On Monday, I needed to go back into the crazy part of Kabul for a few things, so being the diplomat, I decided to drop in on Jalil and take him a present of a few files. I bought some on the way, and without too much difficulty parked in the Ministry of Economy grounds and went upstairs. (Now I know this may look like a bribe. And in a sense, you could describe it like that. Or you could call it an expression of thanks that he helped me with a file of his own when he didn’t have to. And that I was providing him with a spare file for the next person who came along in my position. Obligation, thanks, hospitality and reciprocity are perceived and enacted differently here. Julie and I once admired a carpet in someones guest room, and the next day he gave it to us. In relative value, it was probably worth about $2000 to him…)
I climbed the stairs to the third floor and with some trepidation, knocked on the door, and went in (you never wait to be called in in Afghanistan, you just knock on enter). Jalil was crouched (still) but behind a different desk. He welcomed me warmly and clucked as he took the files. We used one to put my documentation in, which, I noticed with chagrin, was lying precisely where it was left last week: on the bottom shelf of the bookcase, gathering dust. It clearly had not moved.
As casually as I could, I asked about when the High Commission For Approving New NGOs might meet and a crafty look crossed Jalil’s face. ‘Soon, soon’, he replied. ‘Maybe even this week’. A newcomer to Afghanistan would go away encouraged by this exchange, but I know better than to be encouraged so easily. ‘Maybe this week’ is shorthand for, ‘I have no idea. It’s not really my business. I have no control over it, and no interest in it. In fact, I don’t really know what you are talking about.’ I nodded to Jalil, feigning gratitude, and murmured ‘Good, good. That is very reasonable.’
Jalil and I chatted for a while longer, though he soon started using incredibly complicated Farsi which I was troubled to fully understand. I thought of telling him to eschew obfuscation and extraneous prolixity, but I couldnt think of the words in Farsi. No doubt he could have.
After a few more minutes I took my leave, and left Jalil to crouch again. I will call him on Thursday. Just to make sure my file is still where I left it.