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Listening, Giving, and Having Compassion

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"Life's not about making more money and accruing more material goods; it's about listening, giving, and having compassion."

I'd been in Kabul four weeks and still couldn't decide if I was completely mad. It was certainly a captivating environment to work in, so incredibly different, such an insight into a torn and troubled country. Part of me doubted my ability to make any difference at all, and I found myself thinking - if I felt I could do anything useful I'd feel a bit more legitimate in the country.
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We would receive daily emailed security updates and regular text messages alerting us to any security concerns. Meanwhile Afghanistan's over worked and under paid national police force searched for and reported information they gathered. In my second week we'd been told by security there were 15 suicide bombers in Kabul and to be extra vigilant. We're all well aware the Taliban are around, and they cannot possibly be kept out of the city despite it's bravely signed "Ring of Steel". There's obviously clear and present danger, it's just a matter of when.

Every hour or so, as I either slept, worked on my book, or wrote in my diary in my room, I'd hear the Gurkhas climbing the metal ladder on the corner of my wall outside, to go onto the roof and do the usual hourly check. It was strange, there were heavily armed guards in sandbagged shelters all around, snipers on the corners of each wall, enormous concrete walls topped with barbed wire, heavy thick metal gates, and security to get through at the entrance, including sniffer dogs, and yet I was immune to them. It didn't bother me. I would see them, feel glad they were there, and go on my business.

I wondered if it was because I'd been living in such an emotionally destructive war zone that this, by comparison, seemed relatively straightforward. I knew exactly where I stood in this war zone; all the weapons used were out in the open. You knew exactly where you stood and if you didn't like it, you could leave.

You cannot drive along Jalalabad Road without feeling both humbled, and troubled - an incredibly busy road groaning with overcrowded mini buses; dilapidated, rusty Russian cars; intimidating war machinery; fancy 4WDs; bedraggled beggars; dusty, grim shops fashioned out of corroded old shipping containers selling vegetables, meat, or general wares.
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At one stage a guy on a motorcycle tore up next to us and rode for some time at our side. I noticed our driver, without fuss, carefully steered us well away, just in case. Suicide bombers often use motor cycles. I was always grateful when we returned to the compound safely. Our Afghan drivers were excellent and very careful, forever looking after our welfare. Yes it's a bit scary, and yet in a way I wasn't scared, I don't know why but I felt quite at home in the crazy ragged streets that are Kabul.

I got to know the cleaners, cooks, and gardeners who worked in the compound. One woman told me she lived in Kabul during the time of the Taliban and the city became virtually empty, life seemed to stop; there was no music, no women in the streets, and no laughter. People fled into Afghanistan's regions, or to Pakistan and Iran. Many have returned, others continue returning, because the situation in Afghanistan has improved, and continues to improve.

I interviewed a butcher who, to my surprise, told me he hates the Taliban and Islam but pretends, and prays with his wife and children every day or his father would kill him. He once worked for a foreign aid organisation and can't return to his village because the Taliban sent his parents a letter saying they'll murder him if he returns, "These people are not human. The tanks brought peace to our country; we don't want them to leave."

There were many others during my twelve months, men and women, young and old, who expressed exactly the same sentiments. They don't want the Taliban back, ever, and they want the international forces to stay until Afghan military and security forces are fully trained and able to cope with a crisis, ie. the potential return of the Taliban.

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