Monday, March 29, 2010

Chag Sameach

Happy Passover to all of my fellow MoTs! The progressive Seder was a big hit. We ended up with about 20 people all together, which is a tight squeeze in our apartment. But we made it work.
This photo is actually from the end of the Seder, after the 4 (or more) cups of wine. Which is why we all look a little goofy. Hooray wine!

We hosted the "ceremonial" part of the Seder in our place, complete with charoset (made by Nick -- a big hit!), matzah & maror (thanks again to Mom M for the survival kit), eggs from the D-FAC, and karpas (parsley) provided by a contact outside the wire. We had a Seder plate, with a shankbone that was at least fresh and most likely hallal, if not exactly kosher.


Brad breaking the afikomen, which he diligently hid, but which we forgot to search for after the meal.

For the soup course, we moved upstairs to another apartment, for real, homemade matzah ball soup, with Passover popovers (Mom M to the rescue again!) The popovers were tasty, but were lacking the puffiness that makes my Mom's so delicious. Mine were dense and very filling. I think the altitude messed with them.
Nick, with his popover and matzah ball soup, sans matzah ball. It vanished pretty quickly.

We had dinner at a third apartment, with lamb, potatoes, and lots of salad -- the one thing that's easy to come by in these parts. We're pretty sure the lamb was actually an old sheep, as the meat was a little tough. But still delicious, and still not D-FAC food.

Not a bad spread for a somewhat ad hoc seder

For dessert we moved back down to our apartment, where we feasted on the macaroons I showed off yesterday, and a flourless chocolate cake. We let Elijah borrow the glass I gave to Nick as a wedding present, and we opened the door for him, drawing a strange look from a passing gurka (Nepalese guard).

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I'd be hosting a Seder in Kabul. But in the end, it was pretty much like any other Seder. Yes, we were sitting on the floor, we used mismatched flatware, and we served everything buffet style. But all of the important bits were there: good food, good friends, and LOTS of wine! It's been a really, really, really rough and bizarre and frustrating 5 days at work, so I was grateful for this opportunity to spend time doing something almost normal.

Chag Sameach to all. Next year....still in Kabul! But, fingers crossed for us hosting our 2012 Seder in Tel Aviv.

PS: On a completely unrelated note, I ran my first 10k (a personal best for distance!) last Friday, finishing in 1:03:54. Not half bad, I think, particularly given the thin and polluted Kabul air. Pictures to come, I hope!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A little taste of home

Neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor 3 straight days of 12 hour work days
shall keep me from making macaroons!

Thank you Mom M for the Passover survival kit!

I'll be hosting the first leg of a progressive seder.....pictures to come once the first night is done!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Worst.Blogger.Ever

Holy cow, Nick and I are really really bad at this whole blogging thing. Way back at New Years I resolved to post updates more often, and since then I've posted a whopping 11 times. 11. Lame.

I'm trying to figure out my damage.....why I can't get into a regular posting routine. Part of the problem is the work load here. Holy crap, this place is insane. We work 6 days a week (Saturday -- Thursday), and any day where I work less than 10 hrs is a miracle (I'm actually typing this while at the office, trying to keep my brain from falling out of my head as I continue to work at 10:39 pm). My typical day usually runs about 11 hours or more. And for the most part I am working (or sitting in meetings) that entire time. So by the time I get home from the office, work out, and do whatever chores need to be done, I find myself with little time to blog. Also, after spending all day sitting in front of a computer, the last thing I want to do when I come home is....sit in front of the computer.

The other problem is that I just don't have that much to say. Contrary to popular belief, life here on the Kabul compound just isn't that exciting. We wake up, we walk to the D-FAC for breakfast, we go to our offices, we go to the D-FAC for lunch, we go to our offices, we walk back to our apartment, and then work out. We live, eat, and hang out with the same people day after day. Evening entertainment consists of one of the following routines:
  1. nothing, because we got home too damn late to do anything other than go straight to bed
  2. working out, dinner, chores, bed
  3. watching a movie or bad AFN TV, either at our apartment or a friend's, because there's no where else to go and nothing else to do
This does not make for very exciting blogging.

I follow a couple of Foreign Service blogs, and I'm so jealous of their wealth of material for posts. They're all at non-compound posts, meaning that they are really living in foreign countries, with interesting and/or frustrating encounters with the local culture of their respective cities. They also have very astute observations on the ups and downs of foreign service life. But they're doing it: living the dream, making their way as strangers in strange lands.

Living on the Kabul compound, in contrast, is like living in the smallest, most messed up and minuscule college town in America. I spend nearly all of my time with other Americans. The only time I interact with Afghans is in a work setting, and I don't really work that closely with any of them. The food in the dining hall is terrible, and there's only one pizza joint. The movie theater is small and uncomfortable and about 3 years behind in new releases.

Who wants to write/read about that every day?

I'm sure there are a few of you out there who would love to hear all about the minutiae of our daily lives, and I wish that I could satisfy your desire for info on our comings and goings (or in our case, staying-puttings?). But that doesn't seem to be in the cards.

So for now I'll give you a quick update on our lives, in bullet form, while I continue working on the posts about our vacation (which are approaching epic-novel length). And I promise that I will continue to try -- TRY being the operative word -- to write more often.

