Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Arrival in Afghanistan, or Manistan as Nathan calls it

You'd think preparing for a 3 month stint in Afghanistan would be easy after 5 months in Palestine, but I found myself frantically packing the night before my trip, feeling vaguely uneasy that I was forgetting something really, really important. This is my own fault - I mistakenly thought my flight was leaving Monday morning, but luckily I checked my ticket Sat morning and realized I was actually leaving Sunday, September 17th. So, you can image my mental state Saturday as I zoomed around tying up loose ends, running errands, and wondering the the back of my mind what else I had forgotten . . .

Also, packing for life in Afghanistan is quite difficult for a woman preparing to leave from the US. Finding loose fitting tunic shirts that go down to mid-thigh tends to be a bit difficult at your average American shopping mall. Eventually I figured out that shopping in the Women's Plus section (thank you, Fashion Bug!) was one way around this cultural difference. Maternity shirts, however, are where I draw the line. The trick is to be culturally sensative while still managing to look profession (not sloppy). It is quite difficult, and I don't think I was totally successful, but I can always buy new clothes here.

The mental preparation for a trip to Afghanistan is more difficult. I assessed the situation and decided that the merits of the trip far outweighed the risk, in a very rational manner (in my personal, somewhat biased opinion) but the reactions I received from most of the people around me made me doubt my judgement. My family and friends were understandably concerned, but overall supportive of my decision. It was the responses from the nurse at the vaccination clinic, the woman checking me out at Fashion Bug who wanted to know why I was buying clothes twice my normal size, my doctor's nurse, and acquiantences in general that bugged me. Obviously these people aren't important in my life - hell, I don't care about thier opinions at all - but when I told the Fashion Bug woman I was going to Afghanistan and she gasped, drew back from the register with eyes as big as saucers and asked me if I was okay - well, that was a bit unnerving.

I felt much better once I was on the plane leaving Syracuse (after the "random" full security check and pat down). And I felt even better when I got to O'Hare airport in Chicago and noticed that considerate smokers had duct taped liters to fences by the exit for all the poor literless smokers like me. The flight to Delhi was long, but my seatmate was nice enough, and really it was as pleasant as a 15 hr flight in an economy seat can be. The hotel in Delhi was beautiful, although there was a little confusion over whether I or my NGO was paying for the room, and the flight to Kabul was uneventful until we hit the turbulence just before we landed. The airport is dingy little place, and the customs line was slow moving but uneventful.

One of my new co-workers (with security guard and driver in tow) picked me up at the airport and brought me straight to the staff house - the high walled, 24 hr security building that hosts the internationals working with my NGO. The staff house is much nicer than I expected; there is a big yard with lots of flowers, hot water, and I have my own little room with a balcony. We even have wireless internet connection (internet connection was my biggest problem in Palestine). It is a little weird living one room over from both of my bosses, but I'm sure I will adjust, and it is really nice having Nathan downstairs. Nathan is a good friend from grad school, and the person who hooked me up with the internship with this NGO in DC that has brought me to Afghanistan.

The next day, Wednesday, was my first day at the office. I met the staff, mostly Afghans, who all seem very friendly and profession, and tried to avoid any major social faux pas. I've already been asked twice if I am an Afghan, which amuses me to no end because no one ever thinks that I'm an Arab when I'm in the Middle East (which I actually am).

Nathan was traveling in the country visiting projects when I arrived, so we had our joyous reunion Wed evening - we reminisced about MillerStock, I delivered his Star Wars books, and we drank a beer.

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