28 Days to Go... or less?
July 24, 2007

 
For six months in 2007, I worked in Kabul, Afghanistan, helping a government ministry there with communications functions. I maintained a blog via a private Yahoo Group for friends and family, and I cleaned up those blogs later for public consumption and published them here in my web site. The last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was published while I was in Kabul, and because the head of Paxton International, a logistics and moving company, bought 50 copies of the book in Dubai at 3:01 a.m. Saturday and brought them back to Kabul later that morning, I got the book sooner than anyone I know in the UK or the USA. This is one of a few blogs I wrote the experience (others linked at the end).
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Fark's take on the madness: "To the surprise of absolutely no one, 'Harry Potter and the Truckload of Money' sells 8.3 million books in first 24 hours, averaging more than 300,000 copies per hour."

The night I was finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I had the most severe allergy/asthma attack I've had in 11 years, since I lived in California. So there I was, popping meds, taking deep breaths and trying to finish the book before midnight so I could get at least six hours sleep.

Sorry not to give you a break on posts. I never expected to make the news just by picking up my book.

No, Jude Law did NOT visit me while he was in Kabul and staying at the Serena Hotel, not even once. I am so miffed. Kabul Kitty was indifferent to the snub, as she is to all things other than food and petting.

A friend and fellow-aid worker here in Kabul sent me some of his own blogs, which he sends via email to friends. This is from one of them: "Dubai's airport, though, is somewhat discriminatory. Terminal One is all glitter. I arrive in Terminal Two, the Third World terminal. Flights arrive from Baghdad, Erbil, somewhere I've never heard of in Somewherestan." Well, it made me laugh and as you know, Terminal Two is, indeed, the Third World terminal.

You may or may not have heard that the last Shah of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir, died on yesterday. He's being branded as "the father of the nation." His life is definitely being romanticized; yes, he was European-educated and didn't believe in forcing women to cover-up, but during his reign people starved to death while he was building palaces, and little, if any, infrastructure projects were under-taken (MRRD has probably built more roads in a year than he did in his entire reign). But, well, you know how easy it is to gussy-up the past. And Afghans are rather desperate to believe in *someone*. He has a son, but as Afghanistan is no longer a monarchy, the term "Shah" here is barely a ceremonial role. And as I understand it, there's no grassroots nor military support for the royal family to return to power.

The surreal thing is that, on TV, when they show pictures of people in Kabul before the Soviets invaded, it looks soooooooooooooo much more modern than now...

All government ministries are closed for two and a half days of mourning, which means I now suddenly have nothing to do today, tomorrow or Thursday, and then get Friday off as usual. It's a perfect time to go to Bamiyan, ofcourse. But my problem is that I have no one to go with: Sonia has to work, Anne is stuck in Kandahar, and Gunda is in Germany on leave. And as this is Afghanistan, I am NOT going by myself. So, here I sit in my guest house. Which does not have internet from 8 a.m. to around 4 p.m. Today, I cleaned my room, downloaded things I want to keep from my computer onto CDs, cleaned out my work email box, made a list of people I want to stay in touch with after Afghanistan, and packed some things I won't need during the next four weeks. And seriously thought about resigning early.

My being in the communications office means that the reporting officer can go on leave guilt-free, as I can take care of finishing up any reports she was working on (bi-weekly, monthly and quarterly - all to different people/organizations. Lovely). But I hate being without her in the office. With Anne in Kandahar as well, I'm feeling really alone. And realizing how much I want to leave. And wondering what is really keeping me here, other than extra paperwork and hard feelings that will result in my going early.

Lest you doubt, I *have* been working: in addition to finishing some of the reports Gunda started, I got articles in two online newsletters regarding Afghanistan and a UNDP gender newsletter, all about this initiative's women-focused activities (few though they are). I hope that this will help with some external pressure on our program to produce more results regarding the women of Afghanistan. My recent flurry of positive attention for this initiative has garnered NO reaction from senior staff, including my now ever-absent boss. I just don't know what I'm doing here anymore.

Unfortunately, when I was sick last week, I missed our senior staff meeting where a comment came from one of the international men, asking why there were "all these special efforts focused on women in the country" and "maybe it's just not time for this yet." Not one other man in the room replied; the gender specialist tried to respond, but was so flummoxed, I'm not sure she gave a great answer. I'm not devoted to women's issues in this because I'm a raging feminist, nor only because I equate the situation of women in Afghanistan to those of blacks in South Africa under Apartheid or blacks in the USA under Jim Crow. I'm devoted to women's issues and their full mainstreaming into society because one of the things anyone with half a brain learns again and again when working in and/or study development is that, if development efforts are focused in general, then the benefits are experienced mostly, or only, by men - like building a road, improving irrigation, etc. By contrast, if such efforts are focused specifically on women (literacy, maternal health care, sanitation, or whatever they themselves think is important), the entire community - men, women and children - see their conditions improve. I'll leave it to others to debate the reasons *why* this is. But, like it or not, it's an accepted, fundamental principle of effective development that permeates both research, academic study and practice.

One of my two friends in Austin named Betsy sent me this URL of a column she wrote a while back, tracing Elvis' food-related activities in his movies. *Very* funny column that shows what a great writer Betsy is. Check it out! I just wish that so many people (Betsy not included) think of Elvis as only a fat slob, instead of one of the greatest artists the USA ever produced, the King of Rock and Roll, and a man with one of the most incredibly musical deliveries ever...

If I resigned *right now*, I could be in Germany before the end of the week...

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Comments are welcomed, and motivate me o keep writing --
without comments, I start o think I'm talking o cyberair.
 

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