Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Where to go now?

I guess I have a kind of writer's block. Now I am back in the West, there isn't much I can say about Afghanistan. I’m not going back there any time soon, nor anywhere for that matter. I’m now on my fourth course of antibiotics in 6 weeks, probably breeding some super-bug, and not getting better real quick.

There seem to be a few readers who haven’t yet found my depressing brand of cynicism too awful, so to try to keep this superannuated blog alive a while longer, I will post a few journal excerpts.

This is from our second year in Afghanistan:

Sunday, 1 April.
April Fools day. Somewhere along the line, the Afghans in our office have got the hang of the fact that on April Fools Day, you play jokes on each other. However, what they haven’t worked out is the comical nature of the jokes. Safi came up at one point and looked sideways at me, muttering something. Then he came back, and cleared his throat portentously, and said, ‘Philip-jan, I have a message for you. Bruce-jan called from Peshawar. He won’t be back in tomorrow, but he will be delayed a few more days’.
Okay, I said, thanks Safi.
Then Safi’s face broke into a wide grin, then he burst out laughing, he bent forward and hugged me, saying, ‘I have tricked you! It is April Fool Day, no? And I played a trick on you!’
‘Ahh’, I said, ‘right, yes you did trick me. That’s very good Safi.’
Engineer’s joke wasn’t much better. He told me that he had heard on the radio that in the IAM office in Kabul, the gas had exploded and injured four people. Hadn’t I heard?
No, I said.
He repeated the story as we drove, then smiled tolerantly, and looking sideways at me, reminded me that it was April 1. I nodded, trying to look amused and ‘ohh, silly me’.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Unload your attitude here Posted by Picasa

Reflection, revision

We originally left for Afghanistan in September, 1999. On the same flight were friends of ours, also sent overseas with TEAR, but they were heading to a different Asian country. They had a few kids; we didn’t.

Comparing their time in Asia is interesting for me, because of the many similarities in our positions. ‘Bob’ is about my age, similarly a generalist manager/ leader, slightly unorthodox faith, professional, from Perth etc etc.

But when I look at the time we spent overseas, many differences emerge. If is hard for me not to feel depressed, cynical, sometimes quite upset about how different our journeys were. It seems to me that their journey was pretty much a text book overseas posting. Four and a half uninterrupted years, where Bob’s work grew in complexity and responsibility till towards the end he was leading major organisational change for the NGO he was with . Sure, there were difficulties they had, and the country there were in was no picnic – it is currently in civil war, but in terms of what they achieved, and the outcomes, it looks good, on paper and in practice. The good work Bob did lead to him continuing to be employed by that NGO on their return to Perth, where he kept working on the change process for most of this year.

In contrast, I look at our four or so years in Afghanistan – punctured by the evacuation of Sept 11, our work fel into chaos and we pursued other work back here. The return to Afghanistan in November 2003 was really hard for me and tough on our marriage, and I hated the work, feeling like I was back were I had been two years previously: the job was the same, the people were the same, the organisation was the same, nothing had changed except me. The growth and change I had envisioned kind of got sidelined and abstracted by the Taliban, by the evacuation, by the general difficulties of Afghanistan, and eventually I left to work with the UN, where sure, I did some good – but nothing unique, nothing that no one else couldn’t have done. The NGO I had been with ended up viewing me as a troublemaker and an apostate, and the idea that they employ me to continue working with them is laughable.

In short, a mess of a time. I can’t really look at my time in Afghanistan and say ‘ I did this….’ or feel that I made a unique contribution. At least, not yet – but as I said, I am quite cynical and sad about it all presently. Maybe that will change and I will be able to revise my view of our time there.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Tired and sick.

So, we are back in WA for a month now. Since we arrived on Dec 2, we have both been repeatedly sick. The kids are fine, though dislocated. But we are tired, and sick. Fatigued and exhausted. Continual throat, chest and sinus infections. Weird minor skin irritations. The usual VBE (Violent Bowel Emissions). Coughs and colds and asthma. And really, really tired. PAS, I guess, Post Afghanistan Syndrome. So sorry for not having been in touch with many people. We have not really been up to much.