Afghanistan-a peek into the diary (18)

10 March 2006 (continued)

I have just got back from my second R&R in Syria which was wonderful: I spent quality time with my sister, enjoyed wandering about freely again, strolling around the souqs (bazaars) in Damascus and Aleppo, taking photos of some of the highlights of Syrian life, resting and enjoying the freedom of movement which being out of Afghanistan offers, as well as the higher quality of life and, occasionally, getting frustrated with being chatted up by men or asked for bakshish. We also spent some time in a hammam (public bath-house) which was such fun. Obviously we went during women’s hours, and it was so funny seeing all the women chatting, giggling, and occasionally arguing with each other (their high level screeching during those moments would have pierced a dog’s ear drums!) while wandering around the steam room or scrubbing away at themselves. They were quite fascinated by us being there and obviously made sure to share their food (yes, meatballs and cucumber in steam room—it has got to be done!!!) with us while helping themselves to our belongings e.g. combs and sponges, when they felt it fit to do so. Private space is just not the same in other parts of the world as it is at home!

After my return from Syria, I spent a week in Kabul at a team workshop, which was hard work but also fun. Good to get the whole team together and share experiences and we made some good progress with our planning. One afternoon was quite marked by the persistent sound of helicopters circling above the city, which, ash we later found out, was due to George Bush’s brief visit to Kabul. I got back to Jalalabad last Tuesday and am glad to be back now though—I just don’t like Kabul as much as Jalalabad: the community feeling is not the same and it is so polluted that you always come back with nasal congestion or worse. Being there once every six weeks—before and after every R&R—is quite enough for me.

Today it is exactly five months since I left the UK to come here and I just last week I had my performance review, upon which my contract was renewed for another 8 months, until December 2006. This will see me through to the end of our project, after which I am not sure what I will do with my life. I would like to stay with UNDP and my boss has said he would like to keep me on but we will have to see how things work out and how I feel in a few months time. The UN is a funny old place really—the sluggish, often inefficient system can drive one crazy sometimes and there are moments when I feel that the time and money that is sometimes wasted through inefficiency and too many layers of bureaucracy makes it ethically wrong to stay within the system. There is also part of me which feels it would be lovely to work in a Christian organisation again. Other times I believe that it is precisely by staying in the UN system and fighting for things to change that the system can change…..either way, all those decisions are to be made well down the line, so who knows how I will feel in a few months’ time.