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Zen Peacekeeper.







What I’m up to

Thursday, July 12, 2007 by Marianne Elliott

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In case you were wondering, I haven't walked away – not yet. But I have moved. Yesterday I moved to a new duty station. We are opening a new office in Ghor province and I'll be based here for at least three months. From Kabul to Herat to Chaghcharan, Ghor – I seem to be heading further and further away from the big city and out into the reality of the rest of Afghanistan. I'm happy about that.

I've written about Ghor here many times. It has been a province that has captured my heart from the first time I came here. So when they were looking for a volunteer to come up here and support the new office (and when everyone else was looking in another direction to avoid being selected) I volunteered.

This will be my new home – apparently it will be finished by Friday and I'll be able to move in. They are building four little self contained units. I'll have my own wee kitchenette, bathroom and dining room as well as my bedroom. A welcome change from the guesthouses I've lived in for most of the year and a helf I've been in Afghanistan. My colleague, the Security Manager for our new office, will be in another of the units and the remaining two will be for our other colleagues when they visit from the head office in Kabul or the regional office in Herat.


The engineers and carpenters are working hard on getting the job finished – here is the head carpenter installing a kitchen sink. He and I have been trying to figure out together where to put the washing machine (yippe, a washing machine, a new luxury for me) and realised that the engineers who designed the accommodation units must have been men because they have put the plumbing for the washing machine in front of the cook top so that I would have to lean over the washing machine when I'm cooking.


The guys who were putting together my bed thought it was strange that I was given such a big bed for one person. I can see how excessive it must seem, but I am not complaining.  Check out the real mattress, a huge improvement on the foam slabs I've been sleeping on for 18 months, yippee! I guess the supply section felt there should be some advantages for the girl who volunteered to move to Ghor.


In the meantime we are frantically working on getting the office ready for business – this posting obviously means that the internet is connected, one big tick on the "to do" list. Another requirement before our big boss arrives on Saturday morning for the opening ceremony is to have the compound compliant with our security guidelines. I suspect that this will need repairing…


I'm not very good at this – I don't really like mess and chaos very much. Not for the first time I wonder why I do what I do given the personality I have. I could have a nice, neat, controllable life in New Zealand without sudden moves to remote provinces with last minute construction hiccups and dust everywhere. But really I know why – partly it is because the pay off, when it comes, is worth it. Those days when I know that I've made some kind of contribution in a setting where people are not getting anything like their fair deal in life. Partly it is because I don't believe we can be sure of nice and neat and in control no matter where we are. I could live in New Zealand and pretend I'm in control of my life, or I could live here and look the reality that I'm not in control in the eyes, make friends with it.  Get a tiny taste of what life is like for most people in the world, who live without the "buffer" of money and infrastructure.

So I get overwhelmed by the chaos and then I recover. I like to think that my "breaking point" is moving further out each time as I learn little by little to let go of my expectations and relax into things.

But the putting up buildings is only the first and in many ways the least important step in the work that we have to do here. Ghor is a remote province that has been largely neglected by the central government and the international community. The population suffer from extremely harsh winters and then equally devastating droughts in the summer.

There a some significant exceptions to the general neglect and the people of Ghor have worked hard to make the most of those opportunities when they arise. I have always had a sense of possibility in Ghor, it is a relatively secure province with a population who are crying out for some assistance to develop their infrastructure and basic services. I hope that our office can make ameaningful contribution to this effort and I look forward to expanding my work beyond my usual human rights mandate into the broader development effort.


For more on Ghor province – read here

For more on Chaghcharan town – read here


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8 Responses to "What I’m up to"

  1. Mandi says:

    Wow, sounds like a great move! I just finished (last night) reading “The Places In Between” by Rory Stewart, and I thought the highlight was his walk through Ghor. Uncanny timing — if I had ready your post before that book, your new location would not have registered for me at all. All the best!

  2. HiK says:

    I’m so excited that you get your own space! Yay!
    Ghor sounds so exciting…

  3. AnnieElf says:

    I am so happy to read that you are in Ghor for however long it may be. I feel a sort of spiritual connection to the place. Should we start planning for woolies again?

  4. Paris Parfait says:

    I’m glad you’re making this move and will have a few “luxuries,” aka basic necessities in Ghor. It sounds like a more positive environment, where they want change. xo

  5. ceanandjen says:

    I always say that everything happens for a reason. I find it interesting that this opportunity came up right at this time when you have been questioning it all, especially since you feel that way you do about this province. I hope that good things manifest while you are there, both for the people around you, as well as for your soul.

  6. Swirly says:

    Bless you a million times over for the work you are doing and the difference you are making. I am sitting here in my studio in southern CA in awe of you!!

  7. susanna says:

    Wow. You are one couragous, strong, generous woman, Frida! You’re right – there isn’t any guarantee that life would be nice and neat and in control back home in New Zealand (or any other western nation). I think you are brave to look reality-in-Afghanistan in the face and become friends with it. Not many people would do that. I think many of us dream of making a big difference in our world, becoming a hero of a sorts. You’re actually doing it.

  8. fatemeh fereidooni says:

    dear frida,
    I have worked in chaghcharan for about one year. I am interested to keep in touch with you more.
    I will be glad if you contact me.

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