Friday, April 20, 2007

After work in Kabul

The days can be pretty exhausting with the constant demanding interruptions, language differences and convoluted translations, the lack of basic equipment and supplies, failed internet connections, lousy cell phone connections, and dust storms. By 5:30 pm I’m ready to get back to my room ASAP shove in my earplugs, turn off the cell phone, and hope for a short nap before dinner.

Dinner is always Afghan cuisine. It’s good, but not as interesting and clever as Thai or Indian. Everything is stewed together to a single soft consistency, and the same cumin, pepper etc. spices are are always used. You could say the same about American food. Maybe it all tastes like catsup, mustard and barbeque sauce. Afghan vegetables are cooked until they are nearly mush, but they do have a salad of finely chopped tomatoes, onion, green pepper, parsley and sometimes cilantro and maybe cabbage that is a refreshingly cool and crunchy relief.

Initially I didn’t want to eat anything raw, because of cleanliness issues but I haven’t had any problem. The cooks appear to scrupulously wash everything in a bleach solution. This is usual even in their homes. They understand safe food preparation. So everyone here eats the salad, and I don’t mind. I’ll have an apple, but I’ll peel it before eating. They have a rough, woody texture, but are tasty and refreshingly fresh. Mangoes are now in season and delicious. I try to have one for breakfast each morning now.

After dinner, there’s really nothing to do. You can’t go out anywhere, not even for a short walk. There is a small compound but I've memorized every tree, brush and rock. There is a company gym nearby that we're encouraged to use, but I wouldn't know how to get there, and no one at the guest house has a car (though instant access to drivers was part of the initial deal).

A few times, I’ve watched part of a movie or documentary on a satellite channel in the common room, but the commercial and promo breaks are so frequent, long and repetitive they chase me away. The ads from India for toothpaste, cooking sauces, and other mass market consumer items are so cloying, they’ll drive the termites back into the wood.

So I’ll go into my room do some emailing, maybe prepare a work checklist for the next day, make a call or two to the US, then go bed. Ear plugs are required because the grinding of the building’s diesel electricity generator sends subtle vibrations and hums throughout. Noise from the street, includes frequent blood-curdling dog and cat fights,beeping horns, and the low rumble from dozens of electric generators-- every house has one. So sleep is tough-- not to mention the bed, which I'll get to later.

The neighborhood mullah calls everyone to prayer at 11p and again about 3:45am on a tinny loudspeaker a couple doors down. Backyard roosters start screeching just before dawn at 4:15. After the first week I was generally able to sleep through the night. I’m always tired at the end of the day; the culture stress is both physically and mentally exhausting. And just about every westerner I’ve met suffers from the same feelings.

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