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Zen Peacekeeper.







Alive and loving it

Saturday, June 9, 2007 by Marianne Elliott

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Yesterday as I left Bangkok international airport without my suitcase I sat in the taxi into town feeling a little too tired and a little bit sorry for myself. So I opened my handbag and pulled out a bar of chocolate that my friend/colleague had brought back for me from her recent trip to Colombia. Maybe it was the effect of the cocoa and sugar hitting my bloodstream, or maybe it was the realisation that I was in a taxi in Bangkok eating chocolate bought for me in Colombia, but suddenly I had a flash of how incredibly fortunate I am to live the life I am leading.

Here is a whirlwind rundown of my last few days:

This week was not a pleasant week at work, the second female journalist in a week is killed. Although the first killing seems likely to have been motivated by family conflict (she had apparently refused to marry someone and he may be the suspect arrested by police this week) this second murder was of Zakia Zaki. Zakia was 35 years old (my age) and had run the Peace Radio since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. She was also headmistress of a local school and ran for parliament in 2005. The motive for her murder has not yet been established but there are many speculations including in relation to her ongoing rivarly/conflict with a member of the Wolesi Jirga and to threats she had received about her reporting. I also spent time this week adding up the count of civilian casualties in the conflict since the beginning of 2007, this is not happy work.
(I can't insert links today, but here is a story about Zakiya's murder –,,2096815,00.html)

Before I know it, it is Wednesday afternoon. I'm frantically trying to get all my work finished in time for a Thursday am departure on RnR, when we are suddenly all evacuated from our offices without time to get handbags (mine contains my passports). The rush is fully justified as a fuel tanker outside our front gate has been found with an IED (improvised explosive device) attached.

We spend the next four hours in the compound behind ours, waiting for the IED to be successfully defused so we can go back in and finish our work. I'm also waiting to get my passport! Neither is possible and we are eventually sent home, me with an unfinished "must-do" list and a passport to collect before my 7am check in the next morning. But in the meantime I have met the second-in-charge of the NZ Embassy in Tehran and had my chance to lobby him for a permanent NZAID representative in the NZ PRT in Bamyan. I met the Commander of the NZ PRT and when he expressed an interest in spending some of his discretionary funds on gender projects managed to connect him to a friend who is working on women's rights in Bamyan. I met the UNIFEM country director and established the beginnings of a collaboration on gathering data about violence against women, and I met a UNDP officer working on the Counter Narcotics Trust Fund and connected her to a journalist friend writing a book on opium. All in all a relatively constructive period of security lock-down.

I spend the evening in a bar saying a farewell to a much loved friend who is leaving Afghanistan for good, and meeting more interesting people. It is well near impossible to go to a social function in this city without finding people whose work intersects with mine, and I almost always leave with business cards and the beginnings of potential collaboration, if you are a born networker like me this is a kind of professional bliss.

The next morning my driver shows up at 5.30am – which is a good sign because his car had also been shut up in our compound last night – and yes, the bomb has been defused and I am allowed into my office to finish up some urgent work and to pick up my passport and running shoes. By 7.30am I'm at the airport and on my way.

Thursday afternoon is spent whizzing about Dubai getting my haircut, my nails manicured, my legs waxed and my eyebrows threaded. I even manage a flying visit to Zara to pick up a sundress for Thailand. By 5.00pm I'm back at the hotel having a drink and a debrief with a colleague based in the volatile south eastern part of Afghanistan. I always enjoy some decompression time in Dubai with folks who know what it is like leaving Kabul and shifting gear before meeting friends in other parts of the world. It helps to have worked some of the madness out of your system before turning up at the wedding in Italy (in his case) or the yoga retreat in Thailand (in mine).

After a fantastic seafood buffet in Dubai I'm off to the airport again, flying to Bangkok via Sri Lanka. My bags only make it as far as Colombo but I am in Bangkok by Friday afternoon. The self-pity moment in the taxi is probably attributable to having had only 6 hours sleep in 48 hours, as well as to the cumulative impact of all that counting up of dead civilians (my boss comes back on one draft with a question – can you break down those numbers by type of IED? A perfectly valid request but in the instant one that made me see how grusome my work was becoming)

So here I am, without a suitcase, but wearing my fabulous new Zara sunfrock. Worn out by the work of documenting death but feeling so very lucky to be alive and to be living this kind of life – never at risk of forgetting it for too long!

