Sunday, October 29, 2006

Just when I thought it was over...

Yesterday, when I got a phone call at 10 pm about a planned demonstration in Badghis province today I just took a deep breath and reminded myself that today my senior, more experienced, colleague would return and take over. Of course, I should have known that this week fate wasn't going to let me off so lightly. There was no flight today, so he didn't arrive. Instead I had to deal with the ongoing fall out of the events in Shindand last week as well as these new developments in Badghis - in which tribal elders from some districts protested against the recent murders of government officials from their district. They threatened that if appropriate and effective action was not immediately taken by the government they would take matters into their own hands "like they did in Shindand". So for today I'm still in the hot seat, trying to do my best to manage the office (processing staff performance reviews and leave applications, interviewing candidates for new posts, nominating staff for training programmes and coordinating the weekly office meeting) at the same time as I'm trying to absorb seemingly contradictory reports of the developments and work with our senior national staff to come to sensible conclusions and recommendations in time for the meeting of Very Important People in Kabul at 5.00pm. I called up a few people around the country who are more experienced than me for their advice and I was a bit taken aback at the attitude some of them seem to have that this kind of inter-tribal or ethnic violence is inevitable. A week ago today approximately 40 people were killed and now we are getting threats of similar developments in a neighbouring province. I don't think it is naive of me to take that seriously. Perhaps it is true, as I was told by one person, that 40% of the security incidents reported in Afghanistan in the past year were inter-ethnic or tribal conflict, but I don't see how that means that I should just accept it. It is very difficult to think of really effective interventions, but I can't just adopt a wait and see approach. Anyway, thank goodness I have these Very Important People to report to, since they can do something meaningful with the information and so I can get to the end of the day with some sense of having acted. Meanwhile I also had a call a little after 10pm last night about a 15 year old girl who had turned up at a house in a village in Shindand. We were assured by apparently reliable sources that she was safe where she was over night, so we just made sure everyone relevant knew that we knew that she was there and checked up on her situation today. Apparently she returned to her family, and I'm left with more questions than answers, like 'why did she leave her home in the first place?' and 'why did she agree today to go home?'. Girls in Afghanistan do not leave their homes and go to the homes of strangers. Running away from home can lead to prosecution and imprisonment, and many families won't take their daughters back. We are not allowed yet to travel to that area, following the fighting last week, but I will be trying to find out more and I hope that someone can visit her and find out her story and her current condition as soon as possible. My final ongoing challenge is being in a position where I am in charge of an office filled with men, many of whom are older than me, and all of whom come from very different cultures than my own (not only Afghan but also Kenyan, Ugandan, Uraguayan). I have a sense that I need to be firm and authoritative, that too much negotiation and discussion may be interpreted by some as weakness and a lack of leadership. I also think it is especially difficult for military men to be managed by a civilian who also happens to be young and female. I'm having to find quite different management styles and approaches from those that worked in previous roles. So my learning curve continues to be very steep, and I'm looking forward now to heading to the gym and working out the stress of the day.


Mary Parker said...

Hello again.
Yikes! It never rains but it pours huh? It was lovely talking to you the other - not a bad line I thought? Here's hoping you don't have to extend your mortgage to pay the phone bill.
Here's hoping things don't get too mad before your office mates turn up. Perhaps you could try and grow a beard to look a bit more masculine?

Alex aka Gypsy Girl said...

Can I just spam you, today? :) It's just that the more I read your posts, the more I relate to you. I am a film producer, another field that is lead predominantly by men. I go through the same challenges to figure out a how to be an effective, strong, young, female leader, while still preserving a soft intuitive nature. You're not alone! x