I've been thinking a lot about all of the development professionals I know who leave their families or partners for months at a time to go work in another country. Divorces/breakups are common among the people I've known who have done a six-month or longer assignment, particularly in a developing country. But not always. I've been wondering why sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I think it comes down to maturity and absolutely clear expectations with your partner. Or having some kind of "open" relationship that I just have never been interested in (I am either single or I'm not , no in-between).
Speaking more than halfway through this adventure, I'm glad I've come to Afghanistan, and I'm getting most of what I wanted out of it. But I would never do it again. I miss Stefan terribly. I miss my dog terribly. Ultimately, I want to be with my family more than I want to work in the field - at least for this long.
I could never have come to Afghanistan for six months unless my partner had completely supported me in this decision, and we were exactly on the same wavelength about what our relationship means. Before I even interviewed for this job, Stefan and I talked in depth about our fears about me being away for so long. It's a strain on a relationship: one person being at home, holding everything together, while another is off having an intense experience that, outside of photos, phone calls and emails, completely excludes the other person. Plus, there's often a very loose atmosphere among international development workers when it comes to relationships - a lot of married men here feel that it's their time to play around, and some international women here are happy to oblige. I avoid that scene altogether (which is particularly easy to do now that l'Atmo is closed). I know who I am, and I know what's most important to me: Stefan and Albi remain the center of my life, even in Afghanistan. I socialize, ofcourse - finding people here I can trust and have fun with has been *critical* to maintaining my sanity.
On a job like this, the more frequent the communications with family and friends, the better, no question - iVisit with Stefan has been a lifeline. Text messages also are a big boost -- it's far beyond really nice to know someone is thinking about you when you are in Kabul. I also cherish each and every email from *any* of you, no matter how short, or no matter how mundane you might think it is. I'm enraptured hearing about broken hearts, SAT scores, housing prices, moving, job stress, family get-togethers, karate exams, your Master's thesis -- *whatever*. It really helps me face all this craziness here.
It's also been important to take advantage of every leave opportunity to be with Stefan, and being focused on just being together while being at home - talking, eating together, relaxing.... no other plans or expectations, just taking each day as it comes. Another thing that's worked for us is that Stefan has been a very busy person while I've been away: in addition to his job, he volunteers for both the fire departments in his home town and where we live, he fixes broken items and designs items and sells them on eBay (so nice to be married to a mechanical engineer) and, ofcourse, he has his motorcycle. He just finished a trip through Poland, up through the Balkans and down back through Scandinavia, so on my next leave, we'll both have a lot of stories and photos to share.
So, in case you were wondering how a relationship can survive one partner being away, the above is my advice.
And now for something completely different: I have yet to meet a person who has bought a decent copy of "Casino Royale" here in Mos Eisley. I bought one and it was shaky and fuzzy. Another friend has tried twice, and got one in Russian and one in a language she still isn't sure what it was. I returned my first copy and tried with another, and on this one the sound is out of sync most of the time, and at one point, it switched to the Russian audio track and I couldn't get it switched back until the next day. I've seen the movie before - it was the last film I saw in a theater (and worth EVERY euro. Grrrrrrrr.). I just wanted some eye candy. I've bought only a few films here, because I can't stand not having great quality when I watch a movie. I walk out of theaters and ask for my money back over bad prints. I really prefer to buy used copies of studio-issued DVDs. And I'm blabbling...
Hey... the Flesch-Kincaid index on Microsoft grammar check says I've written this at a 9.8 grade level. Usually, my blogs are right around the 6.5 grade level. Stuff for work? Always at the 12th grade level, no matter how hard I try to simplify the language.
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The personal opinions expressed on this page are solely those of Ms. Cravens, unless otherwise noted.