John Patten
Photos from Afghanistan

    Back at home in Mazar again and took the past two days off. It kind of helps now that Mazar has been
    completely cut from electricity again. But it seems more an issue of Dostum asking for that assistance from
    his Uzbek friends rather than just non-payment. Atta controls most of Mazar and Dostum’s continually
    trying to decrease the guys influence. We live in Atta’s neighborhood, so of course the electricity in this
    section goes.

    Still have to go to the UN to report the security incident. On the last day trying to get out of Zendan we
    were stopped by, or rather stumbled into, a self-styled “Commander” who held us for twenty minutes and
    refused to let us leave. Our rental vehicles could not get back up the hills we came and we would have had
    to pass him anyway at his compound off by itself. When the discussions got heated I tried to get everyone
    back in the cars and walk away, and he told his boys to go get the guns. And we knew he had them.
    Everybody in the area did, so there was nothing we could do. I looked around up at the ring of mountains
    in the middle of nowhere and knew we couldn’t get out easily. Plus the rental driver had burned out his
    clutch trying to get up the previous hill. It felt like that Blair Witch movie when she said, “We’re gonna die
    out here.” I asked Mawludin for a translation and he said in his customary droll, matter of fact speech, “He
    told his people to go get their guns and they would hang us all.” I had never wanted to get out of an area

    The huge commander was really a dangerous local thief, the only Junbesh in an area of Jemiat. He had
    killed two of our rental driver’s uncles in the past, and he was really ignorant. There was no reasoning with
    him by anybody. We were told he was not there, but he had returned from Gorziwan the day before, and
    wanted to know why we had not come to see him. Big man in a little pond, but no doubt he controlled it and
    his family and lackeys were scared to death of him. I felt sorry for the kids especially. He demanded all of
    our records and work for the past week. I grew some balls and said there was no way he was taking our
    work. I finally manipulated him into thinking he was a bigger man than what he was, a giant but dangerous
    cretin. I apologized for not following proper procedures, took a quick file on his house, told him we were not
    here because of the opium but to see peoples’ food situation get better, etc. He could use the opportunity
    to save face and let us go he said because of me. Then there were hugs all around and he gave us
    directions when we had to go an alternate way because of the bad vehicles. It was all very strange and
    absurd. He just wanted his due. We were still in the shadow of his house for two more hours between
    failing to get up the hill, searching for an elder to guide us to Gorziwan, replace the clutch on the one
    truck, and slowly go the longer, more difficult way. Eight hours later for the two-hour trip we arrived at a
    partner compound in Gorziwan, which felt like civilization comparatively. The next day though the same
    vehicle bottomed-out in the river up to the back seat and that cost two more hours to drag it out and
    change the oil. Glad I had the camera. I was breaking hard almonds on a nearby rock like a monkey, and
    there were many things confusing about that to local passersby on donkeys.

    I look back over the language of this journal and realize it’s so easy to make it sound brave and macho,
    but anyone going into a situation like this knows it’s not. I’m not brave by virtue of being here. Anyone can
    take up space in a place. The fact is I’m often afraid here and was out in the mountains. Maybe that’s why I
    get so stressed, as a way to cover for the fact that I’m scared. But you just have to deal with it anyway.
    This trip took a lot out of everybody.


    Some of that last part was BS. I was just trying to acknowledge that yes things are scary here sometimes,
    but really I’m not too afraid. Just voicing things aloud to see how they sound or feeling sorry for myself out
    of exhaustion. Or I don’t want to pump up my stories like those false macho guys that say, hey look at me, I’
    m so cool being a pirate in a dangerous world and I’ll have to ask you to stand back to see my manhood.
    But I’m certainly not a coward. I go right back out to the mountains when necessary and still want to. When
    I was out there I refused to give the commander our records and wasn’t budging until he gave into my
    argument. I think if you recognize the fear but still deal with it anyway you’re ahead of the game. I’ve been
    getting less stressed lately and not losing my temper. Not that it was ever really directed at anybody, but
    people don’t want to be around someone that’s stressed. It’s uncomfortable. We can understand that
    intellectually, but it’s pretty hard not to react when some situations happen and the situations here are
    definitely intense. I don’t know what changed, I was always aware of it. Maybe I just got so tired I need to
    focus on other things. Or I decided the cost is too high. I’ll be leaving here in five months, which has given
    me the opportunity to be firmer with management in regards to what I will do with my schedule. I won’t use
    them for a recommendation anyway, so they know I could always leave and not do the reports. Not that
    they really need me, but they do need that work to be done, so I’ve been pushing back so that they won’t
    push it themselves too far and make me say the hell with it, it’s been a year I’m outta here. Or something
    like that. I feel more in control now, but always wanted to do the work anyway.


