Cry-smiles

Here are some of the things I will miss, not miss and the things that make me smile or cry, or both:

Not miss: walking right into the barrel of a gun each time I enter the ministry – I can only see the barrel, not the shooter himself.

Miss: the young woman with her umpteenth baby by her side who has to check me in case I carry a bomb or IED into the ministry. She does a cursory check because she has to while we speak about important things in life such as babies and eyes that are strained from the tiny embroidery stitches she makes for her man’s dress shirt.

Not miss: the toxic dust and dirt, the diesel heating in winter and the overheating in summer, not seeing the mountains even though they are very close.

Smile: the curtains in the office of the Director of Capacity Building in the ministry of health. They are made from flannel designed for children’s pijamas, with little boats or trains or cars, something like that.

Cry/smile: one of my staff who says he didn’t expect to live beyond forty (expecting to be killed before then), a target he has exceeded by 18 years now.

Cry: the way women undermine each other rather than stand together – it is a combination of jealousy and fear that works like a cancer.

Smile: the new organizational chart for the general directorate of human resources that has the (our) management and leadership development department indicated in a bright color with a smiley face right above it. It has not been officially approved but it probably will. Progress!

Not miss: the razor wire and blast walls and the sight of militarism everywhere.

Miss: the young women I have gotten so fond off – I feel like I am abandoning them but then this would not give them credit for their courage and commitment. I should be confident.

Not miss: the blatant attempts to milk the American taxpayer.

Smile: the Eid celebration breakfast and goodbye party that is being organized after the Eid holiday break on September 4th.

Cry: starting to say goodbye to people at the ministry.

Cry/smile: the students from SOLA, smile for those who are on their way to a new life and cry for the ones who are still trying to get a visa.

Cry/smile: how some people have changed since I first met them – for the better.

Cry/smile: Afghans praying for people living on the east coast of the USA, to see them safely through the Irene hurricane.

Smile: when Afghans say it is now safer in Kabul than on the US East Coast.

Smile: seeing the instruments that Fazil brought back and that are now stringed to play by Sita – from decorative to instrumental.

1 Response to “Cry-smiles”


  1. 1 Jo Nelson August 28, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Sylvia, in the same vein, for me,
    Cry – that you are leaving a place where, despite the obstacles and sometimes the visible evidence, you have made a deep impact
    Smile – at the confident young women (and men) you have encouraged and inspired at SOLA and through your work
    Smile – that you know how to care for yourself and Axel, and when to say you need something else
    and selfishly – cry when you leave, that I will not have a thoughtful, caring window into the reality that is Afghanistan
    Thank you, Sylvia, for making Afghanistan a real place with real people for me and those who read your journal. And thank you for your deep commitment to local people. It is extraordinary.


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