I had lunch with an old friend today. Scott was one of the very first people I met in Afghanistan and during the six months I lived in Kabul we became close. Close enough that when I inscribed his book today I wrote:
For Scott, who I like too much to have put in my book.
Not because I don’t like the people who do appear in my book. But because it would have been hard to write about my friendship with Scott without feeling that I was exposing a man who chooses to keep himself pretty much to himself.
He resisted flicking through the book while we talked. He was kind enough to tell me that he was choosing not to flick through it so that we could talk, not because he wasn’t deeply curious.
And then, as we said our goodbyes, he picked up the book, glanced at me and said:
I’m scared of your book.
I laughed. But really, I understood exactly what he meant. I could have reassured him that there was nothing about him in the book. But I knew he’d realise that as soon as he read the inscription. And I also understood that he meant more than just ‘I’m scared of what you might have written about me.’
The truth is, I’m scared of my book as well. I’m scared of the effect it might have on some people. How it might be received here.
I’ve done my best to protect the identity of anyone who I thought might be harmed by the information in my book. But inevitably someone here is not going to be happy about how I portrayed them.
And then there’s the fact that I didn’t write my book for Afghanistan experts. So bringing the book here and sharing it with them is scary. At least as scary as the security situation.
I sat in a cafeteria at a UN compound yesterday with three very smart women – each in their own way an expert on Afghanistan. At least one of them is the kind of person whose analysis I turn to when I want to really understand what is going on here.
We were discussing my book. One of them read the back cover and said something like:
I hope you didn’t let them make you dumb it down too much, focus too much on the relationship, on the yoga. Because if you did, you’ll lose people like us. People who know.
I didn’t write this book for people who already know what is going on and I don’t expect them to enjoy it as much as people for whom the subject is new. But these are my peers, my former colleagues, and I hope they will at least find my analysis sound, that they’ll still respect me after they’ve read my book.
Another of the women responded before I could.
It’s not written for us. Marianne didn’t write this book for people like us. Which is lucky, because there aren’t enough of us to make it a bestseller!
I was grateful for her comment, and told her so as she walked me over to her office to check my email. She assured me that it made perfect sense to write the book for a wider audience, and that I shouldn’t feel I needed to justify that choice to anyone.
I’m just amazed at your courage. I don’t think I could write such a personal book. Or if I did I’d have to go and hide in a cave for a long time.
Which is probably the most common response I get to my book from people who have any experience of the UN system, or the international humanitarian or development community generally. Because they know that this entire sector is one big village. Everyone know’s everyone, and once my book starts making the rounds of the UN compounds of Kabul, everyone will know the details of my darkest days in Afghanistan.
So that’s the really scary part of this trip.
But I remind myself of what Brené Brown said in her TEDtalk:
“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.“
Which is precisely why putting my book out into the world took more courage for me than working in Afghanistan. And why bringing it back here may be the bravest thing I’ve done in a long time.