Monday, May 16, 2005

To Kabul or not to Kabul?

To Kabul or not to Kabul? That was the question I was agonizing over for the past two weeks. I had alluded to it in a previous post but didn’t want to spill the details until I knew what was happening for sure. I finally got an answer today.

You might want to sit down for this. I applied for a four-month contract with the UN in Kabul, Afghanistan, leading up to the country’s parliamentary elections in September. The UN was looking to hire a media officer as part of a massive and complex operation to set up the elections.

The job itself is very similar to what I do for a living, which is write press releases, organize press conferences, provide communications advice, etc. Except I’d be doing all of that in a war zone under extremely restrictive security conditions. I would live and work in the UN compound and be unable to go anywhere without an armed guard by my side.

It seemed terrifying and slightly crazy. It also seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I sent in my resume after my boss agreed to give me a four-month leave of absence from my current job.

Anyway, I found out today that I didn’t get the job. I was disappointed (and more than a little relieved). It turns out they’re not going to create the job at all, partly because the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating and getting worse.

I was also told that I needed more international election experience. Apparently, sleeping in a sea container in Bosnia, drinking shots of vodka in Russia, lying on the beach in Jamaica and hiking through Alaska isn’t exactly the kind of international experience they’re looking for.

It took me a while to work up the courage to tell my parents I had applied for the job. My mom said she’d go in a second. Of course, that advice comes from a woman who is used to wearing a bulletproof vest on the job. My dad, on the other hand, was less enthusiastic. "Let me make a phone call," was all he said at first.

Whenever my dad says "Let me make a phone call," it’s not a good sign. I have no idea who he calls on these occasions but he becomes an expert after a few minutes on the phone with his mysterious deep throat. Within 10 minutes, I had two urgent messages from my dad telling me to call him back on his cell phone "IMMEDIATELY."

He then proceeded to give me a lecture on the current situation in Afghanistan and told me it was a suicide mission. I could be bombed, raped, maimed, kidnapped, tortured or murdered. And then he would phone me before work every morning to read me the latest story in the newspaper. "Just calling to let you know I’m reading a story on page A7 of today’s Toronto Star that says a UN worker was killed when a suicide bomber blew up an internet cafĂ© in Kabul. Have a good day."

Anyway, it’s all behind me now. Dad, you can stop sending me your daily Afghanistan briefings. Everyone else, you can relax too. I’m not going to Kabul. And that’s just fine with me.


Anonymous said...

That sucks that you didn't get it. So when you wrote that long blog a while back about your agonizing dramatic decision, were you waiting to hear back from them or did they tell you the job was yours if the security situation was okay??

Owing Nolan said...

Although I suspect that you are having some fun at your dad's expense, in detailing his reaction to the possibility of you venturing off for a four month stint in Kabul, I believe there is definitely something respectable in the way he conducts himself. Instead of immediately flying off the handle,(which many would consider to be a normal reaction given the immediate shock of the situation), he chooses to remain composed and refrains from presenting his opinion until he has done some additional research and given the matter some thought. Also, in electing to proceed in this manner, he is far less likely to present a viewpoint that is stilted by his emotional attachment to you.

Hey, you're 31! and I agree that you've definitely got to make your own decisions and live your own life, but we can all use a sounding board now and then! It certainly appears that the calibre of the sounding board that you are able to access is rarely, if ever duplicated. You've definitely got a lot going for you Ms. Marchildon!


Sam Bianco

Bill Doskoch said...

I did work overseas (briefly) in Cambodia in 1996, which was quite the out-of-control place at the time.

Everyone I knew who went over there from the West came back safe and sound -- and some of them were there at the height of a brief civil war (in 1997) where you could get shot for looking at a soldier the wrong way.

But there were stories of bad things happening to people that include some of the things your dad mentioned.

The one thing I'd be worried about is suicide bombers, but on the other hand, I go by the philosophy that if it's your time, then it's your time.

If fate decreed you should be blown up in an Afghan Internet cafe, then it would probably be willing to compromise and have you be hit by a bus in downtown Vancouver instead.

And really, while suicide bombings are more frequent in Kabul than Vancouver, they still aren't that frequent.

A lot of staying safe in those situations is just a matter using common sense.

Personally, if you ever get another chance to work overseas, I would say take it.

Sarah said...

Well, I have mixed feelings. I applied because I thought it would be an incredible opportunity, at the same time, I wasn't sure if it was worth the risk.

I can't argue with my dad, he made valid points. But, like Bill, I agree a lot of staying out of trouble is just using common sense.

As for the first comment, yes, I was just waiting to hear back. At that point I had just submitted my resume. Time to focus on other things now, like the B.C. election tomorrow....


Anonymous said...

If you can, try and track down the documentary, "Bearing Witness". It follows the journeys of women journalists covering the war in Iraq. It could provide some perspective when another opportunity like this comes up again.


Anonymous said...

Sorry to be a little tangental here, but who is this "owing nolan" character? He/She obviously seems to know a lot about our family, from this and previous posts, and I'm wondering about their real identity. Owing Nolan will you please identify yourself? I'm really curious and won't be able to study for my last exam until I know!

Sarah said...

Thanks for the tip on the documentary...I will try to track that down.

Have to agree with my sister, who is Owing Nolan?

Owing Nolan said...

Hi Sarah,

Since it would never be the desire of Owing Nolan to be held responsible for Jane's chronic inability to remain focused on the task at hand, I am seeking your permission at this juncture to contact Jane directly at her usual e-mail address, so that I may attempt to provide a degree of closure to this entire matter and allow her to resume her studies in peace!

Please advise accordingly!


Owing Nolan

Sarah said...

Hi Owing,

You can contact Jane or me. I'm at leaky underscore knee at hotmail dot com.