The other side of aid work (part V)

Often, when I speak to friends and family about my travels, they ask me whether I ever felt scared in settings like Afghanistan, Colombia, Sudan or the DRC.

Fear is such a strange emotion. It can paralyse you; it can give rise to a healthy “fight or flight” reaction; and/or it can simply become part of your psyche, convert itself into a deep acceptance of the reality that any day on this planet can be your last.

I certainly remember my very first night in Afghanistan, in a large UN compound in Kabul. I had spent the days in the run-up to my journey saying good-bye to people, making sure my paperwork was in order and writing a will and letters from the grave. I arrived in Kabul, feeling a little confused and lost, and remember lying in my camp bed on my first night.

Suddenly I was convinced that I ” would wake up dead” the next morning. Fear grabbed hold of me until it felt like I was about to choke. I remember shedding a few tears, wondering why on earth I had come to Afghanistan  and so I lay awake,  waiting for the moment to when I would breathe my last. Outside only traffic noises from the Jalalabad Road could be heard and in the end, I dropped off to sleep, too tired to care whether I would be dead or alive the next morning.

I woke up the next morning, alive, at peace; from then on, fear never came into it again. Awareness-yes. Constant 360 degree vision-yes. Concern for friends and colleagues and doubts as to whether I was handling their security responsibily-yes. An ability to take action when something went wrong-yes. But never again fear like I had felt on that first night in Afghanistan.

It was as if during one night of fear, I learned to trust God, to simply live for the day.