Be Awesome

Look, our forefathers died for the "pursuit of happiness," okay? Not for the "sit around and wait of happiness." Now if you want, we can go to the same bar, drink the same beer, talk to the same people every day or you can lick the Liberty Bell. You can grab life by the crack and lick the crap out of it.
--Barney (HIMYM)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Thoughts on the Kabul Experience

The problem of the day, the next crises, or the past sin to resolve.  Everyday day working here brings new challenges and keeps you on your feet seeking the best solution.

As a second assignment with the Agency, I think it was really one of the best choices for exercising all that I learned of my work in the prior four years.  The responsibility of the portfolios are enormous and the types and degree of problems vary to the extent that one might see more than what many other would see in an entire normal 4 year tour.

"Afghanistan is a great place to learn, but the worst place to train"

This post definitely requires one to know their stuff.  Knowledge of regulations, procedures, development programming, and managing the bureaucracy are paramount to effectively implementing programs.  But with those key fundamentals, one can come and understand the problems and develop a solution.  In infrastructure, for example, no matter how much money was spent for a good design or plan, the conditions on the ground and implementation of the work almost always will experience deviations requiring creative solutions and negotiations to resolve.  Throw in political considerations that may foil the most rational or best business decision, and then you really need to put on your thinking cap and work with the team to keep things moving forward.  I don't think I could have such an interesting work portfolio and thankful for the colleagues and supervisors that make things manageable.

But despite the long days working, you'll meet a lot of people and really form some good friendships.  Plainly, the budget is large and the number of staff is commensurate.  And as people are cycling in and out for one year tours, you'll have met and worked with a good number of people in a short period of time.

In normal posts, everyone has an expiration date as they arrive and then move on to their next assignment.  This system tends to accelerate the pace you get to know people and creates an environment where people are just more friendly as they consistently must work to establish their social network for where they live.  This is especially true in Kabul where you work with the same people whom you'll eat with everyday and with whom you'll hang out with.  It's like a summer camp but for adults.

The makeup of people working here are especially interesting.  There is a wide variety of people with equally varied backgrounds, stories, and motivations for how they come to work in Afghanistan.  That would be an interesting book, I think:  The stories of the people of US Embassy Afghanistan.

I still have a long way to go till finishing my time in Kabul and it gets depressing sometimes thinking about how much longer I have.  I sometimes feel especially jealous of those whom are able to bring their spouses to work at the Mission as they are then able to live a comparatively normal life together vs. those whom are separated.  But all in all, I think this will be valuable experience in the long-run and hopefully I won't have to serve in an assignment like this for long time in the future.

Lots of stream of conscience in this post.  This is really a place one must visit to really understand.

View of Kabul.  A city I've yet to really know.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Mabuhay from the Philippines and Whale Sharks - First Kabul R&R Destination

Traveling, sightseeing, and adventuring.  The holidays have been great.

For my first trip outside of Kabul, we made a short Asia tour first to Manila and Cebu in the Philippines, then Jakarta, Indonesia, over to Hong Kong, and an unplanned return to Jakarta (will have to explain this one in a future post).  This may seem like a pretty exhausting trip with this much travel to different places over two weeks, but I think we timed our stays in each destination sufficiently so avoid travel burnout.

My wife had a work meeting in the Philippines so we decided to start my first break out of Kabul in Manila so we could have the chance to explore the country and check it off the list.  Manila, in many ways, reminded me of other Southeast Asian countries we've been too in terms of the look and feel.   However, comparing Manila to places like Jakarta and Bangkok, we never felt quite as safe from things like petty crime that we do in other places.  Poverty is extensive and, similar to other SE Asian countries, there are extensive gaps between the rich and the poor.

My favorite sight of Manila was exploring Fort Santiago in the area within Manila called Intramuros.  We were recommended to do a tour with Carlos Celdran and were very glad we did.  When we travel and sight-see, I've come to more and more often hire tour guides as it provides much more context and information than we would have otherwise and they are usually very inexpensive sometimes only requiring a gratuity at the end.  Carlos' commitment to the development of his country was very evident and his passion for a better Philippines was inspiring.  Through his stores and guided tours, he is able to fund his organization's causes (social entrepreneur), which I think, is the ideal method for sustainable NGOs rather than the seeking of donor and grant money like so many others operate.  I learned a lot about a country I previously knew very little about and hope there are many others in the country working toward a better future for their people.

After just a few days in Manila, we headed to a popular resort island of the the Philippines called Cebu.  We stayed at a very nice resort and spent the time relaxing.  The highlight of the stay was a day trip to the Southern Point of the island to swim with whale sharks!  Whale sharks are huge and having the opportunity to swim with them was simply amazing.  There are though some ethical concerns about the local operators continually feeding the whale sharks to attract them for the tourist business but if the sharks are well cared for, I think it's alright as a tourist destination.  We recently springed for a new GoPro camera so we'd finally have the ability to take pictures underwater and I'm glad we did.  Looking back, we've missed so many great photo opportunities from places we've been to without having one.

That concludes part one of the first R&R.  Next up, Jakarta and Hong Kong.

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