So what's new in our lives?:
  • Nick's cool maps that he makes every week showing the US Government's recent accomplishments in Afghanistan are apparently now being forwarded to seriously VIPs back in DC.
  • I'm now wearing two hats at work: I'm still doing communications work for the economic growth office, but now I'm also doing strategic communication for USAID Afghanistan's new stabilization unit, targeting delivery of Afghan government services at the district level. And it's super awesome when the two offices task me with preparing completely different documents that are of equal priority and have the same deadline...which is exactly why I am still at the office at this ridiculous hour.
  • I'm still sick; the plumbing system has yet to return to normal, so I'm thinking that it's probably time for a trip to the doctor.
  • There's been a fair bit of news/gossip about life in the foreign service recently. First The Washington Post published this story on how much life sucks for USG staff posted in Kabul. According to the Post, we're overworked, understaffed, under-trained, victims of drive-by taskings and all-hours meeting requests from DC, and -- as if all that weren't enough -- the infrastructure needed to keep us all going (housing, food, training system, etc) hasn't been upped to accommodate the civilian surge. I wish I could say the article is 100% inaccurate. But...it's not.

    The second article is from the Atlantic Free Press, discussing the spoiled and cushy lives US. Diplomats lead in fantastic and exotic countries like Tajikistan and Somalia. I have nothing to add to what the commenters have already said, except that there's no doubt that life in the foreign service has its benefits. But is also has many many MANY challenges -- it's definitely not for everyone. I'd like to invite the author to join up and see if he can hack it, but it turns out he already tried to and was fired for inappropriate behavior two weeks into training. Methinks his opinion on the diplomatic corps might be just a wee bit biased.
  • One thing that definitely did not suck about this past week?.....My consumables and household effects arrived! They were late, a bit wet, but save for a few food items, everything survived intact. Unfortunately I've been so busy that I haven't had much time to enjoy the infusion of cooking ingredients.
  • Speaking of food: the Kabul compound is running out of it. Ok, not really out, but very low on key supplies. Our food company has gone a few weeks without a delivery, so they're pretty much out of produce and other non-frozen foods, such as eggs. Yesterday the police stopped 3 of our trucks from entering the city. Tonight's salad bar consisted of two vats of beets, soggy bean sprouts, watery cucumbers, and onions, and our fruit options at breakfast have been either canned fruit salad in syrup or applesauce.
  • I thoroughly embarrassed myself in front of my colleagues the other day by missing my chair when I went to sit down. I stood up to file a folder, and the uneven floor caused my chair to roll away, which I didn't realize had happened until I was on my ass on the floor. Yep, graceful. Luckily someone else did the same thing just two days later, so I'm not the only clumsy clod around these parts.
  • Last but not least: mark your calendars! With any luck, Nick and I will be in the states from May 20-June 6. Much of our leave is already reserved for family time, but we will have a few free days in DC -- likely May 31st through our departure date. We're looking for suggestions of great new DC restaurants to try. So give us your recommendations, and then make a date to meet us there!

Monday, March 8, 2010

I've caught the travel bug...

..and it's kicking my ass.

Traveling to foreign countries and exotic lands is always an adventure. Staying healthy while enjoying the adventure can be a bit of a challenge. It's hard to remember to not open your mouth in the shower, to brush your teeth with bottled water, to stay away from fruits and vegetables that aren't peeled. And even if you're as careful as can be, it only takes one piece of contaminated meat, one undercooked piece of fish, and you're done for.

Nick and I ate our faces off in Singapore. We ate our faces off in Bali. Sushi, salads, fruits, steak tartare, all of it delicious, without any significant problems. Nick had a brief bout of GI trouble, but nothing serious.

After checking in for our departing flight out of Bali, we decided to treat ourselves to one last sushi feast at one of the airport's many Japanese restaurants. We shared a variety of different sashimi and nagiri, and I topped it off with an innocent looking seaweed salad.

Cut to twenty hours later, just as we're about to board our flight from Delhi to Kabul, and that innocent salad transformed into a raging monster. I went down. HARD. I'll spare you all the gory details, but let's just say that I became intimately acquainted with the bathroom on India Air flight 843.

I'm planning a long write up (likely to be delivered in several lengthy installments) of our whole trip, with pictures and video and the whole deal. But I think it'll have to wait until I've moved on from my current diet of rice and jello. I want my descriptions of all the wonderful food we ate to justice to its delicious-ness, but right now I can't even bear to look at the pictures.

So good going down; so vile coming up

I just came across an interesting chat on Chowhound.com about the risks and pleasures of eating local and street foods while traveling abroad. I'm interested to see what camp all you readers (all 15 of you?) fall into. I'm definitely of the "screw the risks; I'll have what the locals are having" camp. Unfortunately that means occasionally paying the price. But damn, that seaweed was worth it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Back to life, back to reality

Singapore was great. Bali was great. The vacation was....great.

We're sitting in Singapore airport right now, enjoying one last kopi-o, one last kaya toast, one last Burger King Whopper with fries before we board the plane for Delhi. By this time tomorrow we'll be back in Kabul. It'll be another 2.5 months before we get out again.

Whenever we go on trips I always say that I don't want it to end, that I never want to go home.


I'm saying the exact same thing now, and I've never meant it more in my whole life.