Thursday, December 06, 2007

Waves to speak of cold refreshment

Four months and one day ago, I arrived in Kabul.

This was the first time that I had ever stepped out of the United States. I guess I figure, if I can handle Kabul being my first introduction to overseas life, I can handle anything, right? In retrospect, maybe that was just a little bit brazen of me. Now, I understand that things here are the same, different, and all of these polar opposites are wrapped up in one bright, shiny little package that is the total of my experiences to date.

One of the things that I am, in a way, dreading upon my return visit to the States is the inevitable question, "What's it like in Afghanistan?" It's hard to describe. First off, I live in Kabul, which is in many ways, a city of 500,000 with another 2.5 million (and climbing) refugees who inhabit it. This city seems some days as though it is about to rupture at the seams with all of the different pressures on it. And it's not a microcosm of the rest of Afghanistan. I think, although I don't have a lot of information to back this up, that there is a profound difference between the Kabul experience and the Afghanistan experience. The rest of Afghanistan is underdeveloped, rural, tribal. Kabul is underdeveloped, urban, hierarchical. There is a definite social stratification here, although the high strata is rare enough that most everything just seems to be low. There are so many crushingly poor, so many unemployed people here, that getting ahead seems to be difficult or impossible. Plus, the country is under a severe drought, is so unstable that it's nearly impossible for anything other than light manufacturing to get started (I can hardly fathom a heavy industry like automobile manufacturing trying to get going.)

One of the other things about this country that I find difficult to relate to people is the level of... well, I don't know, maybe struggle? The struggle that daily life is and is not, both for us as expatriates and for the people around us, the nationals. Security really is a concern, even though we wish it wasn't. It's a concern for the nationals, too, because what or how can they respond and react when it's not foreigners who usually catch the brunt of a bombing or other attack, but national police or innocent civilians? And for us, the expatriates, life can be a struggle in the little details. Last night, I really just wanted to go out and go for a walk. Can't do that, baaaaad idea. But I can go out and walk by myself, to the corner store or to the French Bakery during the day. The ladies can't even do that. We don't have central heating, but we do have hot water when the heaters work. The ditches are open for sewage on the side of the road, right where we walk. There's trash piled up in the streets. You can't always find the things you want in the shops. Sometimes we can't go anywhere because of incidents that happened in town. When I do walk outside with the ladies, I feel this constant need to stare back at the men that are staring at my friends. It's not all bad, don't get me wrong. Just some of the time there are things that make life a little struggle.

So the times and places and the face and the names were realigned with things we know and we show. And just as I had a bevy of impressive, deep thoughts, again they disappeared like the wind, all vanity. So now I leave you with this unfinished thought to ponder in your excitement, hoping of better days to come. For indeed, if all we have are memories, what are our dreams?

Who holds our dreams?

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