Field life

I’m happiest when I’m on the road and in the field.

Not that I venture into many fields – fields as in muddy places with potatoes growing in them – it’s an expression you see. A daft one at that, but it’s hard to avoid.

‘Field’ as in ‘an undefined place over there where…’ Actually, it depends on where you’re starting from.

Sitting in headquarters in New York, the field is Afghanistan. Get off the plane in Kabul, the field becomes anywhere outside Kabul, like the provincial capital. Get to the provincial capital, maybe a large city like Mazar, and the field moves down another notch, perhaps to the district centre. Get to your sub-office in the district centre and the field becomes some little village or possibly even an actual muddy field with potatoes in it.

(Not that many fields in Afghanistan are muddy at the moment. Parched and barren is more likely.)

This isn’t a new observation. There’s a good blog about it here, and Frida World wrote something a while back describing the ‘deep field’ in Ghor. This was a new expression for me and I rather liked it. Never mind deep space or the deep sea, the deep field is where it’s all at. Basically, it’s a place nearer the potato end of the ‘field’ spectrum.

Any old how, all this stuff about fields is a bit of a tangent. I was going to write something about how I enjoy being in the field and what it usually involves for me. So here goes. Come with me now on a journey through time and space, to the deep field.

Having built it up like that it’s difficult to get going now. I get up around 6.30 and have a pee. See?

My accommodation usually looks something like this:

Note the large book and short-wave radio: essential means of entertainment. This photo was taken in winter, hence the stove in the foreground and the pile of blankets. Still it was cold. Especially when I had to get up in the middle of the night, crawl outside in my thermals and minus 25 C or so, and throw up across the moonlit snow. Ah, such fond memories.

Ablutions usually take place in a small mud-brick toilet in a shameful corner of the compound, a hole in the ground which isn’t nearly deep enough, a scrap of Hessian for a door and the wind whistling through. No running water, needless to add. It’s not a pleasant experience so I won’t dwell on it here.

A quick breakfast of tea and bread before we pile into a vehicle that’s seen better days and set off for wherever it is we are going. (Travelling in fancy shiny white Land Cruisers with air conditioning and what have you? I think not; we’re too poor hardcore.)

Pitching up at some distant village in a cloud of dust we wait for a crowd to gather around or send some young boy scampering off in search of the person we need to meet first.

These encounters sometimes have an uneasy feeling about them for me. Outsiders suddenly showing up in an ostentatious display of power (i.e. a car), and imperiously expecting attention. But I think that feeling may be over-exaggerated in my mind, as one who doesn’t understand all that is said as greeting, and my colleagues do at least know the people we are come to meet, unlike myself. And travelling by donkey is sadly not an option.

Often lengthy greetings over, we walk off to the project site or settle down under the shade of a tree, in someone’s house or in the village mosque.

If at all humanely possible, tea is brought in and we slowly get round to discussing what it is we have come about.

Sometimes we’ll spend the best part of the day in one place, slowly resolving various issues and being treated to immense hospitality that I fear will leave a family without anything to eat for themselves for the next few days.

Other days will be spent mostly on the road, furiously pounding along dusty tracks and stopping off at a number of different places to briefly chew the cud about the weather and the harvest.

Like with this old chap in Samangan, a digging his potatoes.

By the time we get back to the office I’m usually exhausted from the heat and dust and hours on the road. So it’s a relief to stretch my legs and re-hydrate with a flask of tea. We’ll discuss the day and the projects as we recover, sort out any problems and make plans for the future.

This scene, and many hundreds like it, will forever be imprinted on my memory.

Our offices double as accommodation for the staff who don’t live in the district. In the evening everyone gathers in the largest room to watch TV. I’ve already written about television in Afghanistan, so I’ll just say that they enjoy it more than I do.

Once the scraps of bread and bowls of inedible bone and gristle have been cleared off the plastic sheet we’re sitting around, I usually make good my escape.

If I’m lucky I’ll have a room of my own to retire to, to read a book by a flickering light or write something to put up here when I next get to a place with a computer and internet connection. The evenings would be decidedly dull if I weren’t so glad to curl up on a thin mattress on the floor and sleep.


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7 Responses to “Field life”

  1. Tim Ramsey Says:

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog.

    Tim Ramsey

  2. ash Says:

    “home” becomes something different when you’re doing something meaningful, despite the challenges.

    thanks for you comments by the way…

  3. antony Says:

    hey, do you reckon you can mail me some seeds from that afghan marijuana? where i’m at in barcelona its no illegal to have a pair of plants. ?i would be eternally grateful to you for spreading the peace in the world..

    mail me @

  4. harryrud Says:

    Hi Antony, I’d love to help, really I would. But if I sent you marijuana seeds, I’d be undermining the local export market, you see, and I wouldn’t want to do that. Plus there’s no postal service here in Ghor, so the whole mailing thing can get a bit tricky. Plus, if you’re in Barcelona, I doubt you’re in short supply of world-class marijuana: stoned out peace and love is needed here more than there.

    How about I send you some potatoe seeds instead though?

  5. ANTONY Says:

    well, got heaps of potatoes here as well, thanks anyway, as for the the world class marijuana, you can call me a connoisseur collector. I really like collecting seeds from all around the world if i can. i got some from places you wouldnt believe.. thats basically why i wanted some in the first place, and as im not goind anywhere near the area in the near future, i try to get them by other means. like finding blogs of people in faraway places. the afghan you get comercially is adulterated and ‘perfected’ i like the raw uncut deal. im an amateur creator, thats why, not a comercial trying to undermine the world market trade. ( im not in it for the money)

    well i have to thank you for replying anyway.


  6. ANTONY Says:

    im also very happy in the field,

    have fun and yes its true there’s alot more need for peace there.
    Peace Love Unity and Respect

  7. ANTONY Says:

    ok, tell you what, if you can find a mail service send me some potato seeds then. i could alway take to my dads, he grows potatoes.

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