Thursday was grueling at work, I was taking notes all day while Anika (my old supervisor from DC who is here for 10 days) conducted training assessment interviews. That means she was asking staff questions about the trainings they had received to figure out how effective they have been -- it also meant that I spent the entire day frantically typing. We were sitting in the conference room, and after the first interview I went looking for a really thick book to sit on because the chairs at the table were too short me to type comfortably at the table (because I'm so short, not because the chairs weren't proportionate to the table).
Afterwards we went to a new restaurant just around the corner from our house. Turns out the manager is Egyptian; the very first place I visited in Afghanistan is one of the big Arab hangouts . . . go figure. After dinner Nathan and I joined his friend Wise (An Afghan raised in the Phillipines and the US) at a Turquose Foundation event in an old palace inside Kabul. The palace is lived in, and being rennovated by the author of the book The Places in Between, Rory Stewart. I haven't read the book yet, but apparently he traveled around Afghanistan by himself, visiting villages and meeting Afghans from all parts of the country. Rory used the proceeds from his book to start the Turquoise Foundation (http://www.turquoisemountain.org/), which is a non-profit that is working to preserve and restore Afghan heritage, while also training Afghan's in traditional arts like caligraphy and beautiful, intricate wood carving.
Rory certainly seems like an interesting guy, he was kind enough to give us a brief tour of the palace and the exhibits that were still up (we arrived a little late). Then we got to talking about NGOs in Afghanistan and what good, if any, they are doing here. He and Nathan went round and round - I didn't contribute too much seeing as I had just arrived - but both of them made very valid points. I hate feeling like I am part of a colonizing force; I know the kind of work my NGO does is usually relevant, helpful and smart - meaning that we are teaching Afghans how to do everything so that it will be sustainable after we leave - but Rory still made some good points, even if he was a bit pompous. Just living in the staff house, with its walls and security, is so different from my experience in the West Bank. I dislike feeling so separate from the people I am here to help - and how arrogant is it of me to think that I can help these people at all?
By the time we left the party it was after 11, and our drivers stop working at 11, so we called Easy Ride - a taxi service for internationals with drivers that have had security clearance and training. On the way back to the staff house we were pulled over at an Afghan police checkpoint. The officer talked to the driver, then pulled open the minivan door (which was on my side) and started asking questions. He asked if we all spoke English, and both Nathan and Wise said yes. I didn't say anything at first, then I realized that I was probably the one he was waiting to hear from, so I said yes as well. He sneered at us for a moment, then slammed the door and waved the taxi on.
Now, checkpoints don't really bother me, and this didn't either until I commented to Nathan and Wise that I guess that answers my question about carrying my passport with me at all times (a must in Palestine because of the checkpoints). Wise just laughed and said a passport wouldn't make any difference at all. That made me a little nervous. My American passport was always my shield and trump card when I was in the West Bank. Both the Israeli soldiers and I knew that they couldn't really do anything to me except make me wait unless I did something drastic. Guess it doesn't work that way here. Welcome to the Afghanistan . . .
Once we got back to the house Wise showed up some footage that he's taken. He's making a documentary about the training of an Afghan army unit. It was pretty interesting; a lot of night shooting (guns and camera), and one part where Wise fell into a 6 ft ditch because he was looking through the camera lense instead of where he was going . . .
I think this night was a good example of what my time here will be like. A lot of questioning what the hell I'm doing here, meeting really interesting people, and feeling vaguely unsettled.