I met up with an old friend today at the Security meeting. He was with us in Mazar back in 2003. He is a rough Australian, an ex soldier, and fond of expletives. He has been the security officer for a big NGO here in Kabul for the last few years, and now on Thursday is going home. ‘Tired, stressed, frightened’ were his words. Though they were prefixed with other, ‘colour’ words.
As alert readers will know, in early August we travelled to Cambodia for a week of meetings with the Hagar International Board and staff. Phnom Penh, much like our first visit, we found to be restful and renewing: green, cool, cheap, wonderful. We took in the bookstores, a ride on the river, the quiet and the peace. This was followed by several days leave in Bangkok. In Thailand and Cambodia Julie and I both felt very tangibly the freedom of not having to constantly monitor security issues. It was freeing at a very deep level, and it has given me some pause to think about how in only a short time – 3 months that we have been back here – that the tension of insecurity has embedded itself in my psyche.
In Kabul we need to consider security all the time. Even if it is in the background, it never goes away: being frisked on entering banks and offices, shut and gated roads, the sounds of explosions, helicopters overhead, armed guards, watchtowers, guns on the streets, troops, scanning for car bombs, high risk areas, places to avoid, security alerts via email (3- 10 a day). It is wearying. In Taliban times, there was a front line and we knew where the danger was. And in 2003-05 when we were here, insecurity was largely limited to Kabul and the south. So we are finding ourselves in place that is familiar, but with new and difficult dynamics to consider. We need to work out strategies to cope with this.
The best way so far seems to take short breaks from here every so often. However this is expensive and can be quite disruptive. It is disturbing too, that within only days of being back here from an excellent break, the tensions of insecurity can so quickly make themselves felt. Out on the Jalabad Road today, the scene of many carbombs and targetted attacks, I felt this nervous twisting in my gut every time a military convoy went past. I’d like to think God offers some protection to those who follow him, but the evidence is ambiguous.