Sunday, December 24, 2006

Guards and Guns

As I mentioned before, when we moved from our old house, the international staff split into two separate houses, just a block away from each other. Nathan is at the other house, so we take turns going back and forth to feed our Battlestar Galactica addiction. Tonight it was my turn to walk over to his place. Of course, I’m not allowed to walk even a block by myself, so I had to wait for one of the drivers to escort me. I do, however, absolutely refuse to drive the teensy distance, so we walked over together in the snow. It is really beautiful tonight – it’s been snowing since this morning so the ground is covered with fresh whiteness – a perfect Christmas Eve.

After watching a couple of hours of Battlestar (we just made it into season three) I bundled up for the walk home. As I walked to the gate, the guard asked me to wait for a minute and then he re-appeared, with his big gun in hand. We walked down the middle of the quiet, darkly snowy street, the guard several steps ahead of me, and I thought about how much money that gun cost and how many children it could have fed. I am an NGO employee. I work in humanitarian aid and development, why am I being escorted by a man with a gun? Does development work in an environment where we have to be protected by guns? Doesn’t that go against the idea of humanitarian assistance? There was a time when NGO workers were safe because of their role as 'helpers to the community', but I suppose medical workers and journalists were also considered “untouchable” once upon a time. The highest number of injuries and deaths to aid workers used to be car accidents – now it is targeted attacks.

This summer at the DC office I had an incredulous reaction when one of my colleagues told me that our Afghanistan office had armed guards. And now they are escorting me to and from my movie night.

No Eggnog This Year

Nope, not for me. I’ve sunk to new lows. My holiday drink of the season is V8 with Tabasco and fresh garlic, served hot in a holiday mug (okay, it’s not a holiday mug, but it has some red on it). It’s fantastic! Really, you should try it. Okay, maybe not. In fact, it is horrendous. Not even vodka could make it worthwhile. But, some quack website claims that it helps cure/avoid sinus infections, so I’m giving it a go. Don’t try this at home, kids.

As those of you who know me will remember, last year I spent Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, outside of the Church of the Nativity, in pouring down freezing rain. Then I spent a week working with a nonviolence conference in an unheated school, also in Bethlehem. By New Years Day I was ragingly ill, and it took me two months and 3 rounds of antibiotics to kick it. So, this year I’m taking matters into my own hands. I’ve had my first nasty cold of the season, and I can feel everything settling not-so-comfortably into my sinus passages. Well, screw that! I’m going to drink tomato juice/Tabasco sauce/garlic beverages; I’ll lean over a bowl of steaming water with a chador over my head to keep the humidity in; I’ll take the goddamn vitamin C and Echinacea and extract oil of a newt’s testicles and whatever else those crunchy home-remedy types recommend – just please don’t make me suffer as much as I did last year.

Who needs eggnog anyway, with all its fat calories and alcohol? Or holiday peppermint mocha lattes? Those drinks are for wusses.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


I’m writing this entry from my new home, just a few blocks from the old staff house. I’m currently sitting on the floor between two heaters (rotisserie Sahar, anyone?) trying to get warm – it seems like I haven’t been warm in days, although even I know that’s an exaggeration. I haven’t showered in four days, which is NOT an exaggeration, although I wish it was…My personal hygiene has consisted of brushing my teeth and rinsing my face with bottled water.

At first the move really didn’t seem like it was going to be bad. After all, there were at least six men moving the stuff, so I didn’t have to do that, which was nice (the power just went out, btw) and everything seemed to be in order. When we arrived at the new house it was freezing cold, as a concrete house that has been empty for months would be. I spent the morning settling into my new room then my boss and I ate lunch before I headed over to the office. While we were eating, Tashi and Heida (dogs) were hanging out with us, in my new room. Then Heida jumps up onto my bed, stands on top of my pillow, and pees all over it and the bed. Now, I like dogs, and I wasn’t too upset by this because I knew the washer and dryer were being delivered that afternoon, so I just stripped the bed and went to work. I wasn’t too concerned about the lack of power and water because I knew our Admin officer was working on it – that was Sunday.

Today is Tuesday. Since Sunday we’ve had spotty electricity, no food (no fridge), some water, but no hot (or even not freezing cold) water. To add insult to injury, on Monday I left my cold house and walked across the street to the office, thinking at least there would be heat there. HA. The office generator went down, so I spent the first 3 hours of the day sitting in a freezing concrete office with no heat, no light and a dead laptop battery. (power came back)

Now, I realize that I am working in the field, and this is part of the territory. This lack of heat situation worries me because I have lupus, and any extended exposure to cold can make me very sick. I get symptoms every winter in the US, but they don’t usually get serious until late January or early February. Spring starts in DC in March, so it usually isn’t too big of a deal. Unfortunately, my symptoms are already starting, and it is only December. From what I’ve heard, winter hasn’t even started in Afghanistan, and January and February are brutally cold. I should be okay if I can stay in warm places, but if the house and the office aren’t warm, I’m going to have some serious problems. For now I’m playing the wait and see game, but I will be terribly disappointed if I can’t fulfill my contract because of the weather. I try not to let the lupus control, or even really influence my life – but this may be out of my hands. (power just went out, came back, and went out again)

On a more upbeat note, the water heater has supposedly been fixed, so I’m looking forward to taking a shower in the very near future. We don’t have hot water yet, but it isn’t freezing cold, so hopefully we’ll have enough warm water for showers soon. Of course, the electricity has to stay on for the water to run, and for it to heat up, so I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

one big happy family

Ho hum. It's Wednesday night and I'm hanging out at home. I didn't do any work after hours for a change - instead I finished reading In Her Shoes, by Jennifer Wiener, which I picked up at Shah books over the weekend. As always, the book is better than the movie. . . Now I'm on my third glass of vodka and tonic, and very bored. I don't drink much here, and certainly not by myself (and never vodka), but tonight I'm kind of enjoying the novelty of it.

Our happy little staff family is splitting up - Ian and Matt went back to the US and the rest of us are moving house on Sunday. Our current staff house is located a main road, just down the street from the Parliament, and it was attacked during the May riots. Nothing to serious, but enough to make us feel insecure in this location. We're splitting up when we move - I'm moving with my boss and her dogs into a little house across the street from our office, and the guys are moving into a bigger staff house down the street.

Nathan has an opportunity to move into a group house with some acquaintances of ours, but he's having a hard time getting permission because of the security situation. We had a house meeting last night to talk about security, security policy and logistics. It lasted for two hours, and I felt like I was listening to my big brother trying to lobby for a later curfew. Nathan wants to move out in hopes a living a somewhat more normal lifestyle, and feeling less like an occupier, but there are a lot of questions of what would happen in a security situation like the May riots. So, it has been tabled until the end of January, when theoretically we will have answers to some of these security questions.

