I have approximately nineteen billion words written about Zambia (complete with match.com-ready 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 cafés 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 WeMeantWell.com, 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.