I have to go to Maimana. I am, to be honest, not keen. It is hard on my family when I travel; it is freezing, and it will be colder in Maimana; I have a cold coming on and I have a ton of work that has kept me up till 1.00am the last week.
I arise at 4.00am, and by 6.00 we are at the airport. The pilot tells us the weather is foggy in Maimana, with 8cm of slush on the runway. Secretly, I hope that the flight is cancelled. The pilot suggests we board, and see how things are when we land in Bamiyan. 20% chance, he tells us.
Unsurprisingly, I am very pleased once we actually get there. It is the travelling I find hard, not the being. Kabul is so toxic, so restrictive, so insulating, that to get out to the real Afghanistan is a tonic.
This is a hill just out side the office. It collapsed in the recent rains, obliterating several houses. One of our staff now lives in permanent terror of the rest of the hill falling on him and his family.
We travel out to visit one of our community development projects. Since the security crapped out a few years ago, we have been forced to work much closer to the town than we would want: the really poor people are a days travel away, but Taliban control those areas now. We can only work in safely within an hours drive of the town centre. Still, in a place like Maimana, there is no shortage of work. This town is after all, little more than a large village, with all the problems of a remote area: no proper latrines and open defecation, poor water supply, no understanding of safe birth practice, low literacy, rudimentary animal care and horticulture, only the most basic education, and only for boys: I could go on and on.
This is the expat advisor to the project. He is raised on a farm, holds a Masters degree in development. A thinker, a practical person, sensitive to the culture, considered in his application, persistent in the effort. His wife is built of the same quality. I wish we had 10 men and women like them.
Here, we have trialled improved orchards. You can see the saplings in the background. Tree spacing, pesticides, pruning, consistent fertilising. The plot is given to us for three years by a wealthier landowner, on condition that the people have free access to the orchard to learn better techniques. After three years, the orchard and it’s yield becomes his. As we drive home, A, the advisor wonders, ‘Is this the best approach? Should we benefit the wealthy further? But the poor can rarely afford to give us land to use for risky orchard trials. What about the middle people? Maybe we can work with them.’
I appreciate thinkers like this.
Charm-gari village. The leatherworker’s village.
And here it is: on a breathtakingly cold morning, they are still there, scraping the hides, breaking the ice off the pits where the skins will be tanned, hanging the leather to cure.
I ask, ‘Is it a high profession or a low one, leather working?’
The answer comes quickly, ‘Oh it is a high profession. But the market is ruined now. They cannot sell anything. Now, everything comes from China. Their leather is so much cheaper.’
I am grateful to be able to spend some time in Maimana.