I was glad I went… I am glad I am back.

The trite title probably reflects the ‘hallu’ed state of my mind when I write this. I am back after working for a year in Afghanistan. It was a stupendous experience, to say the least. A number of things contributed to the experience, some great, some good and some not so good (which of these fall in which categories.. I leave it to you to judge).

  • Living in a country in conflict with a precarious security situation – knowing that the family back home was worried but not showing it lest I get disheartened.
  • Community life with other expatriate colleagues from various points around the world and adjusting for different life styles.
  • Being cared for as if one were a cut glass antique.
  • Participating in deliberations on ‘the issues / future of Afghanistan’ with a bunch of other expatriate professionals and nary an Afghan in sight!
  • Learning the local language and stumbling through the dialogue as local colleagues smiled indulgently and supported.
  • Being unable to do simple tasks like buying bread without making a production out of it – calling the 24/7 radio operator, booking vehicle, getting an escort and then stepping out to shop for bread that costs 10 Afs (less than 20 cents).
  • Dealing with the dominance of meat in the diet and then (trying to) working it out in the gym or by walking around the garden in the team house like a rat in a maze.
  • Seeing the hapless local community struggle and get on with life after 30 years of war, misery and abject poverty… and yet have a smile on their faces.
  • Coming to terms with the dust, barrenness of the mountains and the extreme cold – a friend asked me ‘Afghanistan is all National Geographic, is it not?’
  • Having a lot (sometimes too much) of time for myself – मै और मेरी तन्हाई अक्सर बाते करते थे! दूसरा चारा नही था. A friend called it a year long Vipassana.

A lot of friends asked me about the silence from my end after a couple of ‘impressions’. The fact is that I did write a lot.. most of it was in form of a weekly diary. The effort of writing a diary did give me a vent and more importantly kept me going. However, that meant that I could not write something I could share with you all. I therefore decided to sign off from this stint with this mail. I am very happy that I am back safe and sound and enriched for the experience. I also come back with some regrets

  • Not spending more time in the field and with the communities.
  • Not watching a buzkashi match live.

When I think of the thousands of things that could have gone wrong and did not, I feel thankful to God who watched over me and mine this last year…

I have come to believe the great line I read  “The will of God will never take you where the Grace of God will not protect you”

At the end of the day (year).. I am glad I went and I am glad I am back..  Till the next adventure… Khuda Hafiz.