31 December 2010

Six Down, Only Seven to Go

The heightened state after the attack bled into one for Christmas.  In now appears we’ll be on high alert throughout the start to the new year.  I’m just keeping my fingers crossed for no fireworks.  New Year’s Eve hasn’t elicited too many special preparations, though there is some kind of shindig happening this evening at the DFAC.  It remains to be seen whether I’ll attend. 

You’d think we could come up with a slightly more substantial, seeing as how it marks the birthday of about half of our staff.  Afghans do not record dates of birth; when you ask when they were born, they answer with their (approximate) age.  Even some of the national ID cards don’t list a date of birth, but read something like “was 19 on date of issue”, per the solar calendar.  I think it’s 1432 AH here.  When pressed to give an actual DOB for all of our pesky employment forms, nearly everyone defaults to 1 January.  This morning, everyone in the office ran around wishing each other a happy birthday and then dissolving in a fit of giggles. 
Those who know their actual birthday are very proud of that fact and become put out if someone lumps them in with the 1 January masses.  It suggests a level of familial education and class, sort of declaring that one’s parents were clever enough to record his birthday and don’t you forget it!  These are apparently the same kinds of families that prefer the noble but high-maintenance horse to the practical but low-class donkey.  One of my co-workers recalls the day his father beat him because he wanted to get a donkey to ride to school.  Never mind that donkeys are sturdier, can pull more weight, require less maintenance, and are cheaper – no son of his would be caught dead on one.

At any rate, I’m not sure that any New Year's celebration could rise to the odd heights attained by Christmas, which saw not only Santa, but also a pink bunny.  I don’t remember the Easter bunny ever having a place in the Christmas zeitgeist, but why not?  If you have a bunny costume in Afghanistan, I say make full use of it.

My colleagues and I ended up celebrating by (1) “taking time to speak to our loved ones”, per the request of the HR director (thanks for the permission); and (2) having an office party planned by Muslim and Buddhist staff members.  They brought in a lovely spread of local food, including whole, supremely scrawny chickens with heads still attached.  They rather looked more like a small, rotisserie dinosaurs than modern fowl.  We washed down this dubious feast with cava prepared by our Fijian staffers.  Cava, I was interested to learn on my third go-round, is a mild paralytic that is drunk out of ½ coconut shell from a communal font.  In our case, it was a red bucket.  The cava tasted rather like you would expect something out of a red bucket to taste – an aromatic blend of Necco wafers and dishwater, though the body was a little weak.  We then proceeded to gather ‘round and sing solemn songs about naked ladies on the beach.  They sounded so lovely in Fijian, and then the guys had to go and translate…

Speaking of cross-cultural celebrations, Christmas proved to be a great time of cultural exchange for my Afghan brethren and me.  While the insurgents apparently view our sacred, and for some, secular holiday as a paramount time to attack, others are more than happy to join in the fun.  My aunt sent me home-made toffee for Christmas and it was, as expected, amazingly delicious.  However, I only had a piece or two, as I set it out at the office and the Afghans attacked it like it was manna from heaven.  Yes, I realize I just used a story from Jewish religious history to illustrate how Muslims enjoyed a Christian holiday, but I liked the ecumenical nature of the metaphor.

I had a slightly more, shall we say, interesting discussion sparked by a debate about US foreign policy (funny how that engenders more controversy than candy.  Perhaps I should have mixed the two).  The topic of the close alliance between the States and Israel came up, and one of my colleagues speculated it was because the American government was controlled by Evangelicals and Jews.  When I suggested that grossly over-simplified the situation was in fact an alarmist conspiracy theory, he asked in all seriousness if I had ever read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  I affirmed that I had, having studied it as an exemplar of propaganda disseminated to legitimize ethnic cleansing and noting that was discredited 90 years ago.  He was astounded.  And we make fun of the public school system in the US… 

So some things to, if not look forward to, then keep an eye on in the coming year: (1) burgeoning conflicts in Côte d’Ivoire and Sudan; (2) the crisis in the Korean peninsula (the garden spot to which most of my military friends think they’ll be deploying next, though I’m less convinced); and, a bit closer to home, the preliminary effects of the troop draw-down, only a few years too soon.  Thus far, both the Air Force and Army have ceased flights in and out of Phoenix, and are even pulling out of Kabul International Airport.  What effect this will have on my work travel is just another adventure awaiting me in 2011.  Happy New Year!