Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Jailhouse Lawyer

Court today was short, although I expected to be in there until late afternoon – the crowd was huge! Things went along swimmingly, people were doing what they were supposed to do without complaint, and then it was time for the video arraignments. That part of court can be pretty touchy – after all, the folks in jail have an audience: some like being on television in front of a crowd and do a lot to encourage laughter, and others don’t like for anyone else to hear their business.

Today, only two people were in jail awaiting arraignment. One I had never seen before, and the other was a frequent flyer, Mr. Thomas; he, in fact, is now married to the woman who stole vodka in the middle of the morning and then called me “that bitch woman judge down there.”

The newbie, Mr. Barrett, had a city charge of driving with a revoked license. The clerks had made a note on his paperwork that he, because of legal problems I knew nothing about, had what we call a “10-year denial.” This means that he probably had some convictions involving drinking and driving, and those convictions had been in close enough proximity in time so that the state would deny him the privilege of having a driver’s license for 10 years. I asked him if that note was correct; he told me it was and that he had four years left before he would be eligible for a license. He also told me that he had state charges that would keep him in jail for a while, where he had been for over a month.

I then told Mr. Barrett that if he pled guilty to his charge, I would sentence him to two days in jail, and that I would give him credit for two days her had already served. I went on to explain that his license would be suspended for another year, but that year would expire before he was eligible to get his license back.

I noticed that Mr. Thomas was nodding, and then he leaned over to the newbie and said something that was supposed to be sotto voce; however, I could hear him, the jailhouse lawyer, saying, “It’s a good deal.” And because of his prior experience, he should know.

Mr. Barrett took Mr. Thomas’s legal advice and agreed to the guilty plea with a sentence of two days, credit time served.

Then I turned to Mr. Thomas, whose city charge was having an open container (alcohol) in the city limits. It is unlawful for anyone to have an open container (alcohol) in a car or in his or her possession in a park or walking down the street or the sidewalk. I told Mr. Thomas that I hadn’t seen him in a while, and I assumed that meant he was staying out of trouble. He then told me yes, and that he also had state charges. I told him I was prepared to make him the same offer: two days, credit time served, but I needed to check on something. I turned off my microphone and started looking for the piece of information I was missing.

The two men thought that I had turned off their microphone, as well, and that I couldn’t hear them. Mr. Barrett looked at the jailer and said, “Who is she?”

The jailer replied, “She’s the judge. Judge Mitchell.”

Mr. Barrett nodded and said, “She’s nice.”

Mr. Thomas chimed in, “She’s really fair. That deal she gave you was really fair. She’s always been fair to me.”

And we had a LONG history!

By then, I had found the information I had been searching for, and turned the microphone back on, not letting them know that I had overheard their conversation. “Mr. Thomas, did you want to plead guilty and take the two days?”

He did, and I thanked him. I then said, “Well, Mr. Barrett, you did well taking your counsel’s advice today. Thank you both, gentlemen. And Mr. Thomas, I know you haven’t been in trouble, but I haven’t seen you for a while also because I went to Afghanistan for six months.”

He told me, “I know. I read it in the paper.”

He reads the paper? Who knew?

In the end, the man without a law degree reminded me that making judgments about people without evidence can lead to erroneous conclusions – and that is why judges never make up their minds about a case until all the evidence is in. Thanks, Mr. Thomas.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Home Again

I have been home for a little over a week. My job was downsized when my company lost half its contract with the State Department, and I was one of the unfortunate few who ended up without a position. Even though I really didn't want to leave Kabul, the more I thought about it, the better home sounded. The closer my departure date came, the more I felt like a horse heading home to the barn - except that I had no way to run faster. And after I arrived home, I realized that this was the best place for me to be. I was unhappy with the way things ended in Kabul, but I felt good being home.

Max picked me up at the airport and we went out to an early lunch at Blanc Burgers + Bottles, which is a great "burger joint" on the Plaza, and then we stopped to get a few things before heading home to Sedville, where I stopped in to see my mother and show her that I was back safe and sound. That night, we went to dinner at McGrath's, where I had a wonderful filet, and then some friends came over to watch the State of the Union address. By the time they left, I had been awake for about 24 hours.

