DAILY QUIRKS: Goats in the Bathroom

This holiday season found those of us who are internationals in Kabul with a heightened security threat and not much to do in the way of entertaining ourselves. We had to create our own holiday spirit.

2Alyssa, who had just moved into our residence at the time, decided that above everything else her top priority was that she must get goats, and that they would be a cheerful gift to all of us to lift our spirits for the holidays. She told us that having her own goats was her life’s dream and that here we were with a “goat-less” PARSA Farm, so we needed to find some.

Mina, who likes the idea of the farm but hadn’t quite extended her comfort level far enough to actually touch any of the animals, made the goats her personal character-building challenge, so she was on board. (Check out Mina’s series of selfies of her almost touching a cow).  Reese just found the whole thing entertaining and decided he was on board, too.

I protested half-heartedly by dragging out my favorite Dari quote: “If you don’t have enough troubles, buy a goat”. – “We DO have enough troubles!” I insisted, but the protest fell on deaf ears.

A trip to the Shomali plain animal bazaar was organized a few days before Xmas and off our team went on their adventure to purchase goats. Four hours later, Alyssa came home elated with two small kids in her arms, and after much deliberation we all agreed on the names “Wilma and Fred”.

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Reese and Alyssa dressed them in animal finery, complete with Bamiyan jewelry and Kuchi decorations and put them in the backyard for the afternoon, with Alyssa completely enchanted by the fact that they had adopted her as their “goat mother”, following her around wherever she went and bleating loudly if she left their sight for longer than 30 seconds.

The reality that we had just added two GOATS to our household finally hit me as I looked out my bedroom window and realized that we were already overrun with 12 dogs and 3 cats, and I began asking her what her plans for housing them were. Animal politics are already very complicated at our house as not all animals get along and require certain animals such as our large mastif, Sherak, to have special runs and places to live.

“Don’t worry!” Alyssa said happily, “they will stay in my room with me!”  She made a comfortable place in her bathroom for them for the night and as far as she was concerned all problems were solved.  The next morning a dreadful stench wafted from her room when she came out for breakfast and she reported that she never would have guessed that two adorable baby animals could generate so much poop and cause so much destruction in a room.

On the third day of her goat program – after spending hours on two successive mornings shoveling poop out of her bathroom – she decided to move them to one of the cow enclosures on the farm to join the baby cows and Rumi, our sheep.  Having tasted the “good life”, Fred and Wilma were not at all interested in the prospect of hanging out with farm animals, and constantly escaped the daily walks with their comrades to roam areas of their own choosing – often causing our staff great headaches in trying to get them back.

Then Wilma caught a goat cold and they both acquired warm sweatshirts with hoodies. The farm staff finally got fed up with having to spend their days chasing goats dressed up in children’s clothing and jewelry, and so ousted them from the farm in frustration. So back up to the house they came! Wasse and Nasir, secretly amused by the whole venture, finally took pity on Alyssa and built her a small “goat bedroom” outside her own room so that she would no longer have to use her room as a barn. She was relieved!

Fred and Wilma are now quite settled in. They keep Alyssa very busy and have become a focal point for my general anxiety. As I walk home from work each day they see me and run too the fence, bleating loudly, and I begin sending worried texts to Alyssa:

“Wilma is yelling.  Should I put her in your room?”
“Alyssa, the goats are cold and Fred lost his coat.”
“Alyssa, where are the goats!?  Are they with you?”
“Are goats supposed to eat roses?”
I am so grateful for our  gifts. They certainly are an entertaining distraction, as well as a testament to creative holiday gifts that just keep giving.

Staff Acknowledgement Lunch

Our PARSA staff are a big family. They are the ones who work hard to keep the PARSA vision alive, often going far beyond their official duties to do so. Most of the 45 permanent employees at our Kabul main offices – from operations staff to management – have been with PARSA for years and are highly dedicated to their work with us.

Although we eat lunch together daily, usually at least half the team is missing because they are off visiting our projects or are too busy handling their respective responsibilities to make it to the staff room. We love our Staff Acknowledgement days because they bring us all together and give us a chance to catch up with each others’ departments.

Today we acknowledged six people for Employees of the Month (we can never just pick one!): from Scouts – Amin; from Women’s Economics – Shoghora; from Operations – Aziz Agha (who cooked us our delicious qabuli meal); and the entire Finance Department – Toofan, Abdullah, and Mustafa.

Everyone had a great day and shared a few laughs – just the recharge we needed!

DAILY QUIRKS: Kabul’s Lazy Dinner (MREs!)

