Afghanistan: In a land in conflict


Afghanistan: In a land in conflict
by bppopkin

Farah-compound support staff gals at lunch, with their permission

Week 1 Week 2

In a land in conflict, Afghanistan – Saturday, 20 February 2010

Just before leaving Farah near the Iranian border for Kabul, I learned of new pests (locust) to address. Last day of pest management training-of-trainers, my students ask, “Will herbicides applied to weeds also kill wheat, seeds, and other crops? What is the difference between pest and disease? Will pesticides hurt the environment? What is easier to control, pests or disease? Will pesticides hurt the soil?” My translator, God bless him, asks me, “What is the meaning of these words - chemistry, acute, miscellaneous, remediate, lethal, dose, nutrient, salinity, alkalinity, pH, dissolved solids, degrade, evaporate, evapotranspiration, vapor, volatilization, reverse osmosis?” Too bad there are no bars here.

Glad I don’t get paid for results. Geese Louise.

Fifty Farah men who haven’t seen soap and water since the Haji crowd into my 10 by 20 already shared and crowed office desk space to hear a speech, as I slip out for air. Ugh.

The room cleaners in Farah take your laundry every day or two and return it to someone else, damp or moist. The kitchen staff turn plastic outdoor food tables on their side after lunch so rain water doesn’t accumulate, but the cleaning staff leave toilet paper out and the construction staff leave bags of cement out in the weather. Of course, it hasn’t rained in weeks or months. There are pieces of iron, wood, steel, rock, concrete, brick, and block sticking out wherever you walk or trip. Seems the place is designed to encourage slipping, falling, and spilling. There is of course no OSHA or health and safety, nor maintenance culture here. If there is an awkward, sloppy, incomplete, ineffective, unsafe, and DAS solution to a challenge, someone here will find it.

The breakfast cook brings you your ordered omelet. Usually cold and soggy. You can get eggs, cheese, onions, tomato, and no mushrooms. I ask for no tomatoes and find that since then, no one is getting tomatoes. Ugh.

Class room time. I wanted 8 to 5 for five days, and was given 9 to 3:30 for three days instead. Of course, each 9 became 9:30 or 9:45, and all 10-minute breaks which I give every 50 minutes, turn into 15 or 20 minutes. Then on the last day, students less us they all need to leave an hour early to prepare for Friday holiday. Luckily, this is not first aid or any significant life-threatening training. What me worry? No worries.

I had to cancel the health and safety training as the five Materials Data Safety Sheets were either not translated or the three which were translated, were translated poorly to Dari. For example, “Acutely hazardous,” became “sensitive.” Plus, the translators didn’t translate the MSDS headings or titles. Of course, the first time I saw the translations were at the moment I needed them. Ugh.

We had a fun free-for-all discussion on Thursday about soil and water salinity and alkalinity, unrelated to pest management. I really enjoyed it as this was my PhD research area, and I was able to discuss solutions practical in depth. My students took lots of notes. Amazing to me, they had no strategies to deal with salinity and alkalinity. Did I mention, none?

The classroom skits I wrote and they performed went over very well. They acted them out and learned good lessons in integrated pest management, export standards, personnel protective equipment. We also had a contract make face-protective shields from large plastic soda bottles and a pesticide-package burner, which was successful and appreciated by the students. They did fair on the class exercises – perhaps I expected too much. Language, culture, and education and experience barriers were significant.

My Scottish guards told me that since Obama’s announcement that the US will pull out in 18 months, there has been a marked increase in men’s beards and women’s burkhahs in anticipation of the Taliban taking the country back after the pull out. They told me the Afghans refer to him as Barak Hussein… Hmm. We heard gun fire and explosions going off on my third class day, and was told it was training exercises and planned explosion of captured UXOs. It reminded us of the war around us. Ugh.

My Afghan managing cleaner is having home problems, wifey issues. I ask my UK security chief if they have any women in security. He says, no lad, “It’s bad enough we have to marry them as to work with them as well.” Hmm.


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