Kabul Jayne
February 2007

 
When we left our adventurous not-so-young Kentucky girl, she was deciding between a job that would send her to Afghanistan for five months or a job that would send her for four weeks to Iraq. And she was about to get married.

Ain't life crazy? Well, mine is.

I chose the Afghanistan position. I'll fly out at the very end of February, arrive in Kabul on March 1, work as hard as I can to do what it is I do, come back in early May for two weeks to assure Albi I haven't abandoned her and give my new and only husband some lovin', then I'll go back to finish the job, while Stefan heads off for a motorcycle trip through various parts of Eastern Europe.

I'll be back in Germany in August after the job ends, but the fun doesn't stop there! I've got a wedding shower, then we head out on a pre-honeymoon motorbike trip in September, then we have the uncivil wedding ceremony in October somewhere here in Deutschland. Then I plan on doing NOTHING for the rest of the year except to sit on the couch and re-watch every episode of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer .

I will, indeed, blog about some of my personal experiences in Afghanistan, and share photos, maybe even do a video or two. Announcements of blog entries and new pictures will be posted to my Yahoo group for family and friends, so be sure to subscribe. Videos, if I do any, will go up on my MySpace space. Otherwise, you won't hear much from me for a while.

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How am I feeling about all this? Excitement, relief, joy, frustration, terror, sadness, doubt...

As you know, I've been wanting a field assignment in a developing country for a long, long time. A few days here and a few days there have been great, but I wanted -- and needed -- the experience of staying somewhere months , not just days. I feel like I'm at my professional prime, but without significant experience in the field, all of my years of professional experience, and even a Master's degree, just don't carry the weight they should with international organizations and nonprofits. Lack of long-term field experience created a big ole' hole in my CV.

In so many ways, Afghanistan is the country that should be my first long-term experience in a developing country. I feel like I've been destined to go there, and I don't even believe in destiny. It's a country in which I have been interested since 1980: I remember well when the USA boycotted the Moscow Olympics because of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan -- that was the first time I heard of it. I remember in the 1990s the stories pouring out via nonprofit organizations and some media regarding the horrendous condition of women and girls and about the destruction of irreplaceable historical treasures, all at the hands of a fundamentalist religious regime. I remember comparing that situation with what I was experiencing as an activist for women's reproductive rights in California, at a time with religious fundamentalists were bombing clinics, bombing the Olympic park in Atlanta and shooting doctors and clinic staff, and my own life was threatened by such as well. In the 1990s, I thought Afghanistan was like The Handmaid's Tale come to life, only a thousand times worse. But its history is rich and incredible as a crossroads between the East and the Middle East, and its relative peace and stability between 1933 and 1973 is something many people long for. So, in short, long before September 11, 2001, I had my eye on Afghanistan.

I'm so hungry to work on this assignment -- getting it has brought as much relief as it's brought joy. And I'm so hungry for this overall cultural experience. This is going to be an incredible learning adventure, full of discovery and frustration. I so hope I get to see the real Afghanistan, the beautiful landscape and people and history that I know are there. And I hope I can have some lasting positive impact and that I get to make a difference for the people there in some way.

But coupled with this excitement is tremendous, terrible sadness at leaving my husband and my dog for so long. I've been waking up in the middle of the night and laying there for sometimes a whole hour, just listening to their breathing. These sounds bring me so much comfort. It's going to be awful not to have them right there with me. I have had the tremendous joy of walking with Albi every morning for an hour, as well as briefly in the evening, for more than two years, and that time has been a daily treasure for me, something that's fed my soul as much as it's been good for me physically. I worry what she'll think when I'm not here for so long. Stefan knows I'm coming back, but there's no way for Albi to understand that.

I think about stories of older relatives, grand parents and great-grandparents and great-great aunts and uncles and what not, who were also separated for many months, because of jobs or war. I think those separations made them and their relationships stronger. I don't think I'm as strong as those generations though -- I've no doubt that many tears will be shed in this time, mostly on my part, and that there will be times I want nothing more than to come back to Germany immediately. I will carry my love for my family -- my husband and my dog -- in my heart every moment I'm there, and let it bring me comfort in any dark times I face. And I know the best strategy for dealing with loneliness or boredom is to concentrate on the present, the moment, on the immediate possibilities around me, instead of pining for what's not there or what I will, eventually, be coming home to. That's something that, no doubt, I'll have to remind myself of constantly.

