Images of Spring

Occasionally, around this time of evening, I wonder how this all happened. Why here? Why this? Why still? Not in a existential way, just curious. Cousins, friends, schoolmates of mine now work in banks, in oil companies, in businesses. Did we all chose these paths, or did things just open up as we went along? I don’t think I ever imagined at age 40 I’d be here in Kabul with my family. But here we are. And just as I cannot imagine working for a bank in Sydney, I suppose many of my peers cannot envisage working  and living here (though how I wish they could).

These reflections are in part a product of my personality, how I try to make sense of things. They are probably also a product of Dad dying, of how that marks a milestone in my own life. They are a result of this last week’s violence in Mazar, Kandahar and Maimana and of the subsequent evacuation of our team in Faryab. Some of them are now staying with us, less than a week after we have returned here. All this highlights to me how vulnerable, how transient we are. How all we try to do here can seem to be washed away in a single day.

And it could be that am just unsure if we are getting anywhere, when such anger is still so prevalent and powerful.

Should that matter? No, not really. At a deep, unmoveable level, I am not bothered by such arithmetic. There are many people before me in this story of Afghanistan’s development, who have seen their efforts and that of their friends and colleagues come to little. There will be many after me. I am just another person wanting to see some outcome as a result of my effort, and realising again, again, again that this may not be. We have grown so impatient, us children of the West, that we believe that what we do today, should show an impact tomorrow. The world is so much more resilient than that, perhaps. Certain places, certainly.

And anyway, wondering why it all happened and why am I here is a foolish enterprise. We are here. Introspect too much and you end up flaccid and moribund, and have people talk about you behind your back.

Though it is hard to see the end of it now, I guess we will round a corner sometime. I suppose those who would wage war will gradually tire of it. Those who will volunteer to suicide themselves will lose their enthusiasm. They will have kids, and instead will want to buy hamburgers and Nintendos. People will slowly see the benefits of civil society, will want their children to grow up, to live, to thrive. To go on trips to Delhi and Venice.

After all, we feared that today, after Friday prayers, riots and protests would break out. It was not so. Despite the evacuation of our team in Faryab, it has been peaceful there (the continuing rain helped, probably – it is hard to stoke up boiling anger in pouring rain). People chose peace. They can do so again. I might not be here to see it, to feel it. But it will come, despite the efforts of the international community to birth it prematurely.

Spring is here. And in case you are wondering, this photo is not touched up. The man’s suit was that colour; fluorescent orange. Wow.

Apricot blossom near the kids new school.


Images of toughness

We flew back to Afghanistan a few days ago. The flight out of Perth was a long sleepless slog, but the flight into to Kabul from Dubai was a pleasure, and landing in Kabul was wonderful. Spring is here, and the air felt clean and soft. Not so clean that within a few hours we weren’t cleaning black gunk from our noses, but still, a lot cleaner than the aerosol crud we inhaled throughout winter.

The flight in was with Safi, the airline favoured by security men and diplomats and aidworkers. It has a higher safety reputation than the other contenders, one of which has just gone belly up, for falsifying black-box data after its aircraft smacked into a mountain side out of Kabul last year. The ratio of security men, diplomatic staff and NGO workers on Safi flight is about 90:5:1, and as the photo shows, there is a whole lot of toughness on these flights. The testosterone is thicker than Brie, and I have to be surreptitious in taking a photo, in case one of these guys takes umbrage and kills me with a single finger. Rachel wanders up and down the aisle, smiling to the security men, who are wrongfooted by such a little child, and diplomats look bewildered: there is a family with little children going into this country?

Sadly, the protests that have followed the Qur’an burning, along with other threats mean we have to drive even within our neighbourhood. But, it is great to be home.

Thats a whole lotta man there.

Searching for bits of joy.

We arrived back in Kabul 6 months ago, almost to the day.

10 days before we left Australia, the Nuristan Eye Camp team were killed. We got here in time for the burials of Tom and Dan.Since then, back in my home town, my father has been been hospitalised numerous times, twice via ambulance, once having technically died enroute. My sister’s baby died at 1 day old. There have been suicide bombs:1 km up the road, several across town and the list of places we can visit has gotten even shorter. We were kicked out of our home with 10 days notice in the middle of winter and had to find a new place, where I spent the first week dealing with leaking flooding toilets, leaking roofs, building a kitchen, fixing drains and oh, yes, the leaking toilets. I have been away more than a month visiting different projects around the country. I have been  sick repeatedly with chest infections, as has our older daughter: we get the results of the chest x-ray today. Our younger daughter is yet to sleep through the night. We’ve had to deal with other issues, some of which must remain confidential.

I think that is why we are tired, and I am irritable, and stressed. I am less patient with my kids at times like this, and I don’t like it. I don’t want them to suffer my stress. Julie says we need to find more joy here, and she is right. You can’t survive here on determination only; you become cynicalembitteredawfultobearound. I know, I have been there. So, we are now looking actively for more joy. I think I spotted some down the back of the couch, along with some sultanas and a few lego pieces. I’ll tell you if I find any more.

Why am I writing all this?

