Charrow Ney (Dari for "Why Not?")
May 27, 2007

 
Often, when I ask one of our Afghan drivers or one of the employees here at Assa 2 for something, they don't answer, "Yes." They answer, in English, "Why not?" It gives the impression that everyone here is really easy going. I asked today how to say it in Dari, and have been saying it to various people. The guy who drove me home this evening laughed and laughed.

I'm oh-so-glad to be missing the cicada invasion in the USA. I'm not so glad to be missing all of the celebrations for the 30th anniversary of "Star Wars"... how could they hold any of those celebrations without *me*?! (and, Mr. Lucas, quit stalling and release digitally-remastered versions of the original three movies, without your silly-added-later scenes!).

Meanwhile, back in Mos Eisley:

Tashakur jak zhahon. That means "one world of thanks!" I got it per a document I edited for my office mate, the Monitoring & Reporting advisor. I am Ms. Editor. I've been an editing machine of late: A press release about projects in Herat, a final report on flood control projects along the Oxus river on Afghanistan's northern border, a briefing paper about a Woman's District Development assembly, a summary of a district development plan, a proposed policy for involving interns, another proposed policy for staff to take classes or attend conferences... Which all may sound boring, but it's a great way to learn about all the various projects here, and to work with different staff. And it's a challenge I like rising to - that Oxus river report is oh-so-much more interesting now than when I first got hold of it; I interviewed the original author, who turned out to be a much better talker than writer. Oh how I wish people would write how they talked, when it comes to writing project progress reports...

I really do like getting to return to a job focused primarily on communications tasks - it's been great to return to my "roots", professionally-speaking, and it's been a great break from focusing on volunteer management for more than 10 years. I'm not getting to work with the media, which is what I thought I would get to do, but that's for the best, for reasons I'll go into at another time... instead, I get to have my hand in a lot of different functions and programs, and I do enjoy that. I'm learning soooo much about the realities of development. And I don't feel heavily emotionally invested in my work - I do my best to do a quality job, I care, but I keep everything at arm's length. I shrug a lot at work - if something works out, awesome, but if it doesn't, oh well. Except when it comes to me getting paid. Then I'm my normal, you-had-better-deal-with-this-now-or-I-will-rip-you-a-new-one self. And, yes, I did finally get paid - just before I went on leave, and only because I said that if I wasn't paid before my leave, I would go and not come back.

Anyway...

As a result of this very diverse job, I'll have a lot to say on my CV - and as I've now passed the halfway point on this assignment (wahoo!), I guess it's time to update it. I'm also trying to use this job as a learning experience regarding mainstreaming gender issues. I read everything I can get my hands on relating to gender issues in Afghanistan, regardless of the producing program. I've also been encouraging all of the program units at work to include their women-focused activities in *every* program report or information for the web site, and it's really throwing the staff (all male) for a loop, mostly because they haven't been doing anything except saying they are going to do something. Per our work plan, they are *required* to undertake female-focused initiatives, and I'm going to keep encouraging them to report on such, and noting in reports when they don't, in the hopes that it pushes them to actually *do* something regarding the women in Afghanistan. It's my own, tiny way of trying to help the deplorable state of women in this country.

I've had our new staff member, Fariba, uploading photos to the Minisry Flickr account I created and, often, writing the descriptions. She's the first national in the communications office (formerly comprising of just my office mate, and then me too), and I have big plans for her. I want to train her in all sorts of online technologies. I want to have her managing online volunteers before I leave. She's got an amazing history: she taught girls secretly in her home under the Taliban. She risked her life to do that. Would you risk your life to do that? She asks me terrific questions. Today, I had to define "innovation" for her. She also said she wants training in using a database - any database. She's keeping me on my toes.

I know that, once my Afghanistan gig is over, I'm going to be very grateful for this experience. I certainly wished for it hard enough and whined about not having it for almost two years. I cried for joy when I got the job, I really did. I'm trying to be grateful for it right now, as it's happening, and sometimes, like the past three days, I really am, but it can be *really* difficult sometimes, as some of my posts have portrayed. I'm comforted that so many people here who are veterans of field work in various places in Africa or the Middle East, for instance, say that this is, by far, the hardest, and that they all want to get back to those places eventually.

As for me, once this is over and once I move back to the USA in 2008, I'm ready to focus on central and South America, as far as development work goes (short-term field assignments only!!). I want to get back into Spanish, I want to apply it in my work, and I'm ready to go back to the other side of the world. But before then... I really want to go to Africa. Stefan and I have invitations to visit friends in Gambia and Nigeria, and I'm burning to go on a wildlife viewing safari in Tanzania or Uganda.

Two days ago, I watched a huge dust storm blow through our compound. We had the windows closed and tissues stuffed into the hole in our window, made by some day laborers for the air conditioning exhaust pipe. We have yet to use the air conditioning unit. My office mate and I just really hate air conditioning. So we keep using the fan. And keep hoping for that ceiling fan. Mahmoud remains his ever contented self, however.

On May 23, a small group of us from work went to Afghanistan's National Museum, very near our offices, at the end of Darulaman Road and next to the Darulaman palace ruins. in Kabul is an eerie metaphor for the war-torn country's struggle to resurrect itself. As NPR said, "What wasn't demolished by the Taliban, looted by smugglers or damaged by shelling is mostly in storage." But what's on display is amazing, nonetheless.

By the time war was done with the museum, there wasn't much left, and the top floor was gone entirely. But some things have been restored, and on the third floor, Afghan curators are trying to piece together hundreds of tiny stones that were once part of ancient Buddhist statues that filled the museum. The staff says that the Taliban came to the museum almost every day for nearly three months to destroy anything they considered unIslamic - and that was most everything.

To destroy a country, destroy its history and culture. So, what's there? A few restored Buddhist statues, a giant Buddhist-era-but-Islamicized basin that's *amazing* to behold and the crown jewel of the museum, and a room full of gorgeous Nooristani wooden sculptures that look absolutely African (the Nooristani people were Islamicized only in the 1800s). Still not on display are the more than 1400 artifacts returned from Switzerland, where they've been kept over the past decade for safekeeping. They don't dare put them out yet - the area still isn't safe enough. There's no guarantee the museum won't be bombed or looted again some time soon. And, ofcourse, there are few items to raise eyebrows, that I guess everyone pretends are something else, like the bowl covered in phalli, the guy having intimate relations with an animal (the description says he's "riding" it and, well, to a degree, that's true...) and the "loving couple" sculpture that's obviously two men.

Highlights for me, other than what is on display inside the museum: the little old lady inside the women's security booth who greeted us with kisses. Looking up at the massive ruins of Darulaman palace - it would take millions to restore it. I don't think it will ever happen. The old horse-drawn carriages, sadly rotting out behind the museum. The old Cadillacs wasting away nearby. The staff being so happy and proud to show off the items in the museum.

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