I know I'm writing a lot and I've been here just a week, but it's all hitting me at once.
A correction to an earlier entry: my guest house room does not have 200 channels of nothing. It has 444 channels of nothing.
I just found out Lonely Planet is going to publish a guide to Afghanistan. In August 2007, when I'm leaving. ARGH! It will have all the information I need NOW. I'll buy it anyway, just to find out what I missed out on. Although, I think I'm doing okay. Plus, so many of the places LP would talk about would be off-limits to me, as a UN employee. I'm surprised at how soon this LP edition is coming out. I could see how certain backpacker/adventure travel guys might really dig coming to Afghanistan, and would probably be mostly welcomed here, but for women, no matter how well-traveled or adventurous, I think they would be taking a HUGE risk. I certainly would NOT come here as a tourist unless I had my husband with me AND a local, trusted, completely credible male guide with us absolutely every step of the way, every minute of the day. And that's too much trouble to think about. Also, right now, prices are not realistic -- they are high, high, high, for everything. It's not like, say, Egypt, in that regard. But it is, indeed, a breath-takingly beautiful country with some amazing things to see (will I ever?). I see the appeal, certainly, for uber-adventure tourists to come here. And so many back packers and adventure tourists like to come to places when they are still raw. As for me... maybe in 10 years this would be a place with the infrastructure and less crime that I would want as a tourist. Stefan, mark our calendar.
I did go out at night at long last (my curfew is 11). I went with my long-lost French friend Sonia (see earlier posting) to L'Atmosphere, THE evening hangout for aid workers, low-level embassy staff, crazy adventure tourists, and who knows who else. It reminded me of Books@Cafe, in Amman, this funky, laid back oasis in the middle of a conservative world. We stuck to tonic water, and I had a terrific tomato and onion quiche for dinner (yum). I have liked the food at my hotel, but I was reeking of curry -- I needed something a little more Western, just for a break. Apparently, L'Atmosphere is absolutely hopping on Thursday nights, as everyone has Friday off -- a major party scene that I will probably avoid (this ain't Spring Break for me). But on a Tuesday, it was great -- just a few people, music in the background so that a conversation is possible, and very relaxing. The next day, for lunch, I went with a co-worker to Chaila, a fantastic little restaurant close to where I work. My co-worker and I sat outside, in the sun, watching two Afghan guys make pizzas on an open stove. The inside looks like it could be in Austin, Texas, with sofas everywhere (I can't even get those in Germany), small tables, and muffins and REAL milkshakes for sale, in mason jars. It was heavenly. I don't want to only hang out Western places, but it's nice to know there are some places I can go when I'm feeling homesick or culturally-overwhelmed and out-of-place.
Interesting guide to Kabul that mentions Chaila, my favorite Kabul hang out.
Interesting story from the BBC on the Western-world-within-Kabul
"The only Afghans that many of these people meet are the ones circulating with the trays of Chardonnay or Merlot at parties."
I'm happy to say I am NOT among that group that the BBC refers to. While I'm under contract for the UN, I actually work in in a government ministry, and each unit in our UN program is lead and primarily staffed by Afghanis. As I mentioned earlier, myself and my office mate, who make up the communications unit, will be hiring a local person as our associate. I hope that we can train that person to do a lot of what we do, to Western standards for such. I had wanted to recruit from the women's journalism programs of Afghan universities, but I came in too late to make that suggestion -- there was already a stack of CVs to review for the position on my first day. All but three were men. And, yes, I DO believe in affirmative action or reverse discrimination or whatever you want to call it, when the numbers of men to women in government positions are... well, you would have to be here to believe it.
Yes, I've had to make sure a couple of the men know I'm married. REALLY married. Both non-Afghanis. I have photos of Stefan and I, or just Stefan, on my screen saver slide show -- that was originally for me, but now it's a nice reminder that, hello, I'm NOT available. I thought by being 41 and overweight that I would escape scrutiny. No one has said anything that's made me feel threatened -- don't get me wrong. It's just that, sometimes, there's a friendliness and certain supper invitations that my gut tells me to turn away.
After several snowy and then profoundly muddy days, we had two days of beautiful sun shine. Things dried out significantly, and I was pleased and surprised to see on such dry days how hard the day laborers are working to brick the sidewalks and main drive ways of this new government complex where I work. On these days when they can work, I've seen progress by the end of every day. This all will look quite nice, though very simple, when everything is done. But, to be honest, the buildings don't look very well-built. They aren't insulated well. It's freezing in them in winter, and I'm sure it will be sweltering in summer. I guess the most important thing is to get things up and running quickly. I'm looking out of my office window right now on one of the many mountains. There is a blue domed mosque far in the distance, a stark contrast to the brown buildings around it. I'll try to take a picture, but you couldn't really see anything.
The downside of the snow and mud going away is the huge amount of dust that gets stirred up throughout the city, creating a layer of dust in the air that gets trapped by the mountains, similar to what happens in Denver. I'm so glad I brought the shoes that I have!! Just three pairs -- hiking boots, hiking shoes, and trainers (the latter of which I never wear outside the guest house). Actually, I'm pleased with the clothes I brought, especially the extra long sweater and two extra-long button downs, which provide excellent butt cover for all outfits. And the four shawls I brought are getting a big workout as head covers and chest covers. The key to dressing at work is hiding my figure, even one as huge as mine.
My office is on a compound out on Darulaman Road, a major artery in this city (though you have to come around back to find the entrance through the compound walls). Darulaman Road leads out of Kabul, and along the way are the massive ruined structures of what must have been two incredibly grand buildings. One of them looks sooo much like the Reichstag (the German parliament building).
The stray dog situation here is heart-breaking -- but still NOTHING near what it was in Naples and Pompeii. So now I'm even more down on Italy, because they certainly have the resources to do something about it -- I'm just not sure I can ever forgive the Italians for that. (if you don't know what I'm talking about, read my blog about Italy).
Since my Mac won't connect to the Internet at my guest house, I can't download my mail and then read and write responses to such regardless of any Internet connection, as I do at home. So, I try to read and respond to email via my special web account for such, both from at work and at the guest house on my work lap top, which I now take my home every night. It's extremely difficult to read my email from work, as the Internet goes off and on all day. I may have time only to read one email before it goes out. And I've learned to write responses offline, then cut and paste them into an email and send it during one of those windows of Net connection -- otherwise, I lose everything I wrote and haven't sent yet when the Net goes down. My Internet connection is much better from the guest house than from work -- because here at work it's a wireless network, and it's almost always on the blink. I had been told the Internet connections were quite good here. I was very misinformed. I commented yesterday that if the Internet access doesn't improve, I may have to work from the Assa II some days, and my office mate said that the powers that be would frown on that. Which is infuriating -- they'd rather me sit here with nothing to do than be in a place where I can actually WORK.
And I hate this freakin' Dell computer and Windows with a PASSION. Man, this is just AWFUL. I was hoping that, being away from an IBM clone PC for two years would give it and the MS operating system a chance to improve. WRONG. There is NOTHING intuitive about this machine and operating system. I can't get it to do anything I want it to, and it is ALWAYS doing things I never asked it to, like opening files or links without me clicking anything whatsoever. I want my Mac!
Pictures soon, I PROMISE.
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