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Work, Vacation, and Beyond

After about two and a half months in Mazar, I can at last say I'm settled in--both to the place and my job.  I finally got to take a small vacation to a place other than India, and have even begun looking at the next step beyond Afghanistan.

My work is always fun and fascinating.  Anything that I accomplish in a given day is all subsidiary to one big bullet point: building and maintaing my own human intelligence network.  That, it turns out, isn't my notion of "work" at all in that work is something unpleasant which involves an Excel spreadsheet.  Here when something happens (unfortunately that means 'goes boom' for a security advisor), the resulting process is very akin to gossip collection at a party ("Sonali slept with whom?, okay you talk to Alex and I'll talk to Aziz")--we divide up who has the best contacts for the particular information sought, go to it, issue a report, maybe hash it out further with the boss in Kabul.  And it's all very intuitive.  Furthermore you get to interact with the plethora of NGOs (and other actors) roaming about in the north of country, which means there's always a parade of interesting people from different walks of life stopping by my office.  A while ago some food security people stopped by one of our meetings, so afterwards we went up to my office where I got a full Q&A session with them about how food security work is carried out, what it entails, what specific dangers they face and how they mitigate them; interesting for my own bank of personal knowledge and useful for me professionally in understanding their security profile.  An organisation doing food security faces completely different risks and threats than one involved in microfinance.  Likewise yesterday I got to learn about demining.  So the job is fun; always interesting, engaging, and different.  And the best part is I get to have all the fun of doing intel without having idiotic masters, the Americans (assholes) or Russians (clowns).

I've also come to discover that, as predicted, the security world is in great need of people who can put two and two together.  At the micro level that means being more interested in protecting people than shiny new weapons, but on the broader scale it also means that what sounds tough does necessarily work.  This all brings me back to the (unsuccessful) interview which firmed up my decision to quit DC a few years back...it was four days into the 2006 Lebanon War and the interviewers asked me what was going to happen, and were consequently very displeased at my answer that the IDF was going to get its ass kicked for a number of reasons starting from lack of defined strategic objectives.  My point is that these people (security consultants) had a pre-defined notion of how the world had to work and they weren't about to let reality intrude on it.   Basically people handling security matters need to know why Russia is a threat just like Israel is, even though neither gets their fair share of blame.

The city of Mazar is survivable, but being a quiet place I find it something of a din of iniquity.  I chill a lot more here and get a lot more reading done (thanks to the Kindle as well, which is awesome), and it's okay because I'm not missing out on things like I would be in Kabul and I have a really nice home/office to come back to here in Mazar.  In general, even though there are a lot of expats around, they are all pretty introverted and hard-working.  Plus there isn't a critical mass of people who like to party.  This is made tolerable by the work and the fact that I would feel like a tool if I keep hanging out in Kabul, with its cast of interesting (much better than DC or NY) yet repetative people (the meatheads, the glamour-seekers, the int'l men of mystery, the granola-munchers, and so on).  I will not be one of those people who just stays on here indefinitely without any direction...I will get out a some point next year and if not it will be because I found something in Afghanistan that is a damn good and clear alternative.  It would be nice to live in a Western country if it helps me in my career goals (not North America, which I've long since outgrown) and eventually if I do something development-related it would be nice to spend time in a country with more morality and decency (Georgia?! Turkey?!) rather than Afghanistan, which all too often seems like a bunch of Sarah Palins running around unwilling to acknowledge the realities necessary to achieve what it is they claim they want.

Finally there was the vacation; a quick tour of Toronto, DC, and London.  I also got a new passport and stopped in for MillerStock near Buffalo.  I've definitely learned never to go visit a big group of people...go stay with one friend or just bring one or two along and leave it at that.  Trying to fit everyone in in DC was insane, but the plus side was that everyone showed up.  Muhammad was there from Khurtum, Waise made an appearance from Manila.  I had great hosts (Lynn and Ann) and a generally good time.  DC has improved as well--two cheers for gentrification.  I spent a good a mount of time in what used to be an incredibly depressing Columbia Heights which is now full of nice house and appartments and fun things to do and shop at.  And of course I also got to have Ravi Kabab with Neda and Navid.  It was nice to leave DC in the end, and I definitely don't know when or if I'll be coming back though.  Been there done that.  On the way back to Dubai I had a day layover in London which did turn out to be an eye-opener.  The customs gods smiled on me getting to and from Heathrow and I got to spend the whole day with my lovely friend Jaya getting a tour of the city.  It's a huge and quite strange place (19 degrees in August...hmm) but I decided I might well give it a go post Afghanistan.  I also have some friends there and hence a potential roommate pool and place to start building a new network.  The real test will be to see if I can survive the winter there...the next step is to try spending vacation there in late January, do some informational interviews, and get a feel for the place.

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