Raffaele and I talked on the phone every day because of reporting and sometimes I sounded low on the phone and he would try to calm me down. He would then always tell me how many more days before I would return to Panjao. It did get very frustrating sometimes especially when my Thuraya ran out of credit and I was not able to call anyone. I had to wait for Raffaele to call me every evening.
So, most of the days, I would not have anyone to talk to because most of the Afghan staffs do not speak English. Aliase and I were getting on each other’s nerves and I was trying very hard to sustain the working relationship. I could see that Aliase was getting very agitated and unmotivated with the whole thing; being dumped in Lal on our own without office space, etc. I tried to keep ourselves positive and busy. Whenever Raffaele called, I tried to sound cheerful and uplifted just so that he wouldn’t have to worry about us in Lal.
But one evening, I just broke down and it was the day when I gave up on the recruitment process. Then immediately I felt guilty for doing that and reassured him that I would be different the next day and I was just feeling very vulnerable that day. I think for those days that I was in Lal, I began to realize how strong and independent I could be and how one can actually condition oneself to adapt to the situation and condition. I also began to discover how important it was to have someone like Raffaele to comfort and counsel me every single day and reassuring me that I was not alone on this.
Anyway, 2 days before I was supposed to return to Lal, Raffaele sent his Language Assistant, Jaffar, to Lal to confirm the registration sites with the District Governor. I was really happy to see Jaffar. Jaffar is 23 years old and was a refugee in Pakistan for a long time. He speaks very good English and is more liberal than most Afghans.
He and Raffaele work very well together and I think among all the PFCs and their Language Assistants, Raffaele and Jaffar have the best of relationship between them. That is also because Jaffar has loyalty and respect towards Raffaele. He sees Raffaele as his role model rather than his superior. Jaffar is also very competent and works more than a Language Assistant. His computing skill is excellent and he could create maps on software, etc. So, Raffaele depends a lot on him to carry out a lot of the technical work. Hence, it is no surprise for Jaffar to be sent on his own to speak with the District Governor, etc.
The moment I saw Jaffar, I said, “Get me out of here!” I needed to get out from Lal center, just to breathe. I was by then building a rapport with Khial Gol, the new driver who had been fetching me every morning from IAM to the field. Khial Gol surprisingly possesses a wide English vocabulary although he can’t really form English sentences. Every time he drives me to the field, he would point at things like river and then said it in Dari. He was turning into my Dari teacher and then I found out that he used to be a teacher.
For those 5 days that I had been isolated from my friends, I compensated by talking to Jaffar non-stop. I poured out my woes and my frustrations. Then Raffaele called to check whether Jaffar had arrived in Lal. He asked Jaffar on the phone how I was, etc. and Jaffar told him that I was bored and stressed. Then I discovered that Raffaele had given Jaffar a bottle of vodka to be shared with me!
Having Jaffar made a whole lot of difference. I was slowly adapting myself to Lal and by the last night, I remember talking on the phone with Raffaele as to whether he wanted me to go back to Panjao or stay on in Lal to monitor the training. Qurghani and I were supposed to return to Panjao the next day according to our schedule. While Aliase and the rest of the trainers were supposed to stay on in Lal to start training on the new staffs.
Raffaele asked me whether I wanted to stay on in Lal and I told him that I would prefer to go back to Panjao but if I had to stay in Lal, I would. He told me he had a feeling that I was beginning to enjoy Lal and didn’t want to come back to Panjao. I was like, “Are you kidding me? Stay on here with no one to talk to and go to bed at 8pm every night?”
I was dying to go back to Panjao especially when I knew we would be expecting some company; Collin and Shawn were to stop by in Panjao for one night before going to Uruzghan. It would be like a small former Bamyan team get-together and I wasn’t going to miss out. But I know that if I had to stay in Lal, I would for the interest of the team and then held it against Raffaele later! But thank God, Raffaele asked me to come back.
So, I was very excited to leave Lal the next morning with Khial Gol and Farid. The journey for the first time went as smooth as a banana. I arrived in Panjao just on time for lunch and of course talked myself silly. Those 7 days felt like forever and I was of course warmly greeted by Panjao team and felt a sense of accomplishment; being the first and only UN international electoral female staff in Central Highlands brazing a new district in another Province on her own and survived it!
When Collin came, he called me the toughest chick on the block and accused Raffaele of being crazy and irresponsible for sending me off alone. But I was happy and proud of that. It has been a man’s world here. For months now, I have been the only foreign woman working in the Central Highlands electoral team. If the PFCs can survive it, I can too. And for the first time, the PFCs could not accuse me of not knowing how it is like to be in the Province.
Life oh life….. you just never know what is going to happen next. As for me, I know I am just about done with Afghanistan. I think I would be leaving here after July.
I left Panjao in August and returned to Afghanistan two months later as a Human Rights Officer for UNAMA, based in Kabul. I stayed on for another 13 months before finally leaving Afghanistan for good.
This final part of my email series came at a good time because just today, I received news from Raffaele that he has just became a proud father to baby girl, Zaira. I extend my sincere happiness for him as he embarks in this new chapter of his life.