No, Kabul Kitty is not coming home to Germany with me. She's staying here. Neither Stefan nor Albi would tolerate a cat. Plus, she's got a *very* good life on the grounds of the World Food Programme #2 guest house. Unlike the dogs of Kabul... She came to visit three times last night - I leave the screen door unlatched and the front door a bit ajar so she can come and go at will.
My office mate was out of town (in Tajikistan, in fact) for the week before I left Afghanistan, so we hadn't seen each other for more than two weeks by the time I get back. I really hate working without her. That's the second time she hasn't been around for a week or two while I'm at work. I never, EVER would have stayed in this assignment had she not been my co-worker and office mate. There's no way. I owe her big time for getting me through this experience, in ways big and small. Having another person who can acknowledge what living in this country is like, to occasionally shop with, to have lunch with, and to be a great person to work day-to-day with... well, again, I never, ever would have made it without her.
Speaking of my office mate, she's had some long-term tummy problems, as has her partner here. She got tested and came back for parasites. Then their house water was tested: it came back positive for fecal matter and diesel fuel.
Come to Afghanistan! It's fantastic! Bring the kids!
Geesh... now do you see why I brush my teeth and rinse my teeth with bottled water? I have six little water bottles, accumulated to and from the airport, and one very large water bottle. Every other day or so, I go to our little dining room here at the guest house and fill the big water bottle from our large water cooler. I use that to fill the little water bottles. And I have to hide the bottles when they are empty, because the cleaning lady will throw them away otherwise.
This really is no laughing matter: water and food-borne diseases are a leading cause of death in Afghanistan, particularly of children.
My leave felt like no time at all. Nine days just is NOT enough to really feel like you've left Afghanistan and have had quality time with family. It also is not enough time to get stupid freakin' Public Storage to admit a whole series of mistakes and transgressions and treat me like a CUSTOMER (please don't use them, ever, if at all possible). But, the upside of making this leave short is that I have 8 days of leave left, all to be used at the end of my contract, which ends NEXT MONTH, and means I get out of here a little early. I love saying that. I should be heading out of Afghanistan around Aug. 23rd.
Going back to Germany, I had an obscene amount of things, thanks to that shopping trip to Delhi and the four carpets and one rug I took home. I had a full suitcase and a HUGE duffel bag I am oh-so-glad I bought once upon a time and which, unpacked, reduces down to such a small size. Oh yeah, I paid for excess luggage. Big time. I'm hoping that the sale of one of those carpets on eBay takes care of that. I got made fun of by three UN friends who knew about my carpets. They kept blaming me for every plane glitch ("We can't take off because of all those carpets Jayne brought!" and "We're going to crash in Dubai because of all that extra weight from Jayne's carpets!"). But it was so worth it - I'm going to have a house some day and I'm going to look around and see all these gorgeous things I brought back from here. And I helped out local people by buying their crafts - I'm *always* happy to do that. And Erica is now blaming me for her online purchase of Afghan jewelry... see, I'm not the anti-Capitalist you all may think I am.
Packing to come back to Afghanistan, I brought only the suitcase, and had to fill it with unwanted clothes and plastic bags in an attempt to fill it enough so things wouldn't slide around too much inside. I brought two cloth bags FULL of things from Stefan's father's company, which supplies various specialty items and giveaways to pharmacies. They throw a huge amount of things away (some of which ends up on eBay by someone I know), because something is misprinted or the pharmacy decided they didn't want whatever after all. So I brought back smiley-face fly swatters, which were the most POPULAR thing I have EVER brought to this country (I could have sold the things on the street!), cute little liquid soap packets (soccer balls, hearts, ducks), nail kits (the women at work LOVE me), bug spray, and these little spinning toys. I also bought some nice coffee and M & Ms for our office. I forgot to bring pens - Afghan kids *love* those. I thought I was bringing too much of that stuff - now, I wish I'd brought twice as much of it.
Also, I didn't bring Elvis (my lime clamshell iBook) back to Afghanistan with me this time. I don't regret bringing it before, even though I never could get it on the Internet at either guest house. It was great for altering photos from work (lightening or cropping them) and saving films taken with digital cameras in different formats. And I had all the files and emails and what not I might need outside of work. But since I can burn CDs with my work computer, take it here to the guest house, and watch movies on it, and since I want my trip back to Germany in seven weeks to be as easy as possible, I decided to leave Elvis behind.
Let me sum up why Dubai terminal 2 is such a surreal experience: at one point, I looked up at all the clocks next to the gates. One said 11:20, one said 10:54 and one said 11:11. And at terminal 2, you have to push and shove your way through crowds for everything, even the line to get your bags through security. The only reprieve is the UN line to pick up your tickets and the other one to get on the plane (surprisingly, UN workers behave well in public). Still, I like terminal 2 more than the massive you-must-shop-now-you-must-buy-something-you-must-pay-to-breathe Terminal 1. You cannot believe how many times you will be struggling with your bags in this supposedly ultra modern swanky terminal while three airport employees sit there, learning back in their chairs, and watch you, not moving a muscle, right underneath a banner touting how helpful Dubai International Airport employees are. You are SO on your own at that airport. At least the baggage carts are free (as they should be anywhere, including the USA).
In Dubai terminal 1, why is there not a woman's salon, where a woman can go for a manicure, pedicure, and massage, and then sit quietly in a room for 15 minutes? I'd pay BIG bucks for that during long layovers, truly.
I didn't chance it this time with my luggage - I took my suitcase off baggage claim and then went and sat in Costa Coffee out by the taxis for three hours. I read, ate a little, drank some coffee and water, and slept on and off. And watched very well-off Arabs get totally upset that smokers were segregated into a separate room. They kept demanding "Why?!" in outraged voices to the cowed Filipino and African staff. Well, I'll tell you why: it's not about being politically correct or discrimination; it's because what you do GIVES ME LUNG CANCER and MAKES ME STINK. Is that clear now?
Then I took a cab to Terminal 2 - and got a female cabbie! Dubai has these women-only cabs more and more, for lone females and females traveling as a group, and I LOVE IT! I mean, okay, I don't like that women have to be segregated for fear of their safety, but I do love feeling so secure in a cab, that I can chat away with the cabbie and not be thought of as making a sexual advance for doing so (my cabbie was wonderful, by the way). If Afghanistan wanted to do something similar, I'd support it! But, ofcourse, women would never be allowed to drive a cab, let alone ride in one alone... remember, this is the country where women aren't even allowed in mosques...
Okay, so, I'm back in Kabul. Today is Friday, my only day off, and for the first time in months, I have no set plans today. I slept oh-so-late (9!) and then had a big breakfast of fried eggs, an Afghan pancake and a bowl of generic rice crispies. I think I'm going to call a driver and try to go to the grocery, and then to Afghan Fried Chicken. Mmmmmmmmmmmm...
(if you want to help regarding the stray dog and cat situation in Afghanistan, please make a donation to the Mayhew Animal Home and Humane Education Centre, and tell them you want your gift to go to their efforts in Afghanistan. They are working to help spay and neuter dogs and cats there, to train Afghans regarding veterinary medicine, and to change Afghans' cultural practices regarding dogs, which have no basis in the Koran. I have spoken numerous times with a representative of this organization; they ARE making a difference, and your support will help them do even more!)
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The personal opinions expressed on this page are solely those of Ms. Cravens, unless otherwise noted.