Speaking of security, rumor has it that a truck carrying explosives managed to get inside Camp Eggars, one of the US Military bases in Kabul. It was discovered and disarmed before anything happened. . . Camp Eggars happens to be where I volunteer with the Women of Hope project on Fridays. The creepy part is that I was lying in bed last night after our big security house meeting, thinking morbid thoughts, and one of the scenarios I envisioned was someone bombing the Friday bazaar at Camp Eggars. Now, a military base in an obvious target, but I still think that the coincidence is a little weird. I think I'm still going on Friday, but my boss has already warned me that I may not be permitted to go. The whole living with your co-workers, security situation is a little too parental for my liking. . .

In unrelated news, I received a singing Christmas card via email from a friend in the US. I had forgotten how close Christmas is. . . without the constant bombardment of consumerist holiday madness, it almost slipped my mind. It made me a little sad when I heard the Christmas music - this will my second holiday season in a row away from home. Overall, I'm fine with it, but I will miss my special Christmas stocking hanging by the fireplace at our house in Syracuse, decorating the tree with my brothers and putting all of my favorite ornaments in front (after they leave the room) and my great grandmother's German Christmas cookies. Last year, I spent Christmas Eve at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This year I'll probably spend it in the office, finalizing a survey questionnaire for a big research project we're funding. Ah well, it'll be good experience for me.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Great Day

View from the Intercontinental Hotel

Cemetary behind the Intercontinental Hotel

Entrance to the Intercontinental

Shortcut through an old part of the city (from the car)

Traditional Bread Oven

View from the lake

View from the lake

This one is pretty self explanatory. . .

Matt, holding up the golf club building

Nathan, Matt and Ian (wish this wasn't blurry!)

Today was one of the best days that I've had since I arrived in Kabul. It started around 9 am, when I picked up Ian and we headed to the Intercontinental Hotel. I went to the Intercontinental for lunch a few weeks ago and noticed that next to the hotel, which is one of the higher points in the city, there is a path that leads up to a scenic view. So, after a little car haggling (too many staff, not enough cars) we got dropped off at the hotel. Unfortunately, it was cloudy (and smoggy) today, so we didn't have as good of a view as I had hoped, but I still got some great pictures. Oddly, on the path just behind the hotel there is a small graveyard. We didn't stay on the path for too long - the windchill was brutal that high up. So, after about 15 minutes we admitted defeat and had breakfast at the hotel before heading to our next destination - Shah Books.

Before the bookstore, we made a small detour to pick up two of our consultants who were heading to the office for work. Because traffic was horrendous, we took a detour through one of the oldest parts of the city. The street that we drove down was full of old, crumbling buildings with stores on the bottom level. Most of the stores were bakeries, and they had traditional bread ovens in the front area, facing the street. The ovens look a lot like kilns. Then we stopped on Chicken Street, the infamously overpriced tourist shopping area, so that one of our consultants could pay off the carpet seller she'd bought several rugs from. Chicken St. was off limits when I arrived in September because of all the bombings that were happening in Kabul at the time. There was a bomb that went off on Chicken St. this year, killing one international (American, I think) and one Afghan. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of the flamboyantly colorful street, but I'm sure I'll get another chance. . .

Some of you may have read The Bookseller of Kabul, well, today I met him (he's the owner of Shah Books). I also spent about an hour and half drooling over all of his books. . . He also totally ripped us off, charging full price for obviously used books, but since English books are something of a commodity I wasn't complaining. I was very restrained and only bought 4 books, including The Clockwork Orange, which I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read previously. Mr. Shah speaks wonderful English, but he was far more interested in talking to Ian than myself, which is fine because I was far more interested in his books!

After the bookstore we headed home for lunch and picked up Nathan and Matt. Then we drove out to a lake and golf course about 20 minutes outside of the city. This is the first time that I've been out of the city since my trip to Jalalabad. The entire area was covered with about 3-4 inches of crusted over snow, and Tashi (Tilly's dog) and I had a great time crunching through it to get down to the lake. The area was cleared of mines a year or so ago, but we were careful to stay in areas where we could see other people's tracks. I don't think I can describe how wonderful it felt to be outside, walking around, away from the smog and city traffic. . . Tashi had a good time too, although I had to keep her on a short leash because of all the stray dogs around. It was especially nice because it was cold enough that there weren't too many people around. I'm sure it is beautiful in the warmer weather, and I'm equally sure that it is thronged. . . Half the fun was not having to worry about behaving inappropriately because there was hardly anyone around. . .

After we got home we all huddled around the fireplace and drank tea before watching a movie.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Unfortunately, the weather is the most interesting thing that has happened in my life this week. It started snowing late morning on Saturday and didn't stop until this morning. Now, being from Syracuse, it takes a lot to impress me as far as snow is concerned. That said, I can't remember the first snow of the season lasting for three straight days - and I'm from the snowiest city in the continental US.

The Salang pass was officially closed for about 36 hours after an avalanche killed 3 people and wounded 8 others. Now traffic is only allowed to pass in one direction - North to South at the moment. As the winter continues the direction will vary, one day northbound traffic can pass, and the next day southbound. Except, of course, when the pass is totally closed. People die on that treacherous road every year from the cold, the icy roads, avalanches and from exhaust fumes in the tunnel. . .

Betsy and one of our consultants were both supposed to leave Kabul for the US Saturday afternoon. They are both still here because the weather shut down the airport. Betsy re-booked her flight for Sunday and poor John is going to have to drive from Kabul to Peshawar, then fly to Lahore and then fly to Delhi to pick up his flight home. Ugh. The airport has become a total nightmare because most of the flights leaving Kabul are pretty booked because of the holiday season - this means that people who's flights were cancelled are stuck on long standby lists. Ariana and Kam Air don't really have the extra planes available to schedule extra flights, so everyone is stuck. Speaking of Ariana, I heard a funny story about their airline:

Betsy was flying from Kabul to Dubai, and as the plane was taking off she noticed that passengers were talking on their cell phones. Now, Betsy worked in the airline industry for 20+ years, so she called the flight attendant over and said something along the lines of, "Um, I'm pretty sure that cell phones and other electronic equipment disturb the plane's radar system. Isn't this a problem?"

To which the flight attendant replied, "Oh no, it's no problem - we don't have that technology on these planes."

So basically, if the pilots can't physically see the mountains (which completely surround Kabul) they can't fly. . .

