Lack of Sleep & Where I Live
March 3, 2007

 
I spent my first full day in Afghanistan, Friday, our day off (because it's the holy day here), in my room at the Assa 2 guest house, except for breakfast and supper in the main room. Very glad I had that fruit from the Dubai hotel, as well as some snack bars, with me, otherwise, I would have had no lunch (although I found out last night that all I had to do was ask for such). I have greeted everyone I've met here at the guest house (people from all over the world, including many Africans), but have had a conversation with only one person -- a guy from the USA who now lives in Bolivia with his Peruvian wife, and has a daughter, son-and-law and grand-daughter in Dubai. People staying here, so far, aren't very friendly.

What I really want is to meet a woman to answer all of my questions! I have a thousand questions. Like: since the laundry service at the guest house refuses to wash underwear (there's a note on the door about that), where do I buy laundry detergent so I can do it in my room in the bathroom sink?

Here's everything I have realized that I forgot to bring, so far:

If I can't find any of that here, I'm sure I can hold out until I go home in May.

I'm fine, but *very* sleep deprived. I'm so sleepy, but I just can't sleep. After getting virtually no sleep between Germany and Afghanistan, I went to bed at 9 in the evening the day I arrived here in Kabul, but woke up at midnight and couldn't sleep for almost two hours. My mind was racing, about various things (I'm really not as brave as many of you think). The second night, same thing -- woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't go back to sleep. It's not jet lag. Some of it's missing my husband and dog, some of its fear over what the coming days will bring, and some of it is just wanting to START THIS JOB. I hate delays when I'm ready to work. So, that's three nights straight with little sleep. I can't believe I'm still standing.

I've seen people on bicycles here. Never women on them, ofcourse. But given the condition of the roads, I'm quite surprised. The bicycles are in awful shape. This city needs more bicycle shops and bicycle donations, maybe even a bicycle factory. Development agencies, are you listening? Let's fight the Taliban with bicycles (I understand they consider them unIslamic). Kabul also needs bicycle lanes, with barriers to keep the cars away. There are no traffic lights, not even traffic rules .

My room -- and the Assa 2 guest house -- is like a much, much cleaner version of the Amman hotel where we stayed a year ago, but with a large courtyard in the middle and way more rooms. I walk through the small lobby and common room, passed where we eat, then outside through the courtyard, passed a swimming pool that hasn't been used in probably 15 years, then back into another building to get to my room. There are bunnies in the courtyard! Hmmm... are they dinner? Upon arrival, there was a guy standing out front of this place on the street with a shoulder-held rifle. I hope he's on our side. He helped get my bags inside the thick-metal door that serves as the entrance when I arrived (every guest house and restaurant in Kabul has a thick metal door as is entrance, and an armed guard outside in a little booth). My room has a small wardrobe, a table, a few shelves, a night stand, and a single bed. There's a bathroom as well in the room, which I am grateful for. I can tune out the eternally-running toilet and, if I can't, I just pop in my ear plugs. There's also a window high up on the wall over my wardrobe, which means it's never entirely dark, because of the hall light; there's no way to fix a cover on it, and i couldn't reach it anyway, not even with a chair. So glad I have something to cover my eyes when I sleep. I also have a window along my bed, which lets in sunlight (which I like). I have a balcony, but it's not private; it's adjoined to other balconies, unfortunately, which means people walk by during the day (so I have to keep my curtains closed). I have breakfast at 7ish (later on Fridays, apparently -- wish I'd known that before I got up so early my first Friday here) -- cereal, a hard boiled egg and some bread. Supper is at around 7 in the evening and has been way delicious so far -- a buffet, with choices that taste like milder Indian food. I usually pick up whatever fruit is offered for dessert, to save it for lunch or second breakfast the next day.

I have a TV in my room, with almost 200 channels of NOTHING. I have three English-language 24 hour news channels: BBC World, France 24, and Al Jazeera English, and occasionally, Voice of America. But no CNN International (frown). No Deutsche Welle in English (frown again -- given how much money the Germans give this country, I was fully expecting to find it). The other stations? At least one is local (and even though it's in the local languages, it's interesting to watch; a good way to see most of Kabul), the rest are Arabic, Indian, French or Italian, and are religious (including an American "church channel"), shopping networks, psychic hotlines, sex-related (nothing like having Afghan men thinking that's what all Western women are like...). There's also a couple of Spanish news stations, some news stations I have no idea what the language is (Russian?), and an English-language station devoted entirely to Real Madrid (what is UP with that?!).

Al Jazeera and the France 24 stations are fascinating -- they are just like any other 24 hour news station, just as slickly produced, and even featuring reporters I know from BBC and CNN International, but they provide TOTALLY different points of view than what you hear in the USA. I don't agree with everything (I swear, Al Jazeera wouldn't criticize Zimbabwe even if the government started mass killing people), but it provides a lot of insight into different ways of thinking about the same world events. And they adhere to journalistic standards as much as... well, Fox News, so I don't see why they get all the criticism that they do.

The electricity has gone out three or four times in the three days I've been here, but never for very long. I was expecting that. I have two small flashlights and a head lamp for long periods of no electricity.

Here's the strangest thing: I have yet to hear the call to prayer. I know it drives a lot of non-Muslims absolutely crazy early in the oh-so-early morning and late at night and, granted, I'm not sure I would have liked to have listened to the one *immediately* outside our Cairo hotel room for more than the weekend that we had to. But otherwise, I like it. It's a calming, soothing sound when heard in the distance, and a reminder that you are somewhere exotic. I was really looking forward to hearing it. Since this is the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, I certainly would have expected to hear it at least once in my first day here. But now it's my third day here and I still haven't heard it. I also haven't seen many mosques at all, which is so shocking to me.

I don't know if I'm going to stay at the Assa 2 guest house or not for this entire gig. I'll definitely stay for the first 30-60 days. Aid workers aren't the friendliest people in the world -- no one on the flight nor here at this guest house seems interested in simply having a nice conversation, outside of just one person. Maybe another guest house would be different. I'm really looking forward to meeting all of the various people I've been introduced to online, as they seem much more friendly than anyone I've met face-to-face at this guest house.

My neighborhood, by the way: The street is almost all mud, with massive holes, and cars and SUVs drive oh-so slowing around them, even up on the side walks and the wrong side of the street. There's an Internet cafe across the street, but I'm prohibited from going to such by my employer, because such is a terrorist target. There's a bread shop down the street, but believe me, it looks nothing like a German bread shop... I'll try to get a photo. Everything else -- I have no idea what it is, because everything is behind high walls, with metal, guarded doors. There's rarely a sign telling you what might be behind a wall or door. Just around the corner are LOTS of shops and a main street with just a few small pot holes -- but I'm not allowed to walk there.

So, now you know how I got here and where I'm living. Next up: work!

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