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0.0 Broll-Misc.

My name is Jonathan Hoffman and I am founder and director of Direct Aid

Broll-Misc. Permission
HOFFMAN: It started back in the late winter of ’98. I was watching the
exodus out of Kosovo, where the Albanians were being pushed out of the Kosovo p
rovince of Serbia. I had had some friends from Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia a
nd Macedonia when I was living in Long Island, so I was paying particular inter
est to this crisis that was going on and I thought that, you know, with all o
f the hundreds of thousands of refugees that were leaving Kosovo for Alban
ia and Macedonia, maybe my ability as a chef could be used in one of these foo
d lines for the refugees.
I started looking online and trying to track down someone that could use
my abilities as a chef, and all I found was people that wanted my money
and I didn’t want to just write a check. That would have been, looking back,
the simple way to get out. So I found a group called the Balkan Sunflowers.
They would take short term volunteers to work in the refugee camps and basicall
y, the application process was online and if you could make it to Tirana,
Albania, they accepted you into the organization.

2.0 And that’s what I did. I raised the money and saved some of my own money
and went to Bari, Italy by plane and train and then took a ferry to Durrës,
Albania and then met the Sunflowers in Tirana, Albania. I was there for
nine days and then they flew me into Pristina, Kosovo on a World Food Program
flight. And that’s how I started.
I started working with a small grassroots organization and I’ve stolen,
basically, my motto that is to try and bring a sense of normalcy to a crisis
situation. We’re trying to play with the children, give the mothers’ a break
and everything like that. And my strength is not with children... I didn’t
know what my strength was, but I wanted to help. Basically, they
determined that I’d be a very good networker and that’s what happened.

3.0 I was in Pristina for three weeks helping set up the local offices in K
osovo and working with different NGOs and different British military, trying t
o get names and numbers of people for the organization to proceed with.
HOFFMAN: I did four trips in Kosovo. The first trip was for just a littl
e over a month, in Albania and Kosovo, and I came back to Vermont and a
small, local newspaper did an article on me and that generated one phone
call and that was from a local church that wanted to sponsor me again, t
o go over there and do something They wanted my recommendation. I said that
if we raised the money, I could go over and maybe buy some food and
firewood and clothes for the winter. I could do it during my December break fr
om teaching.
4.0 The only restriction I had for this mission (or for this project)
would be that there was no message of Christianity or of Christ to be inc
luded with it, and they had to discuss that, but they accepted it and they
understood my reasonings. We are going to a Muslim country and I’m not really so
meone that wants to go out and preach the words of Christ. I did not want to m
ix messages here at all and I still don’t want to do that.
So we raised up about $3,500 and I made contact with my friends back
in Kosovo. I stayed with the Sunflowers and worked under their umbrella
for ten days delivering food, firewood and clothes and other odds and ends to
aid families living in tents. After that (it was a very successful mission)
, that got me going. I was pumped. I finally felt that I had a
sense of accomplishment. I went back that following summer and bought
livestock and food for another group of families though UNHCR (United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). One of the things that happened
(which is a really cool story), was that, when I was in Albania, I had b
een working in this small refugee camp.

5.0 On my third trip to Kosovo, I was delivering sheep. The first place we
stopped was a place we hadn’t visited. As we’re unloading the sheep, I
look at the little girl and I go, “Do you remember me?” and she goes,
“Yeah, you were one of the guys playing soccer with us last year in
Albania.” It was just totally out of the blue. There were only eight fami
there when I was in Albania.
Then my fourth trip to Kosovo was just a quick “in and out” to bring about
$600 or $700 back to that same family. I just got an email back from
their oldest son yesterday.
I did four trips. I wrote a ten page letter in one of my journals, in on
e of my email letters, to all my donors and families and friends, just k
ind of summarizing my trips. I sent it out at 7:45 on September 11th. People we
actually reading this summary....I thought I was done because the money
had dried up. People weren’t donating as much as before...
6.0 ....and it was just kind of ironic how that happened. So, I watched what
happened after 9-11, like everybody else. I’m not here because of 9-11 in
any way, shape, manner or form. That’s not why I’m here. So, I looked at
what was going on and we invaded them in late October or November. I
watched the process going on and in December, the juices started going
again. I talked with my family and friends and said, “You know, I really think I
could do something in Afghanistan.” I contacted Geneva at UNHCR
and they got in touch with people in Kabul (right next door to here) and
they sent in my request to fly field offices and four of them said “You’ve
got to be kidding. No way. An American in Mazar or Herat or Kandahar.”
7.0 Bechetti, Betina and Ghazni said, “We’ll take him. We’ll take him for the
month.” I raised about $7,000 or $8,000 . Mind you, I’m always paying
for my plane tickets and I’m not receiving a salary. You know, 100% of
what I brought in was spent here in Afghanistan and on all of the trips, so
I worked with Bechetti and Betina. We met and I stayed with them on thei
compound. They introduced me to two men, Mr. Luna and Mr. Kazemi.
With Mr. Luna, I did a well project in Pashtun territory in the Wagas Va
I have not been able to visit that well in over four years because of th
e safety and security issues for me and also the security issues I would b
ring to the village if I went back to visit. So I have been working primarily
in HajirAzad with Mr. Kazemi, who is known as General Kazemi, now
known a Haji Kazemi. He’s a parliamentarian in the parliament here in
Afghanistan. We’re working on schools number six and seven this summer.

