Don’t send the rookie to Kabul!

So, early this morning I got an email from a colleague who just arrived in Afghanistan. Basically, he decried the recent bombing of a wedding party in Kandahar Province and expects things to get worse in Kabul for everyone, including foreign aid workers. He said that it didn’t look good for me or other new staff going over there, because of the rapidly deteriorating security situation.

So, Afghanistan will probably have to wait until the summer, when I will, if everything goes to plan (and it usually doesn’t) get a reporting officer job. I would have liked to work in Afghanistan on the project I’m working on here in the U.S. (it’s a good project and I really think I could contribute to it), but unless I transform into a burly, middle-aged man with a PhD and twenty years of experience (because I suspect that is the only kind of person they’d allow) between now and December, that’s not likely to happen.

I explained my anger and career uncertainty to my boss today, and he told me that I have two options: 1) go immediately to graduate school, or 2) continue clawing my way into the field on my experience, without a Master’s degree. He told me about how a bright twentysomething in a P1 UN post in Bosnia in the mid nineties was promoted to a P5 position after doing a spectacular job, but added that such things are not the norm. I know he’s right. Most people like me end up bored to death behind desks in DC or Washington or London or Brussels or Geneva. I’ve seen it happen to most of my friends.

As for grad school, well, you really don’t even want to know how much money I already owe. Grad school is out of the question for right now. I need to work for three to five more years before I can pay for it and have a modicum of financial security. Years of unrelenting financial problems and stress have robbed me of a good chunk of my youth, and I just can’t face another two years of wondering whether I’ll have enough to just make ends meet, or have to ask for help from my family.

I’m in a career anxiety funk. I am a field person, completely. I live for field work. If my life had not taken the turns it has, I would probably have gone into high risk social work instead of human rights/development/international relations.

I’ve fallen out of love with academia to a significant extent. Give me a grueling, risky job over an esoteric lecture any day. When I got back from Bosnia, I worked insane hours, even for an American. It was normal for my colleagues and I to arrive at our understaffed, chaotic refugee resettlement office at 9am and not leave until 11pm. We pulled more than one “all-nighter” when shit just had to be done. It was common for several staff to go days without bathing when the office was exceptionally busy. That was unnecessary for me, but, out of solidarity, I did postpone washing my hair during the time when, as my former supervisor put it, “All of Burma arrived at once.”

As much as I might have bitched and moaned at the time about appalling lack of support from the head office, and erratic reporting, and the need for more staff and better equipment, I really did love the work itself –the interactions with refugee clients, the adrenalin-fueled, sleep-deprived lifestyle, the come-hell-or-high-water mentality, the high highs and the low lows, and the shared extremes of emotion. In recent months, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly arrogant, and looking down on classmates and colleagues who never did “dirty work.” (Mischa has noted that such opinions make me come off as a natural Maoist, “Send the intellectuals to work in the fields!” and such.) Nevertheless, give me children with parasitic skin infections and adults with PTSD and rotting teeth over a five thousand word essay on Tilly’s ideas of trust networks and mutually binding consultation any day, I say, glowing with the crazy, radioactive condescension of a 22-year old former field staffer.

Yes, I realize I can be an asshole, and I’m working at being less haughty and more helpful.

Especially given that I will likely wind up fetching bagels and making copies for less money than my monthly rent very soon.

Ugh. Well, at least I have my flat and my beer and my internet connection. That’s more than a lot of people. And I haven’t gotten a final “No” on Afghanistan yet.

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