John Patten
Graphics
Photos from Afghanistan
 
Confessions of a Failed Humanitarian:
One Man’s Irreverent Odyssey through Post-Taliban Afghanistan

    1/29/02 Year 1380 Solar from what I gather here (and I’m still writing 1379 on my checks. That one just
    never gets old).

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Wait, I think somebody said that. It’s just as well, I
    guess the guy can’t make up his mind. Nothing like covering your bases. He looked out the window.
    Wait, I think someone covered that too. I won’t get off that easy. I work for a confused humanitarian
    NGO, not the UN.
    I’m still new here so it will take me awhile to figure things out, if then. The place is pretty devastated.
    Africa is Club Med comparatively. There are more people, vehicles and buildings here than you would
    think, although the last time a lot of them had repairs was probably 1978. There’s the omnipresent
    noise of diesel generators at all the foreign office (I use that term loosely) compounds. The UN people
    stay pretty isolated of course with their big screen TV and satellite dish made out of pounded roach
    spray cans. Diesel is also burned in drip heaters inside the home, so I’m looking forward to celebrating
    my first house fire. The fumes, whether in the house or office, are nauseating and give you a
    headache. It’s like having your desk next to pump #4 at the Chevron station. I’ve never been a smoker,
    but judging from the black snot coming out of my nose at the end of the day I must be on the
    accelerated adult learning program. I hope to be talking like a 68 year-old chain-smoking bus driver
    from Jersey by April.


    I spent several years in a village in Malawi in Central Africa, which inspired a little bit of the
    entry below.


    The house itself is not bad, basic the way I like it, with a couple of quirks. One is the bed pillows are
    three times as thick and packed so dense they must use trash compactor technology to make them. I’
    m afraid it might explode and give me a ridiculous epithet for my gravestone. They could be used both
    as a floatation device and as driveway paving stones. It should also have a step installed. The other
    thing is that there’s a deer of some kind in the backyard that we inherited from some deer rescue
    people or another, which seems absolutely absurd in this context (freakin Americans). I wish I could
    say it was cute, but someone in his family was seeing uneducated goats on the sly. He mostly just
    looks at me and dares me to plant my cilantro. Just like Homey the goat on Likoma Island, I can picture
    him with a side of boiled carrots. As far as the mutton goes, do you notice there are no restaurants on
    Sunset Blvd. serving “Mutton a la Françoise?” Enough said. All in all I have a bit more access to things
    than in Malawi, so I’m guiltily not suffering much. The physical bit is not even an issue. The job is
    always the problem. If I had any real gumption I would be living in one of the neighborhood brick
    buildings so I could get to know people and vice-versa, but they always are concerned about security
    here.



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