Images of nostalgia

We had a visit from Lyn, who along with her husband, is now working in Kabul. We spent the whole night talking Afghanistan. Lyn quoted a mutual friend, who, after returning to their home country after 10 years in Afghanistan, found her son sad one night.

‘I miss me’, he said. ‘I miss the person I was.’


“I love to have fun. I love my family. I love this beautiful planet earth. The reason why I choose this car is because it will”

?


Relax, it’s an air rifle.


Halfway up TV mountain.


Rachel and her good friend.


The boys

Game of Settlers. Check out the leopard print skirt on the vegetarian!

We do hold a not-so-secret dream to return to Afghanistan. I hope we remain faithful to that dream. Life here in Australia is full of easy seductions and we all miss the meaning our lives had, but a year and a half back here, we are doing ok.

New phase, less plastic.

We are entering a new phase in our lives. Julie is back at University, and I have finished my work at TEAR. So my role is now driving the home-ship, while Julie get’s her Masters finished. Its a good thing to be doing. I probably won’t be doing much international development work for a bit. I think that is ok, though I’ll miss the community.

One challenge we (I) have set ourselves is to do without plastic. We watched a short video, as part of our family devotions (link is here: https://vimeo.com/25563376 ), and along with some encouragement from the TEAR office in my last week, who sent out this: http://hateandanger.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/plastic-detox-deplastify-your-life.jpg

plastic This is a lot harder than you might think. Some changes we have made

1. stopped buying milk in plastic bottles. You can buy Bannister Downs milk in 1L bags, made from chalk (how do they do that??). It is more expensive, but it reflects the real cost of a plastic free life. Plastic just passes on that cost to the environment.

2. make our own yoghurt. There is a great instructable on how to do this faultlessly here: http://www.instructables.com/id/Yogurt-By-The-Gallon/

3. make our bread. We need about 6 loaves a week. I use a bread maker (free from Gumtree) to make the dough and cook it myself. I bake on Thursdays and Mondays, 3 loaves at a time.

4. Honey in bulk from our veggie shop. I took along a 5L container, they fill it and return it.

5. Rice, flour, etc in bulk sacks. Take all our own bags for fruit and veggies.

6. make our own muesli. This is a cinch. Oats, nuts, sultanas, coconut etc, in bulk, and bake it up. Make it go a bit further with some bulk purchased wheat flakes and puffed rice. My family can’t get enough of this.

What remains? hard to get pasta in bulk… I can only find it in poxy 500gm plastic bags. Coffee. I’ll need to go to the wholesaler. Cheese. I’m not up to making my own cheese yet. Eggs we have, from the chickens, but we eat meat and fish, and they tend to come pre wrapped, unless we start going wholesale… It is a bit more work than just going the easy plastic route. One other complication is the tradeoffs – if I buy fair trade coffee, it comes in 250gm bags, and we use a lot of coffee = a lot of bags. If I go to the wholesaler, they are a long drive away = a lot of driving. Doing all this = a lot of time….

Watch the film: https://vimeo.com/25563376 . Worth trying.

Christina asked about the expression ‘I don’t want

Aside

Christina asked about the expression ‘I don’t want my children to walk in the dust’.
‘Dust’, as used in Dari can have simply the literal meaning – i.e., ‘I don’t want my children to live in this dustbowl, this poor man’s house’.

But it also has a meta-meaning – a common curse here, is ‘Khak dar sar-et!‘ ‘Dust on your head!’ – which means, ‘May you die’ – the expression deriving from, when a person is dead and being buried, dust is thrown into the grave, onto their heads  - Muslims being preferably buried standing, so they can properly greet Mohammed the Prophet when he comes summon them.

So, the other meaning would be, ‘I don’t want my children to walk in death’.

I sell waistcoats.

We are in De Mazang, and half way up TV Mountain. The road was paved for the first section; now we are walking in a narrow alley, strewn with the litter of the households, and down the the middle of which runs an uneven channel of raw waste and sewerage. People are gathered around a tap stand, filling 20L yellow canisters, and then struggling on up the hill.

Higher up we stop, and Julie goes into a room to talk with the women. I stay in the yard and the husband comes over. In the small yard, three children bat a plastic ball around with a large walking stick.

We talk about the Self Help Group which his wife is part of. He only knows it by the name, ‘the group’. ‘It is good for her, she saves 10 Afs, 20 Afs every week. They put it all together, take loans. Why shouldn’t she do it?’ He tells how he has taken three loans from the group via his wife over the years.

‘And what have you used the money for?’

‘I sell waistcoats. I buy them in Mandaie, from the big underground market there. I carry them all the way up to Karte Se, walk down the bazaar selling them. If I have sold them all by the time I reach here, good. If not, I go on, past the zoo, and then turn around and walk home, selling as I go. That is what I do.’

