Saturday, 18 April 2009

Mr. Inferno – Post 11

Around a week ago, in his professional email box, Kacper found a message from his really good friend Richard. He first met Richard in Oxford, three years ago. He was one of Kacper’s trainers during an induction that he and some other new recruits to their new organisation underwent. As Richard specialises in fundraising and donor relations, he was briefing them on their organisation’s relationships with various institutions, organisations and governments that funded their humanitarian activities worldwide. Although responsible for general fundraising, Richard specialised in management of relationships with European Commission’s Humanitarian Office (ECHO) – one of the principal donors that Kacper’s new organisations depended on.

Kacper enjoyed Richard’s briefing, and right at start, Kacper considered him to be very professional and someone, who was very thorough and good at his work. They had more occasions to meet several other times. When Kacper worked in Angola in 2007, Richard came over to Luanda to carry out another training for the employees of their organisation in Angola. It was then, when they became good friends. After work, they went out together, socialised and talked. Richard seemed to have enjoyed Kacper’s company, especially liked to listen to some of Kacper’s stories that he liked telling. Already then, Kacper noticed that Richard was particularly interested in Kacper’s project management experience as well.

Kacper also stayed in Richard’s house in Oxford, next time he visited the headquarters, before departing for his following deployment in Bangladesh. Finally, last winter Kacper hosted Richard, along with another Filipino friend – Paz (with whom Kacper worked in Ethiopia) in Poland for their New Year’s Eve celebrations.

In his email to Kacper, Richard explained that in the future, he would like to make a career switch from being a funding specialist into becoming a project manager, and that he would really like Kacper to become his mentor in the process! Kacper was nearly speechless. Kacper definitely did not see himself to be in a position of being a mentor to someone, he considered to be more experienced than he was. Therefore, he promptly answered that he appreciated Richard’s trust, but he did not think that he was suitable enough to be his professional mentor.

Richard answered nearly immediately. ‘Kacper, you must realise that you have loads of management experience, and I would be so happy, if you could let me use some of it to advance in my career.’ Kacper’s ego was definitely pleased with what it read. Kacper decided to answer that he would do his best to help Richard in any way that he possibly could! Kacper was now officially becoming somebody else’s mentor!

This caused Kacper think about many people in his own life that participated in his formation, and career development. They all managed to help Kacper learn new things, and overcome his weaknesses and fears.

One of the most memorable one, was a French guy with a wired and scary name Dan Inferno. Dan was Kacper’s first ever ‘Head of Mission’, and they worked together for 13 months in Afghanistan, where, as you may remember, Kacper became a humanitarian worker (Post 3).

In fact, he met Dan already in Paris, where Kacper arrived, after his memorable trip to New York. Kacper was in Paris at one of the offices of his former employer, for his induction and preparation for Afghanistan’s deployment. Dan, who normally was based in Kabul, happened to be finishing his holidays in France, and just dropped to the office, before flying off back to Afghanistan.

Kacper still remembers his shock – nearly fear, when he met his ‘boss-to-be’. Dan looked like one of these tough, field guys, who Kacper imagined had personal contacts with Lucifer himself … Severe looking face, long hair, unshaven, worn out and slightly dirty clothes and definitely over-confident acting... – these were the impressions. ‘You are Kacper, right?’ he asked, and without waiting for an answer added, like James Bond: ‘My name is Inferno, Dan Inferno’. He then squeezed Kacper’s hand so strongly that Kacper felt pain in it for next three days. ‘Oh my God, I am out of here’ thought Kacper. ‘I am meant to have a boss in Afghanistan, whose name is INFERNO (hell)…’ he kept on, feeling that his desire for a new adventure just got shattered. He would not go to Afghanistan with Mr. Inferno, no way!

During their flight from Paris to Islamabad, they would not engage in any conversations. Actually, Kacper tried to ask Dan about his holidays in France, and ask about how things were in Afghanistan, but Dan either ignored him, or gave answers like like: ‘you will be told in due time!’ Kacper was so freaked out about his new boss, and about the prospect of working in the country – he believed was really dangerous that, if he had had powers to turn the plane around back to Paris, he would have done it. Luckily, Kacper didn’t have such powers, and they managed touching down at the Islamabad airport a few hours later.

Kacper did not enjoy his first weeks of his new work – and it was not the country that Kacper did not like. Afghanistan was full of surprises that Kacper was going to write about one day, and in fact he fell in love in the country. What made his life nearly unbearable was ruthless Dan Inferno!

