Calling Afghanistan

Last night my time, early morning Kabul time, I called two NGOs to which I applied for jobs. At the first NGO, I could barely hear the guy who answered the phone, and I was then put on hold for a while, during which time, to my extreme amusement, carousel music played. Finally, I was told that my application was being reviewed and I’d hear back the first week in April. When I called the second NGO, a very nice guy in HR told me that I’d hear back on my application in a month, maybe two, depending on promotions and resignations within the organization.


A quick question for those of you who know better. Should I put a thumbnail photo of myself on my CV? This is not something people usually do in the US, but I’m aware that it’s common elsewhere. Good idea or bad idea?

(In photos, I either look like a goofy fourteen year old, or about a decade older than I am, there seems to be no middle ground.)


OR, I could go with a photo of myself with a smiley face photo-shopped where my head should be.



I need advice from people who know better.

There’s an NGO in Afghanistan I was intending to submit an internship application to. In fact, I submitted one last year, was accepted, and then couldn’t go, for various reasons. Yesterday, as I was about to reapply for that same internship, I saw that the “officer” level position doing the same thing was open. I’m qualified for it, at least on paper, but I’m not sure if I should submit an application for the job, or for the similarly titled internship. How can I make it clear that I’ll gladly take the internship if I don’t get the job, without ruining my chances of getting either? How should I approach this?

Bits and Pieces

Well, looks like Sudan is on its way to becoming even more of a clusterfuck. It’s times like these I wish I believed in an afterlife, so I could imagine a really nasty Hell for the likes of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.


So…I’ve been whining about jobs on here for a while. Well, I have two offers now, or, kind of one and a half offers. Or one in hand and one…nevermind.

Offer no. 1 is a short term consultancy-type thing stateside that would employ my tech and media skills, but nothing else. I would be sitting in front of a computer screen, 9 to 5, being geeky. The pay would not be great, but I would not have to worry about the electric company cutting me off –and frankly, in this economy, that’s what passes for economic security.

Offer no. 2 is dependant on not too many horrible things completely out of my control happening in Kabul before July. It’s an unpaid internship, and one that would allow me to really jump into field work and be the intern of one of my favourite aid-worker-bloggers!  I don’t have all the details yet, and again, it’s dependent on there not being a catastrophic escalation in violence.


I have been sleeping very deeply for the past few nights. What’s up with that? I’m usually a fitful sleeper.

Bits and pieces

I want to hug the heroic IRC employees who saved dozens of people from drowning in Burma/Myanmar.


The next four months are going to be a triathlon. I’ll almost certainly complain, but I (not-so-secretly) enjoy the challenge and work better the more pressure I’m under.


I’m really, really awful at describing myself on paper (beyond my resume), but pretty good at doing so during phone and in-person interviews.


Six months of winter is hard on the soul. Six months of cold wind is murder on the skin.


This is such a limbo time for me.

I’m waiting to hear back on a grant, so the resettlement office director and I can hire a full-time refugee health coordinator and get the refugee health mediation program up and running. (If this happens, I’ll be abandoning the blog for a while, because I just won’t have time.)

I’m waiting to hear back from this government agency and that government agency.

I’m waiting to find out whether I’ll be off to Kabul, Bishkek, Dushanbe, Nias, Juba, LA, DC, or NY come June –or slithering back to my mother’s basement to wallow in bourgeois angst and inhale snackfoods.

I’m waiting to hear from friends abroad.

I’m waiting to see if my best friend has finally broken her eight-year back luck streak in the romance department.

I’m waiting for a bad haircut to grow out.

I’m waiting to see if CitiBank fails.

I’m waiting for the snow to melt and the green to return.

I’m waiting to buy Microsoft Office 2007 for my laptop and a replacement digital camera until I can afford them.

I’m waiting for a certain blogger to email me back and save me from daily pangs of embarrassment and self-recrimination for having attempted to show off my (really bad) Dari.

I’m waiting for a breakthrough, somewhere.


Ok, back to putting together my outreach proposal for this Friday’s meeting at the resettlement office.

