Friday, March 09, 2007

I've moved...

Finally, frustrated at my own inability to figure out how to make Blogger work for me, I've moved to Typepad. Please come meet me here

Thursday, March 08, 2007

International Women's Day

Today, 8 March, is International Women’s Day. The theme for this year is ending impunity for violence against women. Not surprisingly this is an issue about which I am fairly passionate. Here in Afghanistan the levels of violence perpetrated against women and girls is heartbreaking. Worse, the victims are almost entirely without any recourse to justice, protection or even an escape.
But as striking as the problem is here in Afghanistan, the women here are not alone. Women all over the world, including in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, are living with violence.

Some statistics about violence against women and girls:

  • Violence against women is the most common but least punished crime in the world.
  • Globally, women between the age of fifteen and forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die as a result of male violence than through cancer, malaria, traffic accidents or war combined.
  • At least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Usually, the abuser is a member of her own family or someone known to her.
  • Domestic violence is the largest form of abuse of women worldwide, irrespective of region, culture, ethnicity, education, class and religion.
  • It is estimated that between 113 million and 200 million women are demographically "missing." They have been the victims of infanticide (boys are preferred to girls) or have not received the same amount of food and medical attention as their brothers and fathers.
  • The number of women forced or sold into prostitution is estimated worldwide at anywhere between 700,000 and 4,000,000 per year. Profits from sex slavery are estimated at seven to twelve billion US dollars per year.
  • It is estimated that more than two million girls are genitally mutilated per year, a rate of one girl every fifteen seconds.
  • Systematic rape is used as a weapon of terror in many of the world's conflicts. It is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 women in Rwanda were raped during the 1994 genocide.
  • Studies show the increasing links between violence against women and HIV and demonstrate that HIV-infected women are more likely to have experienced violence, and that victims of violence are at higher risk of HIV infection.

I find the thought of it overwhelming, this violence going on all around us all over the world. Violence against women is a crime, whether it is perpetrated by family or strangers, in the public sphere or behind closed doors, in times of peace or conflict. States have an obligation to protect women and girls from violence, to hold accountable perpetrators and provide justice and remedies to the victims. I spend a lot of my working time to assist states to better fulfill this obligation, and holding them accountable when they do not. But ending violence is not just the Government’s responsibility – everyone in society, men and women, has a responsibility to act when confronted with such violence. Today on International Women’s Day I urge you all to take action to prevent this violence going unnoticed, unpunished and unhindered. Find a small step that you feel comfortable taking:

  • volunteer to train to be the contact point for women and girls in your office or school who have been bullied or harassed;
  • report the domestic violence going on in your apartment building to the police;
  • approach a domestic violence victim support organization in your community and ask for their suggestions;
  • make a donation to an organization working to help women who are recovering from violence in war-affected countries;
  • paint, draw, photograph or write about violence, or about ways to end or recover from violence.

I’m sure you’ll think of a hundred more ways to take action to end violence against women. Share your ideas and inspire others.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

What I learned while lying on my yoga mat this morning


One afternoon in Herat, originally uploaded by frida world.

This morning I had a lovely moment – a moment in which I saw how some things which had seemed separate from each other were converging in a wonderful way. I saw that what I am exploring and learning now (through yoga, through meditation and through my new art journal) is not separate from my work here. Instead all these things help face the challenges of this kind of humanitarian work, the challenges of working as a ‘helper’ in the context of conflict and widespread suffering.

Recently I emerged from a period in which I had been running from my own pain, districting myself from my own sadness. One day I realised that this sadness was not going away, instead it was growing. As long as I tried to avoid it I was not allowing myself to accept the feelings. One day I saw that I had to acknowledge it, and from there, with the help of my friends and family and many people who read this blog, I was able to move to a place of sitting with the feelings (as painful as they were). I came to accept my own fear, my sadness, my pain and my confusion. I took the time to learn what those feeling had to teach me.

Out of that process came a renewed commitment to being present in each moment and experience of my life, and a renewed desire to cultivate a practice of letting go of my sense of responsibility for the outcomes of my efforts. I made a promise to myself to put this commitment into practice through 21 days of a morning ritual of 15 minutes of meditation.

But there was something else, something that I hadn’t dared articulate until I was sitting on the couch talking to the Commander yesterday. What I finally admitted to myself was that I had emerged from that painful process with a much greater sense of detachment from my work. What I said to J was that I was no longer sure that my heart was in this job. I know that detachment is a quality to be cultivated, and that part of my letting go would be an increased sense of release from responsibility. But this felt uncomfortable to me – as though the pendulum had swung too far the other way and I was crossing that line between letting go and giving up.

Giving up my responsibility to act rightly, to act in a way that embodies compassion for others and that makes the greatest contribution possible to alleviate suffering and increase equanimity and happiness, is not an option for me. These commitments go to the very core of who I am and what I believe. So what should I make of this new sense of detachment?

Some answers have begun to emerge from an unexpected place, i.e. from my morning rituals of letting go. It is unexpected because I think I still confuse letting go and giving up. But I am learning.

I’m coming to the close of a week of practicing my new morning rituals. This has grown from my first intention, which was to sit quietly for 15 minutes every morning to practice letting go. Those first 15-20 minutes of quietness every morning are opening me up in ways that leave me with more to do with my morning before I am ready to jump in the shower and dress myself for the outside world.

Each morning has been a little bit different. One morning, after breaking my previous ‘time barrier’ and sitting for 20 minutes of stillness and release I was filled with a sense of joy and celebration. I filled pages of my journal with words that celebrated the things that I am joyful about in myself. I put Peaches and Herb on my iPod and for five and a half minutes I ‘shook my groove thing’, dancing gleefully around my bedroom.

The next morning I came out of my meditation feeling quiet and gentle, I wanted to draw with my new pencils and I wrote a letter to myself in the future. I told myself about my hopes and dreams for myself, explaining what I was doing now to nurture those dreams and (because this is what I felt) I told myself that I had complete faith in myself to live the life that I dream of i.e. a life that embodies compassion for others and that brings maximum good to others and to the world; a life filled with love, joy and laughter, with friends and family; a life that is healthy and balanced and filled with fun, adventure and creativity. My dance that morning was slow and gentle, stretching out the muscles I had worked so hard with my yoga teacher the night before.

This morning I decided that I was ready to start thinking about what my meditation can be beyond simply (and importantly) letting go of all the things I hold in my body. I dug out some CDs given to me by a yoga teacher in New Zealand. Wow, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect message for me this morning. The CDs are about bodhicitta – I won’t pretend that I can translate in one sentence the sense of bodhicitta that I got from the teachings I listened to this morning. The message to me was about cultivating a mind of great compassion, of wishing for all sentient beings to be free from suffering, and about cultivating my own enlightenment in order to be of maximum benefit to others.

Specifically for me, this morning, the message was about how we can allow more bodhicitta into our lives. The teacher talked about the need to stop running away from the places and feelings that scare us, the need to resist building walls to protect us from knowledge that is painful. She reminded me that I need to be present in those difficult and scary experiences and to be willing to allow them to renew my “soft spot”, to replenish my compassion.

I still don’t know whether the detachment I am feeling is a healthy equanimity or whether I have built up some less healthy walls to protect myself from the suffering that is all around me here. But at least now I know that this is the question that I want to ask myself.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Technical advice welcome

Okay folks, I've upgraded to the new Blogger template because it lets me do all sorts of nifty and timesaving things. However, as you may have noticed, I can't work out how to put my lovely header image into this template. If anyone knows how I would love your help! In the meantime please excuse the odd visual effect.