On a more personal note, this week has been full of ups and downs. I'm still waiting for my contract to be approved by headquarters, so I'm not 100% sure that I'm staying. Everyone is stressed at work, which is tiring when you live and work with the same people. The snow has been beautiful, but the office is COLD, and I hate the cold. I've also been feeling lonely lately. I don't have any female friends here around my age, and while the guys are great, a little variety would be nice. . . I did finish a big project that I've been working on for the last two months, which feels awesome! I have a big deadline for USAID tomorrow, but I feel confident I'll get it done on time. And, my relationship with the Gender Advisor seems to be on the upswing, which certainly makes my life easier.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Winter in Kabul

As I was leaving the office this afternoon the first soggy flakes of the season started to fall. The mountains have been snow capped for about two weeks - you can see them from anywhere in the city - but this is the first snow in Kabul. Hopefully not an omen, our generator died this morning (thankfully NOT while I was in the shower as the water is also connected to the generator). We have a temporary replacement now, but this afternoon I sat in my frigid candle lit room as the sun set and thought about the privileged existence I lead, even in Kabul. We expats pride ourselves on living in a conflict region without the comforts and security we are accustomed to, but we live in opulence compared to the average Kabul resident - never mind life in the provinces. Even my Afghan co-workers, who are highly educated and make good salaries, live without electricity, heat (other than wood stoves) and running water.

Now I'm sitting in my (relatively) warm room with my Internet connection, thinking about how grateful I am for the privileges and opportunities I grew up with. And how I hope I can help other people experience some of those same opportunities in the future.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Carpet Bazaar and the Omar Mine Museum

Carpet Bazaar

oTwo Afghan men at the carpet bazaar - they asked me to take their picture. It's washed out, but I like it anyway.

The grounds of the Omar Mine Museum, displaying different missiles

An airplane mounted outside of the museum

The inside of a an old airplane used as a classroom at the Omar Mine Museum

Poster distributed by the mine museum. The red painted rocks signal a mine field, and the women is hanging onto her child's shirt as he walks towards it. Different types of mines litter the field.

Saturday was an interesting day - in the morning I went to a old fort next to the former British embassy for a carpet bazaar, and then we went to the Mine Museum. A few weeks ago I posted about visiting the Kabul Museum, and what a sorry state it was in. The Taleban managed to destroy the majority of historic art and artifacts at that the museum, but the mine museum was practically bursting with displays. I think that says a lot about what decades of war can do to a country. Although, to be fair, the Taleban didn't plant a lot of mines - the mujahadeens and Soviets did a lot of that, with other internationals participating at varying intervals.

Luckily for me, I went to Omar Mine Museum with my friend Matt, who is writing his dissertation about mines, so I got a very thorough explanation of the different mines displayed at the museums, their uses, and some of the war theory behind the use of mines. Mines are mainly used as a defensive mechanism, but they aren't very effective because a determined army will plow through a mine field fairly quickly. Also, mines move with rain, so overtime a mine field expands.

The overwhelming casualties of mines are civilians. One of the displays showed butterly mines, brightly colored plastic mines that are dropped from planes onto an area below. They look like toys, and invariably attract children, who will lose a few fingers if they pick one up.

The museum is used as an educational platform for various organizations, especially de-mining employees, to teach them about different types of mines, etc. It amazed me that humanity has spent so much time creating weapons that will blow off a persons leg, or blow off their leg and shoot shrapnel 25 ft in each direction, or blow through the underbelly of an armored tank. Throughout the museum there are photos of children, women and men who have been maimed by mine explosions.

Ironically, Saturday morning (same day I visited the Omar Mine Museum) an Afghan National Army tank driving through the Karte Parwan district of Kabul veered off the road a little and hit a landmine. No one was injured, but it makes one very cautious about venturing off the beaten path, even in the city.

Unfortunately pictures are not allowed inside the museum, so I have some pictures from the grounds, which are also very interesting.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and this year was no exception. After pooling our detective skills and cash, we were able to procure two 10 kilo turkeys, 48 Heinekens and an assortment of additional yummy goodies. We invited about 30 people over for the feast, with guests ranging from the Country Directors of Oxfam and CARE to little gender interns like me.

Aside from finding the turkeys, Betsy contributed a fake Christmas tree and an assortment of decorations from the Women of Hope project. Thanksgiving day we went shopping for the party in the morning, decorated in the afternoon and ate and ate and ate at night. Baba Ji, our cook, did a fantastic job on the turkeys (I guess he marinated them for two days in a garlic-herb sauce that he made. He even make a pumpkin pie from scratch, which by the way, tastes very different from the pies made with pumpkin concentrate. . .

Friday, November 24, 2006


My eight days in Almaty were a whirlwind of work, sleep depravation and fun.

High Points:
  • Walking around. Something I don't get to do much of in Kabul.
  • Being praised by my boss for designing and giving the best presentation during the strategic planning sessions.
  • Hanging out with Jenny and Ian who were in Almaty from the DC office.
  • Gorging myself on the homemade cookies that Gavi's mom sent from the US, via Ian.
  • Watching Kazakh music videos.
  • Eating pepperoni pizza, having an American style brunch complete with bacon, going out to bars with the Kazakh staff and drinking micro brews.
  • Using the hotel laundry service, which includes dryers (my jeans shrunk back down to size).
  • Not having to worry about being culturally inappropriate.
  • Not wearing a headscarf!
***Pics in order: Soviet statue in the downtown park of Almaty; Cathedral in the same park; Ian and Igor (DC bonding with Kazakh staff) at Murphy's Pub; Nathan and I on our way into the same pub; DC staff participating in the local custom of toasting with vodka; me enjoying one of the cranberry and white chocolate cookies sent to Nathan and I from the US (Gavi's mom is the best EVER).

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Shoot on Sight

I returned from Almaty yesterday feeling refreshed after 8 days of relative freedom. Of course we did a lot of work during the study tour/strategic planning sessions, but we also explored the city, frequented bars and (my favorite) walked around. On Sunday, our free day, we went out for brunch and then I walked and walked and walked. It was awesome. I will write more about this later (and post pictures), but I wanted to write about something that happened tonight.

After work Nathan and I went over to Scott's place to check out his new office and apartment. He has a more traditional set up with an open courtyard in the center of his staff house and several small buildings around the garden. Afterwards we walked over to another friend's house for dinner. Now, we were breaking the rules by going for a stroll, but we were only walking a few blocks and I wasn't going to complain. As we walked and talked I realized that this is furthest I've walked in Kabul. Scott said hello in Dari to each person we passed on the street, and I couldn't help thinking that our security measures are a bit extreme. In his two weeks in Kabul Scott has already seen more of the city and met more people than I have in two months.

