Connecticut College Magazine · Spring 2006


Kim-Toy Reynolds Huh ´77

Nancy Farwell ´73

Camel kindness

Chris Hensman ´03

Changing course: CC students talk about why they transferred here

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Chris Hensman ´03

Chris Hensman ´03
Hensman in front of the King´s Winter Palace in Kabul.

Foreign service officer, U.S. Embassy, Kabul, Afghanistan

By Jordana Gustafson ´01

Just the other day, Chris Hensman ´03 felt like he was back home again.

“I was sitting around, having a beer with friends, listening to some music,” he says. “And it felt like I was back in the States for a moment.”

But when his eyes moved up the thick, white wall of his apartment, to the point seven feet above the baseboard where the windows begin, there was no mistaking Afghanistan for New England. According to Hensman, the windows in foreign service officers´ apartments are placed high on the walls to protect against explosions.

Hensman is a political officer for the U.S. State Department, based in Kabul, Afghanistan. He reports and advises the U.S. Embassy on issues of human rights and counter-narcotics as well as rule of law and judicial reform. He also works on congressionally mandated reports, such as the Human Rights Report and visits several provinces around Kabul to report back to Washington.

“Being here has given me opportunities I´d never have at another post,” says Hensman, who prior to joining the State Department worked as an admission officer at CC. “Where else would I be able to draft cables that go back to Washington and are read by high-level officials?”

If the best thing about being in Kabul is the work itself, the worst part, Hensman says, is the security situation. For security reasons, he has an 11 o´clock curfew. He´s not allowed to leave the compound — where he both sleeps and works — except for official meetings and gatherings. When he does leave, it´s in an armored SUV with a driver. If he and his colleagues must travel outside the city or visit high-risk areas, they are accompanied by an additional protective detail and must wear body armor.

“It´s a dangerous place to be,” says Hensman, but it´s a trade-off the Rhode Island native is willing to make. “My philosophy is that I need to experience being in places like this. I need to feel the fear and see the people for myself. How can you tell someone that they need to risk their lives to go out and vote when you are not out there with them?”

Because of security restrictions, Hensman hasn´t had much opportunity to put to use the Dari (Afghan Persian) language he studied before going, but he has forged friendships with many of his Afghan colleagues at the embassy and at the local NGOs. In day-to-day life at the office, he says, it´s easy to forget that, when he goes back to the comfort of his apartment at the end of the day, his Afghan co-workers return to their lives in the world´s fourth poorest country.

“They still have to go back to the ´real´ Afghanistan,” he says. “Many still have no heat or electricity.”

For Hensman, this serves as another reminder of why he´s in Kabul: to see and understand for himself what the Afghans are up against. Hensman hopes to make a difference “not just for one or two people, but hopefully … for hundreds, by supporting Afghan efforts” to rebuild their country.

Hensman will be in Afghanistan until October 2006, though he plans to take some time off in May to attend CC´s 88th commencement, where he´ll hand his younger sister, Ianthe, her diploma. His next posting will be at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels.

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