Patience is rewarded

Annie has been waiting patiently for news about the boxes she has sent to us of woollens for the children in the orphanage in Ghor. Today I got news from Ghor that five of the boxes have arrived, filled with hats and socks and gloves and scarves. We've just had a very cold snap, bringing lot of snow to Ghor (some of my colleagues have been stuck up there for almost a week). So these woollies have arrived in time to make a real difference. If you made a contribution to Annie's boxes then know that they are now in situ and will be ably distributed (no doubt more efficiently than I managed) by Magnea and Julija (of Iceland and Lithuania respectively). For those of you who made financial contributions, I am planning to use that money for school supplies. I think that Annie pulled together nine boxes of woollens, so that ground should be well covered. The Director of the orphanage specifically asked me for notebooks and pencils/pens etc. I feel pretty sure that you would all be happy with that, no? Also on the theme of patience rewarded, I have been patiently popping into Jolissa's blog (Busytown) over recent months waiting for her to decide it is time to return to the screen. This week I found her there in vintage Jolissa form. If you haven't read Busytown before then I recommend a visit. Jolissa is the older sister of a dear friend, and when I met her in person during a visit to New York four years ago (to celebrate my 30th birthday) I discovered a woman of intelligence, warmth, and wit. Her blog covers the many facets of the life of a writer and scholar with two small children, living far from her home country and family. All that with a sense of humour, curiosity and fun. Oh yes, my patience has been rewarded. I've been indulging in lots of blog exploration this morning, it is a little bit like my equivalent of strolling through town, stopping into inspiring independent art galleries and bookstores. Also this morning I started playing with my new pencils, in my new journal. I have never in my life tried drawing, but with the Commander's encouragement and the help of a book from his mother, I'm having a go. So far, so much fun!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Letting go: Part II

Today I have some happy news and some more reflections. The first news is that I've broken the 17 minute mark! I have had this problem with meditating for more than 15 minute. I'd get to 15, 16 or 17 minutes and suddenly started to fidget and find an excuse to stop. Well, not any more. I have sat quietly and practiced letting go for two mornings in a row as part of establishing a new practice of surrender. I'm doing this for 21 days to give the practice a chance to take root. I'm taking this one step at a time and for now I'm just practicing the art of letting go physically. This morning I set my alarm for 20 minutes after I started, not expecting to go that long but knowing that I needed to be done by then in order to get on with my day. Next thing I knew my alarm was sounding. I've done it! The barrier has been overcome. Who knows how long I will sit tomorrow, but now I feel that anything may be possible. My second piece of happy news is that the wonderful woman who gave me the Mary Oliver poetry compilation that I talked about in my last post has started her own blog. This is really exciting for me and I am looking forward to getting to know her better through her posts and to having the chance to cheer her on from a distance in her incredible work and life (I also hope to learn the secrets of her equanimity). My third piece of happy news is that Laini's book has had it's first review, and it is a very, very good review. If you are a fan of Laini Taylor (I personally am a huge fan, in fact she is my girl-crush of the year, along with the marvelous Alexandra) then read this wonderful review of her book and then see if you can resist going directly to Amazon to pre-order your very own copy. I know I can't. I've also been thinking about my holiday and extracting a few lessons. Some are very simple, like the old and oft-repeated lesson about the pitfalls of trying to fit too much into too little time. I'll probably never be that person who plans to do nothing on their holiday, and then does exactly that. But I will keep trying to remind myself that I actually cannot be in more than one place at a time. Also I'll try to remember that when I want to do three things at once it is unfortunately unlikely that simply throwing them all together to make one event will result in a happy mix. But the deeper lesson is about letting go. When I look back over those two weeks I see so many moments in which I was unable to let go of things that were getting in the way of my own relaxation. Even when the people around me were telling me not to worry about them, even when they were looking me in the eye and saying "you are not responsible for our enjoyment of this holiday", I was unable or unwilling to release myself from that sense of responsibility. I had invited some very special people to join the Commander and I on this holiday - the Commander's best friend C and his partner M. It was such a long way for them to come from Portland, Oregon to New Zealand. It was also going to be their only real holiday for a very long time. They got stuck in LA on the way, and were delayed for two days. It was a horrible start to their holiday and cut their time in New Zealand even shorter. So by the time they arrived I had decided to ditch my plans to combine their tour of New Zealand with visits to see my beloved tribe in Wellington and instead focused completely on the beach holiday that they so deserved. There were other options, I could have let them find their own way around for a few days while I went to visit my lovely ladies in Wellington and then met them again on the way back. I could have taken them to Wellington with me and found some decent surf beaches in that part of the country. But I had an idea of what would be the best holiday for them and I wouldn't let go of that. Nor would I let go of my sense of responsibility to make them happy. I had a wonderful time, we visited some of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand. I had a go at surfing, and we hand-fed stingrays (reviving my long-held dream to be a marine biologist). We ate fish and chips and drank Gisbourne chardonnay in Gisbourne. We swam in lakes and in the ocean. M and I went for several runs along the coast, and for walks through native bush and up to a hilltop lookout with amazing views along the coast. When our muscles were complaining about this sudden burst of activity we went for a delicious massage. We played cards late at night with red wine and chocolate and I introduced them all to my favorite ice cream, the New Zealand classic Hokey Pokey. Yes, I had a wonderful time, and enjoyed their company immensely. But I also had moments of regret that I was in my home country and not hanging out with my own tribe. As wonderful as these guys are I was longing for the company of people who have known me for so long that I don't have to wonder whether they are understanding or misunderstanding me. I also had moments in which I felt resentful that they were not helping me plan, that I seemed to be the one constantly left to make decisions and plans. In retrospect, and to some extent I could see this even as it was happening, I know that the reason they were not planning is because they didn't need to plan. They were very content with simply being on holiday and did not have high expectations of doing or seeing very much. It was me who had the expectations, and so it was me who was making the plans to meet those expectations. Sigh. I keep coming back to this lesson about letting go. I find it so hard, and yet (tempting as it may seem) I don't think that the answer is to let this lesson go. So instead I'll take it one baby step at a time, starting with my 21 days of taking 15 minutes to sit in quietness and practice releasing the tension I hold in my body. By the way, one lovely upside to being off-line for two weeks is the treat of having so many wonderful posts to read on my favorite blogs all at once. I'm glad that my big meeting in Kabul was postponed because it has given me space to ease back into my work gently and time to catch up on the other things that make my life here work (like reading your blogs and doing yoga). In fact I'm off to do a session of yoga with my new-found yoga buddy and teacher now.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Back and puzzled (Sunday Scribblings)

