Sunday, April 24, 2011

Lonely Planet: Farah

Lieutenant Granola was in my office this afternoon and happened to mention that he thinks (for whatever reason) that he might eventually be posted to the Central African Republic. I mentioned that I know nothing about the C.A.R. -- not even its capital city -- and think of it only as the sort of place that Foreign Service Officers get sent to when they're being punished for something.

We did a little googling -- the capital is Bangui -- which then led to us looking at the WikiTravel page for Bangui, which doesn't actually look that horrible. From Bangui, we leapt over to the WikiTravel page for Afghanistan to see what sort of advice they might have. The guide is actually surprisingly extensive, but there are tons of blanks waiting to be filled in, and Farah (mentioned only as a province in Southern Afghanistan, which is not where it falls in the USG's geographic taxonomy) has no page whatsoever. Granola and I agreed that this is unacceptable, and are both hell-bent on filling in the information to try to attract a few tourists to sunny Farah.

In the mean time, this photo from the Southern Afghanistan page (and the caption, faithfully reproduced here) was easily our favorite part of the whole guide:

Typical Rural Scene in Southern Afghanistan

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Employee Evaluation.

I was walking around base grousing about having to work on my personnel evaluation, my second-least favorite part of working for State. "I think I'm just going to take credit for everything the military has done," I told one of the SecFor guys.

"Don't you think they'll figure out it wasn't you?" he replied. "I mean, what are you going to write -- paragraph 16: '...and then I was all, TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT, and a ka-BOOOOOOOOOOOM!'"?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

We Meant Well

I have approximately nineteen billion words written about Zambia (complete with photos of me cuddling with lions and cheetahs), but the text is still on my first-edition 1940s blackberry and has to be manually transcribed on a regular computer, a proposition I haven't been able to face. Moreover, it's EER season -- Employee Evaluation Reports, that is -- and the Byzantine system review and promotion that State employs means that I (and the rest of the Foreign Service -- we in essence shut down for two months while we write about our own accomplishments) am fully consumed with googling for glowing accolades and finding alternate ways to make myself sound like a champion.

In the mean time, a fellow State Officer who headed up a PRT in Iraq has written a book due out in September entitled We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. It's not due out till September, but I for one am salivating for it. From the review on Amazon: Charged with rebuilding Iraq, would you spend taxpayer money on a sports mural in Baghdad's most dangerous neighborhood to promote reconciliation through art? How about an isolated milk factory that cannot get its milk to market? Or a pastry class training women to open caf├ęs on bombed-out streets without water or electricity?

The scenarios listed above don't translate one-to-one with the Afghan experience, but there have definitely been similar surely-you're-joking moments, none of which I've written about here for fear of being off message and having State drop the hammer on me -- which is kind of unfortunate, since events like the influx of a troop of Hip Hop dancers to Herat in the name of cultural outreach are basically begging to be blogged about. (I heard about the event second-hand; if I had been there, I probably wouldn't have been able to resist).

The author of the book -- a fellow FSO named Peter Van Buren, whom I haven't met -- writes a bitingly sharp-edged blog at, which is so blazingly honest that I'm shocked the hatchet hasn't come down from above yet. He says a lot of the things that a lot of us think but don't say, which is usually hara-kiri in the State blog world. I'd vaguely toyed with the idea of trying to turn my time in Afghanistan into a book -- probably more akin to Peter Hessler's Peace Corps memoire River Town than We Meant Well, but regardless, it appears that I've been beaten to the punch.