So, how do I spend my six work days a week? I thought you'd never ask:
Stefan and I talked via iVisit last week, and I think I do like it a bit better than Skype. I'll continue using both to see which I prefer. But for those of you on older computers, iVisit is definitely the way to go.
I don't know what I would do without my office mate, I really don't. I cannot emphasize enough how much she's helped me professionally and personally during my first two weeks. I think she's relieved that I've turned out to be cool. Um... I am cool, right?
Ah, this government ministry... What a place. It's two buildings down from our building. I've been over twice, hiking through quite a bit of mud to get to it. It's a nicer building than ours -- cosmetically, anyway, with its faux wooden paneling and nicer furniture -- and is about five times the size. But no central heat, just like our building -- there are propane space heaters everywhere. And inside, it's chaos, with men dressed in their traditional tribal clothes, milling about or even just sitting on the floor, waiting for something. In a way, it's like the Henderson County Court House on court day... but with far fewer women, and far different dress. Each floor has an unused metal detector, and all sorts of short guys ask me pointedly as I walk up the stairs and look for whatever office I'm looking for, "Who are you? Where are you going?" They act like security, but never show any I.D., and never ask me for mine -- I just tell them where I'm going and they say, "Okay", like they are disappointed. And no one in the building knows where anything is. I went up to meet some of the Ministry's communications department, and no one knew where it was, not even the people who turned out to be standing right outside the door of such. That doesn't bode well for the abilities of the *communications* department, don't ya think? It's ALL men, ofcourse. I turned on the I-am-a-professional-woman-from-the-USA-and-I-totally-qualified-for-my-position persona, something I don't like doing, but it's appropriate over here in certain situations (e.g. when working with Afghan men). About an hour after we met, one of the staff sent over an English-language press release for me to edit. And edit I did. I probably hurt their feelings. I tried to be nice about all the edits... the many, many edits... I think I'm the only native English speaker in the ENTIRE compound.
My world on the compound is very different from the world on the UN compound, for better and worse. On the upside, we don't at all feel like an impenetrable fortress always ready to be attacked. Security is good, don't get me wrong, but it's nice to be able to look out my window and see an amazing view. There's no café where we are, unlike at the UN compound, hence why I eat at my desk or we head out via a UN SUV to Chaila or the French Bakery. My office mate and I also dress much more conservatively than people that work at the UN compound -- we don't want to stand out any more than we already do, not because of any danger, but because the staring gets old.
Security, by the way, is reasonably good in and around the compound -- Afghan nationals that walk up to the gates of the compound can't get in without being patted down. Every car -- and that includes UN vehicles -- are searched with mirrors under the carriage before they can enter (though not always thoroughly -- one guy much prefers looking at us as he walks around the car). Why aren't non-Afghan nationals that walk up to the gate patted down? 'Cause with the exception of my office mate and I walking up from the furniture maker two doors down, non-locals never ever walk up to the gate -- they all come in via UN vehicles.
On a more serious note: perhaps you've heard that four workers for the aid group German Agro Action were robbed as they traveled far North of Kabul, and the one non-Afghan among them -- a German -- was killed. Very tragic. The German had been in the country for a long time and was very experienced. This kind of thing is something that upsets Afghans very much, I must note. And it's particularly sad given how much money and equipment and people German gives to Afghanistan. My office mate did, indeed, know him -- she used to work for German Agro Action. And she said one of their conversations was about when you know it's time to leave a developing country.
I haven't traveled outside of Kabul, but today, at my first meeting with my boss -- he's French -- I was told that I *will* go into the field as part of my job. Somewhere. Soon. Wherever it is, I would probably fly, and then roll into whatever town or village via several UN vehicles -- maybe even armored ones. And then I WILL get to take photos! Depending on where it is, I might even be allowed to walk around.
I might take two days off later in my contract and go to Bamiyan, where the Buddhas were, unless I get to go there for work. It's an area that's safer than Kabul, by most estimates. And from the photos I've seen, it's absolutely gorgeous. I may look into a trip to Herat as well -- also very safe and also amazingly beautiful. But I won't make either of those trips on leave unless I find a couple of people to go with -- I'd never go alone.
I went on my first just-me-and-the-driver trip ever, to an NGO called the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, off Flower Street. They publish this amazing spiral bound book called The A to Z Guide to Afghanistan Assistance, which has maps, a list of every government agency, media outlet and registered NGO in the country, the Afghan constitution, and various other important national documents. And they are also in a lovely compound, MUCH smaller than ours, much greener, with a big volleyball net out in the middle of the grounds. I don't think the Ministry is ever going to have that, even if they have grass someday.
I want those of you who have been really worried about my safety to be aware that I am staying safe. As you see from the list of how I spend my day, I've never even stepped out the front door by myself without a UN vehicle waiting for me.
((if you want to help regarding the stray dog and cat situation in Afghanistan, please make a donation to the Mayhew Animal Home and Humane Education Centre, and tell them you want your gift to go to their efforts in Afghanistan. They are working to help spay and neuter dogs and cats there, to train Afghans regarding veterinary medicine, and to change Afghans' cultural practices regarding dogs, which have no basis in the Koran. I have spoken numerous times with a representative of this organization; they ARE making a difference, and your support will help them do even more!))
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The personal opinions expressed on this page are solely those of Ms. Cravens, unless otherwise noted.