Wow, I've been gone only two weeks and yet it feels like a lifetime. After 36 hours of travel from Auckland to Kabul and then a very slow flight on the ancient Antonov aircraft via Kandahar I finally arrived back to Herat this afternoon. Waiting for me were more than 350 work emails, a meeting set up for an hour after I landed to address a case in which one young man has already died and several other are living in fear, and a staff member in jail after being involved in a car accident in which a young child was injured. So that's the end of the beach holiday then, I guess. I was really reluctant to return this time. For the first time ever in my experience of mission work, of travelling to and from duty stations and of saying all those goodbyes, this time I was uncertain that I really wanted to be leaving. I wept as I embraced my darling younger sister and said goodbye, perhaps this time was just one time too many, or perhaps it was just the knowledge that this place has been a place of sadness and struggle for me in the past few months and a reluctance to come back and face that. I came back with lots of puzzles, and above all with the puzzle of how to do this, how to live in the place and do this work while maintaining my own sense of well-being and inner calm. Looked at from one angle this puzzle seems very complicated, and to require getting lots of little pieces all in the right places, at the right time, in the right balance and for the right amount of time. But from another angle it seems that the puzzle can only be solved by trying less, by letting go more, and by the very simplest of approaches, like breathing and resting and finding joy wherever it is to be found. Along with this puzzle, I've come back with some new insights, some new ideas and new approaches. Perhaps most importantly of all I have come back with a growing sense of emergence from the dark, sad place that I found myself in for much of the past two months. I'm still a bit jetlagged and my home and bed are calling to me - but I wanted to share three things that I found on the plane during my journey back. The first came from a wonderful gift from the gorgeous and thoughtful Alessandra who sent me some of her worry dolls, along with some other lovely treats including a copy of Yoga Journal magazine. I read it from cover to cover on the plane and found all sorts of wonderful reminders and new ideas for how I can continue on my journey to discover how to live this crazy life of movement and conflict and yet remain grounded and at peace within myself. One article by Sally Kempton about surrender and the practice of letting go particularly challenged me. I read and write and talk about letting go, but when I am honest with myself I know that I don't practice it very often. What I found especially helpful in this article was the discussion of the difference between letting go and giving up. I am going to keep thinking about this difference. A fear of giving up, of abdicating my responsiblity to make a difference in the world, is a significant part of my resistance to letting go. So it was helpful to read a story about a yogi who learned that "a true karma yogi is not someone who goes belly-up to higher authority; instead, he's a surrendered activist - a person who does his best to help create a better reality while knowing that he is not in charge of outcomes." That is an insight that I need to remind myself of in my morning meditations, which I am promising myself every morning for the next 21 days (thanks to Meg and Thea for the inspiration to use 21 days as a time frame to let this new habit take root in my life). The second place in which I found some words that my heart and spirit recognised was in a book of poems given to me as a gift by a woman who I am getting to know because she is the partner of my boyfriend's best friend. It is a lovely and unexpected treat to find that she is just the kind of woman with whom I would want to make friends wherever and however I may have met her. She gave me a copy of Mary Oliver's collection of poems "Dream Work" and I found myself drawn immediately to this poem: The Journey One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice - though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles "Mend my life!" each voice cried. But you didn't stop. You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations - though their melancholy was terrible. It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones. But little by little as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice, which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do - determined to save the only life you could save. The third place was in a booklet that had been left on the UNHAS flight from Dubai to Kabul, it is a little book called "The WFP Field Staff Companion" and it discusses the challenges of field life in a difficult mission like Afghanistan. It includes some very sound practical tips about things like exercising and maintaining close contact with friends and family at home, but it was the section on burn-out and coping after trauma that really resonated for me. Here they explained the symptoms of burnout and of traumatic stress and I felt once again that little shock of recognition, they could have been describing exactly my experience in the months following my experiences during the assassination of Amanullah Khan and the ensuing battles and casualties. There was very little here that I haven't read, or been told on many previous occassions, but now I was reading it with a little bit of distance from the experience and it seemed much easier to see what I had been going through. Again they recommend relaxation and avoiding self-judgement. Which brought me all the way back to the magazine Alessandra sent me, and a article about the importance and health benefits of resotrative yoga. Even further back, it reminded me of the words of a teacher from the Yoga centre in New Zealand where I took some private instruction when I was home for my sister's wedding last year, very soon after the trauma of the fighting. I had asked my teacher Jude for some intensive teaching on the Ashtanga primary series, in the hope of lifting my pratice of the asanas to the next level. She, in her wisdom, gave me some of this, but also insisted on spending some of the sessions focused on restorative yoga and yoga nidra (mediation). She saw my discipline and my drive to achieve and succeed. She acknowledged this as a positive along with my physical and mental strength. However, with kindness and good humour, she also suggested what I needed was not help to push myself harder into the difficult poses, but help to learn to relax and let go. So my 21 day gift to myself (I'm not going to call it a challenge, because somehow that seems too much like the kind of effort I always make, and this time I want to be easy and kind and gentle with myself) is to practice meditation every morning and some restorative poses every night. During my meditation I will practice letting go - not giving up on my commitment to do all that I can to make a better reality, but letting go a (false) sense of responsibility for the outcomes.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

When godwits fly

I'm winging my way south for the winter, like the lovely Godwits that nest at Parapara beach in Golden Bay. Right now I'm sitting in the lobby of a cheap hotel in Dubai (a city where a cheap hotel is hard to come by!) waiting for the Commander to arrive. I came on a morning flight and have had time to get a manicure and pedicure, buy some delicious healthy treats at the supermarket and soak in a lovely bath reading my book for an hour or so. I've got my glow back on and I'm ready for a little summer break in Aoteroa/ New Zealand. The Commander was working in Kabul this morning and is flying in on an afternoon flight. I'm expecting him any minute and hope we'll go out for a lovely dinner by Dubai Creek, or to a movie. For the next two weeks I'll be introducing him to my friends, family and homeland. I'm hoping the sun will come out and New Zealand will show itself off at its summery best. But even if it rains everyday we know that we'll have a wonderful time. If the weather won't cooperate with beach plans then we'll sit in cafes and eat dinner in seaside pubs. We'll go for long walks and visit Hobbiton and celebrate my niece's fifth birthday. I won't have much opportunity to write here or to visit any other blogs for the next two weeks, so I'll be looking forward to catching up on your adventures, creations and wise words when I get back. Love, Frida

Monday, February 05, 2007

Tribute: Imogen

Immy, originally uploaded by frida world.

Imogen has had more reason to hate me, to resent, avoid, and disdain me, than anyone one else (as far as I am aware). Perhaps others have felt they have had reason, but I know that Imogen has had reason. Many years ago I received some information that I should have passed immediately to Imogen and I didn't. I made that decision at the time out of confusion and uncertainty, and believing that it was the best way for me to deal with a very bad situation. I was wrong. My decision compounded the already bad situation and also allowed it to continue. Imogen suffered, terribly. When, years later, I finally found the courage to tell her what I had known all along she was, understandably, furious and hurt and betrayed. By not telling her I had become complicit in the original wrong. For some time I thought that our friendship was over. But instead Imogen did something extraordinary. She forgave me and gave me the chance to earn back her trust.

Since then we have rediscovered the things that attracted us to each other in the first place, our similarities as well as our differences.

We have sometimes frighteningly similar taste. More than once I have bought a new skirt or top only to discover that Immy has something eerily similar. On at least one occassion we have separately purchased the exact same garment. I was given custody of some of Immy's things when she went on mission to Liberia and they fit so beautifully into my home that I could have easily imagined owning them myself.

We also do similar work, in similar kinds of settings, motivated by similar values and driven by similar beliefs. We both find similar aspects of this world (of development and humanitarian work) disturbing and similar aspects incredibly motivating. We've made some of the same mistakes and discovered some of the same truths.

But I have to point out that for all these similarities I think Immy is much more stylish than me, and a much better writer. She is smart in some ways that I would love to be, but have come to accept that I am not. I also find her fabulously funny, which is a quality I value very highly in a friend.