8.00 We’ve done a three room school in Yakshi, a five room school in Karnala, a
six room school in Garmo, a three room school in (?), an eight room scho
(a girls’ school) in Batu and looks like a ten room school in (?) and (?)
, is an eight room school for both boys and girls. I’ve always got a library
in (?) just north of Kabul, that I did in conjunction with UNHCR out of
Geneva. They raised the money and I helped them facilitate the process of build
ing the libary and have kept it going even after they have
lost interest in it.
HOFFMAN: I get it from individuals. You know, just local people from all
over the world. I’ve met people in Kabul that have been impressed with my
work and they’re in Australia now and they still send me a couple hundred
9.0 You know, I got money from Sweden, England, France, Australia, Kosovo,
and I’ve gotten a lot from New England. But I also get money from California,
Washington State, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania....a number of state.
I think I’m over a dozen states. I’ve lost track. I give the money to Sharon.
I’ve got the addresses. I keep in touch with people
through post cards and letters and an end of the year letter. But it’s the
individuals. Local, working people. I don’t write grants. I don’t go
knocking on doors. I don’t ask for money. I tell people what I do and from
telling them what I do, if they give me money, I gladly accept it.

HOFFMAN: For the first four or five years, I thought it was very safe.
You know, I was able to travel fairly freely to Ghazni. I was able to
travel back and forth, no problem. For the last couple years, it’s gotten
a little dicey, to say the least. I am putting my life...You know, I don’t
like to say this...I’m putting my life in danger with every trip that I make
outside of Kabul. It’s hard to disguise being an American, no matter...
you saw...even when I’m dressed...growing my beard and darkening my
hair and everything like that. Even with all that, I still stand out.
I mean, we had a discussion with a bus driver the other day. He did not
want to take me on his bus...on his Kabul/Ghazni and I don’t blam
him. You know, not only is my life in jeopardy, but the people with
me...they’re lives are in jeopardy just by being associated with me, even
being in the neigborhood.
11.0 Right now it is (more) insecure and unsafe in all areas...even in Kabul,
than it’s ever been and this bothers me a lot. This bothers me an awful lot tha
t we have this growing insurgency of Taliban and disruption to an ordinary
life that is just getting out of control. And I don’t know how we can solv
that problem. I know what is causing...I have some ideas as to what is
causing the problem and part of it is just the drug money. These people are
just so desperate. Between being able to buy a male out of the family or
forcing a male out of each family in the Pashtun and the Pakistan area t
o fight is just causing it. I hear that there’s an extra 20-40,000 men this
year than in years past.
12.0 Now I haven’t been able to confirm that, but those are from reports that
I have read from Google. The people...and I say this about all the people
I’ve worked with...Pashtun...I’ve worked with Hazaras...I’ve met the Tajiks.
I can tell the difference between the Hazaras and the others. I really d

get into race or tribe and so I have a blanket comment about Afghanistan
that I’ve used and still believe. I say that the Afghans are the friendlie
people on Earth, if you actually take the time to get to know them and d
something for them and not do it the way we think it should be done, but
the way they think it should be done. You know, we come in with these
great ideas and think that, “No, its gotta be done like THIS” and that’s not
the way it should be done here. I think that we should have a little bit
flexibility and I think that we’re disrespecting their traditions and thei
cultures and I think that’s half of the reason why we... that’s the other pa
rt of it....
13.0 The other part of the problem here is that, you know, when we look at th
e Taliban and when we look at the Pashtuns of and Northwest frontier and
what I call “Pashtuna Standa”, the area along the Pakistan/Afghan border...
I call that “Pashtuna Standa”. That’s been known for centuries as “Pashtuna
Standa.” When you look at those people...those people are willing to fight
to protect their traditions and their culture, their religion, their way
of life.
And they’ll be damned if they’re gonna have even other Afghans tell them
how to live. That’s the other part of the puzzle. One part is is that you’ve
got the Al-Quada coming in here and influencing the Pashtuns and the
Taliban with their money and also with their intimidation. They’re very
intimidating. But the other part of it is that some of these people are
to die to protect their traditions and their culture and we don’t understa
that and that’s something that we’ve got to learn to do.
14.0 On the flip side, when you look at the history... we have...we’ve respecte
the traditions and culture of that region for centuries, both Pakistan,
Afghanistan and the West, in my opinion (and I’m just a cook), but I have
not seen us trying to influence their traditions and their cultures. But
we have a problem because they’re trying to influence ours with their
attacks, not just here in Aghanistan, but all over the world. And that
bothers me. So I think that not only should we be learning the respect
their traditions and cultures, but I really....have the other part of th
e problem
is that they’re not respecting ours and I think that’s one of the “crucks”
right there.
Broll -Adjusting camera
HOFFMAN: (nodding) Yeah. Yeah.
HOFFMAN: Well, when the Taliban actually pushed the rest of the
Mujahideen out and had control over most of the country, people were
pretty accepting of this because going back to the traditions and cultures of
the people. Even people who don’t support the Taliban anymore still have the same
traditions and cultures. I think that the Taliban really pushed their limit wi
th enforcing some of the laws and the rules, such as the beard or the burka or
television and stuff like that and then also the brutality that they
used to enforce that and the hypocricy behind it.
16.0 You know, they were telling people that couldn’t have televisions, yet the
y had a guy repairing their own TVs. So, you know, I mean, I don’t know. I
have not sat down with the Taliban. I have not talked with the Pashtuns,
you know, in Taliban territory. I have not been to Khost and Paktika to
speak with those people. But I can only assume that a lot of what they original
ly stood for was accepted by and large, whether you were Hazar or Taji. No
w a lot of people still fought for power and influence, but some of the thin
gs that they brought....they brought peace. You know, there was no war for
awhile. They had to do that through intimidation. But I can’t answer that que
stion fully.


