Days 19-20 – Running off at the mouth, NJ Turnpike and HBM, 8 June 2010

I got lots to say today. Nearly all of it puerile. (SAT word!)  I have been back out on the streets of Kabul, well by car anyway, and my demeanor has improved.

1. THE MOUNTAIN. Many of my colleagues enjoy the shortcut route over the mountain to avoid the city traffic. It is like a rollercoaster ride. I don’t like it. The poverty is too depressing. There is no running water. Little kids are carrying water jugs as heavy as they are. Kids Lucy’s age are carrying around their three year old brothers and sisters. Few of them are in school. There is garbage everywhere. There is no garbage pickup or dumps. People just throw their refuse in vacant lots. It’s pretty breezy so there’s trash strewn everywhere.

2. SMALL WORLD/JERSEY RULES. We have a new guy. I ask him where he’s from and he says “Ridgewood, NJ.” Sonofabi—, a homeboy. Ridgewood is where my Dad used to buy his suits in the 1970s and where I stayed out all night for the first time at a 1979->1980 New Year’s Eve party. (AJC: You were ‘da man’ that night!) What’s better is the Jersey guy gets it. We were talking with work colleagues about the negative impact of tariffs on international trade, he walks right by me and says, “I got your tariffs right here.” He didn’t do the ‘package adjustment’ out of respect to our Afghan colleagues.

4. SWOT. One of the first things they teach you in strategy development is SWOT analysis — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. I conducted a SWOT facilitation session with some of the staff of the Afghan Export Agency. It was interesting. People were not afraid to speak up and share their opinions. They were very good on strengths and weaknesses. Thinking ahead on opportunities will take some work. Considering the style of education they received, it’s understandable.

5. LUNCH: GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN. After the SWOT, the folks at the Export Agency invited me to lunch. They eat lunch together everyday at the office. They call it Shahan or Shatan. Not sure which. It comes from the Arabic. The idea is that you shouldn’t eat alone and should come together for a meal. When lunch time came, the ladies hightailed it upstairs. Even though the ladies in my SWOT session outranked the men. Men and women eat lunch separately there. There is an Afghan-German woman who works in the Agency. When I asked her about it, she said that there was no law against men and women eating together. Offices decide their own custom. She thought it was a pain in the butt but the women in the office requested to eat separately. They didn’t want to worry about being appropriately covered or what they said. They wanted, “Ladies do lunch.” Since I am foreign, old and esteemed, they asked me if I wanted to eat in my office but I decided to go for the full experience and lunch at the “dude ranch.” So I went down to the conference room where lunch was laid out, it was Kabulli pullao (like biryani), yogurt with cucumber, and watermelon chunks. I walked in and most of the guys had no idea I was coming. I sat down and the room was completely silent. I didn’t know if it was because I was there or these guys were really hungry and were just chowing down. After about 5-7 minutes, the conversations started and it seemed normal. They all spoke in Dari. At the end of the meal, one fellow turned to me and asked, “I hope you can accommodate the Afghan food?” I replied I could and all seemed OK. The food was pretty good.

6. WOMEN’S WEAR DAILY. In addition to covering their heads, the women in our office have to wear appropriate clothing. So, they wear long dresses or normal blouses and slacks but cover their clothes with these long tunics designed to hide any sort of curve. I haven’t seen any of the Western women wear skirts yet.

7. DRIVING MISTER BARRY. The guys who drive me to the Export Agency or other off-site location have to wait for me. They often sit in the car for three hours or more waiting for me. I thought about giving my iPod as a gift to my driver when I left. But I don’t have a steady driver, so it would be silly. They are well-paid for what they do but nonetheless it is pretty boring. We all know the drill.

8. THE PRICE YOU PAY. (DC: Your Bruce shout-out.) The next item should not be taken as a whine but as describing the personal stuff that happens when you do these assignments. As the kids say, “It is what it is.” While I was home, I started looking for full-time jobs rather than consulting gigs. Sometime in March, I became involved in the recruitment process for Vice President of International Development for Realogy Franchise Group. I made the cut to 20. I went through the phone interview process with the Head of the Division that narrowed the field down to five people. I made the five cut and phone interviewed with two other VPs. The top three would be invited in for a full day of interviews. My day was June 3rd. I explained my situation in advance by email and phone. No response. On the bright side, there’s plenty more work in Kabul if I want it …

9. ERRATA
– There is sanity. Some schools allow boys and girls to go to class together until 3rd grade.
– The Minister of the Interior and the Director of the Internal Security Department were sacked because of the attacks during the peace jirga.
– My US mobile phone rang. A ticket rep from the NY Giants wants to know if I want to buy season tickets with a $5000 PSL. I told the fellow calling that not only would I not pay the PSL but the roaming charge was costing me a fortune. Good-bye!
– Debbie starts her first day at her new job today. You go girl!
10. BONUS: Happy Birthday Mom! I won’t divulge Mom’s age. (I just lie about my age saying I am older than I am. I say I’m 55 and everyone says, “Wow, you look great for 55.” … Just kidding.) But many Happy Birthday wishes from Afghanistan.

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