Well I am in Afghanistan. It seemed unreal right up to the moment when our UN airplane touched the tarmac. The whole approach to landing in itself was a unique experience……all of a sudden, as soon as the captain announced our descent into Kabul, hands shot into bags and out came multi-coloured headscarves, big and small, some dark, some multi-coloured, turning Western women into a hybrid between the foreigner and Afghan modesty. I admired the ease with which they wrapped the scarves round their heads and shoulders, struggling with my own triangular, beaded black scarf which my sister had bought me as a gift before I deployed to Jordan years ago. Why oh why did it have to keep slipping off my head to reveal offending hair???? (It was only a few days into my stay in Afghanistan that I realised it was nothing to do with my technique but more with the nature of the scarf: triangular scarves of slippery material don’t work-you need the broad, long, preferably cotton, scarves that go with the Afghan/Pakistani shalwar kameez).
My first night at the guest house was surreal. I arrived too tired to think about anything, just grateful to be able to lay my weary head to rest. That said, as soon as I lay down, it suddenly hit me: I am in Afghanistan……there is a war going on…..the Taliban are out to maim and injure. I lay there for a while, convinced that a bomb, rocket or mortar was going to hit our compound that very night, terrified that if I closed my eyes to rest, I would wake up dead………..alas, after a while, sleep won the battle and I awoke the next morning, refreshed. My first thought was: “I am in Afghanistan; I have woken up alive!” (Since that day, I have never once felt fear again……it is as if that evening of fear, of prayer, of acceptance of the dangers was enough to steel me for the coming 2 years and the constant insecurities we faced).
What an adventure it has been even waking up in the compound here in Kabul. The arrival of the “newbie” at the female washrooms has caused quite some stir among the both male and female staff who look after the facilities. I found myself surrounded this morning by Afghan females telling me how beautiful I was (really? In blue penguin pyjamas? I must make a note to pop some clothes on tomorrow before heading to the showers). We were not able to communicate much but I can already tell that there will never ever be a dull moment here in Afghanistan…..and that the locals do not hate foreigners, are welcoming, loving and curious about us. I hope I can be someone who treats them with respect, who builds bridges and leaves a positive mark, even if just in some people’s lives. People here deserve that, and so much more.