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.


6 thoughts on “No surprise: Afghanistan. Again.

  1. Hey Phil, sorry for being a bad friend and not being in touch for so long. Wow the biyatch is back! Congratulations brother, inshallah it will be another rewarding time. May you meet all the challenges with grace and success.


  2. Hey, just try to keep from leaking fluid out of your ear this time, ok?! :o) Maybe we’ll join you there again ourselves… Strangely, the old proverb applies: “You can take the travelor out of Afghanistan, but you can’t take Afghanistan out of the travelor.”

  3. Afghanistan will still be there in years to come Phil. Your children will be as much exiles there as you feel you are here, the land of your birth. Give them a chance to grow with the support of their Australian family without the tension which must inevitably be part of life over there. You have a choice, make it wisely.

  4. Hello Phil,

    You may remember my fella and I from 2007. You watched a Bond at our place one night.

    We read everything you write in Target. We appreciate your photos and have checked your blog a few times.

    So you, the wife and THREE kids are heading back to the heart land… I find that encouraging. After the years of disappointment, heart ache and immense inconvenience, there’s still a fire in your soul.

    Things here are good. We’ve moved to a country-town, both have well paid jobs and no time. I’m content (I think), comfortable (definitely) and concern myself primarily with what we’re eating next.

    Affluence is so delicious!

    Thanks for blogging. Like I said, its encouraging for me.

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