Part of that 24 hours had been spent on a large Delta plane that took me from Dubai to Atlanta in about 14 hours. I was tired and emotional and extremely unhappy when I found that my seat would be on the very last row of the plane, which meant that I had to wait the longest to get off, and that I would be sitting close to the bathroom, where people would be traipsing over the entire flight, and where I would hear each flush of the toilet. This was about the worst news I could get at that particular time. I pleaded with the gate attendant in Dubai to try to find me a different seat. I guess she took pity on me, because she put me in a bulkhead seat, where I had plenty of room to stretch out and could easily climb over seat neighbors who might have fallen asleep.

We boarded the flight about 10:15 p.m., and took off around 11. I got comfy, thanked the gate attendant over and over for my wonderful seat, ordered a Scotch and soda, ate something, and then prepared to take my Advil PM so that I would be assured at least eight hours of sleep - leaving only about five hours to be up in the air with nothing to do. And that plan worked. But the guy next to me was REALLY serious about getting some sleep on the plane. While I had my Scotch and soda, he had two beers and three airplane bottles of Jack Daniels Black Label. He got a little cranky when the flight attendant wouldn't give him a fourth Jack Daniels, but then he ate his footlong sandwich from Subway, and then he popped an Ambien and put on his black-out eye mask. He didn't move for at least 10 hours - or at least I assume he didn't. When I woke up from my eight-hour sleep, he was out like a light, and while I watched "Argo," he was STILL asleep. I was kind of wondering whether he was still breathing, but he moved and made a noise, stopping my worry.

A word about "Argo:" Wonderful. I love movies that tell a story so well that even if the audience knows the ending, the suspense is enough to make one wring one's hands in distress. "Notorious" (Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Raines) is such a movie. No matter how many times I see it, as soon as Cary heads down to the wine cellar, my heart starts beating a little more rapidly. Well, "Argo" has that same quality. I was able to watch it on my personal screen, using my personal earbuds, knowing that I would see it more than once; Max was going to have to see it, too. Watching it, I was a wreck, glad that I was on a plane that kept me from jumping up from my seat and pacing at the back of the theater. And I knew how it ended!

After all that stress, I was ready to laugh a little, and so I watched yet another movie beginning with "A" - "Arthur," with Dudley Moore. I had not seen it in years, remembering some things about the plot, but mostly remembering that the interaction of Dudley Moore and Sir John Gielgud was nothing short of spectacularly engaging. And I had remembered right.

Even after watching those two movies, we still had 90 minutes of flying left to do! That time passed quickly, as Delta served us a third meal and coffee and tea - and wine and beer if we so chose. I suppose if I had been up for 14 hours straight without sleeping, and was still on Dubai/Kabul time, beer or wine would have been okay. That, however, was not the case, so with my breakfast, I drank a Coke for caffeine, a real Coke with sugar and calories!

We landed beautifully in Atlanta, where our first stop should have been customs and passport control. Unfortunately, however, we landed an hour early, and customs/passport control did not open for another half hour, so we were reduced to sitting on the plane until the customs people thought that opening early would be a good idea. And it was. Our flight was not the first one served by customs. By the regular opening time, hundreds of people were in the queue, and we were waiting patiently to be processed through into the good old USA. During the wait, we were surrounded with a display of huge digital photos showing America at her most beautiful - amber waves of grain, a lighthouse on a rocky shore, a lobster boil somewhere, one of Savannah's squares, and on and on. I was tired and emotional, and those pictures made me cry. I was happy to be back home.

We moved through the line quickly, and I was able to get my luggage quickly and then take it to the next check-in, where it was bound for Kansas City and HOME. It was barely 6:00 a.m., and so I headed up to a coffee shop in the Atlanta airport and had a mocha, and just sat around and watched the people go by. Everything was generally quiet, the place was clean, and the mocha was good. I reveled in being an American in America. The simple act of sitting in the airport drinking mocha made me pretty much ecstatic.