HOFFMAN: That’s a good question. I haven’t been around interviewing
people, but I don’t think that the people generally support the Taliban. I
don’t even think that a lot of the people that are in their region want to be
with the Taliban...
17.0 ...want to support the Taliban...but (they) have no other choice
because there is nothing to protect them from that. These people are very
good at being able to weave their way in and out of a village and do night
drops and night letters. I mean, in Ghazni for instance, you know, they
just made a declaration that anybody wearing Western clothes would be shot.
Now when you just make those kind of....all you gotta do is just shoot on
e person and you’ve pretty well, you know, changed the fashion for a city.
So it’s through’s through intimidation that I think that they...t
hrough intimidation and through desperation on the part of the local people.
You know, these people that are growing the opium have no other choice.
They can get two dollars a bushel for wheat or four dollars a bushel of wheat
or let’s say....I don’t even know the numbers, but let’s say they can get ten
dollars an acre profit from growing wheat...
18.0 ...wheras they can get fifty or sixty dollars profit from growing opium.
What are you gonna do? Then the other thing is, is that they’re also force
d to do it. You know, I mean if you don’t do it, someone dies. If you want t
o stand for, you know, what you think it right, you’re not gonna live very
long. That’s the other part of the process. They’re not going to allow you don’t have any choice with the Taliban. You have no choice at all
. You know, if they tell you to ‘give me a son from your family to fight’, the
n you better do that or else someone dies. You know, that’s how they recruit
, as I understand it. You know, from everything I’ve read over the years,
that’s one of their ways to recruit. Of course, there’s others that will join
them because they believe in their cause, but by and large, a lot of these
people who are out there fighting are fighting because they know if they
don’t fight for this cause, then someone back home is gonna die for them.
What would you do? What would I do?
19.0 If I knew that I would sacrifice my life to save the rest of my family..
.I think that I would do that.
HOFFMAN: Yeah, I was on the road. I got back... I think the day a
fter or two days after. I heard about it as I was coming back on the roa
d. It’s just down the street from the Mustafa...from where I stay normally
, here in Kabul. I think the last count I heard was over fifty-six or fift
y-eight people died from it. Right across the street from it is where I go to d
rop off my postcards when I mail postcards to family and friends and donors
. It didn’t really affect me because I wasn’t here. I didn’t here the blast and
I guess I’m kind of glad to that. So in one part I’m aware but the other par
t, I’m oblivious to the danger here in Kabul because I wasn’t here for th
at. Talking with my friends, the locals here, they are very scared.

20.0 You know, we were talking about someone yesterday that near the Kabul
Bank, they heard a car backfire and everybody was looking for a ditch or
you know,looking to jump for cover. And I know that when I hear a loud bang, yo
u know, I’m looking for...I’m wondering what to do next. It was unfortunate. You
know, these things...I don’t understand why this happens. I don’t know what th
e statement was behind that. I don’t even know who generated that. Was that
an Indian generated? Or was that a Pakistani generated? Or was that a Taliba
n generated? You’ve heard a number of different rumors. I really don’t care beca
use it’s all in this big ball of steel wool that we have going on now in Afghan
istan. I don’t think anybody can ever really clearly define the purpose behind an
ything. There’s no good reason behind that kind of destruction. You know, I have
a friend, Jared on Chicken Street and I was down there a couple of days aft
er I got back and we were sitting there. Chicken Street is right around th
e corner from that. And I said, “So, how are you doing?”
21.0 “ Do we know what happened with the bombing the other day?” and he looks at
me and goes, “My friend,” he says. “If I were two or three minutes la
te for work that day, we would not be sitting her having tea.” Because he h
as to drive right by there to get to Chicken Street and he had passed the c
ar that had been stalled in the road (not the car bomb, but another
one) and he’s like, “If I had been two more minutes I was shutting
my know, on Chicken Street....I was getting out of my car and
I was shutting my door, the bomb went off. And then says that there was glas
s and dust and body parts flying onto Chicken Street. He almost was in t
ears over this. You know, the trauma. You seen the pictures of it and I mean,
just I can’t imagine the amount of “hamburger” that was just in the trees and the bl
ood in the streets. You know, a little six month old girl that lost her mothe
r and her know, she lived through the
blast basically unharmed, but her mother and father are dead. Now you’re
sitting here in this chaos and there’s this little six month old or one year old
kid and there’s....
22.0 know, the effect that it had on the psyche of this city,
and to a certain degree, the country....but mostly Kabul. You know, it’s a
little bit of an’s a big inconvenience for the guys o
n Chicken Street. It’s a big inconvenience on people. No, I take that back.
It’s a very small inconvenience on me because they have the road blocked off
now. You know, that’s the only inconvenience I’ve suffered from it. But it does mak
e you aware of the fact that at any time, at any day...
You know, I’m walking up Chicken Street yesterday, going back to the
Mustafa before it got dark, and there was this guy pushing a cart. There was
nothing in the cart except this blanket, with just this little lump on it. And
there was a guard over there and I’m looking at the guard and he’s looking at me
I’m looking at this guy, who’s looking at me, and he pushes the cart in
front of me knowing I’m gonna make the left to go to the Mustafa. Now, this is
how it affects me. I’m sitting here and I’m standing at this street corner,
smoking a cigarette, waiting for this guy to keep going.
23.0 And he pushes his cart up about twenty-five/thirty feet and looks back.
Now,normally I wouldn’t think anything about it, but what did I do? I walked a
cross the street....walked this way...and then cut back across because I didn’t w
ant to take the chance. That’s how I think here. I didn’t want to just walk by thi
s guy. Who knows? You know, I’ve been here for seven years, running the same pa
ttern of Chicken Street and know...Chelsea Market. People ar
e, if they’re looking for me, you know (and I do have a reputation...not in Kab
ul as much as Hajirizad), if they had
figured out...if they had put two and two together, I’m as easy a mark as
anybody. And even though I’m small potatoes, you know, what’s one little bomb? Fo
r me.So...or just to get an American. I mean, maybe they don’t even know who I
am, but they know that I’m an American who’s coming in and out of the Mustafa f
or the last four or five days. So, I’m very precarious about my travels now and
I’ve changed my clothes a couple times a day, my vests, my hats, my sunglasses
24.0 You know, I shave. I don’t shave. I do everything I can to try and mix it
so that if they’re trying to just use a verbal description of who I am, that
it changes on a daily/weekly basis. You know, call me paranoid, but call me
HOFFMAN: I think everybody here, by our standards, is in a povert
y situation, except for the very highest of officials. (Just talking about
the Afghan population.) You know, most people, if they have a job, it’s maybe
forty to a hundred dollars a month and you know, some of those people, there’s on
ly one male in the family that has a job and they might be taking care of
their family, their wife, their three/four/five children, plus their brother
or their mother and their father.
25.0 They’re living in squalor, I guess is the word. You know, in the countrysi
de, it’s a different kind of poverty I see. It’s one of just basic self-sustaini
ng. In other words, when you come to a village and you look at the land that is
under production for crops...for wheat...for potato...
HOFFMAN: Ready? Okay. So, when you go out to the villages...when
you look at what’s going on in each individual gotta realize tha
t, you know, they’re self-sustaining. And in other words, when you look at th
e amount of land that they have available to produce the crops to get them
through the winter or get them through the year...
26.0 ...their wheat...their potatoes...I see some radishes...maybe a little
scallion...but I don’t see green, leafy vegetables. There’s some peas being
grown, but most of it is wheat and potatoes. And then meat. And that is the
diet of these people. In other words, you know, coming from a chef’s point
of view and the little bit of nutritional background that I have, they’re not
getting a balanced diet. They have some milk. They have some yogurt. And
so these kids, we’re looking at three years olds that look like two year old
or one year olds, you know? And I mean, we saw a five year old the other
day that I could have sworn was two and a half. They’re undernourished. They’re un