Kacper had a feeling that Dan treated him a bit like, if he was an idiot, or definitely someone who does not have a slightest clue about anything. The truth of the matter was that Dan was right, Kacper just did not know about how things were supposed to work in the organisation managing large humanitarian operations in Afghanistan. Where could he have gained experience on the country that was at civil war, extremely insecure; with many dynamics that Kacper did not have the slightest idea could even exist? He realised however that, Dan was not only responsible for delivering their programmes to highly vulnerable, and neglected populations, but also needed to make sure that all of the staff – Afghans and international staff alike managed to complete their missions safely, and could ‘return home in one piece’, as Dan sometimes liked to say.

Dan was very strict with all personnel. There was no messing about. He took security extremely seriously, and anyone breaching the rules was punished mercilessly. He surely did not hesitate dismissing anyone, who would disobey the rules.

A month after Kacper started his new duties, he needed to fly to Peshawar in neighbouring Pakistan, to supervise the clearance of a large shipment of medicines and therapeutic milk for one of the hospitals that they run in Kabul.

When Kacper finished the job and was ready to return to Kabul, he tried to book himself on the United Nations flight back to Afghanistan – just to find out that there was no free space in any plane for another week. Kacper reported that to Dan, who then decided that he would return to Kabul by car. There was an opportunity for Kacper of doing so, as colleagues from another befriended organisation were dispatching their staff to Kabul, and they had one free place, which Kacper could take.

Very next morning, Kacper was ready, in front of his Peshawar guesthouse, waiting to be picked up at 6 o’clock, as they had previously agreed. He was very excited, as he had always dreamt about driving through the famous and majestic Khyber Pass that was on the way. At 6.30 there was still no car. He decided to call and see what was happening. He learnt that he needed to patiently wait, and they would be there in a minute. Finally at 8.30, Kacper heard the honk in front of the gate. ‘Finally!’ he thought.

He was not really impressed with the state of the car, which was supposed to take them to Kabul. Okey, he was not a mechanic and car expert, but the car did not seem to be very fit, and safe – even he could tell. He entered it carefully, making sure that he would not break anything inside. The driver with a long beard greeted him happily though, so Kacper just thought to himself without making much fuss: ‘Khyber Pass, here I come.’ – and they set off for their trip.

After a few hours they reached the border crossing between the two countries. The post did not necessarily look like any border crossing that Kacper had experienced previously in his life. As they reached it quite late, during lunchtime – it was closed for business for another 45 minutes. Both the Pakistani officers, and Taleban ones just were snoozing away, and did not want to be disturbed in any way.

Finally, and hour later the driver started the car, and announced: ‘We go!’ – which they did.

After passing the Pakistani immigration fairly easily, they reached the desk with the Taleban officers. Olivier, his French colleague, managed to get his passport stamped very quickly. Kacper was then asked to handle his. Kacper politely opened his document on the page, where he had is Taleban visa stamped, so that the officer would not need to look for it. It so happened, that his Afghan/Taleban visa was stamped on the page, right next to Kacper’s US visa – which right away attracted the officer’s attention much more than the Afghan one.

As American visas look a bit like personal details passport pages, including the bearer’s picture, and big letters reading THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, the Taleban decided Kacper was American. ‘You American!’ he shouted angrily! The moment, Olivier heard it, he got pale, and discreetly started shaking his head and whispering ‘no, no…’ Kacper politely, and with the smile on his face answered: ‘no Sir, I am not American, I am a Polish citizen, …what you are seeing is just a visa to the United States’. The explanation proved quite pointless, as from the whole sentence, the guy probably managed to understand the words United States. ‘You American!!!’ he shouted again and looked at Kacper with the look that froze him. ‘No, Sir, I am not’ he repeated, and jumped forward to take his passport from the hands of the Taleban. The officer got so surprised that he even did not oppose.

