Saturday, May 30, 2009

Early Weekend

The weekend in Afghanistan starts conveniently on Thursday afternoon, but cruelly ends on Sunday morning when I’m gonna have to be back at work at 8am. We ended the week with a happy hour – an idea introduced by some of the national staff to celebrate the achievements of the organization and the country that have been made thus far. It was of course an alcohol-free occasion (alcohol is officially forbidden in Afghanistan) – something which the internationals weren’t thrilled about, but there was surprisingly good instant coffee and a sumptuous collection of biscuits, pastries and cakes. Definitely enough to make a hungry intern happy. All was served in the green gardens of the premises and music was played at a conversation-killing volume. After a national staff had song two songs (Karaoke style) we unfortunately went back to a mixture of US and Euro-trash music (including ‘Where do you go’ from No Mercy – one of the first songs I remember trying to sing along in English when it was in the German charts in the mid-nineties). It was a nice enough occasion and a little disappointing that so few of the internationals attended in the end.
The weekend proceeded with a typical expat procedure of going to an expat restaurant (alcohol and Western food) followed by an expat party. Getting around Kabul past 10:30pm is difficult as internationals tend to have curfews, meaning their drivers won’t take them anywhere and officially they risk a penalty if ignored. However, of course there are ways around this, so that I found myself past midnight in a hot sweaty cellar where a Swedish cover band was playing past hits. The quality was acceptable and it was interesting to see that there were so many internationals around.
I was home late and slept till lunch the next day to then spend a very lazy two days in our garden, feeling slightly fenced in as the only trip outside was a quick escort to the expat shopping centre to purchase some overpriced yoghurt (not even the nice Afghan one, but imported Nestle stuff). At least the rabbit, parrots, tortoise and house mates were good company.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Arrival on Afghan Grounds

So finally, after a couple more finals, I got to go east at last. Taking the least convenient (yet most wallet-friendly) route I left Boston last Friday and flew via Toronto, London, Doha and Dubai to Kabul. I expected the last plane journey, the two and a half hours from Dubai to Kabul, to be taking place in a tiny airplane with propeller drive, filled only with only a handful of run-down, somewhat crazy-looking expat adventurers. So wrong! There were four planes doing the distance from Dubai to Kabul before 7am and none were particularly small nor empty. There were many more Afghans on the flight than expats and the few expats I saw looked pretty sane and average to me. What a disappointment;-)
After the arduous journey I slept through most of the flight which was a real shame because for the 10 minutes that I managed to keep my eyes open, I saw mountains like I had never seen before. Thanks to my Bavarian grandmother I had been forced up a couple of Bavarian mountains as a kid and had quickly discovered they weren’t for me. And sure, the surreal, jagged brown moonscape I saw didn’t make me want to put on my hiking boots either, but they were without question breathtaking.
Once on the ground, passport control was surprisingly smooth and getting my suitcase wasn’t much of a pain either (bar a little fight with a deaf-mute elderly man who had insisted carrying my suitcase where my cross-cultural sign language skills failed me and I had to resort to the strength of my arms). As expected military presence is strong and very visible, but once out of the airport the vast majority seemed to be Afghan, which surprised me (where are those 20,000 troops expected for the elections?). Stuck in traffic in what was an obvious expat vehicle, I was feeling somewhat queasy thinking that such a traffic jam filled with UN cars and the likes would probably be a popular target for a suicide attack. However, I was assured that Kabul was quiet these days (even though alert levels are up overall) and nothing had happened since February. Can’t deny that I didn’t find it that comforting that three quiet months are already reason for joy here.
Then finally arrived at my guesthouse, which bore yet another surprise: garden Eden! You enter from a loud, dusty street (via an armed guard) and then find yourself in a lush, green garden with pink and red roses everywhere, thick juicy grass, a comfy sofa-like area with lots of pillows and rugs, and then… two parrots, a tortoise and a free running rabbit! This definitely makes up for the fact that I will be sleeping in a musty smelling shed for the next two months!!
So overall, I am still reasonably scared and still very excited.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Preparations (Exam and Otherwise)

Only 2 more weeks until I am off to Afghanistan. And 'only' 2 more final exams until then. For the latter I should be revising right now, but couldn't help but think that a starting my blog would be the ideal study break to get me right back on track for some more econometrics...

Travel preparations have been much more successful thus far. Internship arrangements? check. Flight to Kabul (via London, Doha and Dubai to make sure I look as fresh as possible upon arrival)? check. Passport with a fancy visa? check. Guide on Afghanistan (that conveniently weighs about half as my total luggage allowance)? check. A ton of excitement? check, check, check!

So really all that remains is getting through these last two exams and I can be on my way to Kabul where I will be spending 9 weeks of this summer interning with a large international development organization in the field of local governance. Can't wait to get on that plane...