Day 2 – The First Friday, 21 May 2010

Friday is our off-day. It was a slow day and I didn’t sleep. (See entry 5.) Here’s what’s happening.

1. VISIT TO ISAF MILITARY BASE: There is a large flea market held on Fridays in the parking lot of an international military base. Two colleagues and I went there today. The main products for sale were Afghan hats, furry boots, lapiz, knives, rugs, scarves, and counterfeit DVDs, watches and sunglasses. I bought Rosetta Stone for $10. I am sure it will be as good as the real thing. One of the complaints by the Americans here is that the rules seem to change from week to week. Last week, if you showed a NATO country passport, you could visit the flea market. This week, you had to have an escort if you didn’t work on the base. You were required to wear a badge to walk on the premises to the market but then remove the badge in the market. A military contractor who arrived from Orlando a few days ago volunteered to escort us. I chatted with him a little bit. He indicated that he had been going through some personal things back home and decided to come to Afghanistan to put some distance between him and his old life. A rather extreme approach. He was thinking about signing up for another year. I have met a number of people who left here and swore they would never return but have returned.

2. MORE ON RULES: Only certain restaurants are allowed for dining. There is a particular place where the staff here loves the cappuccino and croissants but that restaurant has been removed from the approved list. You are allowed to do point-to-point shopping. So, my colleagues go to the restaurant with their own takeout cups and get the cappuccino and croissants to go since they are “buying coffee and bread” and not dining at the restaurant. When there’s a will … I am learning that there are creature comforts here. Two colleagues went to the Kabul Health Club today for a manicure and pedicure.

3. WEATHER: I was cold the first night in my basement room and slept under two blankets. I couldn’t believe it. Everyone says it has been unusually cool until now. So far, it’s mid-50s F at night. The weather is starting to heat up and will be hot soon. It was pretty hot at the market. (BTW, Dubai was 96F when I landed at 7:20 PM.) The sun rises here at 4:30 AM.

4. KABUL: I have seen some interesting fortifications and mosques from a distance in Kabul but I can’t say I have seen anything beautiful. The mountains surrounding the city are brown and barren looking. The city itself is quite poor. Roads are dirt and there are open sewers, septic tanks and drainage channels. More detail to come.

5. BLEEPIN’ TELEMARKETERS: I went to bed at 12:30 and forgot to turn off my US phone. It rang at 2:30 AM and it was Kitchen Magic. I couldn’t fall back asleep and was up the rest of the night.

6. CAMARADERIE: I’ve mentioned in emails about previous assignments that often I operate as a “lone wolf” consultant. I come in and meet with people, go off for a few days and then write a paper, make a presentation, do a training session — whatever. While I work by myself for the most part, being part of a team and living on the compound makes the experience much more social and also allows me to learn from people who have been here longer than I have. Besides me, our project team is headed by a Lebanese Christian who went to Syracuse and became a US citizen, a Kazakh who lives in Vancouver, a Kyrgyz who lives in Stockholm and a guy from Fort Lee, NJ who lives with his Kazakh wife in Florida. Quite the international crew. The cooks put out the food around 6:30 in the dining room. Dinner is rice, a meat dish and a vegetable dish or a salad. (The food has been pretty good so far.) Everyone strolls in between 6:30 and 7:00 to eat. Some people stay and kibitz, others eat and run. But everyone is friendly and talks about work, Afghanistan, other countries, etc. Kind of like summer camp for adults.

Tomorrow is my first work day.

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