I have a meeting at the Australian Embassy.
The person I meet with lives at the Embassy compound, maybe 200m away. The Embassy staff are driven to work each morning, in flak jackets and in an amoured vehicle. This, in the most militarised part of town, where they already are well within the green zone. Simply to sneeze here requires permission from the Secret Police.
Once inside the compound, they work within what is essentially, a bunker. Thick concrete walls, thick steel bars on the windows. They are not allowed out to shop, walk, meet Afghans. I invite my contact for dinner: our house will need to be security vetted before she can come. I show her photos of our work, that we, through various channels, get some AusAID money for. I offer her to visit the work: it sounds close to impossible. She would need armed escorts, security compliant housing, security plans and evacuation contingencies, a five legged stool and camel train with USB ports on each saddle.
None of this is surprising, but nonetheless, I leave perplexed that this is how my Government thinks to manage its aid work. These people are administering $160million worth of aid, and yet they have almost no contact with Afghans. Period. In a similar encounter a while back, a woman from the British Embassy signed a cheque for a aid group to build a chicken coop in Jalalabad. $10,000. I can only assume the chickens had individually air-conditioned rooms with massage chairs.
I think some of this must be because Australia is quite new at this type of work. We don’t, as a nation, have much experience in civilian operations in conflict countries, as so we assume it will all be terrible and tricky and end badly. Hence the precautions. Heck, for a long time the Aussies didn’t even have an Embassy here, and even when we did, it was hidden, with no details publicly available. Enquiries were referred to Canberra. The British and Europeans are far more at ease. I’d like to talk to the Embassy staff about how to be more effective, but I suspect it is a closed loop.
Later I go to Bush Bazaar. Butter is available, and I have learnt by now, that if you see something at Bush Bazaar that is worth while, buy it. Buy a lot of it. It probably won’t be there again. So that is our butter needs taken care of for a while.
My enjoyment at the thrift of this purchase is tempered on the drive back to Karte Se, by the sight of a woman begging in the Pul-e Sorkh bazaar. At her feet lies a grown man. I want to stop and help, but I allow the flow of traffic to carry me on home.