We originally left for Afghanistan in September, 1999. On the same flight were friends of ours, also sent overseas with TEAR, but they were heading to a different Asian country. They had a few kids; we didn’t.
Comparing their time in Asia is interesting for me, because of the many similarities in our positions. ‘Bob’ is about my age, similarly a generalist manager/ leader, slightly unorthodox faith, professional, from Perth etc etc.
But when I look at the time we spent overseas, many differences emerge. If is hard for me not to feel depressed, cynical, sometimes quite upset about how different our journeys were. It seems to me that their journey was pretty much a text book overseas posting. Four and a half uninterrupted years, where Bob’s work grew in complexity and responsibility till towards the end he was leading major organisational change for the NGO he was with . Sure, there were difficulties they had, and the country there were in was no picnic – it is currently in civil war, but in terms of what they achieved, and the outcomes, it looks good, on paper and in practice. The good work Bob did lead to him continuing to be employed by that NGO on their return to Perth, where he kept working on the change process for most of this year.
In contrast, I look at our four or so years in Afghanistan – punctured by the evacuation of Sept 11, our work fel into chaos and we pursued other work back here. The return to Afghanistan in November 2003 was really hard for me and tough on our marriage, and I hated the work, feeling like I was back were I had been two years previously: the job was the same, the people were the same, the organisation was the same, nothing had changed except me. The growth and change I had envisioned kind of got sidelined and abstracted by the Taliban, by the evacuation, by the general difficulties of Afghanistan, and eventually I left to work with the UN, where sure, I did some good – but nothing unique, nothing that no one else couldn’t have done. The NGO I had been with ended up viewing me as a troublemaker and an apostate, and the idea that they employ me to continue working with them is laughable.
In short, a mess of a time. I can’t really look at my time in Afghanistan and say ‘ I did this….’ or feel that I made a unique contribution. At least, not yet – but as I said, I am quite cynical and sad about it all presently. Maybe that will change and I will be able to revise my view of our time there.