A Travel Diary from Afghanistan: Kabul/Herat, 26 September 2014, Day 5

[Translate to Übersetzung Englisch:] Foto: Julka Jantz
[Translate to Übersetzung Englisch:] Foto: Julka Jantz

We meet our DAAD colleagues for the obligatory Friday hotel brunch and pick up our discussion where we left off at the airport on the first day. How can we dovetail the Master’s in mining with administrative sciences? What valuable experience have we gained? What worked, what didn’t, and why? This type of discussion doesn’t happen often enough, and project participants working in the same field often don’t know each other, only from what they read. “Freaking empty here!” the Kabul office manager suddenly cries out. You normally need to make a reservation, but today only three other tables are occupied and the staff looks forlorn. The musicians, however, are busy playing very loudly and seem to be in state of trance. We decide to move to the courtyard after our meal. Today there is a market for the guests offering emeralds, rubies, topaz, lapis lazuli, aquamarine, silk, embroidery, and carpets – what’s missing from this Ali Baba scene, though, are the customers.

By the end of 2014, a large part of the military will have withdrawn and many projects will have been completed. Due to accumulated special leave, the work in Afghanistan will be finished for many. The remaining projects will have been pared down and some donor sources will have dried up. The decision to extend our project to 2015 was only taken this year. Apart from the locals and the office manager, almost everyone else will have left. Many of our contact partners in the ministries and state organizations will have been called to new posts following the change of government. Many effective working relations will cease to exist. “The golden times are over,” the Afghans say. But here also lies their biggest opportunity. In recent years, parallel structures have been set up in the ministries and the donor budget is many times higher than the regular Afghan budget. This additional support makes sense, but only for a transitional period. It will take time before the system will work without assistance - perhaps it will never work.

Shortly before our departure, we receive some good news: One of our interpreters has won a scholarship to join the Research Training Group in Potsdam. “Now we can switch off our mobiles,” says Fuhr, “it won’t get any better today.”

We arrive at Herat Airport at 6pm and the temperature outside is 36°C. Five body checks and three luggage inspections are behind us before we get to the counter of Afghan KAM Air in Kabul. Because of the security measures, it really does make sense to be at the airport two hours before departure. After five days of drinking water and sweating under the desert sun, we feel sufficiently detoxed to enjoy a cool beer after work. But, sadly, there’s not much chance of that. We have to wait to break our “fast” till we get to the German camp in Mazar.

A poster with “Welcome to the International Security Conference” welcomes our fellow passengers: journalists, military staff, and security experts from other provinces. Waiting in line, we’re able to admire Afghanistan’s full ethnic diversity. Police presence is high along the main streets lined with pine trees. This desert city near the Iranian border is an Afghan gem. There is a neatly kept bazaar and Herat citadel, restored with the help of Humboldt University in Berlin, is home to one of the best museums for Islamic cultural history. Under different circumstances, Herat would be a major tourist attraction. We had this wonderful place to ourselves during our last visit, yet this was an experience that made us feel uncomfortable.

Text: Julka Jantz - Project Coordinator for the project “Strengthening of Public Administration Education in Afghanistan.”
Online-Editing: Agnes Bressa, Translation: Pearl Wallace
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