Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Getting the party started right

Every culture celebrates a special occasion in its own unique way; in the U.S. we typically have cake, balloons and music. In Afghanistan, they sacrifice a cow.

Our office covered the cornerstone laying ceremony for the new Afghan Defense University headquarters at Quarga in early April, where, after the typical speeches from various Afghan National Army leaders, a few ceremonial bricks were placed at the construction site ... and then the Afghans blessed the land by sacrificing a cow.

When I arrived at the construction site, I started taking pictures and talking to people, looking for a few good interviews for the story. One of my co-workers handed me a program and said, ‘Did you see their going to kill a cow’? Up on hill, overlooking the construction site, was a cow and two handlers. I wasn’t sure if really believed they would kill the cow or not, but indeed, they did. I had a front row seat; turns out I’m not that squeamish. I found out later they distributed the meat to families in need; nearby there was a refugee camp so hopefully some was brought there.
The ADU will be home of the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, a four-year military university modeled after the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a dining facility, library, clinic, post exchange and several additional military schools. Over the next three years, these facilities will be built on 1,500 acres of land that was once used as Ahmad Shah Massoud’s stronghold. Known as the Lion of Panjshir, Massoud is an Afghan national hero who fought against the Soviets during the Russian occupations and then the Taliban; he was assassinated, Sept. 9, 2001.

Although it will take a few years for the ADU to be finished and all the schools moved there, it’s a huge symbol of courage, strength and hope for the people of Afghanistan. They are consolidating their Afghan National Army training facilities in one central location, and this place will hopefully become synonymous with honor, security, educated and ultimately, the future of the country.

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