We are off for several weeks. To Africa. Needing a break, we are also taking the time to do some reflecting on our lives here, and to try to make some decisions.
The last time we did this was in August 2001, in the context of the Taliban’s increasingly onerous edicts, then enlarging to encompass foreigners in their dictation of how reality should look. We took time out to go to China, visit family, and think things through. While we were there, the Shelter Now workers were imprisoned. We read about it in Ning Bao, Southern China. Shortly after that, the agency we worked with was kicked out of Afghanistan, and all the expat workers given 48 hours to leave the country, or be imprisoned. The head of the organisation was summoned before a junior staffer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. ‘You are the head of nothing. Your organisation no longer exists’, he was told. **
We had come back to Pakistan, and I had just negotiated a return to Mazar, when this went down. We watched, mutely, from Peshawar, as our staff arrived by plane and by vehicle, carried their small evac bags. Nothing was ever recovered from our home and life there, and it still hurts.
While we tried to work out the future of our organisation from the logistics office base in Peshawar, September rolled around. We were in a meeting, downstairs, when a worried colleague called us to the TV, and we watched as the Twin Towers fell.
We were evacuated to Australia a few days later, still with only what we had taken on holiday. A whole life, truncated. I have often wondered what different futures we might have had.
It has crossed my mind several times that such a scenario could easily be repeated. Partly that is why we live with a light footprint here: all it takes is one evacuation and the ensuing loss, to know forever that we are just visitors, and that we might be out of here at a moments notice.
So I am packing things up, mentally saying good bye. If we come back again, great. But I will not be robbed of the chance to leave properly again.
** in a strange turn, it is the Taliban’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and that junior staffer who no longer exist. Our agency was the first NGO invited back by the new Government of Afghanistan in 2002, and has the registration number 001.