And that is how it has been since then. I have been ecstatic to cook dinner, to drink wine, to watch television, to talk to my husband, and to have friends over. I have not been ecstatic to clean house, however. All in all, my experience was a good one, but I am happy to be home again.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Eve Miracle

The sadness that is often Christmas came crashing down on me over the past few days. I have cried and brooded, and finally I came up with a different option: several of us decided to go out to a Christmas Eve dinner that was being specially cooked in one of the local restaurants that caters to ex-pats. It was the only way I knew to make sure I was with other people so that I couldn’t look at the computer or the four walls of my little room and be so depressed that I would want to simply crawl into bed.

So we set out.

We got into our vehicle and took out over the incredibly bumpy road, as usual, full of potholes and ravines and occasionally speed bumps. The dust was overwhelming. It swirled around the moving car like the heaviest fog I have ever seen. We could see the red taillights of the cars in front of and beside us, we could see the headlights of the cars that were, as usual, headed right for us, and we could see the occasional donkey cart on the side of the road, but only as we sped past, bumping and bouncing from one rut to the other. I wondered where we were headed; because it was dark, I couldn’t see any familiar landmarks, nor could I see anything that pointed to one direction or another.

Eventually, we turned onto a piece of road that was smooth and paved, with no holes, speed bumps, or patched spots. Then again we were on a dirt road swerving to avoid big holes, hitting little ones, and occasionally moving from one side of the road to another, all the time enveloped in the shifting cloud of dust that surely could have choked our car’s engine.

Finally, we made another turn onto what turned out to be a gravel parking lot, and we got out of the car. I was looking at what every other public building in Kabul is – a fortress buttressed by walls and iron doors. This place even had a little sliding door in the iron entrance door – it looked as if it had come out of the Roaring Twenties. Someone slid the little door back, and I felt as I were supposed to whisper, “Lefty sent me.” But instead, I entered an anteroom and was searched with a hand held metal detector, and my male companions were patted down, and then we were sent through yet another set of walls and doors. We then walked through an open courtyard on a rock walk and entered a restaurant that immediately offered comfort, beauty, and twinkle lights, letting me leave the swirling, thick, stinky dust, the oppression of the heavy air, and the overwhelming paucity of my spirit, outside.

I had entered another world, one that did not include Afghanistan, or at least the Afghanistan that was responsible for yet another American’s death that very day.

Inside the lovely restaurant that could have been in Anytown, USA, we were led to our table by a young Afghan man in a Santa Claus hat that blinked on and off in red lights – “Noel,” it blinked. “Noel.” We walked past a table laden with fresh-baked breads, rolls, and breadsticks, we walked past windows that looked out onto a courtyard where some kind of shrubs or small trees were outlined in LED lights that shone almost but not quite blue, and we walked past tables that were set for the elegant prix fixe menu that was to come – every place setting with two knives, two forks, two dessert spoons, wine glass, water glass, and precisely folded white cloth napkin.

Our table was in the corner of the room, so we could see the courtyard, slightly illuminated by the lighted shrubs, waiting for warmer days so that diners could grace the tables there, and we could see the rest of the room as it began to fill up with other people anticipating the special treat that was still to come.

Another young man in another blinking hat offered us a “Christmas Cocktail;” we could choose from three options, and his offer highlighted the lack of knowledge regarding alcohol that one might expect from a Muslim country where alcohol is simply off limits. “We have,” he said, “uh, something with fruit juice and, uh, vodka, then we have margarita, and we have, I can’t remember third choice.” I really didn’t want either fruit juice or a margarita, but I certainly wasn’t going to take a chance on something that the waiter couldn’t even remember, so I took the vodka drink (rule number one: NO TEQUILA).

It wasn’t bad – Hawaiian Punch with a punch! Then we nibbled on bread sticks – twisted puff pastry sprinkled with Parmesan cheese – and a sesame seed roll while we waited for the rest of our party and then the first course. As we waited, the stress of the workday, the sadness for the killing of the day, and the discomfort over being in a war zone with helicopters chopping overhead faded ever so slightly into the distance, and then, with each passing bit of conversation, retreated even more, so that we eventually felt almost normal about being out to dinner at a restaurant.

