In which we specialize in using 5 times the amount of words necessary to say our point
For this first week and a half, I’ve been living in a temporary guest house, with 90% of my things still packed sloppily in my bags waiting for the day I move into a house with a closet. This has become my 24hour pattern thus far:
Wake up to phone alarm, hit snooze a few times. Finally pull out of bed at 10 mins to 7 so I can gingerly step into the shower with broken temperature knobs and fiddle with it for 5 minutes, cursing and shivering as the freezing water splatters me and I furiously turn things back and forth hoping to find the right combination of pressure on the pipes. Some morning I can get it; this morning I could not, so I turned on the small spout at the bottom half of the shower and crouched down low, washing myself by cupping it in my hands and turning my head upside down to wet my hair and rinse off the smoky smell — the hot water successfully comes out from this spout, but not from the shower head, go figure. I’ll use shampoo next time if I’m lucky.
Get out, dry off, find some clothes that don’t smell [they still haven’t managed to give me a laundry bag for housekeeping, after asking 3 times] and make myself presentable before grabbing some breakfast in the dining room. Cornflakes and non-refrigerated milk from a little cardboard carton, fruit, local naan with some paneer style cheese. Sometimes a hard boiled egg. Tea with milk.
When the car arrives to pick us up, we all pile in and lurch along as the driver navigates the muddy, jagged ruts that constitute the side street. Main roads in the city are paved, poorly, while anything that turns off a major street will be dirt, gravel, torn up concrete, and always full of holes and debris. Driving here reminds me of the roads we’d take in the Subaru back in Colorado, on our way to find a 14er trail. Once on our way, we slog through morning traffic from Shar-e-now to Wazir Akbar Khan, which really isn’t so far but with the traffic can take about 20-30 minutes. Along the way I see the same streets full of shops in various states of operation, seemingly hundreds of them selling the same housing construction materials, others are travel agents, others sell clothing, and then of course there is Afghan Fried Chicken [AFC]. My favorite shops to pass are the ones with gawdy, neon and bedazzled prom-style princess dresses that I can’t imagine any Afghan woman actually being allowed to wear here.. but somehow they must sell because they are proudly displayed in the window of several stores that I pass each morning.
We see men working in ditches alongside the street, men selling huge rounds of naan, men pushing carts or rolling large cylinders filled with gas, men hugging, men bicycling and walking through incomprehensible jams of cars, motorbikes and mud. There are women too, but they are always moving through, walking to somewhere, never actually remaining in the picture. Yesterday I saw a young couple holding hands on the sidewalk and in a park I spotted a couple resting together under a tree, talking. These moments seem brief and rare. But I admit that my knowledge of how society operates here is still nearly made-up. The only movement outside of a vehicle [and outside of the office compound] that I’ve been able to do has been to a café and to a grocery store, both just around the corner of my building. I cant really speak too much about the social environment then because I remain so shielded from it anytime I step away from my guesthouse or the office. We foreign women exist in small, transportable bubbles, ferried from one place to the next, constantly readjusting our scarves so as to remain respectfully anonymous.
I get to the office, set up shop, make tea, check gmail. Swat at flies, stare out the window at the tops of trees and buildings that I can sort of make out, and at the ridge of whatever mountain lies behind them. Think about home. Try to start working.. which, dear god, has never been harder for me than lately. I am so unfocused! I mean, I’m super focused intention-wise, but wow it is hard to read through some of this NGO jargon and actually absorb anything. And I’ll soon be writing these documents too. It’s funny that I specialize in writing this jargon, but when it’s someone else’s I often struggle to not let my face smack the desk. So I try to get work done as much as possible, in between the madly fornicating flies that keep landing on my keys, until about 5 or 6 when I grab a carpool home and trudge back to my little room at the guesthouse. Meet S for dinner in the dining room. Watch some BBC in the background, while learning new Dari phrases from M. Realize that another day has gotten away from me and I haven’t had enough time again to really sit and think over what I’m doing here and how I feel about all of it. Maybe that’s for the best right now, while I’m still adjusting.