Stuff and another missed dinner

Today I had another long meeting in a windowless room. This time we met in the basement of a large garish poppy house – the office of one of our sister organizations, for our monthly meeting with other USAID health projects. There are familiar faces, friends, very dear friends and colleagues with whom we sometimes work together. Everyone told everyone else what each project is doing and we look for overlaps, duplications, common interests (like data quality) or using each others’ materials.

Afterwards Steve and I skipped to Chicken Street; Steve to pay off his debts and buy Afghan socks ordered by his wife; me to get two traditional Afghan instruments, the rhubab and the tabla, for Sita and also to get sizes and prices of the rugs she was eyeing. Steve, having less debt than he had expected ended up buying more stuff such as a large milk container of the kind Dutch farmers used to put by the side of the road for pick up by the cooperative tractor before things were mechanized. How it got to Afghanistan we don’t know – maybe they have them here too.

It was beautifully etched and turned into an ‘objet d’art’ that has long ago lost its utility as an agricultural implement. Steve has a weakness for such things and the merchants on Chicken Street know it. The thing had been scrubbed and oiled and was so smelly that I won’t let it into my house. With this and another instrument and God knows what he added another few kilos to his ever growing pile of stuff that will become part of my shipment.

I bargained with the owners of the Central Asian jumble shop until we agreed on a Ramazan price for the instruments that left everyone happy. I also sized and priced the rugs that Sita and Jim had identified as interesting in my ‘last call for rugs’ to the home front. Carpet dealer Wahid helped me measure each one and then put a price on them. I emailed all the data back to discover that after the instruments Sita has essentially run out of money. That happens easily here.

We dropped our loot off at home to return to the office for the last and most useless hour of the day. Energy levels of our staff are dipping down to levels close to stupor earlier and earlier and the entire compound feels drained at 3 PM when the buses leave for home.

Tonight was my second attempt to organize a jailbreak for someone who lives in the US government bubble, a friend of a friend. I had invited her last Friday but realized too late I had given her the old directions to our house that have Axel’s phone number on them as well as the number of my old phone. I never checked.

The USAID driver got terribly lost and no one answered the phones she called and so she returned home. My nicely set dinner table, candles and all, was for naught and the food shriveling up in the oven. Steve, having earlier gone to a barbecue given in Kanuk House had already eaten and so my dinner party sizzled.

After having acquired the right phone numbers we set another night (tonight). It would be just the two of us as Steve had already made his own plans. I hadn’t put the candles out but everything was ready when the phone call came that she needed a few more signatures from superiors before she could leave the bubble. This is not an easy thing, apparently and dinner time had already arrived so we gave up again.

And so, not expecting to be successful a third time she will invite me into the bubble to share a nice all-imported-American-food dinner in the cafeteria. It is like going for dinner to America except for the barricades and sandbags. Her need to escape has diminished as she has gotten her transfer to her dream post in Latin America – reward for a year of bubble living – and leaves Afghanistan for good in 3 weeks.

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