Life in the Field - The Way of the Samurai

"Show me the way to the next whiskey bar. Oh don't ask why. Oh don't ask why."

Monday, April 17, 2006

Lexicon to Afghanistan

In case any of you, fascinated followers of The Way, ever considers coming to this beautiful corner of the planet, I have felt a while back it would be useful to provide you with a brief lexicon of common expressions used in English dialogues with Afghans and expats alike, so as to get by in any setting, eg at the office, in Elbow Room or in some commander's guest house. Given that this list was drafted six months ago or so, some definitions may be a little outdated, however most remain applicable.


Awesome party
Similar to a great party (see below), but with alcohol still flowing at 8 in the morning.
Illustration:
- Did you go to the last ACTED party? It was awesome!

Bagram base
Never Never Land. The promised land. Where people can feast on Whoppers and Skinny Cafe Latte throughout the year.
Illustration:
- Yeah I've heard Bagram even has a McDonalds.
- Noooo, a Burger King! [Voice mixing sanctity and longing]

Chemonics
A private company subcontracted by USAID that hopes to support the production of beef and dried fruits in Afghanistan, so as to supply McDonalds, which intends to soon settle in, with unlimited supplies of beef for burgers and toppings for ice-creams.
Illustration:
- So was your livelihood project accepted?
- No, Chemonics thought the profit margin was too low.

Commander
Your friendly village MC who can ensure that your programme runs smoothly or not, depending on whether he likes your face and/or is paid enough and/or feels he's got any benefit to gain from it. Easily recognisable when hanging around with the bacha under his protection. How can you tell the difference between a good commander and a bad commander? If he's a good commander, he should already have obtained some kind of recognition through elections (also true of commanders with a big militia though).
Illustration:
- The guesthouse of a commander near Istalif exploded last night, due to the stocks of explosives kept in his basement, in spite of his officially handing over 'all' his weapons under the DDR programme.

DDR
A programme designed to help all commanders clean up their attic, so as to be able to refill them with brand new weaponry someday.
Illustration:
- The rocket attack yesterday, do you think it was Dostum?
- Naaaaah, he's handed all his weapons to DDR, I heard.


Digestion
Physical process designed to break food into various nutrients necessary for proper functioning of the body and taking anywhere between 15 minutes and 8 hours, depending on whether you are in Afghanistan or on R&R.
Illustration:
- Oh my God! These holidays in Papua New Guinea are simply fantastic. I've been keeping food in my organism for a whole 5 hours in a row. That's unseen!

Driver
A person who could afford to buy a driving license and can honk faster and louder than anybody else. The driver is easily recognizable as he usually has lunch between 11 am and 3 pm and thereafter dinner between 4 pm and 9 pm. [Note: true only of Kabuli drivers. Provincial drivers do not stop to sleep, eat or go to the loo but tend to practice chain smoking when allowed to, during their 84 hrs uninterrupted shifts.]
Illustration:
- Is the car I booked ready? I need to go to this meeting with ECHO.
- Sorry, the driver is eating.
- At 5 pm?!??

Driving license
Document compulsory only to get a job as a driver in a public or international institution.
Illustration:
- So imagine it, we crashed right there.
- Woaw, do you think your driving license will be withdrawn?
- Oh no! I never had one!

Engineer
Title deserved by any person who has gone beyond grade 4 / had an A level in math / has seen an engineer once in their lives.
Illustration:
- Of course I am qualified for this job. I am an engineer. Unfortunately I lost my diplomas and the archives of the university burnt down, so they cannot give me a copy...

Giving
Act of kindness illustrating one's gratefulness at being authorized to conduct their programme unhindered and with no threat of being denounced to any ministry as a bad implementing partner.
Illustration:
- So like the mullah says at the end of his prayer: "Now that I've given you the prayer, what will you give me?", as it happens we do not have a well near our office. Do you think you could build that first well for your programme in our courtyard?!?

Great guesthouse

A guesthouse with a proper kitchen and at least one bathroom per three occupants.
Illustration:
- So how was the party last night?
- Oh it was OK, but you should have seen the great guesthouse they have!

Great guy
A guy who apparently doesn't do Chinese prostitutes.
Illustration:
- I met this great guy at yesterday's party!

Great Party
Same as a Party (see below) but with people dancing on the table and/or until they drop.
Illustration:
- Did you go to Altai? They had a great party last weekend!

