John Patten
Photos from Afghanistan


    want to talk about it. My agency is ridiculous. I’ve been putting in 12-13 hour days seven days a week
    lately and they still criticize. They really know how to take the wind out of your sails. I’m so overextended
    and exhausted that I can’t keep it all straight and missed a meeting they wanted me to go to. It was useless
    I heard anyway. They talk a good story about how people get burned out but are upset if you can’t keep
    everything juggled in the air. I may just quit. I don’t believe yet that any of this will be viable for informing
    programming or alleviating the situation. Too bad though because I really like Afghanistan. The NGOs
    should either attempt to support the local structures or get out of town. We need to be here long-term, but
    the donor told me that, “We are not funding a process.” Uh, yes you are whether you know it or not. I’m so
    worried that when my government feels less like they need Afghanistan that support will dry up.


    Had some Dari lessons last week which went reasonably well, but the pronunciations are so different and
    some words sound so close but mean completely opposite things. My local staff always seems to have a
    good laugh. So far I have called myself a sock, got the word for toilet confused with the word for sun
    (Please Sahib, where is the sun?!), and while announcing I was tired and going to bed, let people know
    clearly that I am an apricot pit and this really needs to change.


    I’m in Maimena, and it’s always good to catch up on stories. Still don’t feel part of this foreigner crowd and
    really don’t want to be though. I’m more relaxed around the local staff. I can’t believe how people talk to
    them sometimes or exclude them, or make them sit at the end, not use the cars, the food, etc. Any topic
    can almost be like, “that’s for the ex-pat staff.” I don’t think they even notice. The drivers and both my male
    and female staff really like me, especially when we are out in the field, so that’s something. I guess I’m
    differently irreverent. I don’t have to get a complex from a few of the arrogant and overbearing ex-pat staff
    we have. People that bring their degrees and theories and their arrogance don't really jive with the
    situation. The probelm is they think their ideas really are the correct ones because they went to university.
    Then they wonder why people are resistant. Maybe they think I don’t like women because I’m direct and
    call them on it, which is absurd if they knew my closest confidants and mentors are women back home. A
    few here are high on pretense, with that phony, condescending and manipulative sort of kindness.
    “Wouldn’t it be great sir if we could do it this way?” (Which means, “My way because I’m a control freak”).
    At least people always know I talk to them straight. Maybe they’re just pissed because I see through it and
    it doesn’t work as well on me.

    Anyway, they are trying to rehabilitate the landing strip here, so de-miners were working the runway and
    area. Recently they found a 500 kg unexploded bomb from the Russian era and blew it up whether it
    needed it or not (“I’m not flying 10,000 miles not to blow something up that needs blowin up Captain, no
    siree”). I guess it took out windows all over the city. There was another story about the humanitarian food
    aid drops, the packets of which were colored the same yellow as the cluster bombs, and they wanted to
    take no chances. They ended up blowing up someone’s lunch. “For the love of God, not the peanut
    butter!” (It makes good spackle on the bricks here).

    I got a copy of a photo of my commander friend and his children from Kwaji Arab. I have to send it out, but
    it will take a few days to get there by donkey. It’s a good photo, but also for what it might tell. He looks
    proud but tired, and is holding onto his son like someone might take him. His cute little daughter is right
    next to him with her arms flapping in the wind while he is completely oblivious to her. They sell a lot of
    daughters around here, at a younger and younger age now. Between that problem, the water problem,
    asset depletion, increasing indebtedness, and foreigners being here only for three-month contracts, I don’t
    know what to do. I think I want daughters.


    So the driver Mir Ahmat, whom we enjoy going on trips with, wanted to teach me a good curse word in Dari
    while out on the road. I returned the favor by teaching him the proper way to say “what a dumbass” if
    someone is driving badly or runs in front of the car. It may not be the best of cultural exchange, but these
    relationships need to have a good base to build on. The problem now is to keep him from calling everyone
    a dumbass just because they are just waiting for a bus.

