About the Author: Jessica Simon serves in the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. She previously served at U.S. Embassy Kabul. Daniel J. Wilkinson, who serves as official photographer in the Public Affairs Section at U.S. Embassy Kabul, provided the video.
Some say that New York is the city that never sleeps…but the same could be said of U.S. Embassy Kabul. Embassy staff are hard at work 24/7, implementing the President's strategy in Afghanistan. Daybreak finds the security teams in position, as always, while landscaping and cleaning crews proceed to their assignments (the Embassy's roses are famous). New arrivees, bleary-eyed and dusty (it doesn't take long on the ground to acquire a nice gritty coating akin to shake-n-bake) are greeted by their sponsors; members of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams arrive in from the field to enjoy the Embassy's “luxuries” (read: the swimming pool); the office-dwellers shake off sleep in their “hooches” -- retrofitted shipping containers that serve as home-sweet-home...or, if they're lucky, apartments complete with full kitchens -- and make their way to the office, some stopping off at one of the two Embassy-compound cafeterias to load up on scrambled eggs, biscuits, juice and fruit -- breakfast, after all, is the most important meal of the day. The Embassy's local Afghan staff arrive via foot, bike, bus, and auto for the day's work supporting all sections of the Embassy and acting as cultural advisors and the Embassy's institutional and historical knowledge. They remain here long after their American supervisors, most on one- or two-year tours, have moved on. Kabul mornings are the best time to get some real work done, before Washington wakes up and starts issuing taskings.
Another burst of activity happens mid-day: lunch. The afternoon finds people coming and going from meeting to meeting, thanks to an efficient and well-staffed motorpool office: "countdown" meetings for incoming VIP visitors; meetings at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss pressing bilateral issues; meetings with parliamentary candidates hoping that the September 18 elections will bring them welcome news; or agriculture working-group meetings to further developments in this priority sector. In the realm of agriculture, the hard work paid off with the opening of Kabul's first juice factory, supported by USAID, in fall 2009. The whole world can now savor Afghanistan's famously sweet pomegranates.
Quitting time ranges from late afternoon for some local staff, to evening, or even much later. If you have the time and energy, it's off to leisure and extracurricular pursuits. While the variety of options isn't overwhelming, Embassy Kabulites are good at making the most of the resources at hand -- a typical week may see yoga classes, a volleyball or dodgeball tournament, trivia night, a stroll over to ISAF headquarters for pizza, a farewell gathering at the Embassy's Duck 'N Cover watering hole, dinner in town with local contacts, an official reception hosted by one of the five Ambassadors, or a night on the couch with the latest Netflix.
And then it's time to do it all again tomorrow…