And then dinner service began. The blinking hat waiters brought the amuse bouche: risotto with a seared scallop and slivers of asparagus. The amuse bouche is supposed to be something that just “tickles the lips” or teases the palate – not a lot of food, just a bite or so – and this dish was exactly that. The risotto was done perfectly, and the slivers of asparagus were just enough to add some color and crunch. I think the chef had sliced the scallops in half horizontally, so that the scallop in each dish was thin but flavorful – and seared to perfection. The dish was topped with thin-shaved Parmesan. Even before I tell you about the rest of the dinner, I will tell you that this was my favorite dish. I ate it all.

Service was good in that we were not rushed from one course to the next. So when the next course, which was the appetizer, arrived, we were almost chomping at the bit. The appetizer plate was a classic: smoked salmon, a blini (a small pancake), piped mounds of dilled cream cheese, a quenelle of caramelized onions (a little mound that has been rolled between two spoons to arrive in its final football-oid shape), three thin slices of nut bread, and a slice of pâté. My only complaint was that the pâté was not seared. I think that would have made it better.

Aside: Now I will tell on myself: When I went to New York for the first time as a junior in college, a little girl from Thayer who had been almost nowhere other than Springfield, Missouri, Mr. Harriman, our professor and arts enlightener, took a group of us to the nicest places we could imagine. We stayed at the Waldorf Astoria, we went to Broadway productions, we went to the Metropolitan Opera (where I saw Paul Newman, but that’s another story), and we ate at some fine restaurants. One of them served pâté de fois gras, which is THE pâté, the one that is goose liver. Never a liver fan, I nevertheless tasted it, and then told Mr. Harriman, probably pretty loudly, that it tasted pretty much like liverwurst. I am sure he blanched.

Anyway, though not in a fine dining establishment in New York, this pâté plate was just fine. I ate about half of the food, because I knew that we were just two courses down and four to go. I wasn’t about to miss anything, and I didn’t want to feel at the end of the meal as if I were ready to founder.

The waiter cleared our plates and then brought the main course: duck breast. This was quite a treat, although I think I would have preferred the meat a little less rare. Regardless, it was quite tasty, and it was served with sautéed mushrooms and a citrus reduction sauce – I’m pretty sure it was orange – and two vegetables that I couldn’t identify. I don’t eat turnips, but these cubed, tender but not mushy, white things could have been turnips. Another unidentifiable vegetable, although I thought it could be spiced pureed parsnips, was also on the plate. Again, I ate about half the food, because I knew more was coming.

The next course was a salad – a real salad!!! – with, according to the menu, fried reblochon. I had no idea what reblochon could be, but I assumed it was cheese, as I know that in European style dinners, salad and cheese are served at the end of the meal. I was right! The salad was comprised of Boston lettuce and slivered red bell peppers and something hot, although I couldn’t find that ingredient. The dressing was a classic vinaigrette, and it tasted SO GOOD. I haven’t had a real salad in so long; I was ecstatic and ate every bite, including the fried reblochon, which were fried cheese croutons. The outside of each was crispy and the inside of was melted to cream. They were delicious, and I hope to replicate them in my next dinner for hire. I have since investigated reblochon cheese and have found that it is a soft cow’s milk, washed-rind cheese – similar in style and texture to Brie. Three kinds of cows, and three only, produce the milk from which this kind of cheese is made. I will be looking for it when I get home.

After that course, I would have been happy to leave; however, we had two dessert courses coming. The first was listed on the menu as “Pre Dessert Colonel” and the second was “Dessert Macaron.” I had no idea what a “Colonel” is, except, of course, the obvious, and I assumed the “Mararon” was what I know as a macaroon – a chewy, coconut cookie – which would have been the perfect end to the meal. I was wrong on both accounts. The “colonel” was akin to citrus ice cream, although I think it should have been sorbet – kind of a “cleanse the palate” dish. It was sliced through with a wafer sugar cookie; I ate the whole cookie, but only a few bites of the colonel. The “macaron” was NOT a chewy coconut cookie; it was exactly what www.dictionary.com says it is: a traditional French pastry made of meringue and stuffed like an ice cream sandwich with ganache or cream. My pink, peppermint-flavored macaron was served with raspberry coulis and rosewater ice cream, and a rose petal bisected my ice cream serving. Beautiful!