I think those who care about us enough to read this blog deserve to know how we are doing. I don’t want to sugar coat this experience. But let me emphasize this: Yes, we are hard pressed, but we are not crushed; we may be perplexed, but we are not in despair; persecuted perhaps, but not abandoned; sometimes struck down, but not destroyed.

I know this. We pretty much knew what we were signing on for, and it is ok. So in reading this, if you are a person of prayer, then pray. For us, for this nation. If it is hard for us, it is terribly much more so for Afghans. Raise this place to God. If you don’t consider yourself a person of prayer – pray anyway. This endeavour is beyond individuals, aid agencies, groups, donors, armies and nations, we know this. It is beyond us, but it is still in our hands, somehow.


This photo is here because it reminds me of my kids’ capacity for joy.

Backside still numb; application of motorbike will help

I have just sat through two weeks of training and meetings, and my bum is numb with it all. Five days advocacy training, followed by three days security training (mainly how to survive a hostage situation) and three days strategic planning. I have nearly forgotten what it is to walk around. In the midst of that we have been dealing with the usual matters of life here: flat tyres, earthquakes, boys throwing rocks at the car and making lewd, pelvic gestures, a final memorial services for the Nuristan Eye Camp team, some issues with our kids at the school. Vexations, frustrations, yes, but it is also a beautiful time of year: clear days, cold nights, and the first wisps of wood smoke in the air. Soon the street cleaners, old men dressed in their orange Guantamo -Bay style jump suits will be burning piles of leaves in the gutters. Soon we will put our diesel stink-boxes heaters in the rooms, soon winter will start closing in. But now, it is still beautiful.

A few weeks ago I bought Carl’s Yamaha trailbike, as he was heading home to the UK. It has broken lights, missing panels, the oil tank leaks, the fuel cap is missing, the rear tyre bald, the seat is loose, it blows a lot of smoke, it makes a vigorous farting noise at high revs, various parts are wrong (the kick start, the micro chip). Taken together, this means that it functions only more or less, often less, and it’s habit of stalling as I pull out to overtake, leaving me scrabbling to avoid being flattened by the approaching truck, is alarming. But it is still a mostly excellent means of getting around in Kabul’s awful traffic.

A few nights back I went up to N and B’s to pick up Pieta and Elijah, who had been playing with their kids. I was going to drive, but even at 6pm the traffic was dented-bumper-to-broken-headlight. I turned around and got out the untrusty motorbike, and hooted off up Darulaman, stalling at 200m intervals. Unfortunately, as noted, the headlight is broken, so it’s either zoom in darkness and risk striking a pile of bricks, a person, a dog or six, or perhaps all the above;  or use high beam, and blind the oncoming traffic. I used high beam, but still missed the turn off to their street. Then I got a flat tyre. But I did eventually find N and B’ place, only to realise I had only one helmet. And discovered that Elijah had brought his giant panda bear, and his ukelele, and that Pieta had a pile of books. So there I was, put-putting home, with a flat tyre, Pieta behind me, no helmet, Elijah in front, helmetted, with me carrying a panda bear and a ukelele, in the dusty chill of the Kabul night air.

Ahhh, Afghanistan.


* Pls note, worried readers: I have since purchased an additional helmet.

New/ old car

We have bought a car, yes we have. It is a 1976 Carolla. It is bright green, it has four wheels, and most of the doors open. It is the envy of Afghanistan, and maybe even Pakistan too. I suspect the excellent Cam Tero, the original Luddite would highly approve. And Elijah, our son, on hearing we had bought a car, was thrilled. He was expecting a man’s car, a large boofy 4WD. However on seeing the Green Hornet, he was… mmm. Let’s see. I think ‘disgusted’ would be the word. He could barely speak, and was not at all interested in checking it out. ‘It’s not even a car, Dad’, he said, tartly.

Since the purchase last week, he has grown more accustomed to it, but he is still very keen for me to trade it in. Interestingly, the Green Hornet was built at a time when people must have been slenderer: the steering wheel is very low to the seat, so you have to slide in, slowly and stealthily. We have already had one minor accident: Julie was driving when a vehicle struck her from behind.

Usually, as alert readers will remember, a car accident provokes a great deal of shouting and machismo, probably violence and may involve guns (accident in the bazaar ). Julie, wisely, drove serenely on, but was followed by the male driver, who leaned out his window and accosted her; blaming her for his smashed headlight, broken several years ago when he struck a stray dog on the Kandahar road. But on seeing more closely the age and state of our car, and that it was a woman driver, he decided not to press his fault to his advantage.

Other thoughts: we were talking last night about how we are doing here, now that we’ve been here a month. We agreed that Afghanistan these days is significantly harder than before, with even less opportunities for recreation and fun.

Me: ‘A lot here is life-denying. It is hard to keep positive. We need to find things to do that are life-affirming. The problem is that many of those things are…’

Julie: ‘Life-threatening!’

Julie and I look at each other. We decide we are going to hold some gigs in our home, ask people to bring their instruments over and we will all have a jam. I am also going to start a Kids Club, so the kids in our teams have something more to do. Donations of resources (silk screening gear, games books (Yaconelli, Silver Bullets), art materials, cash) are welcome.