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USDA filmmaker David Black describes Afghanistan experiences

USDA filmmaker David Black traveled this spring to Afghanistan, where he produced a 17-minute film on the efforts of USDA agriculture advisors working in Afghanistan as part of intergovernmental Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

While he was away, he kept a personal journal about his experiences on the ground in Afghanistan. This excerpt is from April 28, 2009:

Our first visit of the day was to the Governor’s complex in Panjshir province, where we met with the province’s Agriculture Director.

We arrived, as usual, in a two-vehicle convoy including the requisite Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) military and Civil Affairs Team (CAT), our USDA Agricultural Expert, and our guards. The guards stayed with the vehicles while we were escorted to the Director’s office on the second floor of a large, well-built concrete structure. The office window looked out to a picturesque snowcapped mountain. The team sat around a conference table. We were offered tea and wrapped candies. The Director walked in, a gregarious man, small in stature, dressed in casual khaki, with a uniquely shaved goatee and a wide grin. He shook everyone’s hand and was excited to have the camera pointing in his direction. The group discussed ongoing projects in the area, success stories and allocation of resources to make some projects more effective. Then the Director personally escorted us to some successful projects in the district.

(Part 1 of 5; see the rest at USDA on YouTube)

First we visited a master beekeeper who was introduced to beekeeping by the PRT one year earlier. He was trained and given two hives to continue his training. He was so successful that he became the distributer and trainer for 400 families in the province. This enterprise gave families a model where they are able to provide bees to pollinate fruit trees and sell the honey produced by the hives. We were escorted into a mud-walled family compound and greeted by children of all ages. The beekeeper took the group through his cramped house, up some stairs and up to the roof. I heard a distinct buzzing that was obviously the excited bees.

The master beekeeper was proud to show us his hives, which he has increased from two to four. He opened some to show us a queen bee. He did this without any protective gear or smoker while bees encircled us! No one was stung and the visuals were outstanding. We also interviewed the beekeeper. Before we could reenter the house, however, the interpreter asked us to wait a few moments. As is custom, the man of the house ensured that the lady of the house was hidden from our view. Excited children and curious men are everywhere, but I have not seen a woman up close, even in a burqa, since I arrived in Afghanistan. In the villages, women distance themselves and walk on the side of the street opposite us or just avoid anywhere outside their homes altogether.

We said our goodbyes to the beekeeper. He offered us tea one last time and we thanked him and took our leave. He shook our hands and touched his right palm to his heart.

-David Black

Above, you can view the first part of this five-part series about the experiences of USDA personnel on the ground in Afghanistan. See the rest of the film, produced by Black and the rest of the USDA Broadcast Media and Technology Center, at the USDA YouTube site.

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