John Patten
Photos from Afghanistan


    I was there for two more busy months after that last entry and had several other entries that I deleted, but
    the memories of leaving during the last couple of months are still very fresh. I will update the writing as time
    goes by. I had been too busy on final surveys to make entries in my journal. I do remember being more
    tired than I had ever been in my life as we were pulling 14 hour days out in the field to get the food security
    surveys done. The humanitarian counterpart I was working with was politically correct to a fault, so it was
    very draining and I wonder about the direction of the field sometimes, as they often seem to be missing the
    point with technical solutions in a politically charged atmosphere. I am glad that I left with things in a good
    position for handover, so hopefully good things will come out of it. If there wasn't hope for that well then we
    ought to just all pack it in. I am concerned however that the international community is not fulfilling
    promises it made and what we are doing is just not good enough. In a recent interview with an Afghan
    government official, he stated, "There is only enough money for salaries, rent, and electricity. There is
    nothing left for reconstruction."

    In the meantime I am in South Africa to support my wife's work as she is on contract here for the rest of the
    year. There aren't exactly many humanitarian jobs in the big cities here, (other contexts could use our tax
    money much more effectively than South Africa) so I've taken to applying outside the country. It's going
    slow, so to give you an idea where I am at the moment, I am enclosing a cover letter I wrote for a position
    in the U.K. with Comic Relief of all people, who's advert I saw on a relief jobs website. It's completely
    tongue-in-cheek, because after reading their website I felt it's not who I wanted to work for and we all have
    to take a break sometimes. They seemed to me about as funny as paint-drying equipment when I read the
    ads and I wanted to have a little fun with it. Of course they did not respond:

    September 26, 2003

    Dear Comic Relief,

    I would like to apply for the position of Media Relations Manager that I saw advertised on Devjobs,
    although as they were on hiatus the announcement did not go out until after the September 20th deadline.
    I am currently in South Africa, and due to slow phone modems the application will not download, so I took
    the liberty of attaching my CV. You would mind taking a look and if you feel I would be an appropriate
    candidate sending me the application packet? My diverse background in the humanitarian field includes
    public relations and speaking engagements, recruitment, coordinating various diverse agencies in
    Afghanistan and Africa, and managing an office and staff.

    My work as the last doorman for Chippendales nightclub in L.A. in its heyday in the late eighties, in
    addition to being held temporarily by an insane commander in the mountains of northern Afghanistan,
    qualifies me eminently to handle the pressures of media relations manager. Think about it, have you ever
    really had to talk down a former Taliban fighter from hanging your entire staff, or convince Prince’s bass
    player he was not getting into your club dressed like a genie? My time in Africa was just as challenging, as
    it is so difficult to reason with witchcraft militias on pot dressed as women. My only regret was that I never
    got to meet General Buttnaked from Sierra Leone, as I’m sure that would have generated lively discussion.
    Although come to think of it, nothing can compare to watching the horror of the latte machine go down at
    the Starbucks on Sunset Blvd. when the politically correct lobby is on their way to a seminar regarding
    which animals are actually cute enough to save. I wanted to help cows, but it seems they’re only a step
    above warthog in the looks and personal hygiene department. It also gets a bit chilly in L.A. comparatively
    at night and we needed the jackets. But I digress.

    I applaud your commitment to diversity and non-discrimination based on nationality. I hope that also
    includes average age, white, straight guys. I do have an aversion to vindaloo and some of the more spicy
    dishes that render me temporarily incapacitated, although I don’t think I can put that down as a disability
    on my application. Twelve years of Catholic school doesn’t qualify for that does it? Nevermind.

    I am an American, but don’t let that stop you. I am well versed in handy English expressions such as “what
    a wanker,” and words such as aluminium, schedule pronounced like the gravy is dripping out your mouth,
    centre, programme, and various other terms designed to make the French spin out. Yet at the same time I
    have the ability to pronounce words like Maryland, Gaza, and Packard correctly. But will we let differences
    across the pond stand in the way of our budding relationship? Heck no! We won’t let any mealy-mouthed
    intern vying for your position subjugate my application to the bottom of the pile so as to derail the joy of
    our working together!

    I hope to hear from you at your earliest convenience, so I don’t vacillate somewhere between feeling the
    unbearable lightness of being and the heartbreak of psoriasis. If I don’t, it’s not like I will end up on the
    rooftop naked with a high-powered rifle, but oh what bridges we could have crossed together.


    John Patten

    Ps- My sister has a flat in London, so provided I behave myself better this time, I could crash at her place
    until I find my own, saving you that hard earned quid on the Hilton and the overpriced minibar.

    I had a better time of it in France on my honeymoon recently, which was really great all previous jokes
    aside. It's a personal letter to friends and family after the wedding to thank them and give them an update.
    Why would I include personal writings? I guess because I was quite pleased with myself at my
    observational humor regarding France and my hard hitting commentary on the current U.S. political
    system and it was one of my better ones. Some of my best work is in emails to friends I correspond with,
    although how much it contributes to humanity may not be measurable. Maybe I should include topical
    references there. But I have fun even if I don't have income. Plus I don't want to give the illusion I haven't
    done anything since Afghanistan. Balance, balance, balance: