| TOKYO, July 19
TOKYO, July 19 (Reuters Life!) - At first, she noticed
Afghan children hauling brush. Then, in Afghan family compounds,
she noticed women tending small fires and trying to cook over
But it wasn't until U.S. 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 U.S.
"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 U.S. aid money can't 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
an American 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, noting 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."
(Reporting by Elaine Lies)