Above all, though, I will never forget what it must have cost Immy to forgive me and to let me back into her life. I will never stop being grateful for this second chance and for the extraordinary friendship that has grown out of it. I have many wonderful friends, but Immy has a very special place in my life and my heart because of the difficult road we trod together to get here.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Goodbye

1995 Goodbye David Goodbye my husband, my love. Nobody else knows the young woman I am today like you do, and no one ever will. You have been my friend, my love, my playmate and my confidant through these crazy, fantastic years of our youth. Through death and loss and grief you have loved me. Through confusion and doubt you have always stayed close. We set out on this adventure of life together. We cast our simple but surprisingly sturdy little boat out into these turbulent waters. You have never failed me, nor betrayed my trust in you. We have tried everything that we could think of, we have tried and then tried again. No, we have not failed each other, but we have come to the end of our trying. We are worn out, exhausted and sad, so sad. Goodbye my lovely philosopher. Goodbye my friend. 1996 Goodbye New Zealand Goodbye my homeland. Goodbye my turangawaewae, my place to stand. As long as I know you are here, I will never be lost. But now I need to leave. I need to be away from here. Suddenly you seem too small to contain the pain that is burning within me and the desire that is bursting out of me. I could drive through one day and a night and come to the edge of your beautiful shoulders. I need to go further. I need to spread out my arms and not touch the edges. I need to get lost in a sea of strangers. I need to stand in the middle of a desert so vast I can sense the majesty of the universe and imagine being lost in it myself. I need to cast myself into the world with no one beside me. I need to discover again what I can do alone. Though I will always return to you, though I belong to you, goodbye Aotearoa. 2001 Goodbye Gaza, Goodbye Israel Goodbye courageous Gaza, do you know that you’ve captured a part of my heart. I will never truly leave you. I will also never again be the girl I was when I landed here and you embraced me in your warm, passionate arms. Goodbye crazy, wonderful Gaza, but how can I leave you like this? Your streets are in flames and your children are fighting again. Goodbye my beloved Gaza, and all my friends here. Goodbye Bassam, you were so kind to this stranger, you and Donia and the girls, there are no words for what you gave me. Goodbye Raji, you pushed me and pulled me and stretched me and tested me, you taught me what I was capable of and yet never managed to toughen me up. Goodbye Ibrahim, I sat in your house three times every week as you taught me Arabic and how hard life can be here. Goodbye Tariq, and Jehan and Ala, you opened your hearts and your homes to me and taught me how to live in this place. Goodbye Sharifa, you came to be my housemate and we discovered we were soul mates. Goodbye Ross, you were with me from the first day and you have always been here, letting me sit in your studio while you work. I have always known that I could rely on you for some sanity when I was losing mine. Goodbye Mehdi, you shared a little of your soul with me and reminded me of my own path. Goodbye Amanda, Eva and Imogen, goodbye Tim, Bahaar, Ludvig and Vincent. You have been my sisters and my brothers here for almost two years, through the disagreements and tensions and laughter and tears I have grown to love you. Goodbye Israel, because I love you too though you drive me almost insane. Though your army in Gaza breaks my heart a hundred times everyday. Though your soldiers and checkpoints have reduced me to tears of anger, desperation, and deep sadness. Goodbye Israel and Aviva, Asaf, and Tamar, you are family to me and your home is my home. Goodbye darling Adomy, my lover and my friend. You have always been ready with a story, a cinnamon roll and a sweet kiss, to nurse me back into wholeness after weeks of the madness of life here. Goodbye Rachel and Assaf, my cousins. Your lives ‘on the other side’ are so very far from mine, but you have still opened you arms to me. Goodbye Jerusalem, goodbye Al Quds. No other city has moved me as you do and I will never recover from this first love of your pinks and greys, your sounds and smells, your soul. Goodbye beloved Gaza, goodbye Israel. Thank you for all that you have taught me, for all you have shared with me and for the grace and good humour you have shown to a young, na├»ve do-gooder. Goodbye and may you have justice. May you have justice and peace, the blossom of justice. 2001 Goodbye Vaughn Goodbye Vaughn, though those words stick in my throat. I have so many other things to say to you before I am ready to say goodbye. Like “Why?” and “Why?” and “Why?” Like “She loves you” and “We all love you”. So I won’t say goodbye. I can’t say good bye, years from now I will still not be ready to say goodbye to you. I watch my beloved sister grieve for you with an intensity and pain that I cannot bear even from where I sit, once removed. Goodbye Vaughn, though it is not your time. Goodbye sweet Vaughn, because although the words still stick in my throat it is time to let you have things your way. Goodbye. 2002-2005 The frequent flyer mile years. Goodbye Auckland, hello Wellington. Goodbye Wellington, hello Sydney. Goodbye Sydney, hello Darwin. Goodbye Darwin, hello Dili. Goodbye Dili, hello Darwin. Goodbye Darwin, hello Sydney. Goodbye Sydney, hello Wellington. Goodbye Wellington, hello Auckland. Goodbye Auckland, hello Wellington. Goodbye Wellington, hello Sydney. Goodbye Sydney, hello Darwin. Goodbye Darwin, hello Dili. Goodbye Dili, hello Darwin. Goodbye Darwin, hello Sydney. Goodbye Sydney, hello Wellington. Goodbye Wellington, hello Auckland. Goodbye Auckland, hello Bangkok. Goodbye Bangkok, hello Wellington. Goodbye Wellington, hello Christchurch. Goodbye Christchurch, hello Wellington. Goodbye Wellington, hello Santiago. Goodbye Santiago, hello Buenos Aires. Goodbye Buenos Aires, hello Sao Paulo. Goodbye Brazil, hello London. Goodbye London, hello Oslo. Goodbye Oslo, hello Amsterdam. Goodbye Amsterdam, hello Athens. Goodbye Athens, hello Wellington. Goodbye Wellington, hello Bangkok. Goodbye Bangkok, hello Tel Aviv. Goodbye Tel Aviv, hello Jerusalem. Goodbye Jerusalem, hello Ramallah. Goodbye Ramallah, hello Haifa. Goodbye Haifa, hello Tel Aviv. Goodbye Tel Aviv, hello Bangkok. Goodbye Bangkok, hello Wellington. Goodbye Wellington, hello Sydney. Goodbye Sydney, hello Darwin. Goodbye Darwin, hello Dili. Goodbye Dili, hello Darwin. Goodbye Darwin, hello Sydney. Goodbye Sydney, hello Wellington. Goodbye Wellington, hello Denpasar. Goodbye Bali, hello Wellington. Goodbye Wellington, hello Auckland. Goodbye Auckland, hello Wellington. Goodbye Wellington, hello Kabul.

My grandpa Archie

2005 Goodbye Grandpa Goodbye darling Grandpa, I wish I could have said this to you before you went. But I understand that you have been saying goodbye to me, to all of us, for months now. I knew it even then, when you squeezed me a little bit too hard, held my hand for a little bit too long, and looked me in the eye and told me again and again that you loved me. Goodbye Grandpa, I understand that you were ready. But do you understand that we were not, that we never ever would have been. Grandpa, can you believe that they have made me godmother of your namesake, little Archie? Goodbye beloved Grandpa, but please don’t stray to far from me, if this Archie is to be even a fraction of the man you were then I’m going to need all your wisdom to guide me and all of your love to pass on.
With my godson, Archie
2006 Goodbye Marc Goodbye beloved Marc, yes I’m going on this adventure for the both of us. I’ll be back soon to tell you all about it in person. It’s true, I don’t know if I will be able to bear being away from you while you set out on your journey to beat this cancer, to fight your way to the long, happy life that we both know will be yours. You know that I am only a phone call away and I’ll be on the first plane if those doctors start abusing your human rights again (if they steal your voice again, write me a note!). I’ll write you long and hopefully entertaining messages about life in Kabul to read when you are recovering from chemotherapy. Goodbye Marc, I promise I will even learn to sit still so that I can practice those healing meditations for you. Good bye my friend and my brother, see you soon. 2006 Goodbye Kabul Goodbye Kabul, goodbye new friends, new home, new job and new life. It seems I have barely settled in and yet here it is again, time to say goodbye. Goodbye Horia, my heroine, you have shown me what people mean when they talk about grace under fire. Goodbye brave Shinkai, you trusted me and gave me the chance to discover something new about myself. Goodbye Kate, Sarah, and Rachel. Goodbye Monday night yoga and Thursday night ladies’ drinks. Goodbye to my women of Kabul, you have cried and laughed with me, you have so quickly come to know me. Goodbye Timur, Kai, Tamim, Wagma, and Azma. You have shown me what hospitality should look like and you have taught me a little about growing up Afghan in America. Goodbye Jamie, Sarah, Jeremy and Scott. You have made me laugh when the pipes were frozen over and when it seemed the report would never get written. Goodbye Javier and Herman, you have taken me on as your housemate and made me feel like your star. Goodbye Nellika, you offered me a home away from home. Goodbye Norman and Mala, you offered me your doggy trust and helped me learn to be less afraid of all dogs in the process. Goodbye Mohammedullah, Shapour and Azim, you have endured having this strange and sometimes unpredictable Haraji as your manager with good humour and generosity. Goodbye my Kabul life and, deep breath, hello Herat.