We arrived and settled down for dinner. Two of the roommates who live in the house were home, and the third was at the gym but was expected home any minute. I was feeling very jealous of their normal lifestyle - going to they gym in the evening, walking around to get to each other's homes, etc. . . After a 1/2 hour the other roommates started getting nervous. Turns out the gym is only a block away, but everyone was nervous about a woman walking that distance alone at 9:30 pm. They kept trying to call the roommate, but there was no answer. Eventually we started eating and S got a call, and he rushed out of the house. A few minutes later he re-entered with his missing roommate, Aneela.

Apparently Aneela had left the gym on time and was jogging back to her house when she was suddenly slammed against a wall by an ISAF soldier. After a brief exchange he explained that the military was removing a car with an explosive parked on her street, directly across from her house. The street was blocked off (we must have arrived at the house just before this happened) and they wouldn't let her go home until the car was towed away. The soldier told Aneela that they had already disarmed the bomb, and just waiting for the tow truck to arrive. They were using a jammer (in case of a remote control bomb) so cell phone signals were blocked.

While she was waiting the soldier told her that she was lucky -- his partner had been ready to shoot, but as he said, "I thought it looked like a lady running, so I told him to wait." When Aneela questioned if it was their policy to shoot at unknown persons in the dark he explained that that was, in fact, their policy and their orders.

Understandably, Aneela was quite shaken by the experience.

When we got home, about an hour ago, I checked my work email and found a new security notice. Looks like a US Military Convoy in Kabul opened fire on a contractor vehicle that was traveling too close to the convoy. This caused the driver to lose control and slam into a shop. The convoy then opened fire on the vehicle, killing one doctor, one civilian and wounding four other doctors who were traveling from Bagram to Kabul.

Guess Aneela really was lucky.

In unrelated news, today I was offered and verbally accepted a new 3 month contract with my NGO working as a gender consultant.

***Pic is of Scott's mini-apartment.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Headin' to Central Asia

Well, after an almost completely unproductive day at work, I'm packing up to head to Kazakhstan for 8 days. We're having a study tour/strategic planning retreat for the senior management team in Almaty. Of course, I'm an intern, not senior management, but I get to go too! I think I've earned my keep by handling a lot of the logistics, I'm giving one of the gender presentations and I'll be co-facilitating the 3 days of strategic planning. Oh, and I'll be hanging out with Ian and J-Lew from headquarters, drinking in Russo-Kazakh bars.

woohoooooo! I'm ready for no head scarves, clothes that fit and dancing. Hopefully I'll have lots of good pics to post when I get back. Have a great week!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Christmas Gifts

Rain or Shine

Yesterday I volunteered at the base, as usual. Unfortunately, it started to rain around 2pm (ironically right at the time I skipped out to get some coffee with my new friend Paul). Of course we were set up in a place without any cover, so we had to haul everything to a partially sheltered area. I say partially shelted because the tables and the customers were under cover, but Betsy, Mahboob and I were barely under the overhang. Add a little wind, and you can imagine how wet we were. Amazingly, we still managed to sell a lot of stuff - we almost tied our best day so far, in spite of the weather.

Kabul desperately needs rain, so it is actually a really good thing that it rained. Admittedly, the entire city turns into a mud pit, but at least it damps down the dust a bit.

At 4 we packed everything up and left the base. Then, we stood outside in the rain (now it was just sprinkling) for a half hour waiting for Mahboob to hail a cab. They all seem to disappear when it starts raining. Eventually, we squelched into a cab, heaved a premature sigh of relief. Premature, because when we got to Betsy's street the road was flooded. Because rain in relatively infrequent in Kabul, many of the streets don't have drainage systems. The taxi plunged into the water - at the deepest point the water was just below the car doors. I could feel the water flowing beneath the floor boards.

The water in front of Betsy's house was at least a foot deep, so we got the driver to drop us off a little further up the street, and we used a back side entrance to lug everything inside. As I stood in the mud waiting for Betsy to unlock the door I realized that the water flowing down the street was a mix of rain runoff and sewage. It was the smell that gave it away. Once we got inside we put on dry clothes and drank hot chocolate - thank god for hot chocolate.

When I dragged my slightly air-dried self back to my house, I was greeted by my good friend from DC, Scott, who arrived in Kabul on Thursday. After 1o minutes of talking, and my explaining my job situation, Scott recommended that I go out for dinner with himself, his new boss and Nathan. Scott insisted that his boss, Lorenzo, could be a vital networking link for me. Since Lorenzo is leaving Afghanistan for about 20 days tomorrow, it was a now or never situation. So, I dragged my soggy self upstairs and took a (mostly) hot shower. The light blew out in my bedroom, so I got dressed in the dark and we went out to dinner at an Iranian restaurant. I was so tired I could barely follow the conversation, much less impress Lorenzo with my charm, intelligence and overall employability. But, I did give two people my business card, so hopefully I made a better impression than I think. . .

When we got home I crawled upstairs and was getting ready for bed when a heard two bursts of machine gun fire. Close. I instinctively rolled onto the bed and away from the windows. I laid there with my heart pounding for a minute before it clicked -- wedding. Afghans, like Palestinians and many other cultures, celebrate weddings by shooting into the air. Amazingly, I crawled into bed a few minutes later and passed out immediately.

***Pic is a minivan stuck on Betsy's street in water almost up to the tail lights. Unfortunately I was shivering so hard I couldn't get a clear shot.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The song that keeps running through my head

On my drive from DC to Syracuse, my last stop before Kabul, I listened to some cds I borrowed from my wonderful friend Gavi. This Dar Williams song was on the first cd I put it, and I listened to over and over again. It's been in my head ever since. It captures part of how I feel about traveling - the love I have for it and how it is a part of who I am, although I can't really explain why. And how I question my motives for traveling, and whether or not the benefits are worth the costs. They are so far. I guess it is the saharinkabul theme song. . .

Travelin' Again

Have I got everything? Am I ready to go?
Is it gonna be wild, is it gonna be the best time
Or am I just a-saying so?
Am I ready to go?
What do I hear when I say I hear the call of the road?

I think it started with driving
More speed, more deals, more sky, more wheels
More things to leave behind
Now it's all in a day for the modern mind
And I am traveling again
Calling this the ghost town, and where is the heart land
And I'm afraid to go, was there any good reason
That I had to go, when all I know is I can never come back?

Traveling I made a friend, he had a trouble in his head
And all he could say's that he knew that the bottle
Drank the woman from his bed,
From his bed.
He said "I'm not gonna lose that way again."
But sober is just like driving
More joy, more dread, someone turns her head
And smiles and disappears
He's gotta take like it is, and it goes too fast
And he is just like me, caught in-between
No sage advisor
Does weary mean wiser?
And someday will I sing the mountains that carried me away
From home and hometown boys like you?

