A week before I'm due to leave Australia, there's a bomb blast at the Safi Landmark hotel in Kabul, a hotel frequented by internationals
Am I anxious about taking the job now? Yes, a little. Am I anxious when I take the tube late at night? A little. Am I anxious when I hop in a car? A little. Am I anxious when I have to deal with complex wider family complications back in Australia? Yes, extremely. Kabul seems relatively calm, even sane, by comparison, because the weapons used are out in the open.
This might sound strange, but fleeing Australia for Kabul seems a more attractive option at this stage. So much damage from a bitter extended family feud, so much to run away from.
I steel myself for the tearful and heart wrenching farewell from my partner and two children in Australia. It was hard, extremely hard, but I won't go into that here, I'm sure you can imagine. I tell myself it's only six weeks, that's all. I'll be back every six weeks, for ten days; surely we can do this for twelve months. My adventurous spirit kicks in the moment I'm on the plane. I'm eager to see what awaits beyond the fear.
I'm flown to a destination in Europe for a six day induction program into the goals of the organisation and how to stay safe in a war zone. The content of the course is confronting, naturally. The people I meet are...what can I say...like none I've ever met before. The sort you don't generally meet at tedious, middle class dinner parties in the safe suburbs of South Kensington.
There were close to 30 of us. We were all going to various places around the globe - Iraq, Liberia, Haiti, Kosovo, Middle East, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan, East Timor, Congo, and others. I felt incredibly privileged to be part of this unusual clique of people. These are people who have a hunger to see, experience and know the world, to live life as if there were no tomorrow, to step outside themselves, and to help others. Yes, these people do exist. And yes, there are women there who have both older children and partners who support and encourage them to live life to the full. I feel I'm drinking an elixir of life.
There are five others also heading to Afghanistan - Matt, Teresa, Jakob, Irin and Dominique. This instantly makes me feel a little less anxious as they seem like good people, the adventurous types, different sorts of people, not motivated by money but by genuinely wanting to do good. Matt and Teresa have both previously lived and worked in Afghanistan for aid organisations for several years and loved it. They are so enthusiastic and encouraging, telling me I'll love it, that I instantly begin to relax and trust their judgement. Matt and Jakob are both lawyers and will be helping the government develop policies on Human Rights. Irin is a project officer who will be based in one of the regional offices, and Dominique is by far the most difficult of all and will be working in my unit.
She'll be working two levels above me and is keen to remind me to stay in my place, despite my obvious experience at a much higher level. From the first few days I find her prickly, so I'm careful what I say. From the first day she was boasting about working until 10pm most nights and that I'll be expected to do the same. I made a point of saying I would not be working ridiculous hours and it's hard enough working in a compound in Afghanistan let alone trying to break people by making them work dangerously long hours. It fell on deaf ears and I could tell she immediately labelled me as lazy.
On our final day of the induction course we did a mock convoy attack and hostage siege and it was truly frightening, and confronting with guns pointed at our heads, men in army fatigues, balaclavas and holding machine guns screaming in our faces. We were all taken to a paddock, lined up facing a wall, my hands were tied, women were separated from the men, we could hear gun shots and screaming. It was frightening but important to go through. I started to think what the f*** am I doing??
My partner in the exercise was the lovely Jakob who, when we were lined up against the wall, whispered kindly on several occasions, "Are you ok?" I was glad he was part of our "Afghan group", we'd already had a couple of lunches talking at some length about environmental awareness, corporate greed, and the worst excesses of American style capitalism. A man I could have a decent conversation with, and although he said he was keen to go to a region, I secretly hoped he would stay in Kabul.
With the induction course completed, various vaccinations received, the usual last minute complications regarding visas, the six of us finally fly to Dubai, get our visas, and the next day fly to Kabul. Dominique has arguments with several HR staff before we even reach Kabul, about the delays we've had. She hit the roof when told she had to pay excess baggage on one leg of the flight, a cost that the organisation will reimburse her for.
I have little respect for people who insist on making a drama over nothing. Get over it. I hoped and prayed I would not have to report to her, I could see she would be difficult and unreasonable. Sadly, my wishes were not answered, and my fear proved uncannily correct.
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