Friday, October 26, 2012

Traveling Homebody

I'm a homebody by nature, which is why it was so surprising to find myself leaving my cozy condo in Marin County for a life of constant packing, moving, and unpacking every couple of years and living in places that are not "home." After more than 7 years of this lifestyle, I've discovered that the closest thing to "home" for me is a hotel room. I get to visit my real home in California only rarely, and the last few places I've lived what could be called "permanently" have not been very homey.

As much traveling as I do, I guess it's no surprise that hotels feel more like my home away from home than my actual living space does. My last night in Kathmandu was not spent in the place I lived for 2 years, but in Dwarikas Hotel and it was nice. When I go on vacation, or even when I'm transiting for a night, I take great care in selecting the hotel.

There's a "welcome home" kind of feeling I get when I walk up to the check-in desk. And there's a warm familiarity to the bathroom toiletries, the robe and slippers, and the room service menu. Sad maybe. So you'll forgive me if my taste in hotels has become quite snobby. It's not just a place to sleep, it's my home away from home away from home.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Afghanistan's Newest Role Models

If the only thing you know about Afghanistan is what you see on the news, I would bet that your view of the situation here is pretty pessimistic. So let me share something that gives me hope about Afghanistan's future. One of the biggest grants I manage is the Afghan Premier League, the country's first national sports league. The league consists of 8 teams representing 8 regions of the country; Men from different tribes and ethnic groups playing together as teammates.

The teams shake hands before and after the match.
Our grantee, the organizers of the league, has done an amazing job. They have raised the bar on professionalism in sports, demonstrated that corruption and favoritism have no place in the league, and given all Afghans a reason to cheer. Most importantly, and most remarkably, they have created role models for the country.

In addition to athletic conditioning and team practices, team members received instruction on how to behave on and off the field as brothers. They visit schools and youth clubs to spread messages of good sportsmanship and national unity. There are no fights on the field, no cursing at the referees, no scandals. And this example has set the tone for the fans.

The fans enjoying a pleasant afternoon in Kabul.
One concern I had at the beginning was that this experiment in sports diplomacy could backfire if the players or fans adopted a hooligan style of soccer. But although some of the players will mimic the over-acting of some soccer stars when they come into contact with an opposing player, they've managed to remain civil and respectful.

The league has taken the country by storm. I was lucky enough to attend a match one afternoon - in the VVIP box! (Even though the Department doesn't think I'm worthy, it's nice to know someone does. I have the ticket stub to prove it!) I'm thrilled to be a part of this project. In no way can I take credit for its success, but I can do everything I can to make sure the embassy continues to support it.