10 November 2005
Today it is exactly one month since I left the UK to fly out to Afghanistan. I have to smile as I compare where I am today with where I was then: then…….at Heathrow with a load of luggage which cost me an arm and a leg to get on the plane, sad to leave, wondering what to expect….today, missing family and friends but also loving my life and work here.
I am writing this to you from a small, smokey little living room in a rudimentary guest house right in the mountains of Nuristan, where I have come to monitor one of the final processes in the Afghan election process: the Meshrano Jirga (provincial council) elections. The UN needed volunteers to do this, and as the Japanese funding for our project has still not hit UNDP’s bank accounts (or has fallen prey to some bureaucratic hitch?), my manager Scott agreed that I could go. What a unique and exciting opportunity.
My role up here is to observe the process during which the newly elected provincial council members meet for the first time, appoint a chair, deputy chair and secretary before proceeding, a few days later, to the election of their representative to the Meshrano Jirga. We have just had a bowl of rice and beans, wonderful way of warming up after a very cold first provincial council session at the governor’s residence…….but despite the fact that my feet and fingers feel frozen, I feel so honoured to have been part of the process I witnessed this morning—a process which marks stage II of the birth of democracy here in Afghanistan. It was humbling to see how the provincial council members and deputy governor got together for the first time; how they discussed and struggled but nonetheless were eager to understand their election process, procedures and different paper work, how they sought guidance despite the fact that we were there only to observe and provide suggestions, as the process is now theirs to own and run: men with flat hats, wrapped in blankets, desperately trying to shut out the cold creeping in through the doors and windows into the unheated little room in which we were meeting, and a woman, her white embroidered scarf covered by her burqa which she only used outside to cover her face and body from onlookers. It brought tears to my eyes to see how, in a country which many in the West would describe as uncivilised and backward, 6 people sat around the table, discussed what qualities their chair and deputy chair should have; how they went around the table and really listened to each other; how they encouraged the woman to speak—really, democracy is not as alien a concept here as some would want to believe in their Western arrogance. Although, of course, there are also other cases everywhere in the country, with disgruntled candidates venting their frustrations about having lost the election and threatening the internationals to “annoy” them or worse, th people are the minority and no violent act or threat can take away the genuine respect and admiration I feel at this moment for the people of Afghanistan and the commitment I feel to serve this country in my own small way, for the short time that I am here. It is hard to explain—and it may sound very cheesy– but somehow I cannot help but love these people in a brother/sister-like, deep and lasting sort of way….Even when the going gets tough, as it already has these past few weeks, that feeling does not go away. I hope it never does.