After the entire meal was concluded, I was sated but not stuffed, I was full of good company and conversation, and I had completely forgotten that I was in Afghanistan. My forgetfulness came to a screeching halt, however, as we left the restaurant for our vehicle, climbed into the car that was covered with dust and mud, and went back to our home away from home over the rough, pitiful excuse for a road, passing , even late at night, people tramping through the heavy dust, all on foot, all barely off the road, their faces covered by scarves probably failing to keep the dust out of their noses and mouths, carrying babies, and going who knows where. Our way was lighted only by the half moon, stars, and headlights and taillights of other vehicles, because no street lamps illuminated our path.

Surprisingly, though, my mood did not fade with the bumpy trek back, because it was Christmas Eve, I had been out in another life with people for a few hours, and the sky was clear and crisp. And as I walked from the gate to my little room, I looked up at the bright night and could have sworn I heard voices:

. . ., “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy
which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of
David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. . .13 And suddenly there was with the
angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God
in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

Peace.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sayonara

I have to sign off on my blog for the time being. Please do not worry about my safety. I am fine. I just have to discontinue my communications for the time being. I hope you miss me! You can leave me messages with the last blog post, and all of them will remain up for new viewers. I appreciate your words of support and your general support, and I will be back sometime later. Deborah Mitchell

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Today is Tuesday

As exciting as yesterday was, today was not. This has been a day to assess projects and work on projects, and figure out how to communicate writing skills to a young woman who has less-than-basic English writing skills – but she has a beautiful disposition and works very hard. I taught a technical writing class to several young Afghan men who will be out looking for jobs soon, and in as delicate a way as possible, told them that they need to be ready for an interview at all times – meaning that they must be showered and clean, have clean hair, and wearing clean clothes, so that their pheromones will be the good kind instead of the “we’ve been inside all winter” kind. I have tried to get Google Voice to work on my computer and iPad to no avail, and my package arrived from Max, leaking Swiffer Wet Mops liquid. Fortunately, nothing in the box was contaminated with the lovely “cleaning” smell, but the box was about ready to fall apart. When it arrived, the mail people almost sent it back because the address was wrong (Max got it right; the person who gave it to me gave me the wrong one) but their better judgment kept them from doing so. Now I am going to have to tell all the people who have asked for my address NOT to send anything until I get the correct one. You would think it wouldn’t be a big deal because we are all on the same campus, but you would be wrong.

It took me a while to put all my lovely life stuff away – things such as my winter coat and my NEW PILLOW! I have been sleeping on thousands of foam rubber lumps that are pressed into a bag of sorts and then flattened out. To support my head, I have supplemented that “pillow” with my travel pillow. I have no idea what it will feel like to sleep again on a normal pillow, but I am longing to find out.

The young people I talked to about resume writing and interview skills are nothing short of delightful. They are pretty fluent in English, and they will someday be leaders in this country. They are so willing to learn; it is a pleasure to try to teach them. They ask to be corrected so they can learn more. I know I have said that before, but every time it happens, I am pleasantly surprised again.

The days are still beautiful, with brilliant sunshine, and just enough warmth to keep me out of my long black coat. Nights, however, are much colder, so that I have to keep the heat on in my room, and even so, as I sit and write to you, my feet are pretty cold. I have tried to figure out a better way to configure the room so that I will sit in the heat stream as I talk on Skype and write my blog, but nothing has jumped out at me.

I will close for tonight, because for the first time in a long time, I am tired and ready to go to sleep before 11. I think that bodes well for my new pillow’s job tonight. Until tomorrow.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Going to the Movies

I was lucky enough to go to the Embassy again today, but I was in the same drab building I visited last time; however, our reason for going was spectacular. I was able to see a documentary film entitled Mohtarama that was directed by Malek Shafi’i and Diana Saqeb. The title of the film is, as far as I could understand, a term of endearment for women – something akin to calling a woman “Mother,” “Darling,” “Wife,” “Sister,” “Daughter,” and the like, and Director Diana Saqeb was at the showing.

