Tourists then, tourists now, fried chicken & work
July 8, 2007

I knew Venus could do it again. I knew it. I said so before the tournament. Wimbledon is her home. Love the Williams sisters - always have, always will.

Stefan wrote just after I got back to Afghanistan and said:

I just saw a documentary on Kabul. In the sixties with a lot of Hippies and now. It looked like so much fun then. Very sad! Even though the chicken street hasn't changed much.
The stories about Kabul in the 1960s are, near as I can find out, all true - this was a laid back place where tourists were oh-so-welcome, including women. It was much safer, much cleaner, and much more accessible in every respect. And beautiful, with trees and smooth, if not paved, roads.
They also showed a group of Japanese tourists, that visited Kabul earlier this year. The women were wearing hats, but no headscarf or something like that.
You can get away with it if you move fast and are just here for a day. But the headscarf in Kabul is much easier to do than in a lot of other countries, including Iran, believe it or not - I see Afghan women on the streets of Kabul showing a heck of a lot of hair.
Then they showed a guy from Lonely Planet, who said, that since tourism is picking up again, they would soon come out with a new guide for Afghanistan.
As I've been saying (someone hasn't been reading my blog), indeed, you can pre-order this now on the Lonely Planet web site. It comes out in August. I'll still buy it, ordering it via a bookstore in Germany, even though I'll be gone from Afghanistan by then.

I've been participating much more in online fora regarding Afghanistan, most especially the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree. Loved this post about a guy who is sometimes running into tourists in Herat, in the far Western part of the country:

I've seen well over three dozen in the last two weeks alone. Thats tourists, not journo's, NGO's peace corps types or anyone else.

Most of who'm are woefully unprepared and ignorant and stupid beyond description. Like thr four I found walking around mazar the other night, 7:45pm, dressed in flannel and crap, with the largest backpacks i've ever seem, walking in a slow elephant line to the shrine of Hazrat ali, then sitting down, and getting on the sat phone for a good ole chat home.

We asked if they were lost, and said it wasn't safe to be out at night, dressed as conspicuously as they were, just sitting in a holy friggin shrine chatting on the sat phone.

But 'it was perfectly safe' in their 'expert' judgment.

Some people truly deserve to run into the taliban...

Most tourists here speak no persian at all, have only a vague notion of where any of the major towns are, and are generally ignorant beyond description.

On the whole i would tell people to come to afghanistan, its simply amazing, but just a little preparation goes a long way.

On Friday, after I posted a blawg that day, I called a car so I could go to the grocery. Yes, I bought cat food for Kabul Kitty (I'm not sure a steady diet of cheese, milk and AFC is good for her). And on the way back, I had the driver - one I really like, because he never treats me like a second-class person who he doesn't really need to listen to - take me to Afghan Fried Chicken. I went storming in towards the counter by myself, the only woman and only Westerner in the place, and focused absolutely on ordering and picking up my three-piece box myself for once (usually I have a guy from my guest house pick it up for me). I could see all the Afghan men in the corner of my eye, their eyes wide. Conversation died down. The guys behind the counter had the same look, and stood still, looking at me. And out of their confused midst emerged a guy who was obviously the manager - and he was just as intent on serving me and showing off that he can deal with Westerners and that I must tell all my friends to come there.

Ah, the power of fried chicken.

In work news: There's a unit head at work - someone who is not Afghan -- who is always saying he's too busy to report on what he or his unit are doing. He's the prima donna of my work place. His work is just tooooooooooo important and toooooooooo intensive for him to take the time to tell anyone about it. And the problem with that is that I'm the COMMUNICATIONS person, and I'm supposed to promote what my organization does. It's very hard to do if I don't know what's going on. Also, this particular person's unit does what the public, media and international donors would be most interested in. He's blown off my emails, meetings and trainings. I finally had it, and insisted we meet, with the head of the whole program present, to talk about how he HAS to report. In development work, you HAVE to report - the donors demand it, the media demands it, and the public has a right to know it. You cannot be too busy to report.

In my office, you don't even have to write anything -- I will sit down and interview you and take notes in your staff debriefings and attend your activities and write everything *myself* if that's what it takes. You just blabble as you normally do to your staff and I'll take notes.

Everything the reporting officer and I proposed, he said, "We don't have time to do that." So finally, exasperated, I said, "Well, you have to report. You have NO alternative. So you tell me how you want to deliver information, because I'm out of ideas." And he sat there, and mumbled, and then started suggesting the exact same things I had just been suggesting. Which I pointed out, ofcourse. And then he tried to turn this into *my* not being available; he said, "My department needs a training on reporting, and the only time we have to do it in the next two weeks is at 2 p.m. today." And I said great, how many people will be there at 2 when I start my presentation? He had to fight not to keep his face from falling.

Don't try to bluff me in my work. EVER.

And yes, I did that presentation. And the people afterwards thanked me and said, "It was nice, but he told us this was a presentation on how to type better."

Other people at work understand that we're not there to make their lives hell. Those are the people who, when the come sheepishly into our office and say, "Um, INSERT_COUNTRY_NAME_HERE just called and they want this 20-page report today. Would you edit it for me?", or come with a stack of notes and say, "I have to turn all these notes into a manual; would you help me?", we drop everything and help them. And give them coffee, tea, M & Ms and whatever else we have in our stash while they wait.

Thursday, I helped the ministry press office, which is staffed by all Afghans, with a bunch of little stuff - some stats on dams, wording for a formal invitation, blah blah - all within an hour of them making the requests. And one of the guys wrote back and said "Thank you huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge." And that meant so much to me. I think that, before I leave, I'm going to offer to continue to help just that office out with its editing needs, as a volunteer. My favorite part of my job, other than site visits, is helping them, and like site visits, I don't get to do it nearly as much as I'd like to.

Okay, back to work.


If you have read this blawg, PLEASE let me know.
Comments are welcomed, and motivate me o keep writing --
without comments, I start o think I'm talking o cyberair.

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