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Friday, July 27, 2012

My 30 Days of Ramazan - Day 4

I cheated today. I put a small bottle (1/2 liter) of frozen water next to my bed and woke about 4am. The alarm didn’t go off but I grabbed my bottle of now warm water and drank about half of it and went back to sleep. You older folks can sympathize. You know if you wake up early in the morning there is a very good chance you will not go back to sleep. Not true when I was much younger but this fear of not going back to sleep and not getting my rest affected my decision whether to get up or not. Probably subconscious but I thought my alarm was set but it was not.

Vineyard with disease problem near a Level 2 village in
northern Afghanistan
I got up at 5 am because I had staff going into the villages today early. I give the villages security numbers from 1 to 3. These numbers I establish from local reports of “undesirable” activity which might be a problem for myself or my staff. Taliban controls much of the rural areas while city centers are much safer. Those of you who understand, most of the security is handled by ISAF.  If a village is remote, it usually is not safe for any of us. This gets a “3” ranking. There are other villages which are safe for locals but not for me. If I do go into places like this I should spend only about one hour there and get out. I never tell anyone where I am going. I watch my driver. He is secure and I trust him but he makes mistakes too. He does not know where we are going until we go and he is not allowed to use his cell phone while we are gone unless it is from the office. Places like these are given a “2” rating. Then there are places that are relatively safe for us all and this is given a “1” rating. This morning it was a “2” so I was not going and I knew my staff was experienced enough to handle it without me. Before they go I brief them, cover what needs to be done and review and send them on their way.

I was having a hard time this morning. I just couldn’t wake up. I don’t know if it was the lack of caffeine or the dryness I felt in my mouth from the previous days but I just found it very hard to get going. So a little after 5 am I had a small (maybe two to three ounces at most) cup of coffee with extra Maxwell House freeze dried crystals thrown in. That did the trick. Now I understood why opium was used by some in extremely poor villages where there is little food. I didn’t need or want any opium but caffeine is a legal drug and got me on a little bit of a high for the morning. I was now on after burners.
Iranian glyphosate, same percent active ingredient as
Roundup Pro

I had salary contracts for staff to finish and didn’t get out the door until nearly 10 am. I had to test some Iranian glyphosate I found at the bazaar and see if it would help to control some of these woody weeds in our new saffron plots. First it was Iranian glyphosate so I had no idea if the label was accurate, secondly I was spraying some weeds I did not recognize at all. I didn’t even know if this would work. I had formed a saffron working group of educators and we were putting together four saffron demo plots to demonstrate how to correctly plant, manage, harvest, and process saffron. Saffron is very labor intensive and does bring in enough income to make a possible alternative to growing poppies. Some of these Extension agents had never grown saffron.
Saffron with straw mulch

Many of the farmers do not know how to grow it either and do it incorrectly. I was told that the local saffron was better than the Iranian and that is saying a lot. These plots, it was hoped and we did a good job of documenting for many illiterate farmers, would show them how to do it correctly. The spraying went well but it was hot and by the time we finished. I knew today would be probably one of the toughest days of the fast, at least regarding dehydration. Hunger had disappeared for the most part or it was covered up by the more acute dehydration. During the spraying I felt a bout of heat stroke coming on; intestinal cramps, dizziness. We finished quickly (as quickly as you can because these people are now my friends and there were lots of questions about what we were using, why and the rate of application and explanations were in full sun.)

When we got back to the office around 2 pm my staff had returned from the villages and had very good reports. That is always good to hear. My mouth was full of cotton. My voice sounded different. I could tell the dehydration had affected the sound of my voice. My lips were parched as well as my staff’s. I told them all to go home and rest. The Professor who was working for me, a very kind and devout Muslim, had trouble pronouncing some words as well. I had trouble concentrating. We all tried to conserve moisture by using as few words as possible. We all rested in the air conditioned office and spoke very little. After they all left finally at 4 pm I went upstairs and laid down to take a rest. As I did, I remember saying to myself, I am not hungry. I wonder why… as I dozed off.


  1. Hi Bob,
    I'm in Kingman, AZ and you came twice to our Urban Home Hort class earlier this year. Thank you for blogging your experiences for all of us that have no idea what's going on over there!

    I'm curious about a comment from a former coworker that is/was in Afghanistan far from you, maybe in Kabul. He said that the people there fertilized their vegetables with human fertilizer and of course, not able to be eaten (by people not used to this). Can you comment on this and verify or negate the validity of this? Thanks and I look forward to many more of your blogs. STAY SAFE!
    Janet Ortega

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Well I was wrong. I originally posted that human manure was not used for fertilizing vegetables. Although I can say it does not seem to be widespread, it does happen. I posed this question to two Afghans who have been working in Agriculture in the field. They reluctantly admitted that it does happen. One worker said she observed it being used on coriander and some vegetables in one district. Another said he saw it used in Kabul and in Jalalabad. So my original post was wrong and I removed it. I have not seen it practiced here. I raised the point about whether it is permitted in their scriptures. Another Afghan was going to ask a Mullah here and I will post and let you know.

      I wash all vegetables I purchase with boiled water (cooled of course) and do not eat leafy greens. I even wash the outside of the melons as well and of course tree fruit since it is often times shook from the tree and picked up off of the ground.

  3. Hi Bob, I was wondering when you harvest the saffron what is the temperature as the stamens will crumble if too dry. I also read they need to be harvested early in the AM for the best quality is that true? Do you need to dry the saffron for a good period of time after harvested to store and use? I am fascinated by saffron and love using it in cooking, but the bulbs we grow here are not very high quality.
    Really enjoy reading your posts. Send us a picture of your new look if you can. Keep safe.
    Peace and all good, Janet K.