The Taleban kept on repeating: ‘American, American…’ – which attracted unwanted attention of some of his friends with their big machine guns. ‘This is not good’ thought Kacper. At that stage Olivier was so pale that Kacper got worried of his well being. ‘No, no’ decisively shouted Kacper, waiving the cover of his blue passport, bearing the words Rzeczpospolita Polska at the surprised Taleban. He remember that a word for Poland in Persian was Bolanda, so he kept on repeating it to the guy like a maniac ‘Me Bolanda, me NOT American!’ ‘You Bolanda?’ asked the Taleban surprised and curious. He seemed to have understood, so Kacper kept on: ‘Yes, me Bolanda!’ and nodded his head convincingly. ‘You not like Russia?’ asked the Taleban unexpectedly. ‘Oh God’ thought Kacper, ‘where was he going to with this Russia business?’ he wondered.

‘Obviously, Afghanistan had been invaded by the Soviets, so, the Talebans probably did not like the Russians’ – concluded Kacper and added ‘Yes, me Bolanda, no like Russia. Russia very bad!’ kept on Kacper with extreme guilt and a feeling of the betrayal, as he actually had many wonderful Russian friends, and liked Russia a lot.

‘Bolanda!’ exclaimed the Taleban happily, and said a long sentence, from which Kacper understood a word chai. A few minutes later, Olivier, Kacper, their driver, and the three Taleban were drinking their tea together. It was Kacper’s first tea with an enemy… At that time, he even did not expect that it was not his last one…

It was already around 4 o’clock and Kabul was still 4 hours driving away. Kacper was a bit nervous, as their organisation’s curfew for all international staff was 6 o’clock. He even did not want to think how upset Dan would be. He was so stressed with the thought of Dan that he did not enjoy the stunningly beautiful mountains anymore.

The car has reached a top of one of the many hills. Kacper looked at the road going steeply down. He did not even want to imagine what would happen if the breaks wouldn’t work… As he was contemplating the breaks, he heard a very suspicious noise coming from the front of the car. A strange feeling that something was going terribly wrong followed the noise… suddenly, Kacper found his head banging at the windscreen, and while it was happening, he noticed one of the car’s wheels rolling down the steep hill! The driver applied the breaks, and although he lost control over the steering, they managed to stop safely.

As the left the car, they still saw the wheel of their car jumping up and down and rolling down the mountain. It must have already been around 800 meters away.

Olivier just swore heavily in French and added in English ‘what the f… are we going to do now?’ Kacper looked around, and suggested ‘we better start walking, and find some village, before it is dark’. Olivier was not amused, and told that Kacper was mad. Thirty minutes later, they all walked down the hill in search for a shelter for their night.

A white car, with the UN stickers on it, stopped suddenly in front of the three walking men, lifting up the dust off the road around them. ‘Are you having an excursion, guys?’ asked an Indian looking bloke from the car with a degree of sarcasm in his voice. ‘We saw your broken car up the hill’ he added. ‘Jump in, we will take you to our guest house in Jalalabad’.

You even do not want to know how Dan’s face looked like, when he met Kacper the following day. ‘To my office Kacper… now!’ he shouted furiously. ‘This is the beginning of the end’ decided Kacper and followed him for his own execution.

Kacper just listened and let Dan say whatever he wanted, until he calmed down. Dan would shout and scream… Kacper managed to work out that Dan was dead worried, and was going out of his mind, that Kacper was irresponsible, that he –Kacper could have been killed and dead by now, and that Kacper’s behaviour was absolutely unacceptable, and that Kacper could start packing to go back to Paris.

Kacper got upset as well, and when Dan was finished, he politely asked whether Dan was ready. Then he added that while he was actually appreciative of Dan’s concern, he reminded him that it was Dan’s order for Kacper to travel with the other organisation, and that Kacper was equally worried, and disappointed that Dan actually asked him to travel with their irresponsible colleagues. ‘You are disappointed with me?’ asked Dan, and left his own office, obviously upset.

Kacper felt a bit silly to sit in Dan’s office without him being there, so just got up, and went towards the bathroom upstairs, to take a shower that he badly needed.

In the evening, just before dinner, Dan approached Kacper, making sure that no one was around. ‘Are you alright Kacper?’ he asked. ‘I am really sorry for what happened yesterday, and I am sorry for being upset with you’ he added. Kacper was moved. He really liked people who knew how to say sorry.

Things changed for Kacper in Afghanistan from that dinner onwards. Dan kept on patiently teaching Kacper, how to be a humanitarian worker, and he would never, never be upset with Kacper again. In fact, they both have been good friends until the present date!

PS. Kacper is looking at 4 beautiful mangos on his desk, and wonders how they ended up here. After all, they are in the middle of deserts in Abeche.

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