Time has been passing faster now that we have steady work and a schedule. I wake up between 4:30 and 5 am, get my shower, check email if possible; I meet the boys outside of my B-hut (which is what you call where we live, B- huts) and we head to the chow hall for breakfast. At 7, we grab coffees from Green Beans and head out to work, usually on foot. (I’m trying to score a bike, but they’re hard to find out here.)
We usually get to work shortly after 7 and after that it’s just tuck in and roll. We work until the work is done and then go do everything that isn’t part of the daily tasks- work email, logging hours, discussing strategy and approach, all that boring stuff. Sometime in the evening, we get dinner and after that usually spend an hour or so in the big communal picnic- tabled area outside of the coffee shop, which always packed full of people. After that we split up; for me, that means a night time shower, or a run to the gym (although I am desperately trying to get myself to the gym in the mornings), some outside reading until I get to bed- some time before 10:30 pm, 9 on a great night. Every so often a movie or Lost episode will finish its 5- day download process and I will watch that and knit for an hour or so before crashing out.
I’m well suited to repetition, though.
I like the stability of usual things, like Happy Hour or knitting circle at Spinster or the spin- in at Gryphon’s. I don’t want a strict, oppressive every- minute- of- my- day schedule, but having touchstones- points in which I return to a routine- it works well for me. Sundays are easy days; Fridays are bazaar: I’m already plotting how I’ll check off the days. Once I get some sort of physical training plan (as opposed to just barely holding on in the gym) I’ll work that into it, too; Rest Day, Speed Training Day, Endurance Day. It’s all part of ticking off the time.
The work days themselves, though- they are so very much the same, day in, day out, except for the people- just enough change to keep myself on my toes. We’ve been doing a lot of interviews with local hires- people who have worked on post for a long time, and people trying to get jobs on post. They can be fun, outside of the getting- a- job jitters; we do our best to set people at ease, but with so much at stake, some folks spend the whole time just terrified that they’re going to say something to wreck it all.
Yesterday, Mick and I were doing interviews; we talked to a man who’d worked on post for about two years. “What do you do?” Mick asked, and our interviewee paused for a second. Some of the people we meet don’t have a singe word for what they do, and spend a few minutes explaining their duties; that’s what I assumed this man was preparing to do.
He said, “Excuse me,” smiling, shy. “I get- shit out,” and exploded into laughter. So did we. How else do you tell someone you clean Port-o-Lets? He had this mixture of pride in his English- and hey, slang’s a bitch- and absolute merriment in getting to say something like that in a semi- official setting. Moments like that keep our days moving; it’s only during a span of supernervous or superserious interviews that we get really bored, despite doing the same things and asking the same questions over and over.
But this place can also break your heart.
We see 40- 50 people a day, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve finished an interview wanting to cry. So many stories: They burned our school to the ground. One day, the Taliban came for my father and he never came back. I used to have five children. I started at the Poly- Tech University in Kabul but then the government fell. They lined them up and shot them all. It was the mines. I never got to go to school, because it was too far away. They ruined our crop, destroyed our vines. No, I don’t know how to count, I’m sorry.
How much can one place take? How much can one people go through? I am ashamed to say that I don’t know how to shoulder just the hearing- the idea of living this, of all these people with all these stories so casually told, so very much this is how life is, it is gutting.
I don’t have a way to tie up that thought; there’s no pat transition I can think of from a place like
that. I won’t try.
There are pictures, more pictures, some from the bazaar (yes, it really is my favorite part of the week) in my May 2008 Flickr photoset. Here, have one. No comments on my foggy lens- I know, I cleaned it.
I have a feeling there are lots more photos coming from Fridays at the bazaar; outside of running our interviews, it’s the closest we get to the real Afghanistan, the one that lives past the fence. And I am still trying to a take a single image that does the wild gorgeousness of the mountains out here justice- I wonder if there’s really a way to do that at all, honestly. Maybe if I borrow someone’s fisheye lens, to show how it wraps around us, the beginnings of the Hindu Kush.
Enough for now. I am safe, and warm; well fed and settled. I hope that’s true wherever you are, too.