Today I started with a visit to a person in the ministry who I worked with quite a bit and who has been promoted to high office. We talked about what it is like to be in high office and the high personal cost of serving with integrity. That sounds like a contradiction but the seductions of high office require great moral strength. When I asked ‘what keeps you here?’ one part of the answer was to protect the seat from people who would have less integrity; there are many, unfortunately. The other was the memory of tremendous accomplishments (capacity development and confidence) in the past which show that change for the better is possible. The personal cost of trying to make a difference includes sleepless nights and much stress. I am in awe.

I took the trip to the ministry alone. Getting in and out of the car, into the ministry compound and then across it was a challenge and a half. By the time I arrived at my appointment, having taken about 20 minutes to hobble from the car to my destination, I was exhausted. The green tea served immediately was welcome; as was the comfortable chair I was offered.

To kill the time waiting for the car to take me back I visited some other counterparts. It felt as if I hadn’t been away. All the while my Dari came flooding back in. Armed with my dictionary, remembering words I had not uttered in two and a half years, I became more confident, trying to speak Dari as much as I can; and I am very much encouraged and my errors tolerated.

After my visits there was more time to kill and I took a seat in the courtyard under the lukewarm winter son. It was as if I was holding court: recognizing then this person then that; each one with a big surprised grin when he spotted me, each encounter followed by an invitation to have tea and bread. People didn’t know I had come back. The only problem is the names; I am frantically searching my brain. This is also true for the drivers and guards. I will have to unearth the cheat sheet with all their pictures.

Later in the morning I returned to the directorate where I am to do the strategic planning. In my two and a half years I had never been there. It looks a bit like the stepchild of the directorates – a building that had not seen any maintenance in decades it seemed. When lunch was served I anxiously wondered about visiting the washroom, my hands dirty from holding on to railings. The new clean toilets were far away and only the old ones within reach. These also didn’t seem to have had any maintenance for quite some time. Suffice to say the visit was challenging, especially when we discovered there was no water (quickly found somewhere else), nor soap. I like to think my hands were reasonably clean when our lunch was served.

I presented the design of the upcoming strategic planning process. It’s new and unusual for most people, and a first experience with strategic planning at all. The word is used so freely that it hardly has any meaning, except of being intimidating, in the category of big words. It is clear that we will have to work in two languages and I am grateful for all the hours I have studied Dari as I can detect when the conversation goes off course.

Back home I collapsed and took a little cat nap – my foot aching from all the exercise. I then relaxed till dinner time listening to Scott Peck’ s In Heaven as on Earth, an intriguing fantasy about the afterlife, while knitting Faro’s Peruvian hat. My guesthouse mate heated up our dinner and brought it to my room, so I didn’t have to do any more hobbling for the day. I am very grateful for her good care.

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January 2014
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