Well, what about us? Was it really that bad?
Oh its hard to believe I want a highway road stop
More than all the times we had
On little dirt roads.
What am I reaching for that's better than a hand to hold?
It really was about driving
Not fame, not wealth, not driving away from myself
It's just myself drove away from me
And now I gotta get it back, and goes so fast so
I am traveling again
Sitting at the All-night, picking up a pen
And I'm afraid to go, was there any good reason
That I had to go, when all I know is
I am all alone again
And you are the ghost town, and I am the heart land
And I can say that's a very good reason
That I had to go, but now all I know is I can never come back.
And I will never go back.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

about that extension. . .

Well, we got verbal confirmation that our program would get the extension, but nothing on paper. The donor says it is too soon to commit to an extension (we still have 14 months left in the original program). So, I have no idea how that translates into a job for Sahar. I think I'm going to bring it up with my boss sometime in the next few days and see what she thinks. My motivation to apply for jobs will increase dramatically once it is confirmed that I will land in Syracuse, broke, if I don't get my ass into gear.

In unrelated news, I saw my first scorpion in the house today. I spotted it, but I let one of roommates kill it. I thought that was fair.

***pic expresses my current mood. I'm not sure what happened to my eyebrow in this picture - I just checked in the mirror and it's still there. . .

Monday, November 06, 2006

Wedding - Afghan Style

Saturday evening I went to my first wedding, Afghan style. I was a little nervous because I knew that most of the other women at the office weren’t going, although most of the men were. I would have been fine hanging out with the men, but most Afghan weddings (including this one) are separated by sex. So, I put on my new bright pink Afghan outfit, some make up and climbed into the car. When we arrived at the wedding hall, there were two entrances, one for men, and one for women. My coworker’s father escorted me into the banquet hall where about 100 vibrantly dressed women sat at tables.

Bashir’s father led me directly to Bashir’s sister, who promptly seated me at what I assume was a table of honor. It was next to the stage that the bride and groom would sit on when they arrived, and currently occupied by about 7 elderly Afghan women – none of whom spoke English. So, I smiled my best smile, said Salam wa Alaykum, and sat down to watch the show.

There was a band playing and a few young girls dancing. Some of the men from the bride and groom’s families were dancing in the center of the floor, and everyone watched them. I expected this wedding to be fairly similar to Middle Eastern weddings I’ve attended – but it was very different. As I scanned the room I noticed that none of the women were smiling. Hardly any were even talking to each other, they just sat and watched the event (the groom's family being the exception). And the event was watching the men dance. None of the women at my table even attempted conversation with me, not even the two young girls (maybe 6 and 8) who were also at the table. They just stared at me.

Thankfully, at this point the only female coworker who showed up found me and sat with me. She was with her sister who had just returned from 6 months of studying in Japan. We said our hellos and made small talk until the bride and groom arrived. As they walked down the open aisle, women from the groom’s family tossed flower petals in front of them and the groom’s mother followed them carrying a Qur'an over their heads. They walked somberly forward (a bride is not supposed to be happy or smile on her wedding day because it would dishonor the family she is leaving behind). The bride was wearing a lime/neon green dress and about 40 lbs of make-up (brides spend about 8 hours at the salon before their wedding, having all their body hair removed, and elaborate hair and make-up treatments). The groom was wearing a white suit and snakeskin boots.

As I watched them climb onto their marital dais I thought about the conversation I’d had with the groom two days earlier. My boss asked him what he wanted for a wedding gift from the staff and he said, “another wife”.

As they sat on their bridal couch the professional photographers swirled around them, snapping photos. Different arrangements of siblings and parents climbed onto the stage to be photographed with the unsmiling couple. The women wore pink, orange, teal, purple – the more festive, the better. Yet it seemed strangely in contrast to their expressions. Only the mother of the groom and his sisters, the hostesses, seemed to be having a good time. After they were settled on the couch the music started again, and the men danced some more.

Samira, my coworker, tried to drag me out onto the dance floor, but I refused. I like to dance, and I know enough Middle Eastern dancing to fake it in Afghanistan, but none of the other women were dancing besides immediate family members and pre-pubescent girls. So, Samira, stood up and went out to the dance floor by herself. Now, at work Samira is extremely quiet and mousy – she keeps her head down and doesn’t talk much. In the middle of the dance floor, directly in front of the video camera, she spun and jumped to the drumbeats, her hair flying around her gracefully. She was beautiful and alive in a way that no one else in the room seemed capable of. When the song ended she returned to the table laughing and out of breath. Bashir’s mother came over and thanked her for dancing.

Shortly after that the bride and groom exited the banquet hall to eat dinner with their immediate families. My phone rang, and it was Nathan calling to see if I was ready to go. I’d been told previously that it was rude to leave before the food, and I mentioned that to him. He said, “Oh. We’ve already eaten. We’ve been done for a while.” While we were talking men carrying huge platters of food started dumping them down on tables. So, I told him I’d eat fast and meet him outside. We got our food, and then another man came around with a bucket, unloading Pepsis onto the tables. He unloaded 8 sodas and moved onto the next table. Before we had even reached for the drinks, a male guest (one of Bashir’s family) walked up, took 6 of the drinks from the table and left. All the women just stared at him. Someone found the drink boy and got some more sodas.

After inhaling enough cold food to be polite, I made my exit. Samira escorted me to the door and I called Nathan to tell him I was coming out. As I exited the wedding hall, I entered into a sea of suited men. There wasn’t another woman in sight (they were all inside). Nathan walked up to me and I said, “Wow. I really am in Manistan”. He escorted me to the car and the sea of suits parted for us, with the men staring as we passed. I climbed into the car and watched the men stare in through the open door and windows at me. Then we went home.

I learned afterwards that the pre-dinner celebration (for the women) is supposed to be low key because they are grieving with the bride for the loss of her family. The post-dinner celebration is supposed to be more upbeat. I’m glad I went, but I’m not sorry that I missed the second half. . . it would have been difficult to celebrate a wedding where the groom had said he wanted another wife as his gift.

***pic is of Nathan and I in Afghan garb

I love Fridays!

Fridays are my favorite day of the week because I spend the day lugging crafts around and dealing with cranky people. No, really I love the opportunity to be outdoors (scarf-less), have conversations with total strangers, and get some physical activity. And, this time I smuggled my camera into the base, so you can see pictures of some of the things that Women of Hope Project sells.

See how enterprising I am!

Honestly, we must look so funny on Friday mornings trying to cram 3 adults, 2 suitcases, 2 big canvas bags, an enormous duffel bag, a collapsable metal clothing rack, 6 baskets, a brass money box with padlock and a bag of snacks into a taxi. Thankfully, Betsy and Maboob have it down to an artform. I just try to make myself smaller and stay out of the way during the taxi-packing process.

