After many years as a successful water law practitioner, Laura found herself looking for a new challenge. Upon the suggestion of a colleague, Laura began looking into international water law. She interviewed with several international agencies and non-governmental organizations, including the UN and the State Department but was rebuffed because of her lack of experience and lack of contacts in the international law arena.
Never one to give up, Laura then joined the United States Committee on Irrigation and Drainage where she was initially the only the female member. This opened up an opportunity to work on the water code in Armenia. After several years working on several projects in Armenia, Laura again sought out a new challenge and was given the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan and teach the Afghan people Public Administration and Water Governance.
Laura related her preparation for travel to Afghanistan and how she tried to fit in with the culture by covering her décolletage and her head (specifically her ears), even showing a sample outfit that she wore. She stressed that she tried to dress practically and not flashy owing to the wealth disparities between cultures. On every trip Laura donates all the clothes she brought with her not only to free up space in her suitcase but also to help the people in the country she is visiting.
In describing her experience, Laura related that she tried not to think about the potential dangers and trusted her 3-man security team to keep her safe. While in Kabul she stayed in a walled compound. Unlike many Americans, Laura was able to leave the compound as she traveled daily to the Water Ministry where she taught her classes.
Laura taught all of her classes with the aid of a translator, which had its particular challenges. There was only one women in each of her classes and the women would not ask questions or even speak until the male students left the room- at which point the women would then feel comfortable asking questions. Laura talked about a young woman whom she taught who could not even talk to her work supervisor because he was a man.
Laura was amazed at the differences between US and Afghan water law. There the water code is only 15 pages long vs the volumes of statutes, administrative rules and case law found in the US. Also records of historical water use had been kept for thousands of years, going back to 300 BC! Now that’s some common law.
The hardest part of Laura’s trip was seeing the poverty and the many casualties of war, including children with missing limbs. She witnessed how hard women in Afghanistan work to raise their families and keep their families together. However, despite all the differences between cultures, this is common thread with women everywhere.
Laura ended by encouraging everyone to have an adventure, to step out of their comfort zone and that you can always find another way to reach your goals (even if the UN and State Department turn you down!).