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Deborah Smith Headshot

The Reactions of Others

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Telling people about the job in Afghanistan was a fascinating business. Some said, don't go, you're mad. This is fair enough; I felt the same, initially. Others are more critical - I'm being foolish (it's dangerous), unfair (I have a partner and two teenage children), it's a lot of work (am I up for it), and even questioning how I got the job (was it advertised or handed to me by a mate?).

One good friend who worked as a journo for 30 years said, "What an opportunity! It's only for a year, your kids will be fine and well looked after by their father; you must go."

I've just finished reading an article about an English engineer who's spent most of this year working in Afghanistan with only one visit home in seven months. They interviewed his wife who's home with two kids. Absolutely no judgement was passed about him for his choice. In her words, "I feel exceptionally proud of him....because it's a big sacrifice to be there. When I think of the work he is doing in Afghanistan, I do feel the effort is incredibly worthwhile." She tells her younger son, "Daddy has a very important job and he needs to go away and help people." I suspect some people weren't quite so generous when my family and I made our decision, I know some thought I was a bad mother for "neglecting" my children. Surprisingly, some women with kids later told me how much I inspired them and saw me as a role model. Now that I'm here in Afghanistan, this honestly helps enormously.

What's also interesting is how few people asked the circumstances surrounding my decision - why, how, for how long, reaction of the boys, my partner, the difficulty in making the decision. Was I embarking on something so frowned upon, or misunderstood, they couldn't at least ask about the current situation in Afghanistan out of simple curiosity, if nothing else?

My sons' reactions were cool. My younger boy (13) was upset, he thought I'd be away for a year, but when I explained I'd be back every six weeks for two weeks he thought for a while and replied, "Does that mean we can afford to buy a flat screen TV?"

My older boy, 17, was amazed. "Wow Mum, that's fantastic, what an honour, well done." Me - "But M, it's dangerous in Afghanistan." He - "Yes, but so long as you promise never to leave your work area. If we hear you've been leaving the compound.......we'll kill you!" He laughs, "Besides, how many other kids can tell their friends their mum works in Afghanistan? I promise to cook and clean and help Dad with the lil'un. I'm cool with it."

By this stage I suspect I'm more impressed with him than vice versa. My incredible tribe, I knew I'd miss them.

The response that will stay with me forever however, was my father's. I was hesitant to tell him as I knew he was going to miss me, and me him. He's 87; we get on well and enjoy each other's company. I started off by giving him the background: it's a full-time, permanent position with a respected international organisation, I've been applying for jobs with them for several years without luck, had three interviews for this position and finally been offered it, the work is interesting and rewarding, every six weeks I'll be home for ten days. He sounds delighted for me. Then I tell him where it is.

After some delay he started to cry.

"Are you crying because I'm going away Dad?"

"No dear, I'm weeping because I'm so proud of you."

Merci bien papa.