This affects just everything about their body, and you know, then when y
ou see them out on the open plains, gathering these little scrub sagebrush
and they’re piling these big, huge bails of this stuff and then loading it on
their donkey and ferrying it back or carrying it back to village and then pili
ng it up. And that is their fuel for the winter, and that stuff goes up like s
27.0 I mean that stuff...that’s not like...they have the size of ten corge woo
d (which is a measure in Vermont for wood) and it doesn’t heat the same way.
It’s a very quick, hot flame and then it’s done. The poverty level out
there...I don’t even know...I think realize that they don’t have everything
that the rest of the world has, but they’ve been living that way for centuries.
I mean, this is the way they have lived. You know, they have lived off of the
land that they have in front of them and they try and grow some potatoes so
that they can try and get some of the basic elements that they need to get
through the winter. And they have to do it all from the crop land that they
have. If they have a good snowfall in Afghanistan, people get through the
winter okay. This year, they didn’t get a good snowfall. There are areas in
Afghanistan that did not get the wheat production that they needed to not
only generate enough food for them, but to make a profit to buy some of the
staples that they would need to balance out their diet.
28.0 But, they also did not produce enough wheat just to feed themselves for
the winter. We’re coming into another situation, coming into this fall and nex
t wintier and spring, how do these people get through? It’s going to be very
difficult. The population is always increasing and there’s only so much
land. Though, the land that you had is now being divided up between two
brothers with another ten people. That’s another burden on that piece of land. It’s
just not able to produce the amount of food that they would need.

