It’s funny how even the wildest experiences, if done over a stretch of time, can become mundane.

It’s laughable in some ways that I can’t really talk about anything especially “new” or different…

I could describe the different thicknesses of dust that blanket the city at any given time.  I could gross you out by relaying to you the awful factoid someone took great pains to explain to me – that this “dust” is 50% fecal matter from the underdeveloped sewage system.  great.  breathe in.  breathe out.  still gross.  it’s not like i can go get an oxygen mask.  or wear a SARS mask and think that’ll sift out the grossness.  the fact of the matter is – this city has been beaten to a pulp.  these are some of the world’s neediest, and here i am right in the thick (pun intended) of it.

Or maybe you’d rather hear about how my patience has REALLY been tried through and through.  No hot water for days on end in 29 degree weather can make you a real bitch.  How about the fact that the electricity isn’t really strong enough to produce enough light for me to maintain any sort of beauty regimen or read after the sun goes down?   Or, what about the fact that there is no heat in the house where I live.  This on top of the fact that I work in a skatepark means that the only time of the day where I am actually warm is when I’m under the 4 layers of blankets and the 4 layers of clothes, a hat, long johns, a scarf and gloves I wear to bed at night.  This means I’m never awake AND warm.  Sigh.  It just takes so much energy to psyche yourself out when you’re this cold everyday.  Well, I exaggerate.  There IS a heater.  I just can’t run it while I’m asleep.  It’s called a bukhari and it runs off of deisel fuel that I have to fill it with every day.  You can google it.  But apparently many Westerners die (especially those from poor NGOs) every year from these things because they’re too stubborn to turn them off at night.  I can say that I’m one of them.  It’s just so so so cold that I ran it at night for as many nights as I could until they told me I simply couldn’t.  Apparently, if the tube “out” inadvertently gets clogged, or some other misfortune decides to go down, the CO2 emissions will kill me before morning.  Sigh.  so.  I dig deep in these covers and burrow like some ground animal.  This is fun right?

Other things that will kill me that are not directly related to war:
1) the traffic here.  Man alive is it a harrowing experience.  I have never seen such brazen disregard for any sort of “rule” in my life.  Anybody brave enough to drive in these streets gets a salute from me.  I know women don’t drive here…. and as much as I like to buck trends I have NO DESIRE WHATSOEVER to try my luck at these mean streets.  I mean WHOA.  I would take a picture but we’ve been scared pictureless because you can’t take pictures of women and even the men get a little testy about these things.  My words will simply have to do.

So they have these roundabout thingys every mile or so.  And basically, the only rule is get in where you fit in and bogart your way until you are where you want to be.  There are bikes, pedestrians, the armed guards, taxis, busses, trucks full of “loads” and all sorts of vehicles fighting for the same little space.

Don’t like the traffic on your side of the street?  Well drive on the opposing traffic side.  Still don’t like it?  Turn around in the middle of the street and go back the way you came. In the middle of rush hour no less.  Stop, start, let out passengers buy some bread – you can do it all whenever and however you want.  They have these minime “traffic cops” out here with little light sabers imagining a world where what they do or say has any bearing on what is actually happening.  There are men in the middle of the road stopping to pray.  Shit-dust everywhere.  It’s quite a sight to behold.

2) Germs.  Wow.  I am so happy I brought buckets of sanitizer.  Between the varying degrees of hygiene from the Euros I live with and the sniffling, sneezing, just got done playing outside in the field kids in class (kids of ANY nationality are pretty disgusting, ask any kindergarten teacher stateside) I tell you it has been a miracle I haven’t come down with anything more serious than the sniffles.  It’s impossible NOT to have them in this cold cold weather.

What cracks me up is when folks want to share spoons, bottles, and food out of the same plate.  Nothankyouvermuch.  I’m good. They can continue to laugh all they want, but I’m the only one in the house right now who doesn’t have some awful hick, hack, hack hack in the nighttime.

Hmmm….. what else is going on.  I went to the women’s garden.  I honestly thought it was nice.  It’s about the only space in the whole city for women to walk about peacefully.  I know some others who come here from other places may think it doesn’t measure up to their wonderful well funded experiences.  But I have to say, for a war-torn country that places women at the very bottom of all creation, it was nice.  I met some wonderful Afghan women who insisted on feeding and hydrating me in their little shack where they sell goods.  It was clear that some American woman came thru and decided it was a good place to teach them some “business” skills.  They knew not a lick of English, but had a whole “business” manual and catalogue all in English they were so proud to show me.  There was one picture of a black woman they couldn’t WAIT to point out.  It was such a testament again to the fact that you don’t really need vocal vocabulary to communicate.  We held up a pretty good non verbal conversation.  I love moments like that.  They were warm, open, and curious – as was I.  I felt like it was a great cultural exchange.    They asked to see my hair – and I obliged them.  Of course me with the reddish locks was a whole circus act for them.  They wanted to touch and to look up close.  I know many locked women hate when folks are all up in their hair.  My thing is this – I’d rather teach someone rather than have folks make ignorant assumptions.  Not to mention the fact that I’m here, all up in their culture.  Poking, prodding, snapping pictures at all the things that make them them.  2 minutes of my time as probably the only African American they’ll see up close will not kill me.  Plus, I enjoyed exchanging with new people.

