Afghanistan is relentless. It never, ever lets up. You get through one crisis, take a breath, then next hits. They are not all crunchers, you don’t drown every time, but they do keep coming. It is like the hard surf, when the breakers keep coming and they break early, and they peak and roll down on you, and all you can do is dive under each one, the suck of the water pulling at your body, and as you gasp and swim back up to the light, the bubbles and the sand and the foam all fizzing beside you, the next wave hits, and you breathe and go down again.

Now it is housing. We are losing our home. We heard rumours a few months ago, but then there was conflict over who actually owned the house. Two cousins fought it out, and now they have settled and now the urbane, silky voiced Afghan-American one has the deed in his hand, and wants to sell. He has returned from America to settle the deal. We have a contract till March, but that will be voided in the case of a sale (and goodbye to the advance rent we paid, too). We might have to be out in a fortnight, maybe in 6 weeks. We are losing the school, and another house as well. Houses that our organisation has rented now for some 36 years, continuously.

And we have just settled. Pretty much everything now works: I have fixed plumbing and lighting and the heaters are in and the windows seal and the doors lock. And now we will have to move. Where to, I don’t know. Housing is short here, as the new parliament is built, the Members and Representatives are all building houses here. Rents are what you might pay in Manhattan: $6000USD per month. USAID rents 5 houses here, all part of one block, and is paying $35,000 per month for them. We cannot compete with money like that.

Some people we know came to Afghanistan, rented a house 8 years ago and are still there. Their homes have a nice, lived in, warm feel. The first place we had here, I wanted to be like that. I made it work, we planted gardens and built verandas and laid water pipes and gas lines and within 18 months, we were evacuated and it was all over. Since then we have lived in five or six or seven houses here, maybe more. You can tell who has been through evacuations and forced moves here: their houses generally have bare walls. Pictures are put up with pins, not frames. Carpets don’t fit, curtains are too long. It is because we are anticipating the next move. Summoning the energy to make a home gets harder and harder.


Now with that cheerful story put down, let me issue an invitation: we need personnel here. Afghanistan is a less and less popular place to work. Post 9/11, suddenly everyone wanted to be here. Afghanistan was a must-have on a serious aid-workers CV. But now it is getting boring and dangerous. Things aren’t better, security is worse. NATO is pulling out, Afghans are getting corrupt, the conflict is at a stalemate. Let the Afghans sort it out. There are new conflicts and crises. Haiti. Pakistan. So people are wanting out. But the needs remain.  The work is long, the rewards few, the pay non-existent. The dangers are real, though not everpresent.

Who will join us?


9 thoughts on “Relentless

  1. Well, better to be forewarned I suppose. I’m in the Navy at the moment, so unless my country orders me to Afghanistan, I’ll not be going any time soon. I’m glad you wrote about this. I have a question though. Are you not allowed to simply buy a house or a plot of land? Wouldn’t that fix the issue about getting kicked out? Or do they require the entire balance up front? Just curious.

    • Thanks Dan for the question. One we have considered long: the short answer is foreigners are constitutionally banned from purchased ‘immovable property’ ie, land, in Afghanistan. So if we wanted to (or could afford it) we would have to have as the legal owner of any land, a trusted Afghan colleague. Sadly, given the conflict, mistrust and general security, such a proposition is not viable at present. And as an indication, the modest 2 story house we are in (we share with another family) will sell for around $1.2 million USD…

      • I simply cannot believe those prices! It’s like you’re living in Tokyo or something! I truly am sorry to hear this. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time overseas, but never in Afghanistan. Lots of expensive places overseas.

  2. Hi Phil. Hang in there! Praying for you guys at home and at work (Trent raised your issue at our HD4 prayer group). Hope family are well. C

  3. Many people would like to work in Afghanistan, but are unable to find postings. Also, most postings I have found have outlandish requirements like a Master’s in Business and 5 years of experience. That was for a logistics clerk in a small office. However, if you can point me to some postings of your own, I can keep an eye out for candidates.

  4. Hey Phil,
    Thanks so much for your blog. I just get caught up in reading all your words, and the images are breathtakingly haunting and beautiful. If we could just give you a house we would – I am so sorry that its been impossible to find a permanent home. That is just not fun. We think of you often – not much to offer except we think you are wonderful 🙂
    Love Nyree

  5. I agree with Stephen here. Vacancies are hard to come by if you’re not already in the circle of aid workers. I am about to graduate from University and would energetically accept a position in Afghanistan. I have volunteer experience in the U.S. and in Jordan, speak a bit of Arabic, and am certainly up for learning variations of Persian. The problem I’ve found is that, as Stephen said, so many jobs listed require a Masters or 10 years experience in a conflict zone etc. What would you recommend for someone hoping to break into the aid field?

    • Lucy and Stephen, hi and thanks for the comments/ questions. I won’t respond too much to the issue of how to get work in an aid agency in the field – Alanna at Blood and Milk does a good job of this, and so does Road to the Horizon -both blogs worth checking out. Part of the issue will always be who you know – as in all fields, knowing someone helps. I am keen to get people here and have done my bit, so if you are both serious, you can email me direct at sparrowp at gmail dot com and we can correspond further.

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