Choice or Consequence

It’s been a productive last few months. For all of my well-documented vagrancies lately, I’ve been able to prepare the nonprofit, “Bumpeh Academy Development Project,” that has been my primary focus since just before I left Iraq. The only exception to this productivity, has been the success of my own personal job hunt.

The first forty or so days post-Iraq were admittedly just travel for travel’s sake; to see and meet my family in India as well as get a feel for the country and a quick taste of Thailand. Since then, however, the focus has largely shifted to job hunting.

I have, technically, been jobless for about the last four months now, but that is simply if I define a job as being something that someone else pays me to do (because otherwise I’ve been well occupied). I have been looking these last 2-3 months for different opportunities, and I have found many.  I chose two, and in both cases, for different reasons, I turned them down after committing.

The first, in Sudan.  A country trying to climb out of the hole it has dug in world opinion.  I was so intrigued at the opportunity to work in a culture that straddled Arabic and African cultures and influences, that would give me a window into both without fully being any one over the other. But I put idealism before realism.  Further research revealed that the atrocities in Sudan had at best shifted, not disappeared, not been corrected.  World outrage for Sudanese policies spiked a decade ago with conflicts in Darfur bringing news from Sudan to everyone’s doorstep. Like any major story however, it faded. The conflicts haven’t however, and continue to this day.  Sudan’s policy of ethnic cleansing has in fact spread to other regions, and social/ethnic stability in the country seems to be bad at best.

(If you’d like more information, Nicholas Kristof’s column for the New York Times would be a good place to start)

Ultimately, I turned the job down because I wouldn’t have been able to reconcile my belief set with my livelihood. I had a hard time seeing myself spending an elongated amount of time in a country where human rights violations are not only so rampant, but essentially state-supported.  Sudan’s president, Omar Al-Bashir, is after all a recognized International War Criminal wanted by The Hague, and rightfully so.  That sentiment is in no way a mark against the Sudanese people, who are from what I’ve heard, lovely, welcoming people. I simply realized I would feel incredibly misplaced in my position in the belly of the beast with so many terrible things happening around me.

After extensive searching post-Sudan I had a new job prospect. My dream (teaching) job; as a secondary level geography and humanities teacher.  In another country that craved outside education and influence to help it emerge from decades of violence, uncertainty, oppression, and poor world opinion. This opportunity just happened to be in Kabul, Afghanistan. Although the international military presence in Afghanistan has been almost entirely withdrawn in the past year, by many accounts the city had so far done a manageable job with security, mostly sniffing out threats and problems.

My timing could not have been worse. The day I signed the contract was also the day the Taliban confirmed the death of Mullah Omar, their leader of the past nineteen years, sending the group into public disarray.  That following week, Kabul suffered a string of massive bombings; one in particular leveling an entire city block and injuring over 200 people.  Other bombs targeted police and government facilities, each one taking heavy casualties, and in the week following the Taliban’s announcement over 100 civilians lost their lives in public attacks. Kabul, and by extension the Afghan government, was immediately exposed as having less control than previously thought.  I hesitated for about a further week, not wanting to pull the plug on another opportunity having so recently said no to Sudan. I also didn’t want to look as if I was simply setting up situations to back out of them. But pride is not a podium to stand on when security is so easily threatened and entirely unassured.

A lot of the expats I was consulting before and after I signed the contract in Kabul echoed each other… Especially after the bombings began. Each told me that safety and security had suffered a steep decline recently, and no foreigner/ westerner could be entirely assured of their safety as they were so often the direct target of attacks.  I was repeatedly warned against travel and exploration and even day or nighttime exploration in Kabul. Security was eroding, the Taliban was once again expanding, and now ISIS factions had appeared in peripheries of the country.

So I eventually did what I thought was the only reasonable thing and turned down the opportunity.. once again after having already committed myself.   My potential employer was more than understanding, realizing events had unfortunately put him and his company in a place that made foreign recruits harder to come by.

The decision not to do Kabul was just as much about appraising my own habits and comfort level (although not in the way you might expect) as it was about the metaphysical reality.  Working in conflict zones, while at times obviously threatening, mostly provides situations where sound judgment can keep any individual away from potential trouble.  This judgment, is one that I sometimes lack; my comfort zone still seeking its limits, and my experiences in Iraq revealing my sometimes poor habits of self restraint.

My decision to turn down working in Kabul was just as much an indictment upon trust in my own judgment as it was about possible bombings. My goal has since ceased to be pushing personal boundaries of comfort and possibility, but rather to make sure I’m smart enough to see boundaries the world has put in place for me, respect them, and in doing so gain the perspective to maintain a watchful eye towards my own safety.

In essence, Afghanistan worried me not because it might be a scary, but because I didn’t necessarily yet trust myself to view it that way, to respect the reality of the situation.  I know myself. I want to meet locals, visit hidden villages, discover the corners of life and culture that don’t appear in the news, and are free of the perceived dangers all around. Unfortunately the time does not seem right for that in Afghanistan.

So for the third time in as many months, I’m back at the drawing board, but of my own accord, and nowhere else to look but at myself for the cause of repeated restarts. Both job options helped teach me a little bit more about my own thought process and motivations, and what I ultimately will, or in this case will not choose when I have put my name down on paper.

I do once again have my job search narrowed into one of two locations (far more safe and stable than either aforementioned location), but for fear of jinxing myself into a 3rd back-out, I’ll wait until my feet are on the ground to say anything else.

Oh yea… and back to the first paragraph…Bumpeh Academy Development Project…

It’s now T-minus 4 days.

September 1st.

Give it a look!

One thought on “Choice or Consequence

  1. I am so glad, my dear Dawson, that you are placing reality (however unacceptable it may be) in front of idealism and wishful thinking. It is a mark of maturing man. It reminds me, once again – at a risk to be considered an old fuddy-duddy ; of what Pontius Pilot said to Ben Hur :”A grown man knows the world he lives in”.
    Looking forward to hear more about your plans.

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