Afghanistan-a peek into the diary (16)

fruit and meat market Jalalabad

 

10 March 2006

I can’t believe that I am sitting here not with a little electric heater working furiously in the background and at least two layers of clothing to keep out the biting cold, as I have done so often in the past 3 months , but in a T-shirt, the window open and the sun shining in. Yes, spring is finally with us here in Jalalabad, although the evenings and nights are still chilly.

The greatest news of the last few weeks has been that the donor funds have finally reached the UNDP bank account so we can, at last, start work. The engineers are busy gathering quotations for equipment and materials and soon, there should be lots of digging and building going on. This will also solve the problem I have been having with ensuring that my engineers respect their working hours and don’t download music videos and/or view porn on their computers instead of working. Even with the adjustment I made to combat this risk (the shared computer with internet access is now in the corridor rather than in the engineers’ office!!!!), this has been an ongoing problem-evident through hasty closing of pages when big bad boss approaches from behind as well as the slow speed of my internet connection due to the downloading of heavy graphics….

My networking activities have led to the development of proposals for other projects in conjunction with other UN and NGO partners. I would dearly love to take these further and am lucky enough to have a boss who is fully supportive of me taking initiative and do work which is strictly speaking beyond my job spec, which is incredibly empowering. However, despite recent commitments at the London Conference, funding is much sought after and will take time to reach us, not least because proposals have to go through zillions of administrative layers at UNDP country office level, so I am beginning to wear my fundraising hat again to see whether I can cover some of the smaller projects from other sources. We are looking for funding to build a dormitory for girls at Nangahar University (this is a big project, though); funds to work with UNHCR in making Sheikh Misri returnee cluster into a proper place to live; money to do work to make public buildings in Jalalabad city more accessible to people with disabilities, possibly resources to support the Red Crescent by building them some additional rooms for their much needed women’s refuge, and funds to build a Bag-Zanana (women’s park and meeting centre) here in Jalalabad. …..given we could not incorporate that project into our scope of works this time round. There is such a need for more work here in the region and it kills me to find my hands so tied in following up some of the projects I am able to identify.

Security-wise, things are okay here. Obviously, the world-wide reaction to the (re-) publication of the Danish cartoons caused some concern in Afghanistan, too, and generated worries on the part of those working on security that we would see a repeat of the May 2005 riots (which was caused partly because of that Koran being flushed down a toilet). Thankfully, Jalalabad remained quiet with only peaceful demonstrations taking place, but Laghman province saw violence break out which lead to the evacuation of several, largely Danish, nationals and the deaths of two nationals. Other parts of Afghanistan were also less lucky. It made me angry to see how a couple of idiots in their safe offices in the West could publish something which could upset so many people and endanger so many lives as a result, but then again, I suspect some of the violence that ensued was the work of people who used the cartoons as a pretext to flag up other gripes they have with the Western world.

changing tyres