    For God’s sake my staff likes to drop things out of the blue sometime. We’re analyzing all the village and
    household files for food security, of which income and expenses are part. In the translations they have to
    ask me what something is called in English, and they wanted to know how they should record expenses for
    that party where they circumcise a kid when he is around seven and all the relatives are over. Whoa,
    whoa, whoa, hold on big fella. First of all, I wouldn’t be waiting around until I’m seven, and I certainly wouldn’
    t be having a party over it (there, there, have some ice cream, it will be alright). I want mine back. It’s bad
    enough for a baby. I’m sure I was well pissed off at that. Maybe that’s where all this anger around the world
    starts. We should do a pilot study. He also said because there are no doctors around in Kohistan it’s done
    by the barber. Nothing like terrorizing the kid for a couple of years going to the barber, never knowing if it’s
    time to take a little off the top. It’s like having plastic surgery at Supercuts.

    I think that put me off asking about the sexual practices here. In Malawi we had a whole conference on it.
    Come to think of it, they would probably be more scared at my own culture’s practices. Some things are
    probably the same, such as many men thinking foreplay is six Heinekens and “brace yourself.” Just that
    last part for here though. In the market they have not blue movies, but those really, really, really stupid
    fake soft-core playboy type movies with ridiculous story lines and dialogue that somebody somewhere
    must think is erotic. They probably also think that Baywatch is cool and that ketchup is a vegetable. Local
    people here viewing those would think we’re all whacked. “So sir, do you like to play games?” The bad
    thing is I’ve seen two different friends in these and one old roommate (but I’m a serious actress!). Looks
    like they got the wrong agent. I think it’s put me off doing lunch in LA ever again.


    I’ve been dying to go running and was going to this afternoon on a loop around the streets here, but there
    are always so many people around. I can’t stand being stared at. Exercise is inexplicable in most
    developing countries because they get enough just walking around trying to survive. They want to drive
    me everywhere here and I can’t move. If they could get the car into the basement where my office is I’m
    sure they would drive me to my desk. We went for a three hour hike up the mountain one time in Africa
    and the village ladies looked at us and paused, said you were gone up there three hours and didn’t bring
    back any firewood? I’m trying to go running in the morning, but it’s cold, I’m not the 6 am guy, and the
    warm bed is just too nice. I can’t do the Nike just do it thing with my 14 dollar shoes and the chance of
    getting shot on a frosty morning in Mazar. I’ll need to carry around a card in Dari explaining the purpose of
    jogging and that this is not a suspicious activity.


    Just like back on March 14th when it turned into summer overnight, winter arrived today with the grey
    drizzly skies and cold that will be here for the next four months. It already snowed in the mountains. We
    have no heat yet of course, because that would make sense, although we were all still recovering from
    sweating and all the mosquito and flea-bites, which seemed a very immediate memory until this morning
    when my head steamed after a shower. The bugs seemed to have moved inside for the winter as well. I
    picked a fine time to start jogging, although with the rain it looks like now I’m trying to get somewhere warm
    and dry rather than running from a crime I just committed.

    I also joined a gym, the best one in the city named Esfandyar, which is really a dark room with metal sorts
    of things that people pick up ostensibly for exercise. They even take their shoes off here, and I had to ask
    if it was ok not to, as dropping a tire rim on a cold foot would put me off daily workouts at the gym. Can’t
    wait for the younger guys to start challenging me to strength contests. Don’t know if the guys are
    Jordanian army, factional leaders, or were bodybuilders before the Taliban, but some look surprisingly
    good and balanced, and others should choose more than just bench presses or those chicken legs will not
    be able to support the weight. They all stop though when I come in and look at me like, “Uh oh, here
    comes the neighborhood.” (Not my joke).

    I don’t think I can take my job anymore. It’s not the job; it’s the “manager” who is anything but. She just
    doesn’t know how to manage people and makes me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. She won’t let
    good people just go through their paces and do their jobs. Just like another program manager was saying,
    what I am I here for then? I wanted to stay until April, but I’m entertaining thoughts of calling it a day.
    Maybe in January after one year? They won’t give me a good reference though and I’d be missing out on
    some food security experience that I really wanted. Don’t know where I’ll land in South Africa either. I feel
    like I’m back to square one. They really know how to take the air out of your sail and give you no
    motivation to want to take the initiative, because it will not be well received anyway. This organization has
    been a horrible experience even if Afghanistan has not. I don’t think I want to transfer with these people,
    but I don’t know what to do about income or a recommendation.

    That said manager, even though she was admittedly very dedicated and hard working, ended up causing
    all nine of the ex-patriates there at the time to quit and move on to something else. What is the sense in
    that? It should have told the organization something, but I don't know if the organizational culture learns.


    I went to the gym today and got a good workout in. Of course I was the big sideshow and everyone in the
    gym wanted to see the foreigner. They asked if I had any body building tips and I said, “Yes, go lift some
    weights and stop standing around looking at me.” The owner told me yesterday it was one dollar to work
    out per month, but when I started today he said that’s for the locals, I should pay fifty dollars. I told him
    back home I would pay twenty a month, have new weights and machines, a sauna, swimming pool, and
    women in tights, so if he thought I’d pay that much for something that looks similar to gyms in Chechnya,
    only colder and darker, he was crazy. So we settled on a fiver.

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