Friday, February 02, 2007

One week in Badghis

This week I’ve had the wonderful pleasure of working with a good friend, the lovely, hardworking and very competent Kate. It has been a busy and often challenging week as I simultaneously:
  • managed the logistics for the workshop Kate has been teaching on criminal justice, with a focus on gender issues;
  • delivered my own 'introduction to human rights' workshop for all the staff of our new Badghis office;
  • monitored and supported the Attorney General’s “Campaign Against Torture” as it was carried out in Badghis; and
  • followed up on a series of individual human rights cases with police, prosecutors and the Chief Judge.
But despite the heavy workload, the physical challenges of a mission to Badghis and the mental and emotional strain, it has been a wonderful week. Firstly, and most importantly, I've been doing all this alongside Kate, whio is delightful company and a caring friend. Secondly, I feel this week as though we are achieving something positive, Thirdly, and possibly as a result of the previous two points, I’ve had a week mostly free from the oppressive presence of the black dog. Warning - this is a long post – it has been a long and very full week! The emotional strain noted above comes from dealing with the individual cases. One related to eight men charged with the murders of five health clinic staff but who have now been detained for months and months beyond the legal time limits. These murders sent deep ripples of fear and sadness through the development community in Afghanistan when they took place last year. The victims were Afghan staff of an NGO running health clinics in an otherwise unserved district of Badghis, they were shot and killed by armed men who burst into the clinic compound and opened fire. Eigth months later, after the charges against these suspects were found to be without substance at the primary court, they are still detained and awaiting the hearing of the appeal by the National Security Directorate. I lobbied the NSD Prosecutor and the Chief Judge and received assurances that a trial date will be set this week. My concern is not only for the rights of the detainees (although this is a serious concern especially given their aquittal at the primary court trial) but also for the families of the victims who badly need some sort of resolution. Another difficult case was that of a young women who died after burning herself in desperation after years of domestic violence. Her parents do not want to press charges against the husband. Fortunately in Afghan law they don’t need to, the police and prosecutors have an obligation to investigate wherever there is an indication that a crime has taken place, but sometimes they need a little bit of encouragement. Kate helped me explain to the prosecutors the legal basis on which they could proceed - with charges of assault being relatively easy to make out, and a possibility even of a more complicated but not impossible charge of murder or incitement to suicide. The workshop Kate was teaching has been my pet project for months now – ever since I made my first mission to Badghis. I found that it was difficult to intervene with police and prosecutors on many cases, especially cases involving women, because they were not necessarily familiar with the relevant provisions of Afghan law, including the Constitution. Several misconceptions were particularly widespread – including the belief that article 130 of the Constitution gives police and prosecutors the right to refer to Hanafi fiqh jurisprudence (interpretations of the Quran by some designated experts) if there is no relevant provision in the law. In fact this article gives such a right only to the courts. Another widely held view, and one which is usually based on the article 130 argument, is that it is a crime for women to run away from home and that they can be arrested, detained and prosecuted as such. There is no such crime in the Penal Code, and the so-called “crime” is derived from a widely held interpretation of Hanafi fiqh – relying on article 130 of the Constitution. Okay, I’m writing my way into a fairly complicated legal discussion here which would require me to discuss the different kinds of crimes in Sharia (Islamic) law, and the particular way in which these three different types of crime (ta’zir, qasas, and hadood) are treated in Afghan law. It is an extremely interesting legal discussion, but probably only to criminal lawyers, Sharia scholars and human rights lawyers. So instead I will summarise by saying that the applicable law in Afghanistan (applying as it does key principles of Sharia law) provides protection for women in many of the types of cases that I often encounter in my monitoring work. Many police and to a lesser but still significant extent, prosecutors are not familiar with Afghan law. If they do know some of the key provisions, they have often never had access to a clear legal analysis of how different sections interact with each other. In my regular monitoring work I often try to raise awareness of these provisions on a case-by-case basis. But obviously a more systematic approach would be better. The Attorney General’s office in Kabul is currently developing a national training and professional development strategy, which will hopefully bring a consistent and national approach to all training for prosecutors. But after a year in Afghanistan, approximately half of which I spent in Kabul and the other half working in some of the countries most remote and neglected provinces (like Badghis and Ghor), I’ve realised that waiting for national or centralised programmes to reach us out here is going to be a very long wait. So I decided to make it my goal to bring the best trainers I could find to Badghis and Ghor. Kate is one of the best, and I'm not only saying that because I am so fond of her, I saying that as a lawyer and someone with experience of training. Not only is she qualified in Sharia law, common law and civil law, she is also intimately familiar with Afghan law and she is a skilled teacher, using participatory methods, like roles plays and case studies, to create a really effective learning experience. My organization doesn’t organise workshops of this kind, so I have no budget for it. Kate’s organization has provided her time and the workshop materials, but everything else – including our accommodation and meals here in Badghis, the tea and sweets, the paper, the pens, and the lovely colour-printed certificates were paid for by Kathryn and I personally. I asked my friends at the Spanish PRT to help out by providing a cooked lunch for the participants each day and they did a great job. The Department of Women’s Affairs gave us a room for two days and then the provincial hospital let us use there large meeting room for the rest of the week. The participants all paid for their own transport to travel from the districts into Qala-e-Naw, the provincial centre. I’m not sure how they were accommodated while in town for the week, I hope that the Office of the Prosecutor and the Provincial Chief of Police helped with that. We didn’t pay per diems which is a common practice here since the official salaries are too low for people to actually survive on them. All in all it was a budget workshop and Kate and I would not have been surprised if turn out had been low as a result. Instead we had the provincial head of the CID, as well as District Chiefs of Police and CID Chiefs from almost all the districts in Badghis. We also had District Prosecutors from all districts and a good delegation from the provincial Office of the Prosecutor. We also had one female Provincial Council member, someone I had met on previous visits because she takes on a role in advocating for women in the legal system here in Badghis, and two senior staff from the Department of Women’s Affairs. Put simply, we had everyone we could have hoped for, all the people who have the power to choose whether or not to arrest and prosecute a man alleged to be beating his wife, or a woman who has been accused of farar az manzel or running away from home. They are also the people who will decide how to deal with a case of rape – which does not exist as a separate crime in the Penal Code, but can be prosecuted under zina (sex outside of marriage) provisions – and who will need to decide whether or not to also prosecute the rape victim for zina (not uncommon). So after months of battling some administrative and substantive barriers within my own organization, and then several false starts when bad weather preventing Kate travelling from Kabul to Herat, she finally arrived last week. We had a lovely Friday together in Herat during which I got to play tour guide and we also enjoyed the relatively balmy weather (it seems the “big cold” is over in Herat, Payman who cooks at our guesthouse tell me so). We visited the famous minarets of Herat and Kate took some lovely photos of the guardian, and of the graves in the shrine next to the minarets. The graves are those of the son of Timur and his wife, a godly woman to whom this shrine is dedicated, and their three children. I also took Kate to my personal favorite, this monument to the ordinary people of Afghanistan who fought against the Soviet occupiers. There are, of course, many different views about the different episodes of Afghanstan's history and I try to avoid giving the impression that I understand any of them well enough to have formed my own. I simply love this monument for it's audacity and it's creativity. Whose idea was it, I wonder, to create a monument out of an actual Soviet tank by simply adding these figures with their pitchforks and their determined faces. On Saturday morning, after a great meeting with the Head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission who was so impressed by Kate that I am hoping I get some credit just for being the one who brought her to town, we set out for Badghis. I have often felt when driving out on road missions that this part of my job feels much more like a mini-vacation. Sure the roads are bone-jangling and there are no public toilets along the 6-7 hour journey (hence the photo of me walking off into the empty distance), but check out this scenery!

