Afghanistan Diary
Sunday, April 10, 2005

I went to a party last night. I had been told it was a salsa party and I was looking forward to see how rusty my dancing skills were. Unfortunately, there was no salsa dancing (well, one or two songs perhaps). The good thing however, was that the bar was well provided with rum. I drink little or nothing during the week, but on Thursday nights, I seem to have contracted the habit of drinking most of a bottle of hard liquor. Oddly, it does not even give me a hangover the next day. As I like to say, I have been trained in Belfast (where any self-respecting man or woman drinks 6-10 pints between five and eleven pm, safely gets home and is at work on time the next day). The part I like the least about this is the discomfort I feel when passing the chawkidars when I get home. I haven’t drunk like this since my high school days.

I think in part it is the lack of “things to do” in Kabul that makes people join parties. Hobbies, organized activities are a very middle-class consumerist concept. It does not translate well in many part s of the world. In the West, people are ideally expected to have a hobby and some fixed portion of time dedicated to it (say: going to the gym twice a week and play guitar with a band on Saturday). Not here. Expats have plenty of opportunity to get tense during the week (work frustration, living conditions more difficult than those they are used to, security concerns,. …). We need to decompress in a place we can lift the rules of behaviors we need to abide by during the week. I do want to meet Afghans socially (and I do), but the all expats parties are a place where to let off steam.

People were very excited to introduce me to a French speaking Belgian. I don’t have an iota of patriotic fiber in me. I know it came from a good place and I din’t mean to be rude… but who gives a fuck (excuse my language) if he comes from the same depressing puny place as I do? I have been trying to sever my ties to that country for well over a decade, and I have been rather successful at it.

Before the party, we watched a very forgettable movie. The movie (in English) had English subtitles as well. As is often the case, the subtitles were not a straight transcription of the dialogue and in many cases did not make any sense whatsoever (e.g. “Kazakhstan arrives”). The explanation I have been given (and I accept it short of a better one) is that the movie is first translated into Chinese subtitles, then were translated from Chinese to English). Talking about this, I saw a great piece of afghan English today “French bakery, a frEnchised bakery.”

My dad called me as well. It called at a bad time, the connection was very poor and I was rather curt on the phone. The thing is, I haven’t talked to him for a while, and he starts with his fatherly concerns (“what are you going to do next?”). Party pooper! I still am still in Kabul for a while and have plenty of time to think about it. Really, I just got here. To tell the truth, I have however, been asking myself the same questions. I have a number of options: trying to extend my stay, get a similar assignment somewhere else, do contract work in the US and short assignment abroad with geekcorps or a similar organization, or try to land with a job at the UN. The appeal here is that if I work with them, the INS won’t be on my back to question my residency, while if I work with an NGO, they will (good news by the way the INS paper I need to come back to the country have arrived).

Every year, I try to learn one computer skill or two. I am not sure what I want to learn this year. There are many programming skills that appeal to me, however, most techies jobs in the developing world are for system administrator and network engineer. Perhaps I should try to gain some skills in that area. Either that or I get back on the Oracle certification track.

I have been a little disappointed in myself and in the way I live here. I think in part, it comes from my anthropological training. I tend to think of the anthropological fieldwork as the standards by which my way of living in Afghanistan should be measured. I have to remind myself that I not doing a fieldwork here. I just live here and make myself as comfortable as possible in spite of constraints placed on us due to security. That does not prevents me from being interested in the country and in meeting Afghan people (well really, Afghan men). The other part that makes me uncomfortable is to be rich by local standards and to have a guard, a cleaner and a gardener. To be perfectly honest, I am getting used to that part.

I am temporary living in the house by myself. The two Danish ladies with whom I shared the house left, and Lyn is temporary staying at a guesthouse to help a friend. I am outmanned by the chawkidars at night.

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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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