How time flies. I cannot believe how fast these first few days in Kabul have gone by. There has not been a single moment when I have even had time to feel homesick or wonder what the heck I am doing here in this war-torn country. This is partly due to the fact that I have been very busy and partly because I feel so totally at peace with being here. I know this is where God has called me, and that He will look after me…….and should anything happen to me despite that, those who love me will know that I was doing what I loved and called to do when my hour came.
Amazing how sometimes two weeks can feel like a lifetime….a lifetime of images, smells, sounds, impressions; a gallery of different face expressions, sometimes clear and transparent, otherwise hard to decipher. Right now all is quiet outside—people are having their iftar after a long day of Ramadan fasting—and my belly is pleasantly filled with a hot chocolate from an American army ration pack—so unless the electricity breathes its last, which hopefully it won’t seeing it only came on again about an hour or so ago, there is nothing to prevent me from writing now.
We have had a few days of briefings and acquainting each other with each other. It has been such fun hanging out with Eva, my colleague in Mazar who is from Uganda, and with Scott, an Australian, who is the kind of boss who can be a line manager and also a friend. (Scott is still trying to recruit someone to manage our base in Kandahar but as Kandahar is even more conservative than Pashtun Jalalabad where I will be going, I think he is looking to recruit a male staff member for that posting).
We have had some hilarious evenings together after work in Scott’s guest house, enjoying the company of his adoptive dog Zag (which means dog in Dari-original name, I know…..) and having a giggle in the evening. Sometimes we cook but we have also indulged in some fine dining involving US army ration packs. These are what we all have in our office and guest house safe rooms in case we ever get stuck in there for longer periods of time during White City. You can heat up stew and other delights using some form of strange chemical process, which I still fail to understand……you squeeze a particle in thr bag and then the bag begins to sizzle . Then we sit gazing at the bag while it heats up our food, and afterwards, depending on what is in the pack, we can enjoy flattened chocolate brownie or M and Ms for desert. I must try and get hold of some French ration packs to see what is in them (maybe packaged Mousse au Chocolat or Creme Caramel????), although this will be difficult in Jalalabad which is American turf. Just as well I like the brownies, given this is what we will be consuming in our “bunker” in the East should we ever have to spend an involuntary stint in there.
Over the last few days, I have ventured out a bit more in my guest house on the UNOCA compound on Jalalabad road and have met a few more UN staff and UN volunteers. The other volunteers in Kabul are all quite nice—most of them have worked on the elections and are on their way back home, however. I had some nice chats and ventured down to the bar one night. That was a weird experience, I have to say……a chap came on to me within minutes of me arriving at the bar, giving me hassle over not drinking, bragging how much he had had to drink and flirting in the crudest possible way. I managed to break away by wandering over to the karaoke area ……quite a giggle. I met a chap there who, it turns out, is based in Jalalabad with a UN agency called UNOPS which deals mainly with major infrastructure projects. He is a kiwi and really lovely, and it is comforting to know that there will be one familiar face at my very first UN security meeting when I return to Jalalabad for good.
That said, what that experience in the UNOCA bar has taught me is that expat life can be odd and perhaps not altogether wholesome at times. Some of the expats seem to only be able to deal with the stress of life here by drinking and smoking themselves silly. The bar in the guesthouse, situated in the bunker, stinks of smoke like you have no idea—-God forbid there should be an emergency confining people to that place. I expect that flirty chap at the bar and others like him act like this quite regularly and that there may be people who sleep around despite having a wife and kids back at home. Furthermore, as there are comparatively fewer female aid workers in Afghanistan than men, I expect that some of the dodgier types may go after any new female regardless of what she is like…….not the kind of male attention any girl would want. That said I have met some lovely expats, too, and thankfully neither Eva nor Scott are boozing rascals, so if it gets too much, I will escape and visit one of them for the week-end. It would be nice to go up to Mazar and see Eva there in the less tense North, maybe go carpet shopping and visit the famous Blue Mosque, and Scott has said he will bring all of us together in Kabul quite regularly anyway. Then of course we all have to pass through Kabul for our “R and R” (rest and recuperation) trips anyway…..these are every 6 weeks and most people go to Dubai or Islamabad for them to recharge their batteries, eat some good food, enjoy the freedom of shopping or just walking about outside for a change, freed for short days of radio checks, handheld radios and UN curfews.