So, that's how I'm feeling. Once again, probably way more than you wanted to know.

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Two web sites have proven particularly helpful and insightful about life in Kabul, particularly for women:

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How can I love both Pink and Tammy Wynnette? Really, how is that possible?

People who have any idea who Tammy Wynnette is, but are not fans, drop their jaws when they find out I love her songs. HOW can a feminist love Tammy Wynnette songs?! Well, it's complicated... I don't agree with even half of the sentiments in her songs. ('Stand by my man' no matter what? Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Hit the road, buddy ). But there's something about the sincerity and desperation and tragedy in those songs... it's like watching some old opera, where the tragic lead female character throws her life away on the young, dashing, completely heartless rogue. It's just so real .

There's also a significant camp factor. I can't lie. Wouldn't you pay money to hear me sing "I'll See Him Through"? Come on, you so would.

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We finally watched The Constant Gardener recently. It was way better than any other movie nominated for anything in 2006. I'm absolutely stunned by it. Why was this film not more celebrated?! I'm sorry we waited so long to watch it.

But probably not the best movie to watch just before I take off for Afghanistan...

We also finally watched The Da Vinci Code . I read so many awful reviews of this movie, and now, having seen it, I'd say they were entirely unjustified. I was not a fan of the book -- to me, it was a great story very poorly delivered, with painfully-clichéd dialogue and undeveloped characters. It doesn't happen often, but in this case, the movie is better than the book. The cast is solid and make the characters much more believable than the book, and the flashbacks and overlays representing historical events make events much more compelling than the book did. It wasn't great, but it was more than worth my time.

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This from my friend Betsy in Austin:

Hello, my frequent-flying friends:

Here's a drinking game I made up while watching "Airport" this afternoon: Every time something happens in the movie that is no longer allowed in post-9/11 air travel, take a shot.

Pace yourself, though: Helen Hayes' knitting stowaway character alone is good for at least a bottle of whatever you're imbibing ...

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I have not yet decided whom to support in the bid for the USA Presidency. Five or so years ago, I went through the web sites of each and every Democrat and Green Party candidate I could find. I studied the positions of each. And back then, the choice for me was clear: Howard Dean. This year... will someone be so obvious? Will I find that person who won't back down one iota on the issue of reproductive and abortion rights, who will be passionate about every person in the USA having access to quality health care, who will not fear opponents calling him or her "unpatriotic" or "liberal" when taking a strong stand against the radical right?

Whatever your political leanings, please, please, please, register to vote if you haven't, make sure you are still registered to vote if you didn't vote in the last Presidential election or any time since, and please review the web sites of those who are running. Don't let the TV and pundits decide for you -- YOU decide.

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I finished watching Firefly and Serenity ; thanks again to Kendra for sending the DVDs. Whomever marketed this show, I have these words for you: You should be fired; you have no idea how to do your job. This was a show with tremendous potential, with an incredible cast right out of the gate, interesting ADULT stories, and dialogue to make you laugh out loud. It was certainly good enough to stay on the air for a full second season. Had you stuck with it, you would have gotten at least a bit more than your return on your investment. I had other things to say about it in my previous blawg, when I had just started watching it, and all those things are even more true for me now.

I'm so sick of hearing about audience testing. Test audiences have loved movies that have totally flopped. Test audiences have said they hated movies that ultimately became not only classics, but made money at the box office (remember Twelve Monkeys ?!). Have some faith in your product, your artists and your own marketing abilities, people.

I'm now going through the audio commentary of Firefly and it's not only hysterical, it's great info on movie-making. Good material for a film school class.

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I can't imagine a world without Molly Ivins... and thanks to the Internet and published books, I won't have to. How many times has this woman inspired me while also making me laugh? I just hate it that there will be no new Molly Ivins thoughts and insights. Her frequent message was "Raise more hell." I shall, Molly. I shall.

