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For Mr. B

Saturday, February 16, 2008 by Marianne Elliott

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Grave at a shrine in Herat

This morning I got an email from a friend in Ghor. It hit me like a blast of raw emotion.

"Life in Ghor, I had to get DM involved in a female detainee case…. the case stinks!! The girl was engaged and ran away with another engaged policeman and they were caught in Kabul by 2 or 3 other police men… She has been in prison for at least a month. The defense lawyer is having problems getting to see her. The prosecutor went to the Governor for help with keeping "visitors" from entering the prison…. a lot of village elders and religious leaders want her dead, but denying the lawyer access to the prison….. I also have some very sad news: Mr. B was kidnapped by the Talibans on the southern ring road and the rumours are that they killed him… so human rights wise we are not too well of in Ghor at the moment."

The email goes on – describing situations in which I was until recently deeply involved and people with whom I worked for 18 months. Mr. B – in particular – was a very close colleague. We talked, met and worked together most days during my time in Ghor. I am still reeling from the shock of learning that he has been kidnapped and probably killed. I keep catching myself thinking about how scared he must have been and it just causes me so much pain that I know I have to stop.

How can it be possible to reconcile life here in Wellington, with my ukulele playing friends, with life in Ghor?

The challenge of finding a way to live in New Zealand again after being changed in profound ways by my work in Gaza, Timor-Leste and Afghanistan some days seems like an impossible ask. An impossible task.

This week Jose Ramos-Horta was shot (and seriously wounded) and then the rebel leader in Timor-Leste was killed in a clash between rebel fighters and the Prime Minister's security police following the assasination attempt. This happened the day before I met an old friend for dinner. I had helped her get a job working with Ramos-Horta four years ago when I was still involved in Timor-Leste. She went on to work with him for two years and is still in Dili working on human rights and good governance issues.

All through dinner I was aware of the impact the shooting must have had on her, and yet I was unable to stop talking about myself – about the experiences I had in Afghanistan and how I was trying to adjust to life in New Zealand. I was embarrased at how I dominated the conversation but could also see how badly I needed to talk to someone who could understand a little what I was going through.

Every day I go to the yoga studio and take my place on the mat. It is – at the moment – the only place where I really feel at peace. As I practice I am able to quiet the commentary running in my brain and simply be. Most days the teacher invites us to set our intention for the practice or to dedicate our practice. I realise this may seem strange or self-indulgent to some people but today it was comforting to me to dedicate my practice to Mr. B's family.

I'm learning.

I'm trying to learn.

I think that I can live here again, but I haven't quite worked out how yet. I'm pretty sure that if I am patient and gentle and not too demanding the wisdom will come in its own time. I'm also pretty sure that concentrating on yoga, meditation, writing and photography is the right approach for now.

I took on a job this week. It took me onto a film set where Jame's Cameron's new movie Avatar is being filmed. I had a simple role that demanded very little of me intellectually or physically. But it involved long hours on the set. Today after reading the email from Ghor I called the production coordinator and quit.

I felt this morning as though I had betrayed the people I left behind. They respected my decision to leave because they agreed that I should spend time with my family and friends, they agreed that I should take some time to rest and they supported my plans to pursue my own creative dreams and my plan to study psychology. What would they think of me coming home to work on a film set? It was only ever a short job – 8 days. But after I read about Mr. B even 8 days suddenly felt like too much time to be spending doing anything other than what I believe in. So I'm back on track.

Deep down I believe that I can make changes in the world by deepening my own compassion, by learning how to more consistently practice loving kindness in the world and by learning the power of being fully present in every moment. But the feelings come in powerful waves – feelings of guilt, sadness and anger. I'm learning to ride the waves, not to resist them, and I'm trusting in this process.

Some beautiful things are coming together, I plan to share more about that in the coming days. For today, I'm just holding my seat. If you pray will you please pray for Mr. B (in case he is still alive) and his family. Thank you.


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22 Responses to "For Mr. B"

  1. susanna says:

    I just read this post and I’m sending you an email…

  2. homeinkabul says:

    Uff, that’s heartbreaking. I am going to spend a few hours praying and recharging today and will keep him in my prayers.
    All I can say is that I think it is important for you to enjoy being with your ukulele friends. One of the reasons that you worked in human rights is so all people can enjoy the unconscious bliss of feeling safe and being with loved ones. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy it also. Sing a little harder for those that can’t.
    It hurts me to think that you are feeling guilt over the beauty that is in your life, especially when you need it to replenish. If quitting the PA job feels right to you, then I support it, even though it was GLAM! ;).
    I am sending you an email soon but please know that I am sending you my good vibes.
    Hik (h)

  3. Hi Frida..
    I’m sitting in our office in Nairobi and just learned that our partner’s conference center in Eldoret burned last night. Luckily no one was hurt. But it is troubling that they may have been targeted and the young men who had shown up just before the flames had asked for a man linked mainly to our relief effort on Mt. Elgon. You feel like you can’t trust anyone over there right now. Hopefully it will get better faster than in Afganistan!!
    As I look back, I am incredibly grateful for my time with my family and friends back home. Please feel free to enjoy that. There will always be a need for your compassion in this world!!
    Your work with your photos and writing sounds like something I myself will want to also have time for in the future!! I encourage you to milk it for all its worth. :O)
    Take care, sweet woman…

  4. Di says:

    I’ve been missing your posts, wondering how it was to settle back into NZ. I had started a novel about a woman back there before leaving NZ for Turkey … after Turkey, in the quiet of Belgium, I picked it up and tried to write of how it would be to go home after doing the work you’ve been doing. How odd it was today to come here and find you describing things I had tried to get my head round by reading people like you, like war photographers and journalists over time.
    I wish I was back home and could come listen to you, just to try and capture what I want to understand.
    Be safe and don’t be too tough on yourself. You’ve already done remarkable things.