    This is not related, but again with the Irish girls. This one wore her blue satin running shorts, tight t-shirt
    and sandals to a barbeque here. She still had to go outside of course, so everyone saw her. She thought
    that because she wrapped her head in a headscarf that was all right. Are you that dim? It could not have
    been more inappropriate. It may not have been the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen, but it was in the
    top five, I’ll tell you that much. She even had the audacity to be unattractive while doing it. I wonder what I
    would say if she were a babe? All I know is that when I’m out in the market now I notice women’s ankles (It’s
    a burka thing). I’m also attracted now to unattractive women, which creates it’s own problems. It was bad
    enough being attracted to all the attractive ones. I need to see my girlfriend soon so she can set me
    straight on all this. I saw a music video yesterday, they finally got a TV and satellite dish, but 180 channels
    of crap (there’s a reason why Bulgarian TV is not exported) because anything good they have to pay for,
    and on this video were some pretty African women stretched out to two-thousand people by the computer
    and all painted red. All I could think after a few beers that night was, “God, I think I really like red women.” It’
    s a good thing I don’t smoke the pot here. I really need to see my girlfriend.


    Note to Pakistani suicide bombers: STOP BLOWING SHIT UP. We have enough problems without
    wondering if we’ll be sushi every time we have to get a stamp at the consulate. I can understand the
    desperation of some people, and the damage done to the psyche of some populations in the Muslim world,
    self-inflicted or otherwise, but this is no strategy at all. When they meet Allah, instead of the 70 virgins I
    think they will immediately realize their error. I think all the moderates in the Arab world need to be more
    outspoken to address some of their own issues in the region. If you include some of these clerics in the
    government and all of a sudden they have to make sure roads are done, garbage is picked up, etc, their
    extremist luster wears pretty thin for people. They get their power from diverting the real issues. Someone
    should tell that to George jr. and the Israelis as well. It’s a different perspective when you step out here.

    I hate to reduce all major regional geo-political problems to how it effects my vacation, but if it effects my
    vacation I’m going to be really unpleasant. Unfortunately I have to take a four-hour bus ride to Lahore in
    eastern Pakistan from Islamabad just to get my plane to Bali. I have an Afghan outfit now though (it’s a hot
    summer thing, no religious significance). I thought I had said I really like my Peran shirt, but people heard
    in Dari that I really like Dr. Hadi’s sister Parwin. I can’t win. They wear those in Pakistan too. Maybe they will
    cut me some slack. I promise I won’t debate Mohammed on the bus (this version is not going to the folks).
    If I do not a) get a UN plane outta Afghanistan for Islamabad, b) get a bus to Lahore for the flight at
    midnight, c) hit my connection in Bangkok and actually land in Bali on the 29th, and d) no one kills me
    along the way, then my girlfriend will go looking for the Japanese Salary-man. Which would not be good,
    because I would eventually wind up cruising the roads of America alone on my old dusty Harley, a Masters
    educated but never really used it properly guy, spouting something between wisdom and the rantings of
    someone not quite right in the head, to people that really are not interested anyway. And nobody wants


    I should have realized this sooner, but I’m not young anymore. I’m not sure what happened. I woke up and I’
    m 37. I think my hours are only 45 minutes now. Not that I would want to be 24 forever, but I thought I
    would be 24 forever. I should not have cut off my hair. It’s where I stored my power. Now I just look like
    every other poor schmuck whose shirt should have taken one step closer to the iron, while I wearing my
    sensible shoes. I saw a James Bond flick, and those guys are a bit dated. I don’t want to have to have a
    hair wrangler, be concerned that I made a martini the right way, or be concerned whether my suit has four
    buttons instead of three either. I still can’t get over thumping music though. I saw a video and had vague
    recollections of being cool at one point in my life, but actually I haven’t had any style since somewhere
    around ’89, when nobody actually had any style.

    I have six staff here in the office right now (I gotta take a break sometime) and they look to me to
    micromanage every issue (no, I don’t know where the staples are, I entrust this vast responsibility to you
    should you choose to accept it). I do NOT want to claw my way to middle-management, for organizations I
    think got it wrong. At least Iqbal yesterday thought I was insightful. Organizations do not though. However,
    nobody will finance my early mid-life crisis to go write a book from the beach. I’m currently very unsure of
    my future earning potential. Plus my stock strategy of buy high sell low is just not working out for me. If I
    were a Jesus freak on a Harley at least people would give me a sandwich to make me go away. There’s
    this guy here that works for ZOA who used to run a lodge on the beach in western England (do they have
    those there?). Someone said, “Oh, you opted out, eh?” He replied that actually he opted in. I have to find
    something. Here am I complaining in possibly the most interesting place I could be right now, while some
    99.99% of foreigners will never see what I see. Maybe I should map out travel routes for the Lonely Planet
    Travel guide here. I’m thinking ahead for the future when the dirty backpackers descend and complain that
    this tea costs 25 cents, but it was only ten cents in Badakshan.

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