I cannot believe that it is already January …..sometimes I just don’t know where time goes. Just yesterday I was looking forward to going home for Christmas, and now I have already been back for a few weeks. It was lovely being home but I also felt quite lost and disoriented for much of the time. How do you answer questions like “How is it out there?”. How do you tell people what it is truly like without worrying them? How do you start trying to sum up all the emotions, sights, sounds, impressions………? I felt strangely lost…..I belonged, but also felt “out of it”; it was wonderful to have more routine, more safe, stress-free days, but equally I am now used to a life where there is rarely a “normal”day, so am not quite sure how to handle “normal” anymore. As for New Year’s Eve, I found the fireworks unnerving. Those I could see were definitely better than loud random bangs with no visible source…….truth be told, I was glad when they subsided, and am not sure if I will ever feel the same about them again.
Although I was not gone for that long, I was greeted by a lot of change upon my return to Jalalabad: most significantly, the mayor of Jalalabad has been sacked, supposedly for corruption and is now in prison, and the new mayor is trying to change the nature of the infrastructure projects to be implemented (I do pray this does not mean we are back to square one in defining the scope of works!). He definitely also has more issues working with internationals and women than the previous mayor had, so I think I have a few challenging weeks ahead of me.
We are now beginning the process of recruiting unskilled labourers for our constructions works, under our “cash for works” component. Just before Christmas, following both feedback from the communities and on the basis of my own observations, I had suggested to my line manager to widen the project scope to include not only disarmed ex-combatants but also people with disabilities, women (where feasible) and returned refugees and/or Internally Displaced People (IDPs) as skilled and unskilled labourers. My manager and the Japanese embassy (our donor) loved the idea, and so we conducted a visit to Sheikh Misri and Tangi Beshoud returnee clusters to see how we could offer them employment opportunities on our project sites.
Again, tea and treats in abundance, whilst the entire community gradually gathered around us to see the project workers and foreigners who came to catch a glimpse of their world. But it was also troubling: a high number of former Afghan refugees are now back in Afghanistan after the government called them back and promised them land. Alas, the government is taking its time with providing the plots needed for them to rebuild their lives and livelihoods, and so they live in makeshift shacks or even tents which UNHCR have provided (despite the fact that this sort of support is, strictly speaking, beyond UNHCR’s mandate, as this agency’s remit ceases once refugees are repatriated). Some of the returnees seem truly desperate: for jobs, for their old life, for their future to begin again and it is hard to see how so many of them can be helped quickly enough. I left the clusters both with a deep sense of satisfaction that we can at least give some of them jobs, and with a profound sadness and even anger that some people have to suffer in this way from the effects of war and displacement.