We’ve been in Badghis almost a week now and since this post is growing far too long, I’ll just give you a few vignettes. The head of the CID from one remote district bumped into an Afghan colleague of mine after two days in the workshop and told him “I have learned so much. I now know that it is not a crime for a woman to run away from home and I swear to God that I will never again arrest a woman for this reason”. After a guest lecture from our friends in the civilian component of the Spanish PRT (a nurse and a lawyer) on forensic medicine (including the unreliability of virginity tests, for which I give up big respect to my fantastic assistant who had to translate this difficult session) several of the prosecutors asked the nurse if he would come back to give them a more comprehensive workshop on these issues. One night I watched as Kate spent several hours, until 10 o’clock at night, perfecting the design of the completion certificates. She understands that these certificates will be treasured by all participants and will become a feature of their curriculum vitae. She also understood that some colour and good quality card would be considered a sign of the importance of the workshop. Every single moment of the 'introduction to human rights' workshops I ran for our new staff was a gift. They were open to everyone, including the security guards, the drivers, the radio operators, and the cleaners. Along with the pleasure of getting to know them all a bit better I was very grateful for a wonderful illustrated version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights published by our head office in Kabul.

The images are so well conceived and executed that the participants who couldn't read were still able to follow. In fact, one of the my favorite moments was when I directed everyone to the page which set out the right to have an effective remedy for violations of the rights set out in the Declaration and asked the participants what they thought the State was obliged to do based on this right. One of the female cleaners was the first to respond, describing perfectly what she saw in the picture and in doing so giving an excellent answer. Another highlight was when I gave a scenario in which I was monitoring a human rights violation in Qala-e-Naw and asked the participants to tell me everything I was doing wrong. This story caused much amusement, and even the shyest participant (a lovely, gentle security guard who was also illiterate) found the confidence to make a good point about how such monitoring should be conducted. My amazing Human Rights Assistant, R, and I would finish up the two workshops each afternoon and then go off to do our monitoring work – visiting the prison, interviewing victims, meeting with the prosecutors, the Department of Women’s Affairs and eventually the Chief Judge. After one meeting we were walking back to the compound in the falling dusk and I asked R if he was tired. He smiled and told me that he gets tired when he feels we are not making any difference. But if he sees that things have moved forward even one centimetre for one person then he is not tired. I knew exactly what he meant.

Share the love

Thanks to Tara at Paris Parfait for alerting me to the Share the Love Blog Awards - created by Heather at One Woman's World - which are now underway. I am rather stunned and very flattered to learn from Tara that I have been nominated. As she points out, I am in excellent company, including some of the talented folks I was talking about in my last post like: Tara herself; Liz of Be Present Be Here; Alexandra of Marvelous Madness; and Asma of Spelling Tuesday. There is some problem with the site this morning, so I haven't been able to see the nominees myself, but I know that many other bloggers are nominated. So assuming the glitches are soon sorted (which I am sure they will be) then let's all visit One Woman's World to choose our favourites. Update: The news gets even better, I managed to visit the site today and setting aside the trauma of having to vote only once in a category which included Paris Parfait, Marvelous Madness and Spelling Tuesday (Best Writing), I had the pleasure of discovering that Laini of Grow Wings and Alex of Gypsy Girl's Guide are also nominated. Tara says that voting to determine five finalists in each of ten categories concludes at midnight Tuesday, Feb. 6. Voters may vote only once in each category. Finalists will be announced on Wednesday, Feb. 7. Final voting will then continue until midnight on Tuesday, Feb. 13. Winners and runners-up will be announced on Valentine's Day, February 14. So please help "Share the Love" and vote!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tribute: A Banner of Thanks

You almost certainly have noticed my gorgeous new banner. It is very special to me because it represents my own little connection to the beautiful, creative force brought to the blog realm by two of the women whose blogs initially enticed me into this world, and then who inspired me to explore more of the things that make me come alive (including, especially, photography). The banner is designed by the wonderful Denise of Bohemian Girl Designs, whose blog Chronicles of Me first grabbed my attention with it's beauty, its honesty, and emotional and soulful depth and range. Thank you lovely Boho for this gorgeous banner. The photo on the left-hand side of the banner is by Susannah whose photography is one of my very favorite treats and whose blog Ink on my Fingers was the first place I ever dared to leave a comment, so consistently moved and impressed was I by the combination of Susannah's writing, her photography and her insight. Thank you for responding Susannah, you started something! This banner is my tribute not only to these two wonderful women whose examples nudged me out onto the path but also to all the other incredible women whose thoughts, words, images, poems, stories, reflections and adventures have become my quite unexpected and most delightful companions along this journey. Could I ever have imagined, when I started this blog, that I would be communicating regularly with a gorgeous human rights lawyer in Morocco whose wonderful dream is coming to life before our very eyes and whose kindness and understanding has brightened many of my days; or a American writer in Paris whose work in Iraq and other places would enable to her to provide me with much needed words of wisdom and support; or a kindred spirit whose path seems to mirror mine and whose gorgeous words and images seem to put my own thoughts into a more eloquent form than I could ever find; or these special ladies of Portland whose extraordinary talents and passions, and gifts for the marvelous have sustained me and entertained me and inspired me to set my inner-fairy free. Could I have divined that I would met a soulful and worldly wise 16 year old living in Saudi Arabia whose passion for justice and drive to live well would refresh my own sense of possibility for the world; or a fellow traveller whose honesty, wit and intelligence combine with a genuine desire to live right and who though sometimes tough on herself is so very kind to me; or a writer whose words stop me in my tracks, drawing me back in over and over again for more and whose honesty gave me the courage to share my own dark days; or an artist and traveller whose eye for beauty shares with me a little light in my day and whose sense of fun and curiosity leads me on adventures in the Garden State. Would I have guessed that I would join forces with this amazing good soul, whose desire to help moved beyond an impulse and grew into an action that rippled and grew and became a real agent for change; or this angel whose words are so heartfelt, so true that I always feel that if I just reached a little I could touch her and experience the loving kindness of her words in the flesh. Did I ever suspect that just a few hours away in Kabul there were women of this kind of with, who could make me giggle even on days when I had given up on cracking a smile, and whose honesty and frankness about their experiences as Afghan-Americans would give me a whole new perspective on this amazing, maddening, heart-wrenching, beautiful country. No, I could not have imagined, I could not have predicted, I did not suspect, I would not have guessed. I started this adventure only a few short months ago, I knew that I needed to do it. I just thought I needed to do it for completely different reasons. But here I am am, and there you all are and I am enjoying this adventure and all that I am learning from you. There are so many others out there, some new discoveries and some regular treats. I swear there are days when I could stay at the computer from morning til night (or, more likely, from night til morning) simply drinking my fill at the seemingly limitless source of spell-binding blogs. So to Susannah, Denise and Laini - who started it all for me - thank you. The banner is my tribute, along with the Laini's ladies who are flying across the world to join me on my adventure!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Chronicles of a friendship

Mary_01[1], originally uploaded by frida world.

