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.