The building blocks of my life here in Kabul are not that different from those in my life before Kabul. I go to work and spend too much time on the trivial and in meetings and not enough on the things that really matter. I must deal with food and laundry and all the little tasks of life (though the list of those tasks is shorter here). I occassionally go out to dinner. I stay connected to those I love via technology and long for more face time with them. My eyes scan the trees and sky in hopes of spotting a new bird for my life list and I dream of the future and fret about the past. I read (even more than before) and meditate. I take photos when I can.
Yet a constant stream of things both trivial and not so trivial, never allow me to forget where I am. Here are a few of those things — some good and some not along with a few photos I have snapped over the last six months (many from a moving van through dirty windows so the quality is not great but they capture a bit of what life is like here).
I am reminded that I am in Kabul by . . .
- The beauty of the mountains on a clear morning after a few days of rain and snow to clear the air.
- The constant craving and the almost unconscious search for the tiniest bits of green — the sight, the smell, and the taste of it. The landscape here is very brown in both summer and winter. I miss the smell of fresh cut grass and of the scent released as I tend the herbs in my garden. I miss the fresh taste of green that is best captured by baby spinach and really fresh asparagus. Heck at this point I would even be overjoyed at the sight of nasty invasive plants like kudzu. When I look back at my flickr stream and the photos from Indiana the colors now look like something from a fairy tale.
- The extent and severity of poverty here — you can never really forget about it and it can be hard to see. Compared to many people in the US I had a pretty good idea of what poverty looked like and of its consequences but here I have gained an entirely new perspective. Every shower, every drink of water, every trip to campus, every day reminds me how incredibly privileged we in the US are. At the same time I realize that I can in no way imagine what living in the poverty here would truly be like. I live in a sheltered bubble. I complain when the power goes out rather than rejoicing that I have it at all. I complain about the quality of the water when I shower but many here must carry there water from community pumps that are found along the roads.
- The beauty of the people here; they are among the most beautiful that I have ever seen. Not the polished and artificial beauty of Madison Avenue and Hollywood but a beauty that is greater because it shines through the hardships. This is especially true of the oldest and the youngest. This makes me even more frustrated with the image consciousness of the US and the way that we allow an unrealistic ideals to define ourselves and those around us.
- The depth and breadth of adaptability among expats and especially among the people of Afghanistan. Despite 30 years of war and armed conflict, despite the poverty and the lack of infrastructure people here still keep striving, keep hoping, and they keep seeking and injecting beauty and sweetness into life at every opportunity. Despite the horrible conditions for girls and women, our female students keep dreaming of a better life for themselves, their families, and their country. As for the expats, it a bit unnerving to notice how quickly the unthinkable becomes almost ordinary — whether that involves sewage contaminated showers and redefining what “clean” means or the constant presence of men with guns and the screens and metal detectors that are a part of buying groceries or going out to eat or the increasingly frequent reports of suicide bombers attacking places that I go/have been or living with more than a dozen of my coworkers or traffic that includes both military convoys and herds of goats/fat-bottomed sheep or the sound of military helicopters,or the power outages.
- The honesty and a human scale to life here. It reminds me how small I am as an individual in the world and how small humankind is in the greater scheme of things. Being here I have come to appreciate how useful technology is as a tool and how modern western life sometimes treats it as a god rather a tool and as an end rather than a means. I have come to have an even greater appreciation for the fact that mindless devotion to any cause destroys our humanity regardless of whether that cause is rooted in religious dogma or a mindless pursuit of wealth.
- The over abundance of cheap plastic items and the lack of access to nature and fresh produce/dairy that I can safely eat. The lack of produce is made more frustrating by the fact that road side carts are stacked with produce though security will seldom allow me to stop and purchase said produce. Even when to they do, to keep from getting sick I have to cook most produce far more than I would like (I prefer my fruits and veggies as raw as possible). Fresh dairy is even more limited to a bit of local cheese and yogurt.
- For me, the lack of contact with nature and gardening are among the hardest parts of life here. I miss wandering in the woods. I miss observing nature up close. As a point of comparison, I saw about 40 different species of birds from my bedroom window back in Indiana. Here I have seen a total of six species of birds in six and a half months the most colorful of the six is the rose-ringed parakeet pictured below.
- The limits on movement and choices. I miss being able to come and go when and where I want. I miss being able to feel the sun on my skin and hair. I miss being able to be open and honest about who I am and what I believe. I am a guest here and will respect the cultural constraints and I generally abide by security restrictions but I miss freedom and control over my own life.
- The fact that I feel stupid and rude here. I have not picked up much Dari and no Pashto. This means that I don’t understand much of what happens around me and I can’t interact in a meaningful way with many of the people who are part of my daily life (cleaning staff, guards, etc.).