I don’t want my negativity (over my job, project mismanagement, or lack of a coherent US strategy) to imply that I was unhappy living in Afghanistan or that I think poorly of the Afghans.

On the whole, my time in Afghanistan was very easy. My post Spoiled never stopped being true. Living outside the US was one of my goals, and I’m really proud to have accomplished it, especially through my job. And while I often felt like I was in a bubble, isolated from the average people of Afghanistan, I had the advantage of living and working with people from around the world (including Irish, British, South African, Australian, Afghan, Indian, Pakistani, Pilipino, Sri Lankan, Iranian, French, and German). This increased the cultural exchanges exponentially.

I really came to enjoy the Afghan people on a social level. This is by far their strength. I understand a lot about their work norms, but I can’t say that working with them ever became easy. There is just too great a divide between the expectations I came with, at least for white collar work. (Here I’m strictly talking about Afghans who have never lived outside Afghanistan.) By far, my biggest complaint about Afghans (which is completely justified considering their history) is their tendency to just wait things out (process, system, government, etc. will fall eventually) rather than thinking strategically about what they want to become and how they can get there with existing resources. Way too much time is spent trying to figure out how to get flat screen tvs or video conferencing equipment, which aren’t needed or used for work purposes, rather than how to make their departments actually effective. Of course, I know this happens everywhere, but it is much more blatant here.

And since this is my farewell post, I have to include a few of the things that I will truly miss:

  • I really came to appreciate living in a guesthouse with other expats. It was like being put into a place where everyone is instantly part of the same club (knowing the same people, speaking the same lingo, struggling with many of the same issues, etc.). Usually when you move to a new place, you have to slowly meet people, try to get to know them better, become friends, but all of this can happen in the course of 2 or 3 days when you’re living and working together.
  • Within a few months, I had created a good situation with friends, exercising, classes, work, and get-togethers that fell into an easy routine. This will take a lot more time to create in a new place, but on the up side, I will get to incorporate outdoor activities!
  • Travel facilitates cultural exchange. This doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot by getting to know people on your street. But it’s much more in-your-face and people are way more open to talking about differences and similarities when you’re a visitor. You’re allowed to asked questions without offending anyone (for the most part). I’m going to miss the guys in my office, who were always so open to explaining things that I noticed, asking me questions, and comparing and contrasting situations.
  • Lunches. Have you ever wanted to entertain friends at home without the headache of planning, cooking, and cleaning up? Do you need a break in the middle of the day to just unwind, maybe vent about your job or maybe talk about what you would do if you ruled the world? Do you wish you ate delicious food made from scratch more often? If I had to pick the top thing that I will miss from these past 10 months, it is going home for a delicious lunch (5 minutes away from work) and chatting with my best buddies or hosting friends, and no planning involved.
  • In my last week, I said a lot of goodbyes, but it was actually saying goodbye to Housain, our cook, that left a lump in my throat. Of anyone in Afghanistan, he was the one who worried and fretted over me. He always knew if I was sick. He always made my favorite foods. I wouldn’t say it was a deep friendship; our limited language skills wouldn’t allow for that. But when he had a headache, he would come to me for an ibuprofen, and when he got hit by a car on his way to work (did I mention he rides his bike 1 hr each way to come to work), I was the one to send him home to rest. I am going to miss him, and I worry that others will not appreciate him. And what really bothers me is that due to the large cuts in our project, my company will need to close some of the houses that it has been renting/managing. In the process, I think it’s extremely likely that he will lose his job in the next few weeks.
  • As you know from Changing Roles, I was really looking forward to working in a different role, one that would create tangible results that my colleagues could use to improve a very important government process. I’m going to miss the opportunity to complete that work as well as working closely with some of my friends.
  • I got to know 2 Afghan women in my counterpart’s staff. I enjoyed getting to know them and learning about their families. However, our relationships didn’t really move much beyond this because I worked more closely with several of the men on the team. And then just 2 weeks before I left, I had the chance to meet and work with another Afghan woman. She is 23 yrs old and had fairly recently returned from the US, where she studied for almost 3 years. Our friendship blossomed immediately. She is from a conservative family who never wanted her to go to the US in the first place, and now she is having a very difficult time adjusting to living with her family again after so much independence. Further, even many of her friends feel she has turned her back on her culture. She no longer fits in where she once did, and I’m really going to miss the opportunity to be her friend and mentor.
Advertisements