Saturday, October 26, 2019

Yellowjackets


A bee or not a bee?


For the past two weeks I have been intrigued by this bright yellow coloured 'bee' seen here diving deep into a rose. Unlike a regular bee however it did not limit itself to flowers. 

They could be seen just about everywhere in Kabul - perched on Thuja leaves, hovering over lawn grass, and even locked in a mortal combat with a black ant!



Turns out that this is not a bee at all. According to Wiki, this is a species of social wasps called the Yellowjackets - "They can be identified by their distinctive markings, their occurrence only in colonies, and a characteristic, rapid, side-to-side flight pattern prior to landing."

Wonder why they outnumber the regular honeybees...



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LINKS

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowjacket

Friday, October 25, 2019

Farsi Friday


It's Friday today - the weekly holiday - and Farsi is on my mind.

Here is Afghanistan two languages dominate the sound-scape: Dari and Pashto. Last year, when I first landed at Kabul airport, I was amazed to hear the driver who came to pick me up, ask somebody, "Kujo ast?" - and I understood the meaning perfectly!

Then at my workplace, I heard a colleague asking for a "Kainchi" and I knew without looking up that he wanted a pair of scissors. As days went by the list of familiar words got longer and longer - Charkhi (rotate), Hal (solve), Kharid (buy), Khwaab (dream), Daan (gift), Giriftaar (arrest), Pasand (like), Mushkil (difficult), Khushi (joy)... Just about all the words I assumed to be Urdu actually belonged to Farsi!

It turns out that Dari is the same as Farsi, the language of Iran and much of the former Persian Empire which included not only Afghanistan but also Iraq, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, and parts of southern Russia. It is spoken by no less than 110 million people! Countries that belonged to the former USSR stopped using the Farsi script and adopted the Russian script.

Now if the words sounded so familiar, how long would it take to make sense of the written Farsi script? The curls, dots and squiggles on banners, shops and books looked completely different from the 32 letters a friend wrote down for me. A search of lessons on YouTube followed, and I gradually learnt that the letters when written together take on completely different shapes.

I continue to be confused by letters that sound similar:
"A" can be آ or ع
"Ta" - ط  or  ت
"Se" - س or  ث
"He" - ح or ه
"Za" - 4 options (!) - ظ ض ز ذ
"Ga" - غ or  ق

It may take a while to get a hang of the written and spoken language but until then, we have music! Here is a sample of some amazing Farsi instrumentals by Mehdi Aminian -




Thursday, October 10, 2019

A Banana in Afghanistan


I was stunned today - by a banana!

Just after I had finished my breakfast in Kabul, I went across to the fruit counter and found three options - mandarins, apples and bananas. Of the options available the banana seemed the most 'user-friendly' - easier carry in your bag, to peel and eat.

Surprisingly, this particular variety looked perfectly ripe, but was not so easy to peel. Curious to know the variety I turned it around to find a sticker on one side. It said "Sabastiano Premium Eduador"!

Let that sink in. Here in Kabul, Afghanistan, I was holding in my hand one of the great wonders of global supply chain logistics. Here was a fruit grown by farmers on the opposite side of the globe in South America, transported across the seas and mountains, covering a distance of more than 15,000 km before it reached its destination - a DFAC dining hall.

While writing a blog in 2014, I had learnt that three companies - Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte - controlled more than 60 percent of global banana exports. 

In  tropical South Asia which is home to dozens of varieties of bananas available at much cheaper rates, it is a wonder how commercial logic enables agricultural products to travel insane distances!


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LINKS

* Banana production in Ecuador - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_production_in_Ecuador

* DW (Jan., 2018) - https://www.dw.com/en/world-in-progress-toxic-banana-production-in-ecuador/av-42098343

* Sharbatly Fruit - http://www.sharbatlyfruit.com/