Sunday, April 28, 2013

A (Temporarily) Reformed Control Freak

Living in a compound environment does something to an independent woman like myself. Day after day of someone else deciding what I should eat means I've lost the ability to make a decision, culinary or otherwise. If a light bulb goes out, I call GSO instead of changing it myself. The motor pool drivers take me where I need to go so I haven't been behind the wheel since I left California last summer. In short, I started questioning my ability to function in the real world.

As a result, my vacations, which used to be Himalayan treks and African safaris, now consist of the most menial activities. Most recently I was in Istanbul and while I enjoyed touring the Hagia Sofia and the basilica cistern, the highlights for me were having a picnic in Gulhane Park and sipping wine while reading my iPad at an outdoor cafe. Things that resemble life in the real world. When I was in Singapore a few months ago, I was practically giddy with delight taking the subway and getting to my destination all by myself!

Here in Kabul so much of what I do (or don't do) depends on factors I don't control. I've had to tone down my need to control my environment and learn to accept a lot of things that would ordinarily drive me nuts. That's not to say I'm as well-adjusted as I'm making myself sound. I'm just hoping that when I get back to the real world, I won't have a breakdown in the grocery store when faced with choosing between 26 different kinds of peanut butter.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Another Foreign Service Loss

How could something so extraordinarily tragic happen during such an ordinary task? Anne Smedinghoff was delivering books to a school, something public diplomacy officers everywhere do all the time. But she was killed for doing it. How are you supposed to deal with that?

At first you embrace the shock. Because it's easier to function when you're numb. But then the shock wears off. So you switch to robot mode. How else do you get through the day? How else do you offer support to people who knew Anne better than you did? How else do you work on the Crisis Coordination Team (CCT) and read the 30 emails per hour, many describing gruesome medical details about people you work with?

But despite your best efforts to maintain robot mode, some things manage to poke through. The phrase "Anne's remains" catches you off guard as you read CCT emails. While dutifully reviewing early press reports you come across a touching message from her parents. You lose your train of thought as a stray memory of Anne creeps through your mind.

I worked with Anne and admired her ability and positive attitude. But I didn't know her well outside of work. It feels inappropriate for me to try to claim a reaction to her death that is disproportionate to my relationship with her. If this post seems restrained or even a little cold, I guess that's why. The best way I can think of to honor Anne's sacrifice is to stay busy, be useful, keep a stiff upper lip and all that.

This whole thing is tragic and unfair. To Anne, her family and friends, to the others who were killed and wounded. That's the part that hits me the hardest.