Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Emails from Bamyan, Afghanistan (Part II)

Wednesday, 3 December 2003

Bamyan, Afghanistan

Dear All,

I am in better spirit today and here, reporting from Bamyan, clear blue skies and fairly warm weather. Woohoo!!!!

The Voter Registration process officially starts today; 1 December 2003. This is a historical moment for the people of Afghanistan and in Bamyan, it is particularly significant because we had such a good start….well close to a good start but it worked well in the end.

The whole electoral team was up and running since 6:45am this morning as registration sites open at 8am. This is only the first phase of registration which covers only the regional center. Registration will continue until June 2004, prior to the Presidential Election.

In Bamyan, we have 3 registration sites. In other regions, such as Jalalabad and Kabul, they have only 1 site each. Boo to them! Apparently, registrations started on a rocky side in these regions due to factional problems. We are lucky not to have such problems.

By 9am this morning, Hari, my Regional Coordinator told me that no one had turned up at the registration sites and I needed to do something about it desperately.

As mentioned, the number of people registering will essentially depend on how well the civic education team works and disseminates information to the people. So when Hari told me that, I panicked and felt rather discouraged. Our team has gone to the field almost every day to inform the people about voter registration and I just could not believe that people are not turning up!

So, I grabbed a driver, some leaflets and went around some of the villages in an attempt to salvage the disgrace I would eventually face if the whole process collapses.

I made a stop at the registration site at about 9:45am and hey presto, hundreds of men and women were queuing up for registration. I was nearly in tears when I saw women in burqas taking them off to have their pictures taken.

My spirit soared at that point and it was then when I feel and think that things are just going to be ok.

I have had challenging time working with my partner, Philip. During my sick leave, he has had to cope with the pace of the programme by himself and hence became used to working on his own. When I came back, he had kept me out of the loop and made no attempt in filling me in on the progress of our programme.

We started working separately and not communicating to each other. So that has also aggravated things. In my moments of frustration, I had confronted him in a rather disgraceful manner. Well, I didn't break down and yell at him or anything but the words I used were blunt enough. It has kind of soured our working relationship, which in a way did not provide a good start. I really hope that things will improve soon.

Here, it is imperative for the Afghans to know that women and men will be registered separately and the women will be registered by women alone. In some villages, we face the battle of having men who refuse to allow their wives or daughters to register.

We had so many difficulties getting women to apply for work with the registration team simply because their husbands wouldn't allow it. And it's just a vicious cycle because if there are no women in the team, then no women could be registered since it is a condition for them to be registered by women. See what I mean?

We voiced this problem with our national male staffs and tried to brainstorm on how to get the women to work with us. The staffs appeared sympathetic to our concern. We then came up with the idea of asking them to encourage their wives and daughters to apply. They nodded their heads in agreement indicating their support of the idea.

However, when Hari asked them individually whether they would ask their wives or daughters to apply for jobs with our team, all of them started refusing vehemently and shook their heads as if it was the biggest mistake for Hari to have even dared to ask!

So anyway, at one of the registration sites, one of the female registration staffs did not turn up at work. Dan, one of our international male registration supervisors had to take over her place. As an act of courtesy as well as sound judgment, Dan asked the women whether it would be alright for him to do that and they all agreed.

But by afternoon, words had gotten out that the women should all boycott that registration center because a man was registering them!

So our team had to go and explain to the people that we were short of staffs, etc. and this was only a temporary solution until we find a female replacement soon. I thought that this in a way has jeopardised the Afghans' trust in the whole process. At that moment, perhaps it was an inevitable decision to take but such great were the consequences to it.

Anyway, I have not mentioned about having a sauna here in Bamyan. The UNAMA guesthouse, (a rather posh one compared to our Electoral mud house) has a sauna. I have became quite chummy with one of the UNAMA staffs (check this out – UN professional staffs can afford to pay USD500 rent per month, as oppose to my monthly USD100 rent in a mud house) and I am allowed to use the sauna upon invitation.

So far, I have only been there once and it is great! It is a proper sauna which can only fit 4 persons at a time. God knows how these people managed to construct a sauna in the middle of Bamyan. So, I am going again tonight.

The Buddha Bar is officially closed now. :( So, we are all back to our virtuous life styles.

I must thank some of you who wrote back and wished me well. I look forward to the emails from home. I particularly like Ramdas' reply saying that my email made him sad and laughed at the same time. I do wonder which part of my miserable email has tickled Ramdas' funny bones! But seriously, I appreciate your concern and Rizal, I wish I could that the first flight back. Believe me!

I can say that things are looking up. I just can’t believe how self-absorbed I was in my misery for the last couple of days. Sometimes, I feel like packing up my bags and leave and admit defeat but looking back, this has been an enriching experience which should make me stronger in character.

OK, til’ then, wish you all well and do keep the emails coming.

“Warm” regards,

Ka Ea

……to be continued in Part III…..

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