Do you want to hear the one about the silly American man from Chicago loudly explaining to his poor waiter how to make him a “Venti Americano.”  It was as ugly as you’d imagine.  With his silly north-side of Chicago accent.  The German I was with looked at me and winked.  Yeah, yeah yeah.  We do that.  It was even worse as he interrogated the waiter on whether or not he’d be able to produce him a MEEDIUUM RARE steak.  Who does that?  I mean really – first of all are you really trying to eat anything medium rare anything in Afghanistan?  Um. no thanks.  Secondly – you’re not a little embarrassed at yourself?  Clearly you are not with the UN, military or any sort of aid group.  You are a rich dude making money off of the fact that there is a war going on here.  Chill out homie.  You’ll be back stateside soon enough where all the Spagos and Starbucks of the world will be waiting to sop up all your blood money.   Going on and on loudly about how he’s missing Spiderman on Broadway.  Give it a rest.  Please.  for all of us who have to be here and continue to interact with the international community here.  #rantover.

OH!  in other exciting news, I found out that one of our staff members is a beautician.  She gave me a kitchen sink eyebrow job that rivals any of the ones I ever got  (and paid top dolla for) at Ziba.  Yep, and she used the string too.  I love it!

I know, I know you want to know how my Christmas was.  Anyone who’s close to me knows I’m a bit of a bah humbug.  I don’t really celebrate anymore.  So, it’s just as well to me that all I did all day was read and nap.  The Euros here complained, pestered me to come up with a recipe to make something, but they failed to want to really help cook… soooooo they shared a bucket of food passed along from some other cobbleclod (a niki word I do hope you’ll glean some meaning from) of “Westerners” who live down the road.  When I say bucket.  I mean bucket.  And no, Niki didn’t eat any of that.  It smelled delicious, but yeah-no. I’m good.  I’ve got a picture of it too…. just as soon as I can get these pictures off of my camera, oh how happy we’ll all be.

We played Wii (they did really) until I fell asleep and went off to bed.

Oh, but while we were playing, we all kind of sat around and talked about stereotypes and first impressions.  LOL.  As uncomfortable as those conversations can be, I love them.  The Germans were really curious as to what American stereotypes were of them, and if they lived up to them.  I told them that the funny thing was, as much as perhaps they did, what really stood out for me was that white folk are the same the world over.  Yep.  I said it.  😉  That they have so many little idiocyncracies that I thought were American that are really just cultural to being of European descent.

One thing I didn’t have the heart to tell them was their dancing and game playing.  Wow.  Total whiteboy activity.  First, they cavort around in some sort of gyrating no beat something or other.  All I can do is laugh and marvel at the fact that Erykah Badu, The Roots, DMX and KRS One is loved the world over.  And how weird it feels to experience the music of my youth as seen through the eyes of foreigners all of us in a foreign land.

However the game playing is total whiteboy stuff.  I mean, they have this thing they do where they stick their ass out and snap rags at it seeing who can hit the very middle.  They find great delight in causing each other pain this way.  Squealing, jumping, laughing, and the like the whole time.  It reminded me of many-o-night at my boarding school high school in Minnesota.  The school was full of Hockey jocks, so they had all sorts of strange “games” they’d play.   I simply could not imagine any of the bruthas I’ve known over the years participating in this tomfoolery.  I’m all one fore crossing color lines… and the idea that race is purely a social construct,  but this right here is not my social construct.   It reminded me again of random nights at USC…. and again of random nights at my Caucasian friends’ houses in LA.  (on a #sidenote, I would love to do a poll to see how many Black, inner city kids know what the game “flip cup” is…..) As it happens in the states the Euros kept going – “You getting a kick out of us white boys, eh?”  LMBO.  Comedy indeed.

Wanna know what I delivered on for them?  …. drum roll please…..
1) all my bags.  they will not let up about the bags.  but i tell you they have been my saving grace here.  they said Africans are pretty bad (see the Sea of Cameroon a few posts ago)… but you topple that on top of being American = it’s no wonder I came to Afghanistan with a whole bunch of bags.
2) My hand gestures.  I apparently talk with my hands and body.  I never noticed. In fact I consider myself to be awkward.  But they said I’m always gesturing.  Very African American.
3) I’m bubbly.  They are guarded and don’t really like to be warm with strangers.  I’ll talk to anybody.  This makes them uncomfortable.  It’s not because of where we are – its just that it’s not the German way.  You talk to your friends and family, but other than that folks are typically aloof.

My favorite part of the conversation was with the reporter from Nepal that stays here with us.  He asked who I felt was the Black American leader (other than Obama).  He asked if I felt like we had a voice in the country.  I told him no.  There are leaders – folks like Geoffrey Canada , Cory Booker, and Governor David Paterson.  But the “Dr. King” sort of era of Black leaders is long gone.  He asked about integration and how we manage in the States… I did my best to answer him based on my own experiences.  Kind of a unique experience/discussion I’m sure we’ll have many more on.   I felt kind of bad that I didn’t know enough about Nepal to ask him more about himself.  What sorts of realties he deals with there.  He did describe the caste system they use, but didn’t go into any sort of detail about how it’s affected him personally.  I suppose we’ll have plenty more nights to delve off into these topics.  We don’t have internet or access to TV here in the guest house.  Therefore, we spend a lot of time talking, playing Wii, Xbox, and watching movies.  What an interesting bonding experience.

What was also fascinating was hearing the Germans speak about how painful/awkward it is to be a German post WWII.  About how they have to struggle with that all the time.  I’ve read about how the country kind of tries to deal with it – but I never actually spoke to people who carry some of that baggage.


Kind of an awkward beat to end on, but I don’t have anything else to say at the moment.  🙂  I wish I could show you the pictures I took of me and my class.  I can’t post images of the organization I work with, but if any of you know me personally, meet me on Skype and I’ll show you like that.
Okay, that’s all I got for now.  I’ll have more soon.


Written by Niki