In the days of haze and smoky bars, in a city pulsing with the excitement of a new kind of music, through the cold nights of a long winter warmed by the flames of mutual passions, a friendship was born. This friendship, though newborn, was lusty and cried out in the joy of recognition. In its infancy the friendship was fueled by the excitement of discovering another, an other, who also thought that Middle Eastern politics, post-modern feminism, modern architecture and Victorian literature were all suitable conversation for 11pm on a Friday night at the bar, over endless bottles of red wine, cigarettes and pizza. Yet for all the moments of recognition, of common pleasure - it was also in the differences that much delight was found. The night owl one day finds herself, exceptionally, awake at 8am on a Saturday, and knows exactly who she can call. One learns about the fun of opening nights (thanks Mary, I think I remember them all) and staying up late. The other learns the mysteries of marathon clubs and that LSD has another meaning (long, slow distance). Years go by. The friendship is offered moment upon moment of love, laughter and quiet companionship to sustain it. Through Sunday afternoon movies, walks in the wind along the coast, gallery visits and cards games it grows into its own skin. Through scrabble and sherry and book club, it spreads its toes wide and breathes deeply. Beneath the skin, the strong muscles of the heart are also growing through many small acts of honesty and trust. They are strong enough now to sustain the friendship through the perils of living, through sadness and self-doubt, through loss and grief, through fear and anger. More years pass, and the friendship builds itself a couple of little houses. Each little house has a perfect little table - just right for endless glasses of red wine, and cups of tea and for reading The New Yorker on a lazy, sunny afternoon. Each has a little kitchen perfect for two to cook in - or for one to cook and the second to provide a suitably appreciative audience. Each has a little front porch just right for two to sit or stand and watch the flax - discovering poems amongst the tuis and the piles of rotting flyers. And still the years go by. There are movements and changes and, in the way of that shaky island, there are shifts in the ground on which the friendship is standing. Yet, with those toes spread wide and breathing deeply, the friendship learns to keep hold and - at the same time - to release. To be open to the new, the wondrous, the possible and at the same time to remain grounded in certainty, solidity, in surety. Note: I wanted so much to write a tribute to the astounding Mary Parker this week, but here I have rather selfishly written about our friendship instead. "The Chronicles of Mary Parker, Who Has Never Looked Bad in a Hat" will have to wait for another day, one with a few more hours in it!

More chronicles here

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Off on mission again


Girls group 4, originally uploaded by frida world.

Yay! I'm off on mission again, this time to Badghis province, to the north of Herat. Last time I was there we ran human rights/ child rights workshops for school children, including the adorable girls in this photo.

This time I have two concurrent workshops. During the morning we are running a workshop on women and criminal justice, with the expertise provided by my friend Kathryn Khamsi of the International Development Law Organisation. Kathyrn has been teaching prosecutors and defense lawyers in Afghanistan for 14 months and is fabulously well-versed In Afghan and Islamic law as well as being a gifted trainer.

In the afternoons I'll be running an introductory human rights workshop for all our organisation's staff here in the Badghis office. That will include the cook, cleaner, guards, driver and radio operators as well as the programme staff. I'm looking forward to that, and hope that I can create an environment in which everyone will be willing and able to participate.

Anyway - I will have limited web access so I probably won't be able to update here very often or check in on all of you.

But I will post photos if I can, and look forward to catching up with you all when I get back on Sunday 4th.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Fantasy


Peace on Earth, Herat, originally uploaded by frida world.

I loved this week's Sunday Scribblings prompt and had thoughts about it floating through my semi-conscious mind throughout the long, white night of insomnia on Friday.

But on Saturday I had the chance to get out and walk about in Herat for the first ime in many weeks and I chose that over my writing time. It was a very good choice. I had an amazing time enjoying the fresh air and sense of freedom, and through my camera's lens I saw Herat in a new and fresh light.

But I haven't stopped thinking about this prompt, and I've loved reading some other people's responses. SO I decided that, late though I may be, I would write something about fantasy.

When I first read Laini's prompt I thought about all the ways in which fantasy has enriched my life. I thought about reading "The Faraway Tree" by Enid Blighton as a child, and the magical possibilities that I imagined for my own life.

I thought about "The Hobbit" which gave me a new way to imagine my life, as a fantasic quest in which even the smallest player could make a real difference if she was brave and found loyal companions and stayed true to her principles.

I thought about my teen years, during which I read constantly - devouring books as though they were my sustenance, which in many senses they were. I read sci-fi fantasy and epic fantasy and fairy tales and myths. Sometimes I read to escape, sometimes to explore, sometimes to discover new truths. But mostly I read because it kept me sane in the midst of adolescent madness.

I thought about the years when I was at university and I worked as a "fairy storyteller" - dressing up as a sea sprite, a forest nymph or a fairy and concocting fairy tales and magical experiences for groups of children.

But now I finally find time to sit and write about fantasy, and there is a different kind of fantasy on my mind. A fantasy that sustains me right now.

Somedays I turn on the news and I feel that my heart will implode from the sadness and hopelessness I feel at the state of our planet.

Two nights ago I was on the treadmill in the bunker and BBC World news was on the television. There were stories about the massive explosion in Baghdad, and on the millions of Iraqi refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries. There was a story about the world's depleted tuna stocks, and another about the attrocities in Sudan. There was a trailer for an upcoming interview about Bush's plans to send 20,000 more troops into Iraq.

I was in tears on the treadmill. I wanted to shut off the television. I wanted not to know about these stories. I wanted to be ignorant.

But I'm not ignorant. I watch the news like everyone else. I've also seen first hand the impact that conflict and war can have on communities. The faces in those newsreel can never be anonymous to me, they resemble too closely the people I have met in refugee camps in Gaza and here in Afghanistan. They look too much like the people I saw fleeing fighting in Timor Leste.

Here in Afghanistan I have days when I despair at the lack of progress on critical issues like justice sector reform. There are days when it seems that impunity will be allowed to continue and that a whole new generation of victims will have to live with seeing the people who have violated their rights gain wealth, power and privilege while they conitnue to suffer and grieve.

And then, my imagination comes to the rescue. I watch a news item about the Police Ombudsmen in Northern Ireland releasing a report that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. As I watch this item my imagination allows me to see this happening in Afghanistan one day. I can see Dr Sima Simar holding a press conference just like in the newsreel reading out the findings of a report by the Afghanistan Indpendent Human Rights Commission, knowing that her safety is assured by strong, professional and impartial state security forces.

I can imagine this, and I know that there are a million little steps that can be taken now which can contribute to making this fantasy a reality one day. So I find the strength to go and take one or two of those little steps.

I am also very grateful for my own current favorite fantasy show - The West Wing. I never saw this when it was playng on television, mostly because I didn't have a TV when I lived in New Zealand. But the Commander has introduced me to the show and in the past two months I've watched seasons one through to five.

What a delicious little fantasy this one is - what the world might be like if people like CJ Cregg and Toby Ziegler had influence in the White House. It's a fantasy, but one that I like to indulge in as often as I possibly can. I'll be finished season five just in time to go on leave in New Zealand and stock up on some more!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Tribute: Amanda

Amanda, originally uploaded by frida world.

Last week I lifted my mood and reminded myself of my many blessings by writing a tribute to my friends Wendie and Cathy. I enjoyed it so much I've decided to make it a regular Saturday treat. I first met Amanda in the Gaza Strip, seven and a half years ago. The first time I saw her she was dancing to Arabic music with amazing abandon and natural rhythm. I saw this young woman radiating sensuality and a wonderful sense of fun and I thought, life here in Gaza is not going to be so bad. Over the almost two years that we lived in Gaza together I saw many more examples of Amanda's willingness and ability to grab the goodness of life where she found it. Together we stood together under a waterfall in north Israel, luxuriating in the feel of water falling after months in the dry desert. Together we danced whenever there was time, space and music to be found or made. When we both ended up back in New Zealand, living in the wild, windy Wellington, Amanda and I found more ways to grasp at life in all it's pulsing, sweating glory. We rode our funny old bikes up hills so steep I thought we might never make it, just so that we could have the thrill of riding down the other side to the coast. We ran together in my first every road race, a 5km charity women's race. She even forgave me for my unplanned spurt of competitiveness at the 4km mark. And still, together we danced whenever there was time, space and music to be found or made. Amanda is willing to try life out, to taste new flavours, kiss new men, venture to new places and tease out new ideas. But over these years I have come to know Amanda as a woman not only of vibrance and fun, but also of integrity and humanity. Amanda has shown me through her life what it really looks like when we honour the inherent dignity of every person. She has taught me what it can mean when we are not unduly impressed by those who hold position, power or popularity, and when we are neither patronising or dismissive of those who lack all three. This in itself would be enough reason to love her. But more than all these things, Amanda understands and embraces all of me. I hope that she would say the same about me. I have never held back from telling Amanda the truth about my fear, my anger, my sadness, my pain, my grief or my jealousy. I have never felt that I needed to. I know that she already knows, and she loves me all the same.