Bits and pieces

Next Friday, I will be making a presentation for my colleagues and supervisors on utilizing social media in development work.  My boss, who is somewhat “old school” has finally embraced some of the ideas my younger colleagues and I have been pushing.

“We’re entering a post-literate age,” he told me.

Well, maybe not post-literate, but certainly with less in print.



So I don’t feel the compulsion to hurl my coffee mug across the room, I am going to pretend this is poorly-executed satire.


Today, I have a program development and fundraising meeting at the resettlement office.  I can smell the grant proposals a mile away. Hurrah!


No feedback on job applications so far, even on one for which I met every single one of the very specific qualifications.

* Professional research experience

*Refugee resettlement and asylum work

*BA in human rights or a related field

*Overseas human rights experience

*Understanding of global press freedom issues

I meet literally all of those qualifications (which has never happened to me before), and I suspect that’s not common, for an entry-level person anyway. If I’m not even called for a phone interview, I’ll start really worrying.


I just told my current boss about the above job application and my curiosity about why I haven’t been contacted. He laughed and said that those qualifications are not uncommon among entry-level people, and that the organization probably had a ringer in mind for the job anyway and won’t even consider other applications.

I can be so naive.

Something tells me I’m going to have to be content with a secretarial job in Boulder, Colorado come June.

I’ve put five years into this, and I’m coming up against a wall I cannot scale.  The other day, I told a similarly struggling friend that I feel the hardest part of chasing a dream is knowing when to let it go.

I don’t think I’m at that point yet, but I am very discouraged and I feel like it’s getting closer by the day.


My mom, who runs a small business in Longmont, CO, is asking her friends and clients if they know of any clerical jobs opening in the late spring. I sent her my resume today. And so begins the long process of settling.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

Yesterday, in an email that was perhaps too frustrated and desperate-sounding (yes, about my search for my next job), I mentioned that I am the kind of employee who works until 10pm on  a Friday night if that’s what it takes to finish a task. And then I though, hmmm, it’s been kind of a while –at least two months– since I worked that long in the office (not counting, of course, the work I bring home and fiddle with until 2am.)  But wouldn’t you know, it happened last night. My colleague Steve and I worked until 10pm to finish the most mind-numbingly boring part of a proposal that went to DC this morning on a train with one of our other colleagues. By the end of the night, our eyes were crossing in and we were slap-happy from doing tappy tappy computer work for roughly thirteen hours.

Our boss drove us home. Earlier in the evening, he had  brought up with me the subject of Steve’s and my desire to work in Afghanistan. His take was, and is, that we’re just in our early twenties, we should be bullshitting around, trying to discover our paths for a few more years. As usual (this is a conversation we have often), I groaned, slapped my hand to my forehead, and explained that I’ve been on the same path since I was in junior high school. I know what I want to do indefinitely. Steve knows (mostly) what he wants to do right now. Isn’t that enough?

In a more practical sense, the economics of being young have changed dramatically in the thirty years since my boss was the age I am now. Back then, someone of middle class status of above could extend the “I don’t know, I’m just trying different things” period into her or his late twenties, or longer. Today, it’s extremely unwise to do so beyond, say, eighteen. And if you go on to higher education, you damn well better know what you want to do with your life, because you’ll be sunk if you set yourself back tens of thousands of dollars in debt only to realize too late that you hate what you’re studying, or can’t make a living with your degree after graduation.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think this system is bad socially and that the kind of debt students are put in is unethical, but it’s still the reality we (recent graduates and soon-to-be graduates) have to confront in at least the short-term. The uncertainty part doesn’t apply to me, and I’m thankful for that (again, I’ve been blessed with uncommon certainty in what I want to do). I know my boss means well, but I wish he would stop writing his young employees off as overly serious children in need of more playtime and socialization. It’s not helpful, it’s just frustrating.


Slightly related: I kind of miss the communal “all-nighters” at the resettlement office.  The office I work in now is very professional. Everyone has his or her own office with a “please knock” sign or a solitary cubicle. Even if staff stay long after closing, it’s not the kind fo place where you gather around the grubby kitchen table with beer, pizza, and piles of case notes. For all the fuming I did over how “unprofessional” the resettlement office could be, there really were  things about it I found very endearing.

