John Patten
Photos from Afghanistan


    I had to work on Easter despite the fact that I said I wouldn’t. We are running around trying to organize my
    survey staff to leave for a Western province. I was supposed to leave yesterday but got sick either on food
    or one of the numerous dirty kids I shake hands with every day, but what can you do? We have fish here
    sometimes and I think it is better that I don’t ask where it comes from. I haven’t seen any water. The
    person who is here from D.C. of course wants to only stay a month instead of the three months stated in
    the her contract, so she is running around for 16 hours a day expecting us to work or discuss all that time,
    all the while being incredibly annoying and condescending to people. There’s no way I can get the support
    I need for different aspects of the proposal with someone here a month. I’m not here for 30 days though. A
    year pace is different. I get too run down to keep going like that. Writer Thomas Merton said something to
    the effect that all of us humanitarians running around so much, but still not getting things done, keeps us
    from listening to the inner voice that gives us wisdom and makes the work fruitful. I don’t think anyone will
    listen to me though. It’s a club I don’t really belong to and they will probably just think I’m lazy, working only
    six, twelve-hour days.


    I just got a haircut here and I have to say not bad at all. I was concerned at first with our language barrier.
    In Bangkok one time I had asked for the Brad Pitt and got the Florence Henderson. He had to come to my
    house because his shop is in the city center and it’s still not safe here. People keep saying it’s a
    powderkeg here, but I just keep going about my day. I’ll probably hear about the collapse of Mazar on my
    little short-wave on the BBC, while swinging in my hammock out back and say, “Oh really? I better go
    outside and check.” This must be what the famous feel like, paying someone to come to your house for a
    service. In the backyard in the shade, with a nice spring breeze and high walls it could have been Palm
    Springs (leave my imagination alone). His scissors flew like he wanted to do the hedges next. It took about
    8 minutes. I got to wondering, that with so many ridiculous academic books and their formulas for various
    things (which seem to be forgotten when the new framework comes five years on because the old one did
    not work), was there some way I could get funding to tie GDP of a country with the length of time it takes to
    get a haircut? The more time the stylist takes, the better off the community. If it’s approximately 8 guys per
    hour here vs. 1.1 per hour in La Jolla, on paper I could make it mean something. Not anything useful I
    might add, but then again there are so many works that sound reasonable on paper and try to baffle
    people into submission. The purpose, if you can get the guy to finally admit it, turns out to be roughly,
    “Hey, I was between jobs, you don’t steal pens from your office?” At least here I don’t have to listen to an
    extra 20 minutes about which product I can purchase for additional vibrancy.


    I’m currently out in Maimena for training our survey staff before heading out to the field. It’s good to be out
    of Mazar. But here is the short version of what I’ve found lately: My work partner said walnuts are good for
    cholesterol and they have a lot here. After eating about a thousand sheep, what’s going on in my heart
    that a handful of walnuts are gonna cure? I washed down the sheep with a Russian soft drink named
    Opecka. It had a picture of some stringbean-type plant instead of fruit. There’s at least three jokes in
    there, but I’m a bit busy at the moment. Western people complain that Western culture will destroy the
    culture here. Actually however, Indian music and films will have a much bigger effect for the foreseeable
    future. They love Bollywood here. Even my staff understands Hindi.


    Wow, where do I start? I wanted these stories to be mostly funny, as life here is very interesting, but I
    guess I can’t get away from the hassles. These have less to do with the people or actually being in
    Afghanistan, and more to do with the nightmare of a consultant that is here now and some of the people in
    this organization. This will take some time. I feel like these people in my organization blame me for
    everything short of the GDP here. But they never see me on a daily basis to know what a typical day is like
    for me. The management is very poor here and completely absent. I’ll have to sort through issues myself.

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