I have a team (advisers and consultants from my company) as well as my counterpart’s team (government employees), and they are located in different buildings. I work with both of them, although it’s usually different work or at least from a different perspective.

The company advisers’ space is fairly quiet, I can concentrate, I can ask them quick questions about a situation or get the background story to things that come up, and I overhear them discuss events or meetings that no one happened to inform me of. Everyone spends a lot of time welcoming each other when you come into the room in the morning and saying goodbye in the evening, which is probably mostly due to the Afghan national advisers in the room and a general awareness of the culture here. Mostly, though, the feel is similar to what I’m used to in the US, where everyone is diligently working on their respective tasks (e.g. often people in the same room send each other emails rather than just talking to each other and disturbing others). Furthermore, a large number of the discussions in the room are in Persian so I can often tune them out while I work.

The other team is eager and always wanting to talk in their limited English. It is often difficult to get them to stay on task. Every time I go to their space they ask me about my health, ask me to sit (even if I have only come for something quick), offer me tea (when I decline, usually end up bringing some anyway) and candy, put lunch in front of me (never asking if I have plans or need to be somewhere else), and talk (and laugh) with me for as long as they can. I actually don’t mind any of this, although the lunch thing is a bit frustrating because I don’t want to be rude. But anytime I mention leaving, needing to do work, going to my computer (which I keep in the other space), or try to get up to leave, I get a battery of questions: where are you going, why are you going, who will you be with, what will you be doing, when will you be back, do you have to go, etc. It ends up feeling like an interrogation, and if I do not give concrete answers, the battery continues, particularly with the question “when will you be back.” Let me include that I see these people every day for a couple hours and often a couple times a day, but the process is the same (or even a bit worse as I get to know those team members who are more shy &/or less familiar with English and they begin to join in with the interrogation).

Obviously, it is very difficult to get work done in that space. I don’t want to be a distraction from the work that needs to be done. I am hoping that as they get more used to me it will get easier. How much hope do I have for this? I’m not sure. When I commented about the lunch that has appeared more than once (Note: after the first time I asked my company colleagues about it, and they who told me that the lunch actually costs a dollar from the cook here, which I had no way of knowing about or contributing to), I tried protesting that I am not a guest. The decided response is that you are a guest in Afghanistan for one year. Hospitality is very important feature of the Afghan culture, but it feels particularly strange to me when it’s in a work environment.

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