Generally people like myself, who are always busy with work and life but also exhibit certain laziness tendencies at times, have found life hacks that fit well with our busy-but-lazy lifestyle.

There are all sorts of examples of Kabul life hacks, but my favorite lazy-but-highly-effective way of freeing up time is with MREs. “Meal, Ready-to-Eat” are the American solution to feeding troops in the field. They are “home-cooked” in the U.S. and stamped with the approval of the Department of Defense. They all have the catchy, copyrighted slogan “Warfighter Recommended, Warfighter Tested, Warfighter Approved”, and the main course generally sports instructions detailing all the reasons for why it is dangerous to not consume sufficient calories while in the field. (These things aren’t exactly five-star dining and I guess it can be hard to convince certain gourmet-loving soldiers to actually eat the vacuum-sealed meals, but I don’t think they’re that bad.)

All you need to set up a night of working without ever having to leave your desk is an MRE package and some water. First, you open the package and sort through all the surprises – you only known what the main course will be by what is written on the outside of the package; everything else is kept secret until mealtime (I suppose they do this so that soldiers in the field have at least one daily surprise to look forward to that breaks the monotony of missions).

Today I picked “MENU 8: Meatballs in Marinara Sauce”. My package contained:

  • the main meatball course
  • a package of “wheat snack bread”
  • cheddar cheese pretzels
  • smoked almonds
  • crackers
  • cheese spread
  • tropical punch flavored “beverage base powder”
  • The usual package of condiments etc: a pack of Nescafe, a non-dairy powder creamer, a salt package, two pieces of gum, pizza seasoning (why?), sugar, a pack of waterproof matches, a tissue, a spoon, and of course a moist-towelette so the soldiers with etiquette can clean up when finished.

Today’s menu is merely satisfactory. Sometimes they contain all sources of fancy extras such as (Real!) M&Ms, apple-cinnamon “muffin tops” (so you only have to eat the best part of the muffin), hot coco, or the favorite “HOOAH!” energy bar.

The cheesy-filled pretzels today look the best, and I start with them. My MRE routine is usually the same: pick at a few snacks, then once I’ve been at my desk for a few hours go through the process of cooking the main meal. You simply add an ounce of water to the MRE Heater Bag, and insert the main course into the bag. The water heats the food using some sort of oxidation-reduction reaction with the magnesium in the heater bag (yes, I am a scientist at heart), and within 5 minutes you can remove your main course and voila! A hot dinner without ever having to leave your desk. There is even generally enough heat left over to prepare a decent cup (or, umm, plastic bag) of Nescafe.

And there you have it! A complete dinner and lots of extras all for about 70 cents (on the underground market), no cleanup or getting-up required. Kabul life hacks are great. Now it’s back to work!

DAILY QUIRKS: My Bukharee

bukharee1

Some days during Kabul winters, I look at my bukharee and my heart breaks for the people literally freezing to death in the refugee camps, not far from my home. On my bratty days though, I resent everyone in the world who has central heating.  Mostly, I look at my bukharee, the one that keeps me warm in the office all day, and I think “you are amazing”.

There are many shapes and sizes of these indoor heaters and they burn all kinds of things including gas, sawdust and coal. My personal favourite however, is burning wood. There’s something very toasty about the crackling of the wood and when it starts to radiate enough heat for the whole room, you barely remember how cold it was when you stepped in.

buharee2The bukharee is very needy and demands attention at least once every 20 minutes or so, when you have to maneuver open the lid, trying to avoid finger burns, and throw in more wood. Kept warm though, it can serve a myriad of purposes. A stove top that can boil water or heat up anything! I can attest to the fact that a can of tomato soup tastes homemade with the help of the bukharee smoke. The bukharee is also a room freshener AND you don’t have to throw your orange peels away if you place them on top. And of course… who needs a paper shredder when there’s a hungry fire in the middle of your office? I clean old useless receipts out of my purse daily.

Though it has melted the tip of my shoes twice, shut down on me every time I left for 30 minutes or more, and cost me a few fingerprints; I love my bukharee enough to call it a charming aspect to my life in Afghanistan.

Introducing: DAILY QUIRKS

We are excited to announce a new section of our PARSA Living and Working in Afghanistan Blog called Daily Quirks. This will be a fun, light-hearted collection of short posts that will give our readers a peek into what makes life special for us in Kabul. We want to share with you the little things that makes life so special here – the things that you wouldn’t see in the media.

Our first post is written by our Voice of Afghan Youth Producer, Mina Sharif, who joined PARSA in August 2014 and has brought an amazing vibrancy and sense of enthusiasm to our Kabul offices. She writes about her much-loved bukharee – check it out here!