Friday, April 3, 2009


I'm sitting in my office, which is right next door to my bathroom, which is in turn right next door to my bedroom. This three-room suite (to be overly generous in its description) forms the backdrop of roughly 90% of my life.

Anyway, here's the thing. When you don't have much, one tends to cling to the little that one does have. For me, this usually manifests itself as jealously guarding my small bit of Afghanistan from unwanted intruders. Tougher than you might think in a nation in which every decision, large or small, is taken by committee consisting of whomever happens to be handy.

The point of all this is that today (Friday) is the Muslim holy day. Not generally an issue for me, more of a quiet holiday while everyone else is off at mosque. But today, The General has the duty at the compound, and surprisingly since I know his personal habits, he did something which I hadn't seem him do before. First, he walked right past me and into the bathroom, shutting the door. This was followed by the sounds of washing up, to which my reaction was admittedly somewhat uncharitable. However, I said nothing.

Then he comes out and marches right past me again into the office. Once there, he proceeds to unroll a piece of carpet that's been leaning in the corner for the past month. I thought it was scrap. Not so as it turns out, for this ratty old piece of carpet is actually (apparently) a prayer rug. This he immediately unrolls on my office floor, kneels down and begins his prayers.*

*I couldn't help but notice that his facing something closer to south, rather than the southwest that would have been towards Mecca. I neglected to point this out to The General.

Now, I'm not a big fan of religion in general.* But I make it a point not to confront the locals about Koranic or religious issues. They're not going to be convinced and the friction could be fatal to my job prospects.

*OK, I'm actually a committed and combative aetheist. Yeah, I know, poor choice of geography given my personal beliefs (or lack thereof).

I did however think it was kind of presumptuous for him to use by bathroom for his ritual ablutions, then my office for his weekly observances. Especially given that I was trying to watch Obama's speech in Strasbourg live on the BBC World.*

*He did very well, by the way, with some minor hiccups probably caused by a faulty teleprompter. French sabotage, perhaps? During the Q&A, he really came into his own, joking and talking casually with the crowd.

After about ten minutes of wailing away in Arabic (which he doesn't understand, only rote repetition), The General finished up and departed. At least he offered to fetch some more tea before he left.

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