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I cannot capture the simple resignation with which he speaks. It was as though he was saying, ‘This is my life. That is all there is.’ I ask what he might do if he could take a larger loan, say 10,000 Afs ($200USD). He shrugs. ‘I would buy more waistcoats.’

‘Do you have any other skill, or work, or profession, or income?’

‘This is my qisb, my income.’

‘What do you want for your children?’

‘They they do not walk in the dust.’

*

These groups are doing valuable work. The houses and the alleys here are like the slums we lived in, in Delhi. People here are poor; in another group, a man and a woman, old, both blind, sit motionless, as another woman tells of how two of their children have died in the last years. The man next to me sells plastic tubs, in much the same way as the waistcoat seller. The return on such sales is microscopic.

It does take time for these groups to start working, but over 5-6 years the changes are evident; further down the mountain, people are working together, men and women, running small businesses, cooperating. Higher up, though, that process is just beginning.

The closer you get…

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All five of us are enjoying being in Afghanistan for these two weeks, with some caveats.

1. the mud. While technically it is spring, it has rained every day since we got here. Julie was meant to fly to Mazar yesterday, and couldn’t because there had been so much rain, the airport was flooded. Yep, you read it right. And Afghan mud has unique and strange qualities. You can walk from the bedroom to the bathroom, and come back muddy. You can wash mud off your pants, three times, and it is still there! You can tiptoe carefully around a patch in the road where the mud is thick, only to find mud in your hair. Hours later!

2. the cold. We didn’t expect this, and had to make hasty trips to the bazaar, to buy jackets. Only their winter jackets are all packed away, because it is summer. So only T shirts are on sale now. So naturally, I bought T shirts. Now we are all layered up like lunatics.

3. the sickness. Within hours of getting here, Rachel had a fever. Elijah vomited carefully into his cupped hands last night at 3am and carried it to the bathroom, but couldn’t open the door, and had to stand there yelling/ vomiting till we came. (He then repeated this trick 2 hours later). Pieta has a cold and sore lips (eh?). Seems there is something about arriving here that activates bugs.

4. the way plans get cast aside. Twice now Julie has tried to get to Mazar. Rain and flooding has foiled both attempts. We have ended up sharing rooms with a couple trying to get back to Lal, who have been stumped twice now, because of weather. The upside to this is pleasant surprises – kissing your wife good bye for three days, only to have her show up two hours later. More time with friends. But it does make for low-level frustration, and traversing many low levels of frustration can lead you to the basement of despair.

All that said, it is good being here. The kids are loving seeing their friends. It is good to see Tom and Lyn settling in so well. We are doing good work. We have been welcomed back into a what is still a family for us. It is almost as though we never left.

Yes, the closer you get here, the more wonderful it is*.

 
*As long as you can expand your definition of wonderful to include some pretty annoying things.

Afghanistan. Again. Almost. Maybe

Long time readers (all 3 of you) will know that we harbour a long, deep love for Afghanistan.

So it will be no surprise that we were to return there – albeit for only a few weeks – this April. I was to do a risk assessment, and Julie to do an evaluation. Our kids were coming because they were to do a reconnection – reconnect with their old friends, their old places. The country and the life where they have lived; each of them, for at least half of their years. And, they have been really, really looking forward to this.

In readiness, I submitted our visa applications a month ago. Bear in mind that the website says turnaround of visas takes only 5 business days.

After three weeks, I grew worried. A call to the Embassy revealed that Kabul had not yet given permission for us to travel. More days passed. Our departure date grew near.

I will not recount here the numerous – bordering on tedious – number, and content of calls, conversations and agonisings that took place over the last week, as we mulled, mooted and masticated the options. Delay flights? Try in Dubai? Call it all off? Give Canberra more time?

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In the end, we gave Canberra more time. We also allowed for a second effort in Dubai. As the Afghan proverb says, ‘Trust in God. But you should still tie up your camel’.

Today, we heard that Canberra has not issued visas. Probably, the issue was simply time. Just now, a colleague and friend recounted that it took her five weeks to get her visa. Earlier this month, other friends were so late in getting their visas, they had their passports couriered to them directly to the airport, just prior to departure.

We are going anyway. We’ll hope for visas in Dubai. God oversees all this, somehow. This I believe. ‘Oversee’ doesn’t mean ‘control’, and I do not assume to predict that the outcome we desire will eventuate. We’ll see. ‘Being in control’ is less a reality than we’d like to believe.

But I am tired of anticipating disappointment when it comes to Afghanistan. We just wanted to get there. Do some important work. Let the kids have a good time.

We were not, you know, expecting a revolution.