There’s a poverty level here in Kabul that is different. I think that this
year, more than any year in the past, I have never seen so many beggars as I h
ave this year. People are flocking to the large population areas...mainly Ka
bul. (In) Ghazni, I didn’t see much, but I wasn’t out on the streets that much.
But I didn’t see a lot of begging there. (In) Bamian, I didn’t see a lot of
beggars. Actually, it was a relief not to have to say no, for once, to a
hundred beggers.
HOFFMAN: know there’s this one guy that I see next to
the Chelsea Market (and he’s one of the few guys I give money to on a regular
basis), but this guy is cut off at the hips. He is just from the hips up,
you know? I’m assuming that he was a Mujahideen fighter and he’s out there pr
obably begging for his family. I never ask him. I just keep moving, but I gi
ve him more than I give some people. You know, if I’m irritated with a woman in
a burka (and please understand that, you know, I have hundreds of beggers at m
e on a constant basis and it just gets f rustrating), there’s some th
at know me by name. “Mr. John! Mr. John!” So, just to get rid of them, I’ll give the
m ten Afghani. But for this guy, I’ll give him one hundred or two hundred Afgh
ani (two or four dollars) because I know he needs it.
30.0 We can’t address the situation of the beggers, and that frustrates me beca
use I walk the streets. I don’t have an NGO vehicle. This (pats leg) is my NGO
vehicle right here, you know, unless I take a taxi. And so I an inundate
d. The positive is that I get to know the people. The negative is that I ge
t to
know the problems that they all have and there’s many. There’s street kids
that are just begging and I don’t know their stories. I don’t want to know their st
ories because we’ve read about them. Everybody has a story here and it’s one...(em
otional) know, you could make up a story and it’ll be true because
they’ve all lost somebody, either to the war or malnutrition or to childbirth
. You know, they don’t have a father.
31.0 Their fifteen year old brother is the male figure and he might only have
a seventh grade education and then he has to go out and beg. You know, the
se little girls that I call my body guards out on Chicken Street, I don’t eve
n know their story. I don’t want to know their story. It’s not that I don’t care
. You know, how much can you take? I mean, literally, how much do I need
to know? How many more stories do I need to know to know that there’s a situatio
n here going on, that you can’t solve? I can’t solve the problems of the indi
vidual people here in Kabul. I can’t go around and give money out to every
begger that I see. And that wouldn’t solve the problem. It would get them
through a day. You know, that’s why I build schools. I’m not looking at today
. I’m not looking at solving the problems today. I’m looking at solving the p
roblems for the future. You know, I keep trying to tell the villagers, you
know, if you have a strong mind, you will have a strong body. I want to g
ive them the opportunity to educated themselves so they have the ability to
32.0 that they have the ability to reason so that they can then start m
aking the decisions that are neccessary for them to be able to make the right
decisions for themselves, for their family and for themselves as a communit
y, and hopefully in the future, for the country. You know, I know that if
you educate a girl to the fifth grade, that you have dropped the infant
mortality rate down. Okay? That is not something that I can solve today, but
I know that ten years from now, that that might have solved a number of
young women raising their children...that they will have a better idea of
how to properly feed their children and how to grow a healthier family and
build a more stable society. I’m not looking at today. I can’t address the needs to
day. I can’t give the money that I get to the people on the street. Do I give s
ome? Yes. You know how guilty it is for me to go out and try to get one dece
nt meal in a week for myself so that I can be self-sustaining?
33.0 And then you walk out of the restaurant and you got these five people wh
o are just sitting there with one leg...two legs....haven’t taken a bath...T
here was a guy on the street yesterday at, we weren’t going home
at ten o’clock...and there’s a guy in the middle of the traffic.
He’s still begging to try to get enough for food and something for his family
that day. He stands out in the morning. Who knows how long this guy has
been out there. You know, the stories are endless and I can’t address the
poverty level. You know, Kabul is just a overcrowded city that is just inundate
d with people that are desperate. There’s no way to solve the problem immediat
ely. You know, I wish that people would take the money that is being brought in
to this country and do something to address that problem. There is a way
to do it. I can’t do it. Not with the little bit of money I make a year. I m
ade $15-20,000 this year. You know, that was the most I’ve ever made. You k
now, that would address the needs of how many families for a day?
34.0 You know, it’s nothing. It’s a drop in the bucket.
HOFFMAN: It’s not that simple.
HOFFMAN: You know, I mean, I have a certain group of people that I have
rown accustomed to giving money to. So, I have my little group of kids and
a couple of adults that I give to. But I also can tell from their voice and
from their actions and from the baby in their arms, that they’re professional
beggers. Now, and I have been told by my friends here in Afghanistan, not
to give money. You know, from the locals here. “Don’t give money to the beggers.”
35.0 You can give them a pencil. I give balloons. I don’t like to give candy. I
don’t think that helps much. So, I’ve gone around giving balloons and
sometimes I’ll get pencils and hand them out. Occassionally, you know, I’ll
get four or five dozen socks I’ll bring with me...toothbrushes...I’ll give them to
the kids. Whether they bring them home and use them or whether
they sell them, I don’t care. It’s a combination of both. It’s a tought call.
There’s professionals out here. They have, what’s the term I’m using? They’re lo
oking for....not the hooker...but the....what’s the guy that takes care of
the prostitutes? You know what I’m talking about....the pimp. They have a p
imp. These beggers have pimps. There’s a guy standing over there on the street c
orner watching them, you know? Even the girls that I have of, you know, I knew
Ferita. I lost a friend. Ferita was my first girl bodyguard, you know, as we
used to call it. I would give her a dollar for a service. And the service was,
is they were my bodyguard.
36.0 All the meant was, “Here’s a dollar.” And that’s really all it was, but thejoke
was “You’re a bodyguard.” But at the same time, I did think that there was some val
ue to that because these four girls knew the street and if there was somethin
g that was going to happen, they were gonna take care of me. So, giveing
a couple of dollars to those girls was fine. Ferita was on Chicken Street w
ith me one day...I remember when I first gave her a dollar every once in
awhile....gorgeous little girl...I’ll send you a picture...gorgeous. You know, tw
elve years old with a face that to die for, you know? She could speak En
glish and she was pleasant. And at the end of my first year of knowing her, I s
aid, “This is my last dollar I’m giving you. (You know.) I’ll see you next yea
r.” No more money.
And the next year, I came back and she was selling books and pencils and
magazines and I said, “Excellent. Okay, at least you’re trying to give
something in return for the money.” And so I actually helped her by buying
her some books and pencils and stuff my second year there, to give her some cap
ital to work with.
37.0 Not a lot. Ten or fifteen dollars worth of stuff. I don’t have a lot of mo
ney, aside from what I give to the schools, but I devoted some to her. And th
at Fall, I’m at work and I open up the paper and in the little paragraphs in
the international section, there’s this one little article about a suicide bom
ber on Chicken Street that had blown up this young girl and an international
woman. I read it and I wondered... I knew I was gonna find out about it. I
come back the next summer. I hadn’t forgotten about it and I’m walking the street.
I don’t see the “rat pack”, as I call it. The four girls...I called them the “rat p
ack.” All cute as buttons. After a couple of days, I was playing chess with my fr
iend Amad Shaw and I saw three of the girls walking by. They were on the
street, trying to sell the pencils and stuff and I said, “Hey! What happened to
Ferita? Where’s Ferita?” and they go, “Oh, the pretty one? Oh, my friend. My f
riend. You don’t know?”
38.0 She was the girl that was selling a pencil to another international
woman...from whatever...I don’t know if she was from Germany or what...and then
this Burka came up...whether it was male or female I’ve never asked....never kno
w...but basically blew up the three of them in front of a place that I sit so
metimes and have tea. Right next door to this guy I have tea with once in aw
hile. Not Haji Hakeem, but this other Haji that I sit and have tea with two or
three times during my visit. It’s now being rebuilt and it’ll be one of the ni
cest structures.
You know, the begging...they all need it. Even if you’re a professional
beggar, you obviously need it because if you didn’t need it, we wouldn’t resort t
o it...our identity...our pride...would not allow us to do it. So, there’s
always, even with the professionals, a desperation to it.
39.0 You know, there’s these professionals, they put a little opium or a little
of the raw stuff on the kids so they’re like this (throws head back), just as
leep in the hot, baking sun. You, it just makes it look sick. You know, and
they beg you and they show you their medicine and it all has an effect. But
the effect that is has on me is that I see a Burka coming to me and man, I
want to avoid you at all costs and not because I don’t you, but because, “What’s und
rneath that burka?” You know, am I next? I mean, what do I do? How do I be
nice to people, yet protect myself? How can I tell you to go away and leav
e me alone, not because I don’t want to help you, but because you could potent
ially be killing me?
You know, and I mean this is the dynamics that I deal with. And then I g
o home. I go home and I feel really guilty about the way I behaved
sometimes because I get really angry with these people because they don’t
let up. They just are so persistent. One right after another as I go to the
Chelsea Market to get my little can of juice and a can of tuna fish, you
know, and maybe a chocolate bar.
40.0 I go by and every once and a while see the guy without the legs and ther
e’s a couple other little kids begging. I won’t give them money, but you know
what I’ll do? I’ll sit there and buy maybe four or five hamburgers and French f
ries and go, “Here” for four or five guys. I mean, just to try and resolve a little
bit of my guilt...a little bit of my conscience, you know?
I can’t starve for month. I’m really on a tight budget when I’m here. You
know, I don’t go out to the NGO bubbles and drink beer and order steaks and you
know, I’m eating the staff meal at the Mustafa for three dollars. Whatever
I order, whether it’s bamiyon, or whether it’s soup or whatever it is. I’m no
t out having a good time here. You know, I’m not trying to pick up someone
from Germany who’s, you know, that’s got a Master’s degree and you know, is ver
y attractive and pleasant and intelligent, you know? I’m not out here in the
scene. This is a buble. Kabul’s a bubble, you know? And these people have never
left this bubble. They don’t know what it’s like out of here because they can’t
because they’re restricted to leave their