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I just finished Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon . It is startling how much of his 1865 novel and the actual moon shots from the USA one hundred years later have in common. This is the fourth Verne novel I've read, and it's by far the funniest. But I have to confess that, as with the others, I skipped most of the technical talk -- and that makes reading the novels go a lot faster. In From the Earth to the Moon , the description of the Gun Club and its members is hilarious, and the conversation about algebra is both hysterical and reflects my own views on the subject.

But why did the man never write women characters? Women not only have yet to figure into any story I've read (except briefly, for comic relief, in Journey to the Center of the Earth ), but the characters never even talk about women, not even the guys stranded on The Mysterious Island . It's like women don't exist -- no mothers, no sisters, and certainly no lovers. The characters talk about dogs a lot... and, no, I did NOT like how the dogs were treated in From the Earth to the Moon at all...

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My great-Uncle, J.L. Beasley, brother of my maternal grandmother, died on February 17. I found out because I have "Spottsville" in one of my automated news searches on Yahoo News, and since he had many ties to Spottsville, Kentucky mentioned in his obituary, I therefore got a link to the online obituary in an email.

Daddy Jay held a huge, traditional Burgoo every year, either on his farm between Reed and Spottsville or at the Elk's Lodge in Spottsville. I only went a few times -- there were masses of people, as well as masses of food, all in sweltering Kentucky August heat. It was an amazing event. And he was a character and a half, and had all his sensibilities -- and his girlfriend -- until the very end. He was born in 1917. Can you imagine all that he saw and experienced in his 92 years?

He's left a lot of grand children and even more grand memories. He's going to be missed.

I went to look some things up on Google after reading his obituary, and somehow found this list of selected obituaries from Henderson, Kentucky for the late 1800s. It's a GREAT read. My favorite entry:

He has been a holy terror and served a term in the penitentiary. It is no doubt a relief to all concerned that he is dead.
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Congrats to all of the Christian clergy around the world who held special services on Sunday, February 10th to celebrate Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, and science in general.

"For far too long, strident voices, in the name of Christianity, have been claiming that people must choose between religion and modern science," says Michael Zimmerman, founder of Evolution Sunday and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University in Indianapolis. "We're saying you can have your faith, and you can also have science."

Zimmerman adds, "If you have enough faith, you don't need science to prove God exists, and science can't prove this anyway," he says.

Oh, and here's three quotes I recently found online from Frederick Douglass, the great American and black abolitionist leader, that have given me pause:

"I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs."

"The church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. ... For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! Welcome atheism! Welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by these Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke put together have done!"

"We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen, all for the glory of God and the good of souls. The slave auctioneer's bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave trade go hand in hand."

Which reminds me: I think I'm going to make Thomas Paine's birthday a family holiday in my household. Any celebration ideas would be welcomed.
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Have I told you lately that the best thing I've ever done for my mental and emotional well-being was adopting a dog... and then another and then another?

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"I'm proud to be the first African-American coach to win this," Baltimore coach Tony Dungy said during the Super Bowl trophy ceremony. "But again, more than anything, Lovie Smith and I are not only African-American but also Christian coaches, showing you can do it the Lord's way. We're more proud of that."

Um... so, this is in response to all those many, many Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist and Jewish NFL coaches who have been winning the Super Bowl for 40 years? Or all those not-really-Christian-enough coaches?

I can't WAIT for a Muslim to coach an NFL team and win the Super Bowl and say it was because of his religion. I cannot WAIT for it. I am going to sit back and listen to all the gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair on TV and talk radio, and I'm going to send ole' Tony's comments to every one of the pundits who complain and say, "Please tell me why you weren't equally outraged in 2007."

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"Being insulted is not the same as being oppressed."

I don't know who said that (if you do, contact me), but that phrase keeps ringing in my ears, usually when I'm watching the news.

I'm not talking about harassment or threats. I'm talking about someone calling you a name. Someone mocking your football team. Someone creating cartoons about your religion. Someone dissin' your President. And your feelings are hurt. SHAKE IT OFF. Walk away. Rise above it. There are women and children being slaughtered in Sudan. Women's rights are under seige all over the planet. Your air and water and food are being poisoned . Get passionate and angry about something real and try to do something about it. Insults hurt as much as YOU let them.

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Some things to check out: