Monday, June 22, 2009

Sweet Milk and a Kidnapping

Today was a special day at work which, I think, really draws out what my experience in Kabul has been like so far. First, I got to drink the sweetest, most fragrant almond milk that might be known to man (it was the kind of wonderful tasted that every kid’s childhood should’ve tasted like). And then, while I was gulping it down with a sample of delicious cookies, I was standing next to a man who had just been released from a Taliban kidnapping.

To explain: We had a meeting at the deputy ministry of youth affairs today. The meeting room was in the cellar (which seems a popular set-up around here). There were no tables in the room, 2 beautiful carpets though and then just wooden chairs all around the walls. In order to put up the projector two chairs had been pushed together and the machines was balancing on the backs of the two chairs. We were told there were six office laptops, none of which could be found… so someone ran and must’ve convinced a co-worker who had brought in their own laptop (to work on it themselves I would suppose) to lend it to us.

We started with our presentation once the deputy minister was there. He does not speak English, but French (in addition to Dari etc.), so we held the meeting in a mix of English, French and Dari. Half way through he let us know that we would have to take a break because the department was having a celebration in honor of the return of an employee who had just been released after having been taken hostage by the Taliban on a trip of official business.

So we paused, as if this was an expected, average-day occurrence and went to a different room, where about 25 men (I only spotted three female employees) had been waiting. In the middle of the room was a table with tons of cake and cookies (which are both really good here). A small man with a white beard, in the traditional light colored baggy pants, lose shirt and dark vest entered and served everyone a glass of hot, thick milk. First I thought it a little odd. It’s rare that I’ve seen anyone above the age of nine having a glass of hot milk, so I would’ve expected tea or coffee or something. But the moment I had taken a sip of the milk, I was reminded that not only are milk&cookies still a fabulous combo, but also that THIS particular milk put any coffee/tea/whatever to deep shame. Heavenly.

Just when I was about to get comfy in milk-cookie-heaven, the deputy minister began to tell the story of the kidnapped employee. He recounted that the employee had been traveling on official business in the south when his car was stopped and he and two colleagues were pulled out violently. Luckily they had stored all office documentation under their seats, so there was no ‘proof’ of them having done anything ‘wrong’. Still they were blindfolded, hand and feet tied and taken to some unknown location. They were accused of working for the U.S. and they (and their families) were threatened that the kidnapped men would be killed (a very real threat around here). The kidnappers (who may or may not have been ‘real Taliban’, or else ordinary criminals) held the men for several days. We were told they were only released after long negotiations by their families. Whether these were entirely verbal or whether the families had to pay (what sometimes amount to an annual salary of an entire family) was left unsaid…

Another sip of milk and back to our meeting … Bitter, bitter, sweet

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