compound. They’re restricted to leave their office. They’re even restricted

to where they can go and eat.
41.0 You know, there are certain places that you cannot go to if you work for
an NGO, in Kabul to eat, because it has not been UN approved. So, when you
are in this kind of a bubble, how can you address the needs of this country?
When the only people you know are the cook, your driver and your security
HOFFMAN: You know, I’m bad with names. I remembered Ferita’s name. She actu
ally gave me the wrong name when I first got to know her. She called herself R
aypia. R-A-Y-P-I-A. But it turned out her name was Ferita and today I foun
d out that one of the girl’s names is Shemilia. There’s something to that name.
I have not seen her this whole month and you know, last year I was leaving Ch
icken Street...I was saying goodbye to my friends because that’s my home.
42.0 I play chess. I drink tea with my Father Haji on Chicken Street, every d
ay that I’m here. He will call me today if I do not call him, wanting to know
if I’m okay, at five o’clock or six o’clock, if I don’t have tea with him. So,
I’m leaving Chicken Street for my last time. I’m saying goodbye and everythi
ng and the three girls are with me and they’re knowing I’m leaving and they’re not sa
ying goodbye. They’re saying, “We need a...we want a doll.” And this is the lea
st of my concerns. A doll? Ya know? A doll? I don’t need a doll, but these g
irls have been my friends and my bodyguard and my companions on Chicken St
reet for four or five years now and you know what? I didn’t promise them anythi
ng, but I walked away going...I looked at them and I said, “I’ll see what I can do.
“And get a dress for my mother!” I was like “I think I’ll hold off on that.”
So then, you know, I got home and it had occured to me. I was looking for
43.0 I was looking at dolls in some plastic toy store and there were Barbies
and stuff like that and I said, “You know, I don’t think this is gonna work.” And
that’s where you came in, Naeem, with a and your wife, Sonia...
I remember calling you and saying, “I don’t think Barbie dolls are would...” I didn’t
ven wanna go through customs with a Barbie doll, you know. I didn’t think that.
..I didn’t wanna give it to them. You know, and thanks to you, we found some app
ropriate dolls...some Muslim style dolls with the shawls and the proper d
ress. And one’s a Girl Scout and one’s a school teacher and one’s going to the Mosq
ue, I think is the three different styles we got. So, there’s some identity b
ehind it...some positive identity for these girls.
So, I got the dolls. I packed them away. They took up over half my space
in the suitcase, along with my toothbrushes and socks. Luckily, Haji takes
most of my clothes. I don’t have to travel with them a lot anymore.
44.0 And I get to Chicken Street this year and the girls aren’t there. And I
bumped into one of them about three weeks ago, but I didn’t have the dolls
and I didn’t just want to go back to the Mustaf(a). I want it arranged. I
wanted to have something a little better than that. So, I didn’t give them the
dolls then. I saw them a couple weeks later. Still the same situation and
yesterday I ran into one of the girls and said, “Hey, tomorrow morning.
10 o’clock. This guy’s shop. Jared’s shop. Be there. You be there at 10
o’clock and I will give you the dolls” and she’s like, “Okay.”
Now, I couldn’t get all three girls together because they’re not allowed.
..they’re not going to Chicken Street because it’s not profitable to them. I’m
the only guy walking Chicken Street. There’s only a few internationals.
Several years ago, Chicken Street was doing okay, but now between the bomb
ing and the lack of tourism, because of the insecurity, (and rightfully
so) I wouldn’t be coming to Afghanistan as a tourist in 2008.
45.0 They aren’t begging on Chicken Street anymore. The girls aren’t begging
on Chicken Street. I asked for them to all show up...couldn’t have that happen.
It turns out that Shamilia is married. Shamilia’s thirteen years old, okay? Or
fourteen. I never ask their ages. I don’t want to get too personal with the
se people because I don’t know. That’s not what I’m here for. I’m not looking for
stories. I’m not a journalist. So, here I am meeting this young girl this
morning. I’ve got three dolls in a plastic bag, covered up so no one will see
her with them, you know...know what’s in the bag. She’s promising me that one’s fo
r her, one’s for her cousin (who I thought was her sister) and then the third o
ne she promised to give to the thirteen or fourteen year old who’s married. S
o, here’s my wedding present to this young girl... is a doll. She’ know.
..I don’t even know...they hadn’t even formed anything yet...any body parts. Ther
e was no form to these girls. They’re thin as pretzels, you know?
46.0 They’re undernourished. They’re cute as buttons, but you know, they’re ten
years away from maturity, by our standards. And then I gave both families
fifty dollars. And I gave one to this girl and said, “This is for you. And this
is for Shamilia’s family” and she said, “Okay” and I said, “You promise? You promise
she goes, “Yes, I promise.” Jared was right there and he
goes, “I know her family. I will make sure that they get the money”...
telling the girl that (and the girl I trust)...I mean....and I gave them some
toothbrushes and some socks and I felt better, you know? Maybe she’ll leave me
alone the next time she sees me on Chicken Street because she’s always asking me
to buy a magazine that I don’t need. But they all are so desperate that w
hen I walk Chicken Street, even the shopkeepers need my money, you know?
I mean, you want a bargain now? Go to Chicken Street. These people will sell i
t for less than they got it because they just need money...some of these gu
ys. You really could take advantage of these people on that street. And you c
ould do it all over Kabul, as well, you know?
47.0 These people are really desperate to just get an influx of cash, even if
it’s at a loss.
HOFFMAN: Really? That’s the understanding? Outside of the world or
here in Afghanistan?
Hoffman: Oh, ok. Good. (laughs) Thank you.
HOFFMAN: (laughing) You really wanna....
HOFFMAN: No, I won’t.
I think that if you have gotten to Kabul in any way, shape, manner or
form, whether you’re the large NGO or the small NGO, in the begining, your int
entions were good. I will give everybody that benefit of doubt. And after th
at I will say that there are some people who...still well
d they’re here out of...they really want to make a difference. And then I’d say t
hat there’s a lot of people here who are just looking to olish their resume, stil
l thinking that they’re well-intentioned.
49.0 And I have a hard time with that, you know? I have a hard time with
someone...and I’m just throwing out numbers...I’ve never seen a paycheck...but I’v
