With an election fast approaching in Afghanistan the presence of the country in our news is stronger than ever. We see it on our TV's everyday and read about it in our newspapers. But what do we actually know about the country? Behind the bombs?
The people. The expats. The animals. The culture.
At the end of 2013 I was asked to head the UK team working on a timed endurance run from Kabul to The Kennels in Goodwood. Having worked with Mission Motorsport for two years now Afghanistan and Iraq have become countries I hear about more than any other. This was a project I wanted to take part in. All monies raised going to the charity and the chance to raise the profile too.
When I first met the Shorsec Racing K2K team I was adamant I wanted to go out there. To do the trip with them. It was like a burning desire to get my teeth into something I have seen so much destruction come out of. I have seen the effects of war. I have spoken to soldiers who have been blown up, in comas, recovered and then wanted to go straight back out. I've spent days trying to work out why. What would pull you back into something that bit you so hard? I have heard Majors talk about how beautiful it looks at sunrise or sunset. But all I have ever seen of Afghanistan is war. Death. Loss. Cruelty.
Two things put me off going out to Kabul to ride the K2K trip in the end. Firstly, I am a mother. I find the idea of mothers putting themselves in unnecessary danger when they have children hard to swallow. Secondly a phone call from Chris, the man leading the expedition later this year, during some kind of attack going on outside his office.
I've never felt so cold in my life. When you hear people talk about their time in Afghan, when you see it on the TV, there is a detachment. Its like watching a film almost. Until you have a real connection to it you can't really imagine it. When that phone call came I was sitting in my car outside Sainsbury's Local.
"I thought you'd like to hear Kabul at night" said Chris in his beautifully clear, calming voice.
At first I listened. To the guns. The way I listen on the TV. Cracking noises that hurt your ears but don't seem to go anywhere. I heard people talking and even though Chris sounded quite relaxed, I began to realise I was not.
There was gunfire and what, with my limited understanding of weaponry, sounded like grenades being flung on the streets right by the office and I was listening to Chris and his team get their guns together to go and check it out. It was getting close.
The reality of Kabul hit me. There. In the face. Suddenly I had a connection with Afghan. Someone I cared very much for was there. It was real.
I got off the phone and cried.
I know what Chris was doing. It was time for me to understand I simply couldn't go on this trip. Not only would I be putting myself in danger, I would be putting the whole K2K team in danger.
Over the months we have been preparing for the trip Chris and the team have kept me updated with photos and stories about daily life in Kabul. The team have new offices. On Christmas day Chris took a walk through Kabul and took photos of the locals. There is an interesting and varied social scene in Afghan that we know nothing about.
When I hear his stories, see the photos, it reminds me there is a whole other side to the country. A side we rarely get to glimpse at. There is a history we forget. Chris sent me a photo of three girls walking through Kabul in short skirts. Taken in 1970 before the Taliban regime. It's hard to believe this place ever existed before the bombs and destruction came.
Its a funny sort of a place. From October until January this year it has seemed quite peaceful - for a war-zone - I have watched the team prepare for their trip and heard stories of the social side of Kabul. Always knowing what a dangerous place it is but almost becoming relaxed to it. And then suddenly, out of no where, change.
The news has reported of attacks in Kabul. Three in the last week. Suddenly things have gone very quiet out there The team are doing their jobs. Heads down, focussed. All in a moment the peace I felt with Kabul has gone. Like a slap in the face.
It is one of the most intriguing places on earth to me at the moment. I don't want to think of the cruelty of Kabul. I want to see the beauty within that. The kindness and the hope. Its hard to see that. But the small glimpses I get from the K2K team, the stories on their website about the animals and people living with a country at war, gives me a glimpse of the real heart of that country. A small slice not tarnished by Taliban. Bombs. Politics. War.
For more information on K2K and to follow this fascinating journey check out the guys on Twitter and go to their website. The team are looking for donations here and also for sponsors. Please get in touch if you would like to be involved in this incredible endurance adventure by emailing me Nancy@NotNowNancy.co.uk