The other day, I'm in A One Grocery store, my favorite here in Kabul, and one of the guys that runs it comes up with an inventory list and says "What's 'Cream of Tartar?'" He couldn't find it anywhere on his shelves, but there it was, clearly listed on his inventory. Turned out to be Tartar Sauce.
It doesn't matter where I am on the Planet Earth, people will always approach me to either give them directions or give them English lessons. I try to have a really grumpy look on my face at all times, I swear I do, but it just doesn't matter.
Speaking of grumpy, one of the things I hate about people that work in development is a weird mentality of trying to show each other up: my program is better than your program, your country-of-origin sucks, your program doesn't know what it's doing, etc. In an interview in Scene magazine with the former NATO spokesperson here in Kabul, Mark Laity said, "I think the international community could still work together a hell of a lot more closely than it does. We're in the same team but sometimes don't act like it." Amen, brother. Collaborate? Why, we couldn't POSSIBLY do that!!
I've had other aid workers make little snide comments when they meet me because I work for the UN, because I'm an American, or because I work for the Afghan government. And I'm gettin' real tired of it. Look, the UN agency I work for makes me about as angry as it's possible for a person to get (no, I still haven't been paid), but there are a lot of individuals within the UN doing great work (that includes those who manage the program I work in), there are a lot of fantastic programs within the UN (the program I work for is one of them), and I'm happy to hear about good work being done by the UN and even promote it if I'm in a position to do so, regardless of whether it's a part of UN agency-that-has-not-paid-me or not. As for being an American: I don't judge people by their idiot leaders, and I don't want others to judge me for such. And just because you watch American TV shows and blockbuster movies, or have been to LA and Miami, does NOT mean you know *anything* about the USA. Plus, sure, there are a lot of embarrassing Americans out there, but there are also embarrassing Germans, British, French, Russian, Indian, Pakistani and who knows what else. I'm not going to condemn every single person from a country over bad behavior I've encountered from their compatriots. As for working for the Afghan government: yes, it's incredibly corrupt. The level of corruption is shameful. But an independent review of public perception in Afghanistan on a whole range of issues cited this particular ministry specifically as a ministry Afghan people still believe in. And when I accidentally copied one of the ministry staff on my complaint about not getting paid, he immediately thought it was his fault, apologized and said he would try to fix it - which he couldn't, since I'm not employed by the ministry but, still, the sentiment was there.
A person from UNICEF told me recently that there's really no need for the Ministry program I support. She was one of those people you know will not have their mind changed under any circumstances, plus I was handicapped by not only because I'm not a good enough spokesperson for this program, but also, because of my nationality, so I didn't really put up much of an argument. As she went on and on about why this UN/ministry program is unnecessary, I kept thinking, sister, I could go off on you right now about how so many UNICEF programs just keep kids alive for a few more years until they die of something your program isn't addressing because it can't be solved with a big vaccination campaign, so back the heck off. And I could also bring up the whole Clay Aiken thing. But I didn't, because I'm bigger than that. And believe it or not, I pick my battles. Now, ofcourse, had she been mistreating a DOG, I would have handled the situation very differently.
The program I work for, that supports this government ministry, is community driven. It's kind of like a community-driven WPA program. When I read the progress reports and look at the HUNDREDS of pictures from HUNDREDS of rural development projects over the last three years, I'm re-affirmed with a sense of hope for this country. These people want to work - they want the money but they also want to see their communities prosper, and they want the pride that comes from looking at your communities roads and bridges and houses and water and saying, "This is ours, and we had a hand in making it this way." These are people ready to be unleashed. They just need the funding, training and technologies to do it - to do it THEMSELVES.
But it's going to take not only our continued commitment and support, but also the people of Afghanistan's continued and growing commitment and work.
Also, it's all going to happen right along side the Taliban killing local people for sending their daughters to school, and killing UN workers just for building bridges. That's really hard to get my mind around because, at 41, I'm *quite* aware that I'm mortal. Two suicide bombers on my way to work didn't bring it home for me - but the Kandahar killing of the UN workers did. It's official: I'm nervous.
Have I mentioned how glad I am I work at this Ministry? My UN agency has NEVER responded to any of my requests regarding communications (web site, press lists, etc.), except in the negative ("no"). They even refused to put up a new web page for our program (our current page has our location and our staffing completely wrong). By contrast, the ministry's communications staff have done *everything* I've asked, and when they need something, I jump to it. I'm so thankful that I work out at the ministry and not at the UN agency fortress. Although the other day, as we were going down our dusty driveway to our compound, I called it Guantanamo and I thought my co-workers were going to fall out of the car laughing. With no nothing around it, and the high wall and the armed guards... well, you'd just have to see it.
I still think it's my Mom who should be here and not me. Not as punishment. I think she and Sandy (her boss, head of the county where I grew up) could whip this place into shape quicker than any of these high-falootin' experts they are flying in. They could both relate to rural Afghanis a heck of a lot more than those experts could, and I've no doubt they encounter many of the same issues (like crazy fundamentalists with guns).
At the UN fortress... I mean compound... there's a building that has the best women's bathroom. Anne, my co-worker from Kenya, showed it to me. It's the best because it's really big, with plenty of seating options, and you aren't right next to anyone's office. It's this little kind of information that makes your stay here as good as it can be... Anyway, I was in this particular bathroom recently, and I saw a purple box dispenser on the window shelf, with little packets ready for one to take. I thought they might be refreshing towelletes. They were, in fact, condoms. Paid for by USAID. I laughed. And then started thinking about it. That's actually a really great idea. There's quite a scene going on among the internationals here. And it's not like you can buy condoms at the corner store. And it's not like a woman EVER could. So, hurrah to whomever came up with that idea. Not that I'll ever need them!!
On Friday, a week ago, while recovering from the Great Battle for My Intestines, I had AWESOME Internet access in my guest house. It was so good that I was able to watch about six Daily Show clips and the hilarious Alanis Morissett "My Humps" parody on YouTube. Other than the pain I was in, it was a good day. A speedy Internet makes for a happy development worker.
Getting paid would make me REALLY happy... the Ministry ended up giving me an advance so I could pay my guest house bill and pay for my flight home and back. The Ministry. The Afghan GOVERNMENT. *Not* the UN. Which, for the fourth time in four weeks, says the money will be in my account in the next 24 hours. When I wrote Stefan about the latest fiasco with trying to get paid, I ended with, You know, the UN is a secret world government controlling all things and has a secret Belgium army and will be invading the US any day now..." He responded: "They don't have an army anymore. All soldiers left, when they didn't get paid, and they had to return the tanks and stuff too!"
Want to see Afghanistan from a violin-playing American soldier's perspective? I found this while searching for the keywords cricket and Afghanistan on Flickr, just to see how high up my photos would rank. He had a photo of an actual cricket (as in bug) in Afghanistan, and I started looking through his photos. I'm very jealous at the kind of access he has to take great photos!!
A Broad Abroad - Afghanistan | A Broad Abroad - Main Menu | contact me
The personal opinions expressed on this page are solely those of Ms. Cravens, unless otherwise noted.