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Wednesday
Oct102007

Life on Planet Altai

Going into my third week at Altai, I think I really like this place. It's a good mix of being professional and informal. The work is well divided so I don't have to focus on much beyond the job which I am supposed to do.

My job right now consists of finishing up some market research on construction materials in the place of someone who got sick just before I started. In a sense this is training for a large market survey which I am going to head up for Nestle starting in November. As little as I know about construction materials, the work is really interesting as it involves me going around Kabul and getting to talk to all different sorts of people, plus also getting to know the Afghan economy close up.

Due to my lack of technical know-how, I've been paired up with an Afghan engineer (Aref, long based in Germany) who helps me fill in the gaps in my interviews. While necessary for this project, in general I hope I won't have to take assistants in the future. It makes the interviews more difficult because people don't expect me to speak Farsi when I have an Afghan assistant. It is also problematic because Aref speaks only German and Farsi, and my technical German is crap. He is used to thinking of German as the language of technology where I accord that status to Farsi. As a result, rather than asking a direct question in Farsi, I have to discuss with Aref in German and then have him translate into Farsi. Yes, my German is improving quickly. It also amusing because I have spent so many years devaluing German as just another old European language and now have to treat it with some respect. But Farsi is better, way better.

The living arrangements are okay. Currently I'm in the largest guesthouse out in Taimani. Let's face it, these are dorms. It's great fun. I rarely get to sleep on time and instead spend time drinking Ovaltine with Mitra and Arzu. We have continental breakfast laid out for us every morning and people clean our rooms. I'm not complaining; I've been roughing it for the last year and I'm quite happy for the perks! My living situation will soon get much better as well. Four expats are moving out so Altai held a room auction. I was the only one who placed a bid, so I got my pick :-) My new room will be in the guesthouse directly across from L'Atmosphere (a French restaurant with readily available alcohol which serves as a second office for the Altai staff) and only 50m away from the office. The room is right next to the bathroom and kitchen (yes, at moment my room is unattached, so I have to go outside to get to the bathroom, common room, or kitchen, which will suck come winter) and also has a desk and really soft mattress. I might also spring $120 for a diesel heater. One year of lighting the bokhari (wood stove) by myself has been quite enough, plus with a wood stove it will be cold in the morning unless you keep waking up in the middle of the night.

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