***The first picture is of Betsy, the brains behind Women on Hope Project and Maboob, her right hand man. Second pic is of a handwoven tapestry that I love but can't afford and the last one is a stack of hand embroidered hats.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More Pictures

More pics from my balcony. I knew that Kabul was ringed by mountains, but I didn't realize that I can see mountains from all sides of our staff house until today (it's been too hazy/dusty).

frequency and consistency (this post is dedicated to Cari)

Today I had my first experience with the medical facilities in Kabul. After 7 endless days of diarrhea I decided it was time to head to the German Clinic to get some medicine. Actually, I was still considering waiting it out, but after 4 trips to the bathroom between 7 and 8 am I figured it was time to see a professional. I arrived at 9am at walked into what could have passed for an upscale small private practice in the US. I was immediately yelled at when I walked in for not covering my dusty shoes with blue slip-ons – ignorant American. Then, I got yelled again for answering my cell phone what it rang – guess that isn’t allowed either.

After checking in I perused the German magazines and daydreamed about non-Afghanistan appropriate clothing and getting a hair cut while I waited. Eventually the doctor, a petite German bundle of energy, called me in. As with most non-specialists, she became very excited when she found out I had lupus and wanted to know all the details about my diagnosis, symptoms etc. She insisted on doing blood work just in case (of what, I don’t know, and I’m pretty sure she didn’t either). Then, she asked me to give her a stool sample. Now, I have spent the majority of the last seven days in the bathroom, but at that moment, when I needed to perform, I found myself experiencing stage fright. After waiting an hour for the blood work, which was perfectly normal (for someone with lupus), I was sent home with a tiny capsule in which I was supposed to neatly deposit a sample. Sigh.

Within 5 minutes of getting home, I had the sample and then waited for an hour for a car to become available to take me back to the clinic. Today is Thursday, so if I wanted medicine I had to get the sample in today or wait until Saturday. After another hour wait at the clinic, it was determined that I did not, in fact, have any parasites residing in my intestines, so it must be a bacterial infection. Mind you, this was after the doctor conferred very loudly and at some length with the technician about the consistency etc. of my poop in the lobby full of Afghan men. So, more than five hours after my initial visit I was given a prescription for Cipro and asked to pay $174. It really is just like America! Except that I could have walked into any pharmacy in Afghanistan and gotten a prescription for Cipro without a doctor’s appointment and paid $40. Ah well, live and learn.

As a side note, I had a much better experience getting treatment in Kabul than I did in Cairo for the same problem . . . go figure.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


The sky in Kabul was crowded with kites on the first day of Eid. These are just a few pics taken from my balcony.

The kite on the fence seems like a good metaphor for Afghanistan - it has the potential to take off, but is caught up in circumstances beyond its control.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Beer and Bombs

Yesterday I went shopping all by myself (okay, I had a driver with me). It felt good to be a little independent and do something on my own. First I went to the PX to get more coke, and I found salt vinegar pringles (wOhoo!). After that, I was feeling adventurous, so we went on a beer hunt. Alcohol is becoming more and more of a commodity because of new anti-alcohol laws. I'm not sure exactly what the new law is, but I'm under the impression selling alcohol is now illegal. That said, there are several restaurants/bars in town that cater to foreigners and serve alcohol. Although the PXs no longer sell alcohol, there are little stores that still sell it - you just need to know where to look.

After conferring with Betsy, and having M explain how to find the establishment to my driver in Dari, we were off. The store that we went to was on a crowded market street, especially crowded because it was one of the last days before Eid (holiday after Ramadan) and EVERYONE was out shopping. Eventually we found the store - and they had boxes of Heineken in the window. I just don't get it. I guess the owner pays a pretty bribe for the authorities to look the other way.

Turns out the beer really is a commodity - $38 for 24 beers, which is exorbitant in Afghanistan. I felt guilty about spending that much money on alcohol when there are so many people in Kabul going hungry, but Nathan did ask me to pick it up . . .

So, the mission was successful. This morning, around 7:30 a remote control bomb went off in my neighborhood, on the street where I bought the beer. No one was injured, thankfully. It is scary to think that I drove by the spot where the bomb went off 14 hours earlier. . .

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Taxis and Bases

Thursday night was my first time volunteering with the Women of Hope Village project. After work I went straight over to Betsy's (or I tried to, the driver thought I said Beth's house, so I ended up on the wrong side of town -- I tried to tell him we were going the wrong way, but both men assumed I didn't know what I was talking about). Eventually I arrived at Betsy's, just in time to help load up M's taxi to head over to the Army Corp Engineer base. Now, it is amazing how much stuff Betsy and M can cram into a station wagon. They fit in the biggest suitcase I've ever seen, a regular sized suitcase, two big canvas bags about 3 ft high and two ft wide, a metal clothing rack, 4 wicker baskets, a huge duffel bag and three people. M, Betsy's Afghan counterpart, isn't a taxi driver, but he rents them once a week to transport crafts to different events.

This was my first time riding in a regular taxi, and it makes for a whole different experience. My NGO has several vehicles, all of which are four wheel drive, so you don't really feel how bad the roads are. In a taxi with almost no shocks, you get a whole new experience. So, I was bouncing around in the backseat when I noticed movement above the little one story shops crammed tightly together. A couple of kids were running along the roofs of the shops, playing tag. In the SUV it's hard to get a clear view of the roofs, but on that ride I also noticed shop owners climbing up piles of their wares to take breaks on the roof and men sitting in chairs chatting. I feel like I discovered a whole new level of the city.

I don't think I've talked much about driving in Kabul, but it really is a free-for-all. There aren't any rules of engagement, no traffic lights or lanes, and traffic at roundabouts goes in all directions. It is a constant game of chicken. M cut off another driver, and the driver pulled up, rolled down the window and politely asked him if he wanted to fight. Honestly, it seems a bit more civilized than the US, where road rage ends in accidents and shooting.

When we reached the base we had to pull in to have the car inspected, but there was a problem and we were told to wait. So, we waited and waited and watched other cars get cleared to go in. When I inquired about the delay, Betsy explained that we were waiting because she refused to pay the guards a bribe to let us in. We were ordered to move from our spot onto the main street and then waited about 20 minutes until one of the guards finally waved us in. While we waited four or five beggar kids came up to the car and knocked on the windows, trying to sell gum and get money. It is really sad. Sometimes they are as young as four and five years old, walking between cars on busy streets with rags, wiping down the cars and hoping for some charity.

