I mentioned before that I find it very surprising that so many of the expats I meet in Kabul have not ‘served’ somewhere else. Now, after a couple of weeks, I’ve noticed something else: many of the expats who *have* served somewhere else before, served in Bosnia.
It is, of course, easy to see. If you’ve worked in Bosnia, dangerous, religous conflict, yadayadayadayada, you must surely also be able to work in Afghanistan.
On a related note, having worked in several developing countries myself, I find that Afghanistan is doing quite well. Knowledge of the English language is fairly widespread, no doubt helped by so many Afghan refugees having spent years and years in Pakistan.
Also, I find people fairly easy to work with. They could be more assertive, sure, but they could also not listen.
My theory is that Afghanistan stands a very reasonable chance of ‘survival’, because they’ve had a very reasonable not-so-distant past. Earlier, I read an article about some contractors responsible for rebuilding some of the roads in this country. By chance, they came across an engineer who had built many of the Afghan roads in the 50s and 60s. He was not only able to tell them what he did, but also why he did it. Well-educated, the man was an example of what, only recently, Afghanistan had to offer. Now, many of the ‘young guns’ have fathers and grandfathers to refer to, when talking about development. It is not talking about something that might happen, one day. It’s about getting back to how things were, not so very long ago. People have something to look forward to and to look up to, knowing that this something has already been achieved in the past.
That is not to say that everything goes as smoothly. Last Tuesday, at Alexandra’s dinner, I talked to an older man who clearly was very bitter about the way Afghans were functioning. The man was running a construction business but had been away from Denmark for 25 years, five of which he had been working in Tanzania.
Surprisingly, he was enchanted about Tanzania but, as said, very bitter about Afghanistan.
Get down on your knees and beg
Today, after eating at chief burger and leaving the snack place, we were harassed by some kids, for money. Deciding that I indeed had splurged on a $1.25 burger, I gave two kids 10 afghani each, $0.20. Immediately, and I mean immediately, people came up to us, from all directions, asking for money, pulling our shirts, coats, tapping on our shoulders, constantly demanding attention. Even after climbing into the car, they’d stand around, tap on the glass, begging for some change. Kids, some old men and a woman in burqa.
Compensating, we stopped at the Flower Street Cafe and ordered some cinnamon buns to hand out in the office.
I’m being interviewed for the DACAAR newsletter. A more-or-less monthly magazine, read to bits ‘in the field’ and also shipped to Denmark to keep the sponsors happy. The questions, of course, are about the possibilities of communicating more efficiently within DACAAR and of the future of Afghanistan, in relation to its current technical situation.
It is surprising that, at the office, we have a very decent internet connection of, apparently, 256Kb down and 128Kb up. The problem is the price, rather steep at $900 per month. Back home, in the Netherlands, I get a connection at 50 times the speed at less then 10% of the price.
But although prices will come down a bit over the next couple of years, they will only come down marginally. There is no masses to convert. Most houses don’t have any wires going in, except maybe dodgy electricity.
Surprisingly, cable TV appears to be thriving. How that got off the ground, despite the widespread use of satellite dishes is, yet, quite a mystery.
You can tell it’s getting warmer because the bottle of olive oil, residing in one of the cupboards in our kitchen, is no longer completely frozen.
And what’s up with doors in this country. It’s as if these people have a huge fetish for small doors. So often, I have to bow deep just to get through a friggin’ door. Already, a couple of times, drunk with sleep, I banged my head walking in to the bathroom, forgetting I had to bow.
Are these people trying to force themselves to be humble? I know that in at least some Buddhist cultures, they make the entrance door too small, so that the ghosts of ancestors can’t enter. They can not bow, you know. But here, the entrance doors are almost always big enough, it’s the doors inside the houses that occasionally cause problems.