  5. susannah says:

    my arms are around you right now… can you feel them? xo

  6. tiny noises says:

    oh Frida, I am also holding you close right now. So very very close.
    xx. m

  7. amy says:

    sending you positive thoughts and all my best wishes. i thought of you and your colleague during my own yoga practice this morning. i don’t know you but have had the privilege of reading your words and seeing your beautiful photos. it seems to me that you have a wise, kind heart and will always be doing good no matter what form it takes.

  8. John Mullis says:

    Will pray for Mr B and also for you that you find peace in the direction you choose to follow. I was shocked on returning from 2 years in Albania how false and shallow life back in the West seemed. Im now more shocked that it all seems so normal.

  9. Laini says:

    Frida, I am so sorry to read about your colleague. My heart goes out to you, and to him and his family, in hopes that the rumors are not true and he will yet be okay. Big hug to you!

  10. Penny Hodgkinson says:

    Please please don’t be so hard on yourself – the human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith once said we judge people – ourselves and others – by their worst behaviours – enjoying friendship is a positive behaviour and one you have fought for others to have – your compassion for others has always shone through your posts – sometimes it is enough simply to be and not to have to do – but we are very bad at being and not doing… I have no experience similar in any way to yours – i live in UK in the country and work with children with special needs – reading your blog has always been a privilege – I pray for your colleageues and their families – to have touched them with your own life may be your greatest legacy – your writing has certainly touched me

  11. Alexandra says:

    I agree completely with Laini. Most people would never ever do what you have done. Nothing erases the lives you have helped and I will pray for your friend. Its so hard to understand why anyone would harm someone trying to help their country but I know its so much more complex than that. As for returning home, even though I was in no way a war zone but rather peaceful, if very poor, Bulgaria, I found coming back too MUCH harder than going there. We in the western world have just so much at our fingertips and it seems and is very unfair but its not your fault and you are actuallyone of the few who care enough to make a difference. I’m sending you a hug and wishes for some inner peace and love.

  12. SaraB says:

    I’m so saddened by this news. I’m praying for Mr. B and his family and all the people of Ghor. And Kandahar, for that matter. And I’m emailing you now…

  13. Swirly says:

    My Dear…I am so sorry about this news and am sending you hugs. I was inspired by your immediate response of quitting the film job….that is powerful indeed. I love you.

  14. Julia says:

    “Deep down I believe that I can make changes in the world by deepening my own compassion, by learning how to more consistently practice loving kindness in the world and by learning the power of being fully present in every moment. But the feelings come in powerful waves – feelings of guilt, sadness and anger. I’m learning to ride the waves, not to resist them, and I’m trusting in this process.”
    I just recently found your blog and this resonates with me so deeply. You have done amazing work, and will continue to do amazing work in the world, whatever form that takes. I will send my prayers to your friend.

  15. schmoops says:

    oh honey, i just read this right now. my thoughts are with mr. b, and i am awe-inspired by your bravery to just quit your film job. your integrity is inspiring.

  16. chocolate covered musings says:

    sending you all my thoughts and prayers and hope for a safe return of Mr B to his family.

  17. liz elayne says:

    i am sending prayers out into the world for mr. b and his family…
    sending light and peace to you…

  18. megg says:

    …praying for him and his family!! I’m also trying to send you some peace – but it occurs to me that that is not where you are at the moment. You are inspiring for sticking to your guns – no time to do anything but what you believe in. I wish I had HALF of your conviction.
    loving you and sending you energy – to use as you need.

  19. annieelf says:

    I will pray for Mr. B. Living or not, prayers have value and the soul benefits. Every thought is a prayer, Frida.

  20. Frida, I heard about Mr. B and my second thought was wondering if you knew him and had worked with him. He and his family certainly are in my prayers. As for Jose, I think I told you before he is a longtime friend, since 1979 in New York. I was shocked to hear he’d been shot. But Jose is a fighter; his spirit is strong (yet gentle) and I think ultimately he will be fine. Latest I heard is he’s holding his own and improving daily. Am just now catching up w/ your blog – last time I came here, you hadn’t written anything since returning to NZ. xoxox

  21. Alex says:

    My Dearest ~ You’ve got so much righteousness in you! I’m sorry about MrB, his family and about how all that affects you. Something hard to fully grasp from the outside, not having experienced what you have… So I’m just hugging you and wishing you a bright colorful path towards your new dreams. A path without guilt or resentment. You deserve a happy stone at every step of your way! You are truly an amazing human being ~

  22. Thea says:

    Tears spill for Mr B. as does the guilt that somehow his story/kidnapping seemed to impact me more because I know you knew him well.
    This level of tragedy is so intense as must be the inevitable guilt that arises from being able to leave that horror to visit friends and family in a more peaceful place.
    Reading your experience-feeling connected to you and then reading this from a personal view overwhelms my emotions with a mixture of feelings I can’t seem to untangle or make sense of.
    I have tremendous admiration for your dedication to being there in body and now spirit-to help-to radiate your love and heart onto such beatiful people, stuck in such unfortunate circumstances.
    My words feel so inadequate, but I am sitting here with my heart full for you. I know you will find a way to manage all of this.

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