a game show star, an egg boy, journalists, & parties
May 31, 2007

 
Charles Nelson Reilly died... I know that's a weird thing to be sad about in Kabul, but I am. He did the funniest episode of The X-Files *ever*. And I loved him as the villain on Lidsville , one of the weirdest children's shows *ever*. I admit that I used to rush to the TV to watch him and Fanny Flagg on "Match Game." Did you know he was a Tony Award winner and a multiple Tony nominee? Did you know he was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson more than 90 times? I'm sad... Fark had a great discussion about him, including some first hand stories of meeting him.

Have I told you about the egg boy? Early in my time here in Kabul, I saw a little boy on the sidewalk across from the A One shop, where I shop for groceries. He had eggs spilled and broken all around him, and he was crying. He'd dropped a carton of eggs! But I was in a UN vehicle moving by, and couldn't stop. Then, two days later, a co-worker was with me in the car on the way home. And we were going down the same road and, guess who was there, again with broken eggs, sitting there crying? My co-worker blurted out, "Hey, I gave that kid money last week!" Then we both laughed and laughed. He's there at least twice a week with his broken eggs. He's fooled most of the guests here at Assa 2. But now I do feel bad... his family makes him do that. Do I give him money so he doesn't get punished?

Through a personal connection here, I met two female journalists, one of them Afghan-American. I loved talking to them - very sassy and fun -- but I also felt on the spot per a lot of questions they had about the ministry where I work - journalists here are very skeptical of government-based news and often confrontational about such, and I certainly understand that... to a degree. But, geesh, they told me that "the BBC wants to do a story on projects that didn't work in Afghanistan" and could I provide a list of such? NO! How about a story about projects that HAVE worked, as no one is hearing about those at all? There are community-based projects working here - they are small, there certainly aren't enough of them, but they are happening, and lasting! But the BBC finds canal-building and flood-control projects boring...

The two journalists also complained about so much of the government's information not being in English. And I'm sorry about that, but there's not a lot I can do! Dari, by the way, is not only related to Farsi (Persian), it's also related to Tajik. Some people call Dari, Farsi and Tajik dialects of the same language. The grammar for all three is largely the same, so I've been told, but there also seems to be several big differences in vocabulary - I've seen our Persian gender specialist have to go to great lengths to explain something because the word she wants to use means something entirely different to the Afghan women she's talking to. Not that I would *really* know anything about Dari... I had considered taking Dari classes once or twice a week, but by the time I get home at night, I really want to disengage from being in Afghanistan.

Recently, I found an online article about the Thursday night party scene in Kabul, and with a glowing review of USAID programs and a scathing indictment of UN programs (don't even get me started...). It said, in part, "Was it really a good idea to get drunk on whiskey and send biblical reggae booming into Kabul's wary nocturnal psychosphere? To treat Afghanistan like it was any other place? Was that the price of our help a blank check to do as we liked, to stay unchanged by the place we were assisting?"

What a complete misrepresentation of a Thursday night party and the mindset of most international workers here. This person was here for probably a week - if that. Indeed, the Thursday night party scene here can seem surreal, given what's going on outside the gates, bomb bunkers, blast shields and arm guards. But to portray the partiers as somehow uncaring, doing whatever they liked and being unchanged here... paleeeeease. The guy obviously came with an agenda. If he were truly paying attention and being observant and learning from what he saw, he'd know that those parties are the only way many people here can stay sane, can forget for just a little while what we see and encounter every day, can get through the six day work week, and can blow off steam - we can't go for a walk or a jog, we can't go for a bike ride, we can't walk around downtown most of the time, we can't go to a movie, we can't go to a concert, we can't even officially go to restaurants that also serve Afghans (because of the potential for suicide bombers) - and if you are a woman, you can't even look into a guy's eyes for very long at work. If he were here for more than a few weeks himself, he'd find himself *pining* for a Thursday night of socializing and escape, and being oh-so-grateful for it.

I don't know anyone who hasn't been changed by this country, who treats it like any other place, and who feels like they have a blank check to do as they like. I'm sure they are out there, but I believe they are the minority.

For the record: I went out to the massive UNAMA compound on Jalalabad road to an African party in the social hall there and danced like there was no tomorrow - then left at 9:30 because our driver was afraid to drive any later on Jalalabad or Darulaman roads. Those two hours of dancing were GLORIOUS. I felt like I'd been on vacation. But I guess in the writer's eyes, those two hours were something I shouldn't have indulged in - I should have been sitting in my room, reading The Kite Runner, revaluating my efforts here and ironing my burka in solidarity with the women here.

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