Afghanistan Diary
Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I have been putting off writing about this for a while, because I did not want to disclose how corrupted I became, but here it is: We (that is me and the three girls I live with) are getting a cleaner for the house. Although I heard all of the arguments that are supposed to soothe my oh-so-wounded petit bourgeois conscience (it provides employment, it stimulates the local economy, …), I can’t manage to be completely scrupleless about it. So, I plan to be a hypocrite instead, to reap the benefits of a clean house, while claiming some moral superiority because I have some moral qualms about exploiting a cleaner. Because, even if we pay her well by local standards, I find it difficult to say that we are not exploiting her.

You may not realize, reader, that you are hardly in position to judge. Aren’t the Nikes you are wearing made in a sweat shop in Pakistan, etc? And how long has that bother you, really? But there is something more “in your face” when you hire a worker yourself. It is quite possible to live very comfortably here and to have a cook, a driver and a maid, but it is not what I came here for though.

Afghanistan is one of the poorest country in the world (all living standards indicators are horrendous) and I can only live there as a rich man, among a few middle class Afghanis and surrounded by others people who are incommensurably poorer. The challenge is to be a decent rich man by both local and one’s own standards. Of course it is greatly ironic that I am a rich man here, given that my salary is only a fraction (roughly a quarter) of what I was earning in the US, making me a little more than a bum when I’ll be back to the States.

At any rate, the first candidate came the other day. It was very interesting. The woman wore a complete burka, yet, once in our living room, she took it off in the presence of two men. She was proud to say she could use a vacuum cleaner (not your everyday afghan thing). She wanted a job because there were too many men at her current job and that made her uncomfortable. She came from Mazar-e Sharif, close to Turkmenistan. A fascinating place which I would love to visit some day.

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This is my diary. My name is Lev and I work in Kabul for a non-governmental organization (

Location: Kabul, Afghanistan
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