Eventually, we entered the base. Once inside we all got out of the car while it was checked with mirrored poles (bombs hidden in the undercarriage) and bomb dogs. While the car was being searched Betsy made small talk with the guy in charge, and everyone looked at me uncomfortably thinking that I was an Afghan woman. I joined the conversation, and it was funny to watch the soldiers' reaction to my American accent. M was searched, and one of the soldiers finally asked if we were both American. I said yes, and he said that they didn't have to search me, but they did need to go through my bag. Now, this was hysterical because before we left the house Betsy stuffed my bag full of snack size Dorito bags, cookies and crackers because we would be on the base when the sun set (and the fasting ends) and none of us had eaten all day. You can image the soldiers' expressions as they pulled out bag after bag of snacks.

There is a little bazaar set up for the Afghan vendors, but Betsy is set up separately because she is a non-profit. So, we had a porch area all to ourselves with tables and chairs. It took about a 1/2 hour to get everything displayed, with a 5 minute break because Betsy had to talk to the lead soldier to get the Afghan guard away from our tables - he was ogling us the entire time we were setting up, and Betsy said the Afghan vendors probably bribed him to spy on our wares and report back. He disappeared shortly thereafter, and we waited. And waited. I think we were set up by 5, but people didn't wander over to our little porch until 6:30. We made less than 10 sales that night, but we pulled in around $500 because the pieces people bought had a lot of embroidery on them. Then, at 8 we packed everything back up into suitcases and canvas bags, lugged it back to the car, dropped it off at Betsy's and headed home. Needless to say, I was exhausted after working all day and then spending the evening moving wares and shivering (it's getting cold here). It felt great to come home physically exhausted from working for a good cause. Then, I got up at 7:30 am the next day to do it again, at a different base.

Friday was a little more difficult because I'm back on the Kabul diet (got the runs), so I was popping Kaopectate caplets before I left the house. The second base is set up very differently from the first, and we were much busier, but overall it was a similar experience. We made over $3,000 on Friday (9-4) and all three of us were busy most of the time. Betsy was really pleased because that is the biggest day they've had so far, and it was perfect timing for the women who create the crafts - they got their money just in time for the Eid holiday.

Although selling crafts at US Army Bases isn't exactly my ideal volunteer situation, it is one of the few things that I can do as a foreigner that doesn't take an opportunity away from an Afghan, helps Afghan women and gets me out of the house. I still haven't solved the problem of interacting with the local community, but at least I am contributing in some small way. And, admittedly, it's nice to hang out someplace where I can sit outside in short sleeved shirts and jeans and not offend anyone.

*** Sorry, no pictures. Cameras aren't allowed on the bases. . .

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

an interesting conversation

Below I pasted an excerpt from a friend's email, and my response.

WD to Evers to Chance:
"It sounds like a real big structural problem (based on what both you and Nathan have said/written) is the illiteracy. Should that be the first and foremost issue to tackle? Also, do you ever feel like it's hopeless? Maybe not gender relations in Kabul, but the fight for equality for women in the broader muslim world? It seems like a hell of a battle at this point. Don't get me wrong, I do believe the most important stuggle in the world is the one for equal rights for women, it's just what we read in the West makes it seem like much of the islamic world (at least from Eygpt to Pakistan) is getting more conservative and repressive, not more open."

My reply:
"Literacy - This is a huge problem in Afghanistan, but how do you teach people how to read when they can't eat, are living in tents in the middle of winter, and more than 80% of the population doesn't have access to clean water? Oh, and over 95% don't have access to sanitation and sewage. Hell, there are places in this country where you have to travel 9 hours on foot or by donkey to reach the nearest city because there aren't any roads. . . And, how do you increase the literacy of the population when many of them refuse to let women attend any kind of schooling? Not only are women more than half the population, but they are the ones who spend time with their kids, who theoretically should be in school. How do you convince a starving family that their 8 year old daughter who does the house chores so that the mother can embroider and sell wares should go to school when the family knows there won't be any jobs for her and she's just going to get married off and have babies anyway? How do you convince people that instead of marrying their daughters off at 12 for some goats and sheep, they should keep her at home (continuing to feed and clothe her) and let her go to school?

My point is, I don't think you can focus on just one area, like literacy. There is a huge push for schooling here - the enrollment rate is up by 400% from 2001 (partially because of repatriation), but the country doesn't have the infrastructure to support it. You also need roads, vehicles, bathrooms, textbooks and teachers. That means you need to get communities involved, including women.

Yeah, I do think the Muslim world is getting more conservative, but I think it is in direct response to Western policies. And, a lot more women are fighting it than ever before, which is a good sign. Or, at least they are fighting it more publicly. Don't forget, the US is also becomming increasingly conservative and repressive - we're in the process of watching our rights slip away under Bush, the Patriot Act and Homeland Security. Alot of the current problems in the Middle East circle back to colonialism and the cold war. One of the biggest mistakes westerners and feminist muslim women made in the 60s and 70s was to tie women's freedom to modernity and the west. Now, the backlash is against the West and anything tied to it or seen as culturally foreign - including women's rights. Ironically, what the Taliban practices isn't even close to Islam, and fundamentalist movements in general miss the spirit of Islam. Fudamentalism is extreme political conservatism parading as religion. It's really sad.

It is a hell of a battle, but I think that women will win in the end. More women in the Muslim world are educated every year, and that is the key to women claiming their rights. The current political dichotomy of pitting the West against Islam is tragic because so many people are suffering on the periphery. At any rate, modern history in the Muslim world shows that conservative trends move in waves, so things are bound to swing around eventually. The more Bush and the West screw around in the Middle East, the longer it will take to swing, but it will, eventually."

Maybe I'm too optomistic.

*** Pic is of the conversators - no, of course it isn't from Kabul

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

LOOK . . . A Ninja!

Or maybe just a "modestly" covered woman who has been trapped indoors too long . . .

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Burqa Dolls and Hydroponics

Yesterday, I went shopping. Not in the ususal sense of going to malls or stores, but by going over to Betsy's house (she's the christian fundamentalist temporarily living with us). I've complained about her before, but I don't think I've fully explained what she is doing here, partially because I didn't really understand myself until last night.

Betsy came to Afghanistan 5 years ago with about $3000 and a desire to help Afghan women. She set herself up with some refugee women living in Kabul, and has started several interconnecting projects with them. She has been teaching them how to do hydroponic gardening, helping them to increase the quality of their embroidery work and find markets for it, and she has been running literacy courses - all with the same group of women. She started with about 5 participants, and now she has 65 women who regularly delivery embroidery work, take reading classes, and run small hydroponic gardens. The really amazing part is that Betsy has absolutely no background in development, women's studies or Afghanistan. She just woke up one morning and knew that she needed to come to Afghanistan to help the women here.

