Kim Barker tells the story of her own experiences as a journalist in South Asia from 2004 to 2009 with humour and insight. She does an incredible job of describing a world and culture so different from ours in North America. Reading news pieces and seeing footage on T.V. or the internet is always out of context of the big picture. Barker spent years in these countries while most other foreign workers spend only six months. "Many consultants traded places every six months and then promptly repeated all the mistakes of their predecessors." (284) She has this reflection on conflict in South Asia "At some point, I realized the horrible truth -- the United States and its allies could win every single battle in Afghanistan and blow up every single alleged top militant in Pakistan, but still lose the war." (298)
Despite the serious nature of her subject, Barker offers frequent comic relief. I think this is probably a necessary antidote to all she saw and experienced. In fact, Barker frequently refers to her time in Afghanistan as either a love affair or an addiction. In spite of surviving bombing, corruption and hopelessness, it took some effort to tear herself away from this crumbling country. I think the relationships she describes explain why. Here is one of my favourite stories about her friend/driver/translator/fixer, Farouq: "Leaning against the tape, Farouq interviewed an Afghan, who said he was supporting all the candidates, hedging his bets. It was a typical Afghan survival strategy, and Farouq started laughing.
"'Why are you laughing?' interrupted a hepped-up, sunglassed Afghan security guard, stepping in front of Farouq. 'I will call someone and have you taken away.'
"Farouq, never one to step down from a confrontation, looked at the man.
"'I'm just doing my job.'
"The Afghan guard swatted my notebook and shoved Farouq.
"'I will kill you,' he said.
"This was how Afghans interpreted DynCorp protocol for dealing with laughing. The guard told us to go away, but we couldn't move. Finally Karzai walked out into the bleachers, talking on his cell phone, and everyone grew quiet, even the Afghan security guard. (In another example of how complicated Afghanistan is, this violent exchange caused Farouq and the security guard to become lifelong friends.) Karzai urged the crowd not to participate in fraud." (26-27)
The movie version of this book staring Tina Fey is more overtly funny and, out of necessity, heightens and abbreviates Barker's experience. Still, I think it's an excellent film. Just make sure you read the book as well. It's well worth your time.