The film is about the lives of Afghan women, and it showcased women in Herat, Kabul, and Mazur-e-Sharef in three different years – 2009, 2010, and 2011. Although because of technological glitches (as if I don’t understand THOSE by now!), we were unable to see the end of the film, it moves through the day-to-day lives of these women who are oppressed by society, religion, and men in general, and how, for many reasons, a women’s movement has not taken hold in this country to provide women with more opportunities.

I think most of the people who attended, and the drab room was full, would agree that in some ways, women’s lives are better now than they were under the Taliban regime; however, the women in the film who shared with the audience their lives had little to say that was good. One woman’s father had died when she was young. Her mother eventually remarried a man who had a son. The two parents affianced their children, and so the interviewee gave her age as 24, telling us that she had been married for 12 years. Another woman, who is a professional, tells about being unable to go out in public without layers and layers of clothing lest she be called worse than a prostitute. Another, a young woman and an activist trying to make things better for women, despairs over the fact that no organized women’s movement in Afghanistan exists.

As an aside, one of the women of the film idolizes an ancient Afghan poet, a woman named Rabia. She was of royalty and fell in love with a servant. She wrote beautiful poems that dreamily told of the love she felt – secret love, doomed love, unexpressed love – and eventually, she died for love. One story says that she was found out by her brother and he killed her for dishonoring the family; another says that she killed herself because she had been found out; another says that she was killed by soldiers as ordered by her brother (by the way, I know all this because of Esman, who schooled me in Rabia lore when I happened upon her name in a piece of literature). Unfortunately, it seems that women in this country still die for love – or almost so (please read the NY Times article I posted on my Facebook page). I suppose, however, if one has been married since age 12, true, deep love seems something too good to have missed.

The most important part of the film, I believe, is that these women want better things for their lives and for the lives of all the women in the country. My colleagues and I discussed the film after we left, and we had different “chill factors” – when chills ran up and down our spines. Leslie’s was a three-word phrase: “Victims of change,” which was the phrase used to talk about women who are reluctant to go too far out on a limb, lest they become those victims. Sarah’s was a line of Rabia’s poetry, which was beautiful, and gave the image of a woman whose soul is seen by the man she loves.

Mine was two-fold: First, the women talked about how education was the best opportunity to change. However, one of the screaming male zealots berating women for wanting their Constitutionally-guaranteed rights was an instructor at one of the universities. If that teacher is an example of what students learn at the university, I see little help for women in education. Second, was the hope of the young woman for a cohesive women's movement. My aunt, Susie, whom some of you know, was in on the beginning of ALL the movements (and I am proud of her stances in those years) – women’s, Civil Rights, Voting Rights, anti-Vietnam War – and the one thing in the women’s movement she never had to worry about was getting killed or maimed.

These women in the film, the ones who ask for what their own Constitution guarantees them – equal rights – risk their lives in doing so. I believe they are going through what the Civil Rights workers and activists went through in America in the 1950s and 1960s – they are risking being “victims of change,” real victims, just like the little girls who were killed in the bombed-out church, and the innumerable northern Civil Rights volunteers and Civil Rights activists who found themselves dead in the South for speaking up for change that was required by our Constitution. Many people died in that fight. I wonder how many will in this one.

The very good news in all this is that I had a discussion with Diana Saqeb, and she has given me permission to get the trailer for her film from her Facebook page and put it in my blog! You will be able to see at least some of it. I haven’t had time to do it today, but I will do it as soon as I have a minute or two, and I guarantee you will see something that will make you think. I enjoyed talking to her; she is a beautiful woman, and she has made several films, including one about the first Afghan woman who competed at the Olympics (Run Roobina Run).

Most important, she and I share a very important viewpoint: change, any change, comes one person at a time. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to effect change in one person, or maybe two or three, and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to be changed.

