Oy, this blog has been pretty serious lately. I like to come here and work through some of the complicated and heavy stuff I have on my mind. If there were more folks about in person to talk things through with that might be different, but as it is I appreciate the thoughtful comments and new connections I make here.
But I'd hate to give the impression that humanitarian/human rights work in the field is all doom and gloom and personal sacrifice. Oh no. There is a reason why we do this, why we stay here. There are moments when you really feel that you've made a positive difference and that can lift your spirits and keep you going for weeks.
At a day-to-day level, though, what really helps you survive and thrive here are all the little things that make you smile. Here are some things that made me smile today (and a few things that didn't make me smile at the time but do now that I'm looking back on them):
- sneaking a bottle of wine past the police check at the airport and feeling like a teenager sneaking booze into a rugby match again (yes - I know one reader in particular found my drinking to be an offense to my host country, but since all my Afghan colleagues ask me to buy them alcohol and tell me that they estimate only 20% of Afghan's are teetotal, I'm taking that offense with a grain of salt - plus I am very discrete - I learned that when I was a teenager).
- having the female security guard who searched my bag pull out a box of tampons and ask me what they were, then not having enough Dari to explain without some charade-style demonstrations (this one didn't make me smile at the time but now I can see the funny side).
- arriving back to Cheghcharan to a really warm welcome from my colleagues, it's a real privilege to work with people who appreciate your efforts and even your simple presence so much.
- meeting with the Governor, the Chief of Police, the Head of the Department of Economy, the Head of the Department of Rural Recovery and Development and knowing that their "Welcome Back" was genuine and that they have been taking action on some of the issues we discussed before I went to Herat.
- getting an informal performance assessment by phone and discovering after a year of flailing about and never knowing whether I was doing this job right that in fact my work is seen to be of excellent quality - I really never knew that before and boy did that make me smile (of course the ulterior motive to get me to extend my contract may have played a part, but I'm going to take this pat on the back anyway).
- discovering that my Amazon parcels have arrived at the army base in my absence and knowing that in 30 minutes I can go there and collect my loot (including new yoga DVDs, the BBC Planet Earth TV series, The Princess Bride movie and lots of lovely books)
- getting an email from a friend who was here in Ghor with me in May and who starts studying at Columbia in NYC today who told me about going for a run in Central Park, the sense of freedom was so well-described that I got a little taste of it by email.
- being back in Ghor and knowing that this means I can probably go out for a walk (got to check with security first because unfortunately there are new security incidents every day and rules can change fast).