PS: I just got back from Asia books where I picked up my copy of "A Thousand Splendid Suns" along with a copy of "The Kbul Beauty School" which was written by Debbie Rodriguez (who used to cut my hair in Kabul) together with Kristin Ohlson ( So I've got some good reading to look forward to once we get to the island.

PPS: This maybe more detail than you want, so stop reading now if you are squeemish. But the relfexologist who prodded at my feel for 90 minutes last night told me that my colon is in trouble. I know that colons don't like Kabul, so I'm not surprised, but I am thinking that a week long cleansing retreat is about the right thing to be doing now. Here's to a happier colon in a week's time.


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12 Responses to "Alive and loving it"

  1. Jolene says:

    Just keeping up with all those acronyms must be exhausting for you pet!!
    Rock and roll Thailand.

  2. lacithecat says:

    Been thinking of you a fair amount lately, but will drop you an email when I get a moment.
    Ah … and where is the suitcase now?
    Have a lovely retreat.

  3. tiny noises says:

    How exhausting and how amazing. I am almost finished with A Thousand Splendid Suns. We’ll have to discuss later. . .
    Have a great retreat! m

  4. homeinkabul says:

    That is certainly a whirlwind and I’m happy that you are going for a break. The Colon Association of Afghanistan will be protesting your reflexologist. 🙂

  5. Everything starts in the colon, they say- have a great time of cleansing and replenishing and nourishing and peaceful times! You deserve it, dear friend!
    I was so sorry to hear about Zakia as well- learned about it from Tara’s blog.
    Stay safe,, dear friend…

  6. ceanandjen says:

    Well, first, I did a cleanse last week, and am continuing on with a cleaning/detox diet for the next three weeks, this information was actually exactly what has been on my mind as of late! *wink*
    But, more importantly, I am so so so happy that you are away and have the wonderful retreat to look forward to. I believe that this will do you good in every way possible, and I am just tickled for you. Have a wonderful, peaceful, relaxing time.

  7. susanna says:

    Wow. Your future biography is going to be a bestseller, Frida! I’m in awe of what you do in Afghanistan – it takes courage and strength to work in a warzone, particularly when you don’t have to but rather, choose to do so. I hope that you have a fabulous, rejuvenating time at the spa. 🙂

  8. Frida, I’ve been in Kabul for two weeks and am utterly swamped with admiration for the work you and so many others do in this country. It’s so hard for me here. Of course, I’m sure that part of this is that I don’t know HOW to get anything done and how to get around; the other part is that I’m on my own, not part of an organization. But no matter who you are and how long you’ve been here, I think it’s hard. It’s especially hard when I read the collection of news articles about Afghanistan that get sent to me every day– then it’s way too easy to be paralyzed by fear. There are many good things going on in this country and I’m trying to write about a few of them. Still, I so admire those of you good people who continue despite the grimmest of difficulties.

  9. AnnieElf says:

    Hi Frida, I’ve been reading right along all these weeks but have not been commenting much. So dropping in to say “hello” and let you know that I will be at Powell’s next week. On the evening of Monday the 18th, I’ll be thinking of you. Imagine a wave from west to east at my next blogger meet-up. We will be toasting you with tea and coffee.

  10. Swirly says:

    All I can say is WOW…what an extraordinary life you are living! I hope an invincible shield of safety surrounds you wherever you go…and that you always have chocolate. 🙂

  11. Paris Parfait says:

    Thank goodness no one was hurt with the truck and IED! As for the rest of it, sounds like a mixture of bliss and stress. Hope the trip provides the relaxation you need and deserve! xo

  12. Anthony Soyer says:

    Frida, I came across your blog quite by accident or is it coincidence? I was doing a search on Google Image for ‘Spirit 54’ having seen this lovely boat on the new Bond film. Your name struck a chord and so I looked further.
    I am impressed by how much life you have lived! I was born in Auckland and have too long been away from home – studied Medicine in Sydney and then began a world pilgrimage or vision quest looking at healing – with lots of stops and starts.
    Your travels, your work and memories of NZ have touched me.
    I wanted to say Hi.

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