Home
The forgotten land. An unidentified location/mental state that you are neither sure you have left, nor certain you have reached.
Illustration:
- So where is your home?
- Huh, here I guess.
- No I mean your permanent home (eg that country where you return for two weeks once a year to down turkey and jelly)?
- Oh huh that's huh in huh Europe I s'pose.


Hygiene
Spitting a fridge clean. Cleaning a dining table with one's own hand or a really old grey cloth.
Illustration:
- Our guesthouse staff have great hygiene standards. I trained them myself.

Insh'allah
Maybe, maybe not. I doubt it. If I can be bothered. I don't think so, my sister is getting married in two days.
Illustration:
- Will you hand in that report on Thursday?
- Insh'allah!


Long vacation
Getting the fuck out of Afghanistan for a job interview, accepting the job, choosing not even to come back to collect one's own stuff.
Illustration:
- Do you mind attending the next provincial coordination meeting?
- Oh sorry, I won't be back on time, I'm going on a long vacation.

Mullah
Bearded man who has decided to fight jihad against any infidel living within hearing distance of the mosque by inflicting sleep deprivation punishments upon them between 3 and 3.45 am.
Illustration:
- So how did you sleep last night?
- Aaaah, I think the mullah has a brand new sound system. I've been awake since the first prayer...


New girl in town
Living being with two X chromosomes.
Illustration:
- Have you seen X from god-knows-what NGO? She's the new girl in town!

Not a great guesthouse
A guesthouse with cockroaches in the bathroom (each with their pet names), spider webs all around, vermin in the bed, no fridge, no oven and where you get electricity on odd days and hot water on even ones only.
Illustration:
- [Just back to Kabul weighing 10 kg less than the previous month and stinking] Oh yeah, I'm just back from Qaisar. Not a great guesthouse the one we have, is it...

Pakistan
A friendly power from the east that exports Happy Cow and taliban to keep its economy and north west frontier under check.
Illustration:
- Did you hear? Apparently some 20 taliban infiltrated Laghman province yesterday via the Pakistani border.
- No, reeeaaally??!?

Party
Gathering of anywhere between 3 and 500 people, spending between 1 and 8 hours talking, with supplies of alcohol present.
Illustration:
- I went to this party last Thursday. It was awesome, we were there til 11 pm at least...

R&R
Getting the fuck out of Afghanistan.
Illustration:
- I can't wait til next month. I'm going on R&R!

Security consultants
Security staff coming from the US (dominant), the UK or South Africa, who apparently haven't seen a girl (see new girl in town above) in 20 years and are gagging for a shag.
Illustration:
- So how was Samarkand yesterday?
- So so. There were only security consultants around.


Salaam aleikum! Bakhair hasti? Khub hasti? Chtaur hasti? Jan jaur ast? Famil-e-shoma khub ast? Saat shoma khub?
Hello!
Illustration:
- Break, break, break! Mike Papa Bravo to Tango base! Mike Papa Bravo to Tango base. This is Foxtrot 65. I think we are under attack. Do you copy me? Tango base, do you copy me?
- Oh Ustad Barbara Sahib. Salaam aleikum! Bakhair hasti? Khub hasti? Chtaur hasti? Jan jaur ast? Famil-e-shoma khub ast?

UN
Organization that one loves to loath, yet that still has the greatest gardens and pools in the entire country.
Illustration:
- So where are you heading to?
- Huh well I need to pick up my bikini in the guesthouse and I'll head afterwards to UNICA for huh a meeting.


Village
The only geographical entity that really matters. Beyond that, other villages are only worth considering to make sure one's village receives as much assistance. The district has a mostly decorative purpose, with hardly any budget allocated to conduct much effective work. The province is the centre of the universe, that defines where you come from and where you belong (unless you're from Panjsheer). The state is this remote entity where 'dog cleaners' try to change good old traditions and customs of the village.
Illustration:
- So where do you come from?
- Oh I'm from Dawlat Abad. [Go and find that on the world map...]


Wolves
Legendary animals not seen on this side of the planet since the beginning of the war, and particularly numerous in areas that are a pain to reach in the winter.
Illustration:
- I'm sorry, we haven't been able to do the survey in these villages. They are very remote so it is necessary to walk and there are wolves, you know...