e heard the rumors of up to $100,000 for a three to six month contract b
y some of the consultants that are here, you know? Up to 40% of the money
that the U.S. gives to Afghanistan in the form of aid never leaves the United
States. I think it’s even high than that, but when you start looking at...w
hen we start talking about the millions of dollars that we give...or the
billions or dollars that we give to aid to Afghanistan or any other country...
when you start looking at the fine print back when they make these legis
lative decisions back in America...a lot of it is in the form of Ford Rangers
for the police...USA ID contracts for government organizations that are h
ere to develop Afghanistan in the form of salaries....
50.0 ...and room and board and vehicle and computer and air conditioner and cell
phone and transportation costs and medical costs and insurance costs...
that’s at least 40% right off the top. Never even reaches...
HOFFMAN: What’s that?
HOFFMAN: You know...I mean...I bring 99%....I can truthfully say that at
least 99% of the measley amount of money that I bring is given directly
to the Afghans in one way or another, okay? I mean, I pay for even part of
what I live off of here in Afghanistan is out of my own pocket. At least half
of what I spend here in Afghanistan in the form of food, room/board and
transportation is out of my own pocket. I don’t even take that out of what’s
donated to me. And I pay for my own plane ticket. There are some good people h
ere doing some great work. They’re in the smaller NGOs like me...
51.0 ...not trying to make a name or...we need to make a name. I mean, that’s
why...I mean, I want to make a name...not for myself but so that I can raise
more money so that I can do more. I want to show people how to do it.
You see, we are so worried about assessment and I don’t know what else, but thes
e people just can write documents and assessment after assessment. and they
never even visit the project. And then if they visit the project, they
visit it once and then they leave. It’s too insecure for them to go. They’re
too scared or they’re too restricted to be able to leave Kabul so they can’t
even go down the road to Logar...half an hour down the road because “it’s too dang
erous.” Okay? Or up the road....past Mir Baccecut. I mean, there’s all these securi
ty restrictions, and so that is part of the problem is that...people tell me
not to travel and because...of what the NGO r estrictions are so they assume t
hat I should follow those. You know, I guess I’m willing to put my life on the
line, in all honesty, and know I’m not saying this for a camera, but I’ve been do
ing it for eleven trips now. I’ve been doing it for seven trips to Afghani
52.0 I’m willing to put my life on the line to prove that you have to put your
on the line to get something done here. You can’t do it from an office her
e in Kabul with a cell phone and a computer. You have to... you, personall
y... have to. Not an Afghan. You have to go out and help the Afghans. You hav
e to oversee them and make sure that the Afghans aren’t cheating you. I
mean, I love them, but they’re so desperate that I mean, they could just out
there and take a picture of a school and say, “Hey, Jonathan. Here’s your school.” Y
ou have to go out and visit. You have to negotiate with the villagers. You h
ave to have that cultural interaction with them. You have to show them that y
ou’re here to help them, not just, you know, here in your office. You know
, there’s good people here and they’re well intentioned and I don’t care if yo
u’re working to try and build a humane society for the wild dogs and cats in
this...I don’t care. Whatever....wherever you heart follows you...follow it.
You don’t have to do what I’m doing.
53.0 If you want to work with the orphans, work with the orphans. They need i
t just as much as the rural schools need to be built, you know? If you wan
t to try and build a soup kitchen for someone here in Kabul, God bless you. D
o it. Don’t just sit there and say, “Well, we should do this.” You know?
There’s a grass...there’s one government here...and I won’t mention it and I looked a
t...they have a grassroots project. You can get $100,000. And one of my collea
ges here, with an Afghan NGO...wanted him and I to hook up and get $10
0,000 grassroots project. For about $100,000, it’s an eleven step process a
nd a nine month process. Eleven steps over nine months. For $100,000? Fo
r a measley $100,000? This is how you’re gonna solve the problems in Afghanista by writing a proposal...sending it to one person, having a me
eting, rewriting your proposal...sending it to another...There’s literally eleve
n steps to it. They show you the document. They tell you the timeline. For $
100,000. You know? Because the camera’s in front of me, I won’t what I really thi
54.0 ...and how I’d really like to say it, but it just frustrated the daylights
of out me. With the billions of dollars that we have given...over decad
es.. over the the entire planet...whether it’s in Africa...South America...Centr
al America or here in Afghanistan or in Pakistan or wherever...we are so ti
ght with...everything’s gotta be like, “Well, what are you gonna do with it?”
You know what, these people aren’t going to gambling casinos, you know? They’re no
t out drinking. They’re not out prostituting. They need money. The root of the
problem is that we don’t give the money directly to the people and then allow th
em to do something with it. You wanna solve the problems of any country,
whether it’s Iraq and Baghdad or whether it Kabul or whether it’s Hazarajat. Cold, hard cash. I would love to be able to just give out billions o
f dollars of cash all over the world to the people that need it the most
and then not look back. People say that’s stupid. Oh, “This is gonna happen.
..thats gonna happen.” You know what? It would generate an economy. Generating a
n economy would mean if you gave me $100, what am I gonna do? I’m gonna go o
ut and buy a new tire for my truck. I’m gonna get some formula for my baby and I’m
gonna get some shoes.
55.0 What have you done? You’ve just gotten three merchants working. And if
everybody was doing that, every merchant would be out there calling in more ord
ers and getting things. And then they would have to hire somebody to help
them watch the store. You’d be building an economy. If I bring $10,000 into thi
s country, it generates into $70,000 over the year, from what I’ve been told by
economists, you know, just professors that I’ve talked to.
So, could you imagine if you did that with billions of dollars or millio
ns or dollars or hundreds or thousands of dollars? We’re sitting here spending
millions of dollars on people sitting and writing papers and making sure
that their computer is dust-free.