The other things that I want to tell you, including that on the way to the Embassy, I saw, get this, a COW standing in the bed of a teeny-tiny pick-up truck that was careening down the road, seem unimportant after my viewing the film, shot in stark black and white (of course). Sometimes, things just change perspectives. This was one of them.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Blooming Where I am Planted



I started writing my blog last night, and I got a few paragraphs in before deciding that it was really bad. My heart simply wasn’t in it.

And so today, the truth is out. I am a mess. Coming home was wonderful and leaving was hard, but I guess I am just homesick. I don’t know if my malaise has to do with the holiday season and my being away, or whether it’s that I can’t very easily comfort my daughter through what is a hard time for her, or whether it’s that I can’t talk very easily to Max (nor can I hug him!), nor see my family, or what, but I am having a hard time going to sleep and a hard time staying asleep, and then, of course, a hard time waking up.

I did have a pleasant surprise today, although it made me cry. On the campus, some of the nationals are attending a three-week management seminar. This is a great idea, because these people will someday be leaders in this country, and they can use all the help they can get. Well, one of these future leaders is my very own Hasat! I found out that he had come in, and I went to the classroom to drop off his ticket to an English test. I saw him, and I ran over and probably embarrassed him to death. I put my head on top of his head and hugged him, and then quickly left. It was only AFTER I left that I thought that might not be such a good thing – on many levels! But I don’t really care. After I walked out of the room, I started crying, recognizing, perhaps for the first time that I, as I said, am a mess.

After the class session was over this afternoon, he came to my office and he hugged me! We will be catching up over the next three weeks, and I am looking forward to helping him study for his English test. He said that his wife and son might come to Kabul to see him for part of the time he is here; his father-in-law lives here, so his family can have a place to stay.

Seeing him made me realize how long it has been since I was permanently on my home turf, and how long it has been that I was in Herat, being protected by Huge and Ferocious, talking with Esman and Hasat almost every day. Seeing him (and I swear he looked older!) made me realize that I am here for the time being, and it is both longer and shorter than I expected. Right now, I have been here for what seems like a long time. Tomorrow, however, after I get some sleep, it may seem that I got here yesterday. Regardless, I must keep to my mantra: Today is Sunday.

I went to church tonight, although my Skype connection stinks right now. I think part of it has to do with the fact that by 9 p.m., when I have to “go to church,” everybody and his brother are (is that the right verb? Mother? Cathy?) on Skype or the internet, so I get diluted access. I am trying to fix that by buying a “dongle,” whatever that is, and my friend from Washington, who is really from Somalia and was the first person last summer to pique my interest in Islam, is setting me up tomorrow afternoon with GoogleVoice or something like that. My lack of technogeek is shameful. I have to give myself a break, though. The people who are explaining these things to me are speaking English as a second language, one with a heavy Somalian accent, and one with a heavy Dari accent. Maybe I’m not so bad after all.

Now I am going to make myself talk about Christmas. When I went to church, it hit me all of a sudden that I won’t be there for any of it – the anthems that I love, the decorations that the “church ladies” make so beautiful, the smell of the tree, the hours of baking that I do each year (Max says, fans, that he can put together the poppy seed bread, and I’m sure he will do really well!), the stress I feel with the cantata and Vespers, Christmas morning when we make Irish Mocha (with Bailey’s, of course), and Christmas Eve when we get together with our friends to share a glass of wine. Or two. I have thought that I could steel myself against feeling bad – if I’m not there, it’s not happening – but seeing the church tonight made me realize that I AM there, but not as I would usually be. It’s going to be harder than I thought.

And then I will be seeing Max a mere three or so weeks after that, when we meet in Dubai or somewhere like that. So my Christmas present will be just a little late this year. And then it will be a mere 60 days before I will be able to join everyone at Easter time. That is what I will focus on, and maybe I can get through the next few weeks unscathed. Besides, I have something remarkable to tell you. Do you remember when I told you that the day was cold and rainy – so much for the roses? Well, since that day, the sun has been out, the temperature has been chilly but not frigid during the day, and, you guessed it – the roses are still blooming. The most beautiful one put out a new bud yesterday, and it will bloom tomorrow.

Maybe I can be like the roses in Afghanistan – in Afghanistan, for heaven’s sake! – and continue to bloom even after a bad day.