Monday, October 20, 2008

Emails from Bamyan, Afghanistan (Part X)

The second woman who came for the interview, Amina, also works for IAM. In the interview, I would always ask the IAM girls how they felt about leaving their health care profession to work with us. How would they feel about these women walking from a village 5 hours away to seek treatment and there is no women to attend to them. I wanted to understand their job motivation.

Amina surprised me. She is a member of the Women’s Affair Association. She told me that she thinks women’s political right is important and she wants to be a part of the process. So, I asked her what about the right to health care and is political right more important that life itself? She answered, by participating in the election, the women are able to change and improve the policy of a country; better health care, better education, etc. this is more sustainable. Amina is not a high school graduate but she certainly read Amartya Sen alright! I was really impressed with her.

Did we select her? Well….unfortunately not. We had to choose only one IAM staff and we chose Sara instead. Sara had no problem travelling alone and she showed great interest and passion for the work. She was talkative and managed to convince me that she is willing to walk the extra mile just for the women. It was a difficult decision we had to make but Sara has the edge of being able to travel extensively.

Working with these Afghans has taught me to be tougher and less naïve. I used to get emotional and weak easily as my heart poured out to their plight and living condition. I felt sorry for them and hence clouded my ability to judge according to what was best for the programme and the people in general (the whole big picture). It was so easy to sympathise and cave in to a few random people but forgetting about what would eventually be beneficial to the bigger population.

I have learned it through the hard way, how these Afghans manipulate and take advantage of others. They don’t trust each other and I guess it is a product of the years of ethnic fighting, etc. How does one learn to love and respect others when one has not been loved or respected?

Despite this revelation and understanding, I still need to make decisions based on who would be the best person to carry out the job so that the women could get the best out of it despite how potentially unpopular I became. In addition, there are always tonnes of people who need a job and the list is endless. So, what can we do?

This is also a product of working with international staffs. A lot of these international staffs do not show respect to the locals and are arrogant as hell. So these Afghan staffs start to pick up bad work ethics and professionalism.

This is especially prominent in Kabul. Every time I’m in Kabul, I notice how much more rude and disrespectful the Afghan staffs are compared to Bamyan. I am very fond of all our drivers in Bamyan and have a lot of respect for them. They are simple people working hard and being paid honest money. I feel safe with them and know that they will protect me if anything happens.

In Kabul, the drivers show bad attitude and think they are too smart to be drivers. I have more respect and gratitude towards our illiterate “chowkidor”, Zarif than these Kabuli drivers.

One thing which has not vanished from my sense of perspective is how uncompromising it is to remain honest and humble in our every day life. I used to think that I’m an altruistic person but now I begin to realize that I’m not. I can be very selfish when the going gets rough. Living here provides an opportunity for self-reflection and I learn a lot more about myself.

Hari, our Regional Coordinator, discourages book reading rather than promoting it. He reasons that one’s life is a book itself. One should learn to read oneself and discover the content of one’s life. If you can’t finish reading and understanding yourself, why bother reading other books. Books shape and distort one’s perception of life. Now, I’m beginning to value and appreciate his philosophy of life.

As I have mentioned, after living here for 7 months, I have become tougher and stronger. I have handled many situations in an uncompromising manner which makes me a less popular person. This is especially hard being a woman. I can never stop emphasizing how disadvantageous it is being a woman here. This has reached to an extent whereby I’m beginning to have nightmares in my sleep.

I have dreamt about being killed for my uncompromising principles here. In Lal, the District Governor tried to interfere in the recruitment process and lobbied some of his staffs. Once I knew this, I had immediately informed all our national staffs not to entertain this even if it’s from the District Governor. I will not allow politics and nepotism to rule our recruitment process. That night, I dreamt that the District Governor had sent someone to assassinate me.

Within 2 days in Lal, everyone knew who I was and the “power” I had in recruiting people. I began to feel uncomfortable walking on the streets when we announced the successful candidates because these people knew I was the one responsible in making the selection. That was the first time, I felt self-conscious of my own presence in Afghanistan and the possible threat of being an “unorthodox” woman in such a conservative and patriarchal society. be continued in part XI.....

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