I lay in bed my first night in Kabul listening to the loud thoo-thoo-thoo of a chopper passing nearby, while simultaneously music was blaring from a large, typical wedding hall draped in strings of colourful flashing lights – green, blue and red – so in contrast to its intimidating scale and unbroken concrete exterior. My heavy, floor to ceiling bedroom curtains held off the sun even well after it rose. It was not until about 6.40am a single, deep sounding ‘boom’ forced my eyes open as I was dozing in and out of sleep. It seems there is no need for an alarm in Kabul when you have explosions to wake you up. Unsure of what had happened exactly, and having been warned the night previously that such events were a rarity I quickly fell back asleep. After a bowl of cherrios and discussing the morning’s activities with co-workers I posted the ‘it seems there is no need for an alarm in Kabul when you have explosions to wake you up’ statement on Facebook – following a sequence of online updates written in a similar style and humour from days and weeks previously. Though this one caused an uproar of mixed emotions. It seemed now that I had crossed the border and was physically in Afghanistan it was not appropriate. I would later regretted writing it, for the shame and disapproving comments imposed on me, stripping my confidence, making me question my ethics and undermine my coping mechanisms. Yet, looking back now I perhaps regret erasing it even more. In today’s global society everything is politically sensitive, can be taken out of context and represents more than ones self – despite it being a singular opinion. Singular. Mine.
I did not go through years of education, internships, applications, jobs and international relocations ignorant and oblivious to serious global conflict, poverty, disease, war, and political and religious unrest. All of those years have led to this moment. I am here by choice, at the sacrifice of my security, of my freedom, of my financial gains and so much more – in return for the understanding of a different culture, a different way of life and the people you never hear about. My contract stipulates outputs that include working closely with beneficiaries to give them a voice, to make known their quality of life, before and after help is provided. But in the process, I must not lose my own voice. I retain respect, I do not judge. My voice finds irony and a glint of humour on subjects and topics we all know too well as being unfortunate, extreme and devastating. And while my compassion to suffering never ceases, we cannot simply accept that life must stop too. I am here as much as those we are helping are. Right now everything is new, everything will take a while to make sense, everything is happening all at once – and to think otherwise, or pretend otherwise would be foolish. As much as not expressing them would be. Through the lottery of birth I did not grow up in a developing country, a third world or what ever you want to class ‘non-western’ as. But that does not mean I have not experienced a very real world, first hand. It was survival that brought me here: to humanitarian work, to Afghanistan and to develop my perspective of the world favouring humour over guilt and depression. We all mourn, but we must also learn to laugh as we move forward or we will never move on.
When the day comes for friends and family to stand in front of a congregation and give a speech before I am buried six feet under, I want stories of how I impacted their life, how I inspired them to leave their comfort zone for the sake of someone else, how they went out to learn more about the world and its people and different cultures – not of how politically correct my Facebook updates were.