I feel I am in the midst of a change in bearing. My research and, resultingly, engagement with Afghanistan is shifting in its theme and scope. As the PhD project continues to take shape, I can see my researcher role changing drastically. Therefore, this current trip to Afghanistan is going to be entirely different from what I had envisioned, in ways I cannot yet articulate. I apologize for this vague introduction to this new phase of my life, but this is very much the reality of what I am feeling.
I arrived in Kabul last evening, and was lucky enough to immediately begin catching up with old friends and contacts within an hour of landing. I am comfortably settled in a guesthouse, with attentive and kind staff and drivers all around. It has so far been quite lovely to reconnect with the cleaners, cooks and drivers who take such good care of me. Former NGO colleagues, some of whom I have not seen in almost three years, have also been here to say hello. Tonight and over the weekend I will catch up with the expat side of my social circles. I am fortunate to arrive in Afghanistan and feel it is a homecoming of sorts.
Kabul seems comfortably familiar, yet there is a sharp edge of unfamiliarity in the heightened tension and escalating frustration in the air. I experienced a similar sensation when I was here in May, when the reality of volatile markets, rising oil and food prices and increasing economic disparity became all too clear to me. Though I have only been here less than a day, I already see and feel that the tensions and frustrations are higher, with most people having lost hope for a secure future. I can see it in the faces of the street vendors as well as on those of Afghans who have gainful employment. The latter group of Afghans do seem appropriately relieved that they are employed, a status highly coveted in this failed/failing economy.
On the lighter side of things, the weather here is immensely enjoyable--sunny, mid-20s, and today the sky is a striking azure blue. I'd love to say that I'll go for a walk this afternoon, stretch my legs and soak up some of the city, but I won't. I will take stroll through the garden instead. This evening I am off for a BBQ at an old friend's house.
The weekend looks as though it will be filled with both work and play. Formal and informal gatherings will hopefully fill the next few days before I head north.
I plan to stay in Kabul until Monday, at which time I will hopefully depart for the north, traveling either directly to Maymana or through Mazar-e-Sharif. I will stay in Maymana, Faryab's provincial capital, for a month, during which time I need to select the district and villages in which I will research over the next 11 months. This selection process will require input from national, provincial and district authorities, and, most importantly, from local leaders and powerholders. I must ensure that the authorities and community members are comfortable with the presence of a foreign woman over quite a long period. Obviously the last thing any of us need is me being somewhere I am not wanted. By the time I return to London in mid-November, I hope to have finalized which 3 or 4 villages will collaborate on this research project with me.
So, here I am, navigating the bend in the river that will lead me further along my Afghan journey. Stay tuned to this page for more on how it is all progressing.
Here is a map to help in your imaginings of my work: