View from my Guest House window

View from my Guest House window

The first day of the working week here is Sunday (Shambe) and so despite not sleeping for more than an hour or max 2 at any one time, I was ready and outside to be taken to the office with the van going in at about 7.30 am. The offices are also in a compound: cars drive in through a closed gate, and there are two buildings with a narrow lane between them. I was told they are apartment buildings that have been converted into office space. Once there, I first went to get internet access on my computer and iPhone and iPad, then off to see Rajesh at HR to get my photo taken for an id, then driven to town to get a Foreign Registration Card, which I will need to leave Afghanistan, and then a cup of tea in what has temporarily been set up for that purpose for non-fasting workers. Umm, another volunteer from Calgary, Canada, who is working on developing tools for monitoring and evaluation (M&E), took me to the office I share with her.

Then I got to meet with Garry , who after some initial small talk, talked to me about gender mainstreaming as a feature in their programs. I am not always sure I pick up on the nuances of what he is saying. He wanted me to meet Saleh, who wants to work with mullahs in order to address gender inequities, and I took notes of that conversation. Garry was present, and as we talked, what he has in mind for me to do here become a little clearer:

About to land

About to land

I cannot seem to be able to sleep for more than an hour at a time. This has been the way it has been since Tuesday July 30th and I can only now catch a glimmer of what sleep deprivation feels like. Of course I continue to remain cogent, but I do ask myself for how long! It was a terrible idea to try and quit at this time; the replacement pills do no good, I am hungry all the time but not satiated; and cannot calm down sufficiently to sleep—indeed, the effect of the pills, no matter how small or large a piece/dose I take, is to get me totally wired.

I am trying to get through it by keeping myself as calm as possible, and attending to work. Reading. One-hour naps. Eating. Exercising. Perspiring. The heat and humidity are insane. Knowing that I am here a week too early is not great either—it is like showing up expecting to work four days before Christmas. Why no one said this was not a good idea beats me. So staying calm and centered amidst all of this is … like … the easiest thing to do.

Approaching Kabul

Mountainous Terrain

It is about 4 pm Thurs Aug 1 in Cali, and roughly 12 hours later where I am. I have slept fitfully in the night here because my body thinks it is day; when it is night for my body, the world says it is day and one can sleep again only fitfully. Now, this has been going on since Tuesday night, when I boarded the flight to Dubai.

So many things to do to ready oneself for a 2-month-long trip in foreign parts.
Now that I am here, I understand why over time I developed the “travel light” slogan. Two-thirds of what I brought will not be needed. And of the one-third that will be, it is going to have to do. It is unbearably (for me) hot and humid, just like Mombasa (and we all know how well I do in heat). There is no a/c; a fan that doesn’t help unless you are standing two feet from it. I needed to pack the lightest, lightest of body-covering cotton, with nothing hugging the body, and to have brought my threadbare worn-out pajamas as these are too tight and the top too close-fitting (and hot!). Why don’t I go with my gut—but then that is the point of this whole venture, isn’t it, to help and in doing so, discover (or recover?) what my raison d’être is in the larger scheme. Find my voice. Follow my heart.

Quitting cold turkey was another extremely stupid idea. The nicotine pills have me wired and unable to sleep, even though I am taking the tiniest amounts possible. It was hard when I quit 5-6 years ago before a fight with Peter undid the 3 days of watching my life pass before my eyes as I tried to quit, and it is hard now. Others have written about the grief that ensues as you give up a “friend” who has been with you through thick and thin, and who allows you to retain composure and a sense of dignity in challenging situations.

And for me, it is so indelibly connected with Nicholas, whom I think of everyday for what was, could have been, the loss, the betrayal, the hurt, the anger, the final dissolution, the not making peace, being told on the last time I talked to him that I would not be forgiven: WAIT A MINUTE! who needs to forgive whom? So I am still angry, but also completely ready to let go and have forgiven a million times, but then some little thing comes back. I forgot the 2nd anniversary of his death on July 29th as I was so upset over the birthday situation and so frenzied about being ready to depart July 30th. And then something came up about Yves in France and his betrayal, and it all came flooding back, and I had to get myself to the place of forgiveness yet again, goodness, quitting is the stupidest thing I could have tried to lay on this trip. But for 35 years if not more, that is how I have tried to get through rejection, and N’s constant rejection in ways small and large. I tell you, loyalty is highly overrated. The first time he walked was one thing, but what did it take—14, 15 walkouts before the final one? And I am still loyal, and have lost 3 decades of my life with no partner? What is the matter with me?

The internet is not working.

The food is delicious. All cooked in oil and spices and totally not the way to lose any weight. I got a meal at 2.30 am here, the meal before the day’s fast (it is Ramadan). My body thought it was lunchtime and was sending distress signals, so this was a good thing.

At the guesthouse I met a Nepali who works on micro hydropower and in the projects he works on in Badakhshan, villages have electricity where cities don’t, and nets are made for the fish to get through, while the dams are small and cleaned often to prevent algae takeover.

It’s now 4.40 am and I am going to try to sleep again. Sigh.

IMG_0169You have to stand down. There is nothing one can do in the face of death. No retrieving a small piece of that life force that has left, nothing to restore the light in the eyes.

It must have been when I was about six or seven years old, when I had come back home to Bungoma from my grandmother’s in Kisumu, where I was enrolled at school. Noorali uncle was going to come for a visit from Nakuru, an event of great anticipation and excitement, since we hadn’t seen him for a couple of years. We got into the car, Mum and Dad and I, and made our way to the bus stop, a little ways out of town. After waiting for what seemed like an interminably long time, a bus arrived, and no Noorali uncle disembarked. The driver said he had not picked up a passenger of his description in Nakuru.

I said, he’s waiting at the train station.

No, Mum and Dad said, he said he was coming by bus.

But he’s waiting at the train station, I said.

She’s just a child, how can she know, Mum said to Dad.

Dad waited a while, fired up the car again, and set off towards the train station, quite a distance away.

You’re making a mistake, Mum said.

He was there.

I still don’t know how I knew.

Sadness from subterranean depths stirs
a sigh at the reckoning of numbered days
memories surfacing at the news of a morning
meeting, part held, part delayed.
A brilliant colleague struggles, as did one before.

Thursday I came home to a stack of store-bought boxes.

“What are these for?”

“Oh, we found a place.  We get keys tomorrow.  We’re moving out.”


Zayn, who thinks slowly, then asks, “Do you need help?  I can stay.”

“No.  We’re doing this slowly.  We’ll move things in bit by bit, and move the bed last.  Probably take about a week.”

“Oh.  Well, I can stay and help, if you like.”


I left for the weekend as planned, on Friday.  Sunday, 5.32 pm, I am back.  No one home.  No milk in the fridge.  A Trader Joe’s run.  Still no one home.  I open the bedroom door.  No bed.

I called a friend and went to the Laemmle to see The Way.  Seemed most appropriate to see a transformative journey along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela dealing with the loss of a son.

I’m back.  No one is home.