In Kabul

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I feel curiously stuck as to how to start a post about this time in Afghanistan. It may be to do with the overall strangeness of this period – I am here, in a place I know so well, but it is far from normal. Very few of the expatriate staff I used to know are here: very few expatriates are here at all. There is a feeling of considerable emptiness – our team meetings have eight people at them; previously, you could count 30 or 40 adults and a spray of kids. The office is full of empty rooms. Afghanistan itself is on hold – facing the heat of summer, enduring Ramadan, and waiting on the outcome of the election results. It will stop being on hold at some point, and it could get untidy. The protests so far have been significant, but peaceful – chants of ‘Death to Ashraf Ghani’ and some effigy-burning was about as violent as it got. The preliminary results will be announced on Wednesday, and that is the date when a spike may occur.

Odd, also, to be in a place I love so well, when I felt such antipathy about returning. Not many will know this, but in the days before leaving Perth last week, I was filled with dread. I considered again, the real costs of my return here, and what it could mean. Am I getting more scared as I get older? Are the costs higher, as my family grows up? Am I listening more to the voices that suggest responsible living above radical (or perhaps just ‘real’) faith?

Probably it is all of these. Several people warned me about returning here. Their careful, caring rationale was that it was dangerous, and that I had a family. Nothing new to me. But somehow their words penetrated, and stuck. Realistically, I probably have about as much chance of being caught up in something adverse here, as I do being eaten by a shark while surfing, but these same people do not carefully warn against surfing. Or, as another friend pointed out, about 11 Australians die each week in Bali, while on holiday – far more than are dying in Afghanistan – but no one speaks in grave tones about the risks of going to Bali.

Regardless. Afghanistan is seen as lawless, capricious and unsafe, and I started to believe that, and I longed to pull out of this trip.  It was not until I landed in Dubai, that I started to feel ok about coming here. Then, on arriving in Kabul, it felt as it always has: warm, hospitable, with an unpredictable edge. Afghan friends have been delighted to see me; old men in the bazaar have recognised me from times past – ‘Ohhhh! I thought I would never see you again! I thought you had left for ever! Welcome, welcome! Drink tea!’ and embraced me.

But neither it is the same place. Recent attacks have shown our vulnerability, and also that in the minds of at least some people, we are fair targets. We need to take some new steps to ensure staff – local and international – feel reasonably safe.

Through all this, a constant has remained, and it is this: Julie and I determined to follow Christ at the outset. So far, that journey has not led us, or those who we love and care for, to any serious harm (and it fact has led to all sort of lovely adventures). Of course, there is no promise of protection in our faith, and it may be that I get buried here. Should that chance mean we falter in our following? Should Julie and I follow Jesus only little ways, on safe journeys, with things that are, if we are honest, largely within our control? If we do not follow Christ in what matters most, then I suspect we do not really follow him at all.

 

A short walk – 5min video of the neighbourhood.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IL6DiXTf8K4

 

No surprise: Afghanistan. Again.

It should come as no surprise that we are thinking about heading back to Afghanistan. What else have we done these last 11 years, but be in and out of Afghanistan? It has come to define us in ways I first never believed in, then rejected, then resisted, and now, slowly, am beginning to accept.

I was talking today to the inestimable Greg Miller, and over a fine piece of woodwork, he asked if in returning, we hoped to make a difference. The fluidity of my response surprised me, but I think it was true. I said that no, I didnt think we would make much difference. Being in Afghanistan was no longer about making a difference. It was about a relationship.

Going back to Afghanistan, is for me, a bit like knowing that you have to visit that crazed, distant uncle of yours, the one in the hospital. The visit won’t be much fun, you certainly won’t change him, and he will probably forget you soon after you have left. Maybe even while you are still there. But you visit him anyway. Because of the relationship: you are honoring the relationship.

In this case, I am honoring the relationship that has formed between us and Afghanistan; the one I never believed would come to be so inescapable.

We might achieve something positive. We might not. Change, in those terms, is not really that important to me any more. Those who seek to impose change – ideologues – become, invariably, tyrants, cynics, morons, or dead – spiritually, if not literally. Not that I have ever been afraid dying for what I believed in. But an ideologically driven death in Afghanistan is still a death, and Afghanistan has had countless ideological deaths. Suicide bombers are dying ideologically every day, and being a great source of inspiration to others. Afghanistan is not a Martin Luther King-type place. And there are countless aid morons, who move relentlessly from one place to the next, being ‘rewarded by the work’, ‘making a difference’, ‘seeing small changes’, etc etc. It is mostly because such aid workers are a] fulfilling their own need to be needed and b] because they never stick around long enough to see what really happens, that they can persist in such self-important fictions. [more on this another time - I know of the importance of disaster work and emergency teams; I resile more against development whoring, as Ridwan disparagingly described himself as doing..].

No, ideology is not what brings us back to Afghanistan. Love does, I suppose. I don’t feel particularly happy about another move. Moving our kids – three now, our momentum, our energies. But that is where we are called. And in following that call there is rightness. We are exiles here, anyway.