“What is it like in Afghanistan?” “Are you worried?” “Are you allowed to go outside?” It’s my second trip here and the questions from friends, family and unknown Twitterers are relentless, in a good way. Everyone is interested and I have no idea how to describe it.
When asked what it’s like, an impossibly broad question, I often focus on the weather, reply that it’s cloudy with a chance of helicopters. It’s the helicopters that remind me where I am when I get lost in looking at the roses in the yard or watching the kids fly kites all over the neighbourhood (we all remember Kite Runner, yes?). Nothing stops a conversation faster than 2 Blackhawk helicopters flying overhead, low. But then all resumes as normal.
Am I worried? Of course I am, largely because I haven’t been living under a rock for the last ten years and am fully aware of the security risks of being here. But I’m worried in the broader sense, worried about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m not worried as much about daily risks. War Child has stringent security policies here and an amazing local team who are on top of the security situation all day, every day. I trust them, I listen to them and that’s that.
My favourite part of being here is, genuinely, the people. On my first trip I spoke with a group of men about their views on women’s rights and girl’s education. I was intimidated when I walked in the room, a room full of 20 Afghan men and one me. When asked why they felt it was important for women to work, one man spoke for onwards of 5 minutes. At the end of his speech I asked the translator what he had said. “Oh, he just responded to your question by reciting a poem.” Huh. That was unexpected.
One of my best memories is chatting with a group of women who had been involved in War Child’s literacy and numeracy programming, learning to read and do basic math for the first time in their lives. Going to the market alone is impossible if you can’t read store signs or count out money so I asked if, now that they could do these things, they were able to go without an accompanying male. “Or course we can,” said one women “we are just like the men now, it doesn’t matter that we don’t have beards!” These women are great.
So, as another helicopter flies overhead and rattles the windows, I’ll leave it at that. I need to go see if I can track down a snake that’s been hiding out in our office recently, but that’s a whole other story.