wildlife photographer, but I caught this today. It's a bit hard to see since the lizard's green but pay attention and enjoy!