The career subject came up with my boss again today. He suggested I do the Peace Corps. No.

Working nine to five and then five to nine, and checking ReliefWeb compulsively every fifteen minutes.

Work work was not exactly thrilling this week. I had to research USAID political party strengthening programs covering the last ten years and put them into charts by country, year, program, activity, etc. I also had to re-do the CV’s of people who will potentially be working on a new project. Then, I had to do some literature research for a colleague before she departed for Jordan. Then…you get the idea.


For the resettlement field office, I met with the new Development Officer, who, oddly enough, has never worked with grants or government contracts. I compiled literature on these subjects for her, as well as lots of handy web-based resources on grant-writing, squeezing money out of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and getting free supplies from local sources. We’re going to meet again the week after next.  In the mean time, I’m going to follow up on a conversation I had the other day with someone from the university’s School of Public Health about setting up a fellowship program at the field office for their MPH students and recent graduates.

Even if the foundation says “no” to our proposal, there is going to be a refugee health mediation program. One way or another.


It was nice to be back in the old office. I hadn’t realized how much I missed the smells, the confusion, the perpetually askew pictures on the walls, and the comically diverse team of sarcastic co-workers representing the US, UK, Spain, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Burma, El Salvadaor, and the DRC.


It’s time for a Dari lesson.

Scattered thoughts

Tomorrow the Refugee Health Mediation Project proposal goes to the foundation. The field office director is still  trying to get some audit stuff that needs to be attached, and our DC people  seem to be in no hurry to provide it. We’ll see what they produce in the next few hours. It’s maddening to spend months working on something and have it held up for no good reason. DC had ample, ample time to prepare what we asked for.

Grrr…  inefficiency.


Last night, for work, I went to a dinner for visiting members of the Malawian Parliament. The conversation at my table  revolved more around the Afghanistan project than the Malawi one, though, because a table-mate just recently got back from Kabul and had stories to share. Oh, how all that Afghanistan talk tormented me!


One of the things I asked my recently returned colleague was how the international-national staff dynamic was playing out. His gritted teeth and guarded answer instantly made me think of this from Hamesha:

right now i am here sitting in a cafe a safe distance away from a vociferous expat who is grumbling and ranting loudly about lack of this and lack of that, from lack of capacity to lack of electricity and lack of security and lack of good food and lack of internet and lack of talent and lack of hygiene and lack of deodorants and lack of good weather and lack of good colleagues and lack of traffic rules and lack of obedience to traffic rules and lack of obedience to rules writ large and lack of knowledge of the english language and lack of appreciation for shakespeare and lack of…

how about lack of right attitude? for working in a an admittedly difficult postwar environment? and what the hell were you thinking when you landed that lucrative contract? how about lack of cultural sensitivity? and lack of humility? and how about an overabundance of presumption and self-righteousness and arrogance? and how about getting the hell out of here if it is all so difficult and unpleasant and insufferable?


I have been applying to every job I have a 1% or better chance of getting. Also, I despise Openhire.


It’s bitterly cold here, with a sharp wind that slices into any exposed flesh. I waited for a half hour at the bus stop this morning (because upstate NY somehow cannot provide public transport at the quality level of even, say, Pristina) and I was physically in pain and slurring my speech by the time the bus arrived.


I just found out that the refugee resettlement office was robbed. Two computers were stolen, including a laptop I donated when I left.  Fuck.  It was hard enough before.  Anyone have computers to donate?

Things that amuse me

So, let me get this straight:  Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher is qualified to be a journalist –a war correspondent, no less– because he was filmed saying a few utterly stupid things to Barack Obama during the presidential campaign, but I am possibly still too green for field work in a conflict zone (Afghanistan) after spending the past nearly six years (on and off) volunteering,  interning and working for human rights, humanitarian, and development organizations?

Ok. That makes sense. Perfect sense. All is right with the world.