HOFFMAN: a whole. Yeah, and I haven’t...I’ve lost track. The
numbers have changed since I first started, but I remember signing contract
s for the Well Project, and everybody took a pen ...
HOFFMAN: Make-up? (laughs) Sorry. I could use a lot.
57.0 I remember going...Let’s start over again. I remember one of my first
experiences was going to the village of Seven Stones to build the well and
we signed the contract and everybody...the village elders have signed the
contract...They took a pen and they colored their thumb and they put their
thumbprint on there. In other words, they don’t know how to sign even their
name. They don’t even know how to spell. And this was seven guys. And they wer
e asking me for a school, but I was uncomfortable with that. I didn’t have the mo
ney for a school at that time for that village. And I’m glad I didn’t because it p
robably would have been destroyed by now, being Pashtun territory, now u
nder Taliban control. You know, I went to another village in Garmo and I s
igned a contract and it was a little bit better educated.
58.0 Everybody signed it with a signature, except for one old man. And they
took his thumb and they colored it and they pressed it on the paper and he
just looked at that piece of paper and realized that he was the only one. And
he was very happy to see that we were building a school, but I also think
that he felt a little remote or just out of place...that he did not fit in with
them, even though he was one of the elders. But it also to me, was a contrast
of the future and the past here...of what could happen.
You know, I drive along the Kabul/Ghazni road and there was a beauti
ful school built right there on the side of the road that was there for two
years and then it was destroyed by the Taliban. I don’t know why they want to
destroy schools. The only reason I can come up with is that they don’t want
people to have an education because once you have information, you can make you
r own decisions. And once you can make your own decisions, they have lost t
heir power. And I think that’s what it’s down to for them. They don’t want people dis
puting their stand.
59.0 What they say, is what they want you to believe and that’s it. So, if ther
e is a differing opinion, they’re not going to want to accept that and that’s goi
ng to happen with education. Information is power. I believe that. The mor
e information we have, the more knowledge we have...the better decisions w
e can make for ourselves and for...whether it’s here in Afghanistan or
anywhere in the world. Information is power. The educational system here,
you know, after the Taliban fled in 2001/2002, there was a huge influx..
.millions of kids coming back to school. And there was an estimate of up to
2,300 schools a year for the next five years needed to be built, just to addre
ss to immediate needs. That hasn’t even been started, you know? I’m in Hazarajat a
nd you know, I think there’s 580 villages that need schools or that need som
e form of educational support, you know? The educational system in most of Af
ghanistan is one where, you know, you don’t even...I don’t even ask where the teac
hers come from because I already know.
60.0 You graduate...if I’m teachers graduate from High School... and
the best students...and then go back and teach the lower grades. Sometim
es, in some villages, if you’ve graduated from the fifth grade, you teach the
fourth grade or the third grade...not even graduating from the twelfth grade.
My concern is not whether I have a proper education system in the village
that I build a school in. I am the start. I am not the finish. I’m not the
answer to everything. I build them a school. They go to school in a building
. I’m sending them a message that education is important. The village is sendi
ng a message to the children that education is important, and I think over tim
e, like everything else, I’m looking down the road. I’m looking generational, yo
u know? I’m looking two generations down. Maybe by then, you’ll have a colle
ge educated student from that village, that is now back giving back to his comm

The illiteracy rate here is well over 75% still. Most people can’t read/write. Wha
t little they know is from word of mouth, you know? A kid kid’s la
ughing at a friend of mine, Ahmad Shaw, because he was writing down the word vom
it, of all things, because I told him about my stomach illness and he was writin
g it down. V-O-M-I-T. And the guy was laughing at him. “Why can’t you just remember
it from hearing it?” and I looked at him and I go, “Look. You read it. You write it
. You say it. You remember it.” And Ahmad Shaw is like, “Yeah, you see” and those are
the things that they don’t understand. They’re used to just hearing it and remember
ing it and a lot gets...that’s the problem here. Everything is by word of mouth, a
s it’s been for centuries...millenia.
So, the educational system is nowhere near complete. It’s gonna be decades
before it is to any kind of a standard that is acceptable by Western
standards, per se.

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