At first, she noticed Afghan children hauling brush. Then, in Afghan family compounds, she noticed women tending small fires and trying to cook over them.
However, it was not until US diplomat Patricia McArdle realized how often it was sunny in Afghanistan that she put it together with a youthful memory of cooking with solar ovens and realized this was a low-tech option offering long-term hope to the war-torn nation, which is preparing for a draw-down of US troops.
“My concern is that it [renewable energy] really hasn’t been part of our talk of reconstruction,” said the now-retired McArdle, who spent a year in northern Afghanistan from 2005 at the end of a diplomatic career, in a telephone conversation. “My hope is that we will focus a bit more on renewable energy as we start to pull out.”
The solar ovens — basically a box covered in aluminum foil that can cook food by concentrating the sun’s heat, which McArdle now promotes as inexpensive, renewable energy — fits neatly into what she sees as a long tradition of sustainable living in Afghanistan.
One example is “cob,” an age-old Afghan style of building that uses mud, chopped straw, sand and dung to build thick-walled structures that are naturally warm in winter and cool in summer. Yet US aid money cannot be used to fund buildings like this due to requirements that all construction must follow international building codes.
“They’re remarkable farmers, remarkable builders. I’ve seen satellite dishes built by Afghan craftsmen out of old salad oil cans,” she said. “These people are creative, they’re resourceful.”
Solar ovens make an appearance in Farishta, a novel about a US woman stationed in northern Afghanistan based on McArdle’s own experiences, with the main character wrapping herself in a burqa and sneaking out of the military base where she lives to bring the new technology into Afghan homes.
That is one of the few incidents in the book that is not true. Most of the others are, including several ambushes and the time when the main character, Angela, took part in buzkashi, the Afghan national game in which horsemen try to snatch a beheaded goat or calf carcass.
“I thought more people would read a fictionalized account, but I also met and worked with a lot of people whose names I couldn’t reveal publicly,” she said, saying that she had originally thought of writing a memoir. “I wasn’t there as a spook or anything — I was a State Department diplomat — but I still couldn’t name a lot of names without compromising people. So for those reasons, I decided to write a novel.”
Despite Afghanistan’s decades-long history of troubles, McArdle, who surprised herself by falling in love with it, said she still clung to hope that the future would prove better, a feeling represented in the book by a pair of intelligent, educated young lovers.
“Those two characters are composites of young people I met in Afghanistan who were challenging the system. They’re not religious fanatics, they don’t want to be violent,” she said. “They respect their culture, their religion and their country, but they do want to move into the 21st century.”
The onset of summer has sparked a rise in incidents of “mask rage” in South Korea as more hot and bothered commuters either refuse to wear face coverings or leave parts of their faces exposed. In South Korea, Japan and other countries in East Asia, widespread mask wearing has been cited as one possible explanation for the region’s relative success in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic under control. South Korea, one of the first countries outside China to be affected by the virus, flattened the coronavirus curve in April, although it is now struggling with dozens of daily cases, mainly in and around
‘WOULD NOT COMPLY’: The company’s user data are kept in Singapore and it would not turn the data over to Beijing even if asked, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said Social media app TikTok has distanced itself from Beijing after India banned 59 Chinese apps in the country, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters. In a letter to the Indian government dated on Sunday last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the Chinese government has never requested user data, nor would the company turn it over if asked. TikTok, which is not available in China, is owned by China’s ByteDance, but has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience. Along with 58 other Chinese apps, including Tencent
‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM’: Hong Kongers will never bow to Beijing, the advocate said, while the US’ envoy to the territory called China’s new security law a ‘tragedy’ The world must stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory, advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said yesterday, vowing to continue campaigning for democracy. Wong, one of the territory’s most prominent young advocates and a figure loathed by Beijing, was speaking outside a court where he and fellow advocates are being prosecuted for involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests. China last week enacted sweeping security legislation for the restless territory, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a wave of fear through the territory, and criminalized dissenting
CHANGING PERCEPTIONS: In its tender, the Hong Kong administration said that it had failed to ‘mobilise the community to support law enforcement actions’ The Hong Kong government has agreed to pay millions of pounds to a discreet London-based PR firm to counter coverage of the territory in the international media. Consulum, which has also represented Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was on Monday awarded the ￡5 million (US$6.2 million) one-year contract to improve Hong Kong’s reputation — the same day that China passed national security legislation targeting the territory. The Mayfair-based PR business was founded by Tim Ryan and Matthew Gunther Bushell, two former employees of Bell Pottinger, an agency that has been criticized for representing some governments and leaders that other businesses