Betsy lives in an apartment not far from my neighborhood, on her own. It is a smallish three room flat overflowing with handicrafts. Now, Betsy is a genius at marketing these women's work, and we're not just talking about embroidered pillowcases. She has taught her women how to make laptop bags with embroidery, wine bottle covers, i-pod and digital camera cases, backpacks, duffel bags, and non-traditional clothing. Add this to the more traditional wares of tableclothes, bedspreads, sheets, tapestries and Afghan clothes, and you begin to get the picture. She runs this operation with one Afghan man -- she handles all the inventory (which is quite complicated since most of the women she works with are illiterate) including special orders, creates mock-ups of new designs, sells the wares at the army bases on Fridays, teaches hydroponics and literacy classes, holds weekly self-help workshops teaching the women basic business skills and has become a part of their community.

She is truly an insipiring example of how one person can really make a difference in other people's lives - even if I don't agree with her religious philosophy. So, I've offered to start helping her cart her wares to the army base on Friday mornings, and hang out and sell stuff. I think it'll be good for me - get me out of the compound and doing something that feels useful. Although I am going to miss my morning to sleep in . . .

**pic is of an anatomically correct burqa doll. These are not original to Betsy's project, although these are the only ones I've seen with cleavage. . .

Sunday, October 08, 2006


1. Every day at noon we hear a series of loud BOOMS. It is a company that is exploding landmines near my neighorhood - it is also how we know when it is lunchtime.

2. I recently met a guy who studied at my university, in my program, but graduated a year before me. He is studying Arabic while he is Kabul, because he wants to work in the Middle East, even though he doesn't speak a word a Dari.

3. I'm living is what is one of the most infamously conservative Islamic countries in the world, yet in my bathroom next to the toilet I find book titled, "A Portrait of Jesus," left by my fundamentalist Christian roommate in the hopes of converting me (I assume).

4. I recently saw a sign advertising a computer store in my neighborhood. It said, "We have hardwars and softwars".

**I will continue to add to these as I am inspired . . .
***Pic is of myself and my brothers on vacation this summer

Friday, October 06, 2006

Sunset in Kabul

Laying a Foundation

Wednesday night Nathan and I went over to Waise's house for his going away party. He was planning on leaving in a few weeks, but due to series of unfortunate events with the Afghan minister of defense he decided to leave sooner than planned. We went over around 7, because Waise wanted us to help set up for the party. I was envisioning meeting Waise's family and friends, but turns out Waise's father was out of town and the party ended up being mostly NGO workers (which was fine with me).

Waise's father collects Afghan craftwork; tapestries, swords, and all kinds of little works of art. It was cool to see these displayed in an Afghan house, although I wouldn't describe either the home or lifestyle as "traditional". We hung out with Boogie Nights playing on the TV in the background drinking and chatting. I met a guy who lived in Jerusalem for a while, and another who was studying at the American University of Cairo this past year. Rory Stewart, the guy from the Turquoise Foundation showed up late -- and remembered my name, which surprised me. After shoveling a plate full of food into my face around 10pm (I'd been under the impression we were going for a late iftar, and so was absolutely starving by the time the food showed up), I settled down next to Ben from Pittsburgh and started chatting with him. Then, Rory came over and plopped down on the ground next to me.

Now, my last encounter with Rory was a weird combination of intellectually stimulating and annoying, so I wasn't sure where this was going. Ben immediately started talking to someone else (Rory is his boss), so I was stuck. The conversation started out okay, but turned into an hour long discussion of the evils of NGOs with Rory quizing me about how I would handle myself in different situations and why was I in Afghanistan anyway? So, I explained that I was hardly an expert on Afghanistan and I couldn't answer his questions about my vision for Afghanistan in 20 years or what exactly the NGO community hoped to achieve in the long term. He responded by telling me that I was absolutely typical of the NGO community who had no real commitment or connection to Afghanistan or the Afghan people.

The annoying part is that he is right, I don't have any particular connection to Afghanistan . . . I'm just traveling through for a while, here to learn as much as I can while I'm here before moving on to someplace else. . . I've already decided that I won't stay in Afghanistan beyond my scheduled 3 months unless my NGO offers me a job here -- I'm not going to look for other opportunities. I feel too separated from the community I'm trying to help, and I want to live somewhere where I can walk down the street by myself without it being a major security risk.
Eventually the conversation turned to gender in Afghanistan, and how does one work on changing gender relations here? I responded by explaining what my NGO's policy and gender programming is -- and even to myself I sounded like I was reciting a bunch of technical jargon. Rory was arguing that the only way to really institute substantive change is through revolutionary action, and he was using the communist movement as a model. I responded by saying that if Afghanistan is going to have a gender revolution it will have to come from the Afghan's themselves, because it is not the place of the international community to stir up that kind of social conflict in a place that is already pulsing with anger at the foreign occupiers. Besides, if radical gender shifts are forced by outsiders, they will be viewed as an invasion of foreign culture and won't last. These sorts of changes have to be homegrown to take root - never mind the danger to Afghan women (and men) trying to radically change society right now. It would be easy, and irresponsible, for internationals to stir that up and then run away when things got messy. Then he asked me, well what are you doing here then?

I said that we are laying a foundation, helping Afghan men and women create a platform that they can use to institute the kind of gender changes that they find appropriate for their culture and society. But how can the NGO community accomplish that if they are not commited to staying here for the long haul? That wasn't Rory's question, it was mine.

I was relieved when it was time to go; talking to Rory is uncomfortable partially because he is so socially awkward -- he stares at the ground while the other person talks and grimaces constantly -- but mainly it is uncomfortable because he asks me questions that I don't have answers to, nebulous questions that were already gathering on the horizon of my consciousness but that hadn't crystallized yet. And, if I'm going to be honest, because no one likes to be told that they are an absolutely typical representative of NGO workers - young, idealistic, and ignorant. That bruised my ego and put me on the defensive early in the conversation - particularly because at least two of the three are true in the context of Afghanistan.

He asked me if I'd be willing to live in an Afghan village for 20 years and work on gender issues. The suggestion of living the rest of my life that way was not at all appealing to me. I responded that I'd be willing to do that in a Palestinian village, but I didn't know Afghanistan well enough to say yes or no. But that wasn't true -- I already know that I wouldn't be willing to live in an Afghan village for 20 years.

In totally unrelated news, I have been promoted from intern to gender analyst. Well, not really. That is what my business cards will say, but I'm still getting intern pay and none of the expat employee benefits. But, it will look much better on my resume.

I'm considering not coming home for Christmas, and instead going to Beirut to visit my good friend Marcy and look for work and then to Syria to visit my friend Bob. Just thoughts at the moment. . .

*** 1st pic is of myself Waise and Nathan; 2nd is of a basin and jug similar to what Waz used to wash our hands before dinner (see earlier entry); 3rd is of Nathan and Waise and the liquor for the party (how terribly un-Ramadan of us); and the last if of a tapestry hanging in Waise's house.