Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Kabul: Sometimes It's the Little Things... (part 2)

As part of my job, I escort visitors to meetings on the Embassy compound.

One day, I picked up two chaps from the British Embassy, and after we finished the security checks, I led them toward the conference room in which they would be meeting.

"Have you been here before?" I asked.

"Yes, last year," the younger of the two replied.

"Then I think you must have been in the older building," I told him.  "This annex has only been open a few weeks."

"Yes, you must be right," he answered.

"I just remember a very grand atrium," he continued, "and the most amazing assortment of tea and sweets in the political section."

In my experience, a big candy selection is nothing unusual for an American office.  It's not everyday, however, that a Brit is so impressed with the tea assortment that he's still talking about it a year later.


This year, Afghanistan Independence Day, August 19, fell on a Wednesday.

We were sitting in our staff meeting a few days beforehand, half of us American and half Afghan, and the topic of the holiday came up.

The normal workweek at the Embassy is Sunday through Thursday, which gave my boss a thought.

"Are any of you taking off Thursday?" she asked the Afghans.

Staring around at each other, they were clearly confused by the question.

"No, we'll be here," the unofficial leader of the group replied.  "Why do you ask?"

"Well," she answered, "in America, if there is a holiday followed by a workday and then the weekend, people like to take the workday off to have a longer weekend."

She was met by more blank stares.

"That gives you four days off," she continued, "and you only have to use one day of annual leave."

Crickets chirped and tumbleweeds rolled by, and finally one of the Afghans spoke.

"For the weekend, two days is enough," he replied.

To have such little regard for a long weekend was astounding.  Now the Americans were left staring awkwardly around the room.


Everyone at the Embassy in Kabul must have a job, so many people are forced to leave their spouses and partners behind if they can't get something lined up (or if they aren't interested).  Obviously kids can't come either.  As I've also mentioned a few times, the living quarters here are a lot less comfortable than at most overseas posts.  Many people are living in modified shipping containers.  These two factors - being alone and living in a steel box - account for a lot of grumbling.

I was out at the Duck & Cover one night, and this came up in conversation.

"I feel like people are always trying to give me a guilt trip," I remarked, "because I'm not here alone and because I don't live in a hooch."

I was talking to a colleague with several years of State Department experience under her belt, and she burst out laughing.

"I'm here without my family, and I live in a hooch," she exclaimed, "and I'm having the time of my life!"

As they say about any experience, it's all what you make it.


Anonymous said...

And knowing you as I do CC, we both know that YOU "make" the best of every situation! :-)sm

Ollie and Floyd said...

I loved the story about the weekend - how funny. But really, two days is never enough. :)