4.00am

BAIRES ABRIL 13, originally uploaded by frida world.

It is four in the morning. Part of me wants to write that I'm awake because I've just arrived home from a marvelous adventure. A little fantasy for tomorrow's Sunday Scribblings. But the truth is that I've been lying awake in bed for five hours. Tonight my mind is on a wild taxi ride, speeding through city scapes both familiar and unknown. Oddly, it wasn't until I got out of bed and sat here at the computer that I suddenly thought of the one thing which may be behind the alertness. Tomorrow I will probably be left as Officer in Charge of the Western Region. Last time I was Officer in Charge I had only been in the job a month and when the Head of Office left he said: "You'll be fine, as long as nothing goes wrong in Shindand, you will be fine." Last time, my OiC duty started on a Sunday and at midday that Sunday a successful assassination was carried out in Shindand, killing the most powerful commander in the district, Amanullah Khan, and his son. In retribution for these killings Amanullah's men attacked the villages populated by tribes aligned to the people believed to be responsible for the assassination. I heard about the fighting at about 1pm. By nightfall we were receiving reports of any where between 12 and 70 people killed. This came at a point when our national staff were all on leave for Eid, and all of my more experienced colleagues had taken the opportunity for an short break as well. I was out of my depth and felt as though I was drowning more often than I was floating. This was also the period when I first starting using this blog as an outlet for thoughts and feelings which had nowhere else safe to be expressed. In the midst of the craziest week I've had since I came here I even posted my first attempt at the Self Portrait Challenge.

I drew on every once of self-belief I could find and spent the week punching well above my weight. It began to emerge that a disproportionate number of the dead were children, boys aged between 12 and 18 years. Then, just when I thought it was over, it found a new lease of life and kept me in the hot seat for a few more days.

Looking back, I now notice that it was soon after these events that I started to suffer from the symptoms I described this week. One week after the worst of it all, the insomnia started. Two weeks later I was taking sleeping pills. I'm only now really seeing this. It seems blindingly obvious, of course, in retrospect. So, here I am, awake at 4.00am and it suddenly occurs to me that tomorrow, Sunday, there is a very good chance that I will once again be left in charge. More than that, this past week tensions in Shindand have been at their highest since that outbreak of fighting in October. The situation is considered to be unstable and the risk of further conflict is very real. But I haven't been lying in bed all night thinking about Shindand. I have a pretty strict rule about not lying in bed thinking about human rights cases. I've been lying in bed thinking about Enid Blyton's "The Faraway Tree", thoughts triggered by Laini's prompt for Sunday Scribblings this week: Fantasy.

I'm always up for climbing the Faraway Tree, I always have been. When I was 17 years old I left the small rural town I grew up in and headed off solo to Europe. Since then I've picked up my bags and moved to the Gaza Strip and to Afghanistan. But the thing with the Faraway tree is that you never know whether you are going to get The Land of Birthdays or The Land of Dame Slap. I developed this 'travel rule of thumb' when I was back-packing solo through Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Egypt about 12 years ago. I decided to always expect the best of people, places and situations, but to always be prepared to deal with the worst if it came.

I don't think I was prepared to deal with children getting killed while I was Officer in Charge. I'm not sure if you can ever be prepared for that. But this time at least I can be a little more prepared for the possibility that events could escalate very quickly to a point where I would no longer have any power to influence or control them. I can also be a little more prepared for the possibility that if this were to happen, it might take a much heavier toll on me than I have previously admitted. A good friend wrote to me this week and told me, amongst other incredibly helpful things, that depression is very prevalent amongst humanitarian workers. Others of you have told me the same thing. Does that mean I should get out of this place? Out of this line of work? Possibly. But first I want to see what difference it makes to be more conscious of the impact that events and experiences here are having on me. I want to see whether that awareness can be used to more intentionally process the thoughts and feelings that arise within me in response. I want to see what happens when I take the time to work through those thoughts and release those feelings, through writing, through creating, through moving my body more and through this business of sitting still every morning (I'm building up to the day when I can say "I meditate" without feeling like I'm faking it). Today is Saturday, I can sleep as much as I need to today. So this sleepless night hasn't made me anxious or distressed. On the contrary, during those five hours somewhere in the space between full consciousness and sleep a new understanding found its way to the surface.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Giving up some love for the body.

Roy Lamberton Half, originally uploaded by frida world.

I am extraordinarily grateful for my body. I agree with Susannah's quote from C.S. Lewis that we don't "have" souls. We are souls and we "have" bodies. But I remain very grateful that we have them. My body gives me a way to interact with the physical world. With my marvelous, miraculous body I can walk though the fields of snow in Ghor, I can taste chocolate and mango, I can stroke my niece's cheek and I can run along the waterfront, smelling the seasalt in the air. I am mostly very happy with my body. It is strong enough to carry my increasingly hefty nephew when his legs get tired. My legs can keep me going for literally hours, even up hills. It is healthy and all my senses work well. Sometimes I get frustrated that my muscles don't have more 'give' in them, more range of movement or flexibility. Some days I avoid the yoga mat because I resent that I struggle to touch my toes. But when I went for a yoga practice session with Vicel, the fabulous Filipino woman I met here in Herat who teaches yoga, she told me that I was very strong, especially in my core, and that I had excellent balance. I remembered to value my strength and balance, and accept that flexibility will come. When I went to the Yoga Centre in New Zealand the teacher commented on my excellent "body awareness" and I realised that this is not something that comes naturally to everyone. This is something to value and appreciate about myself. When I read how some people paint or draw or make things to replenish their soul, I think about dancing, and moving, and dancing, and skipping, and dancing, and running, and dancing, and jumping. And dancing, did I mention dancing. I love to dance, I love music with a drum beat and a deep soulful bass that picks me up and cradles me in its rhythm. I love music that trips and plays and swirls about me so unexpectedly that the only way to dance with it is to let go completely and trust that your body with find its way to follow. I take a secret pride in the fact that my Brazilian ex-boyfriend thought I danced as though I was Brazilian, and that almost every Latin American I have ever danced with insists that I must be a little bit Latin (not at all, unless Irish counts?). I dance in the kitchen when I'm cooking, I dance down the aisles of the supermarket, I dance around my office and I dance along the street. Here in Herat my body is feeling a little bit stifled, but I'm remembering how to dance in my bedroom with the curtains drawn. Anyone for Madonna circa 1984? PS: The photo is of Wendie (in the blue) and me (in the pink) half way through a half marathon. I started out this race almost falling over from the effects of jet lag after flying in from East Timor the day before, but we finished up coming in at 4th (equal, of course) out of the women and 16th overall in this race. We ran in new personal bests at 1hr 54mins for the half marathon. I love that memory and I love this photo.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

These are the people in my neighbourhood

When you live in a place like this there are some very special types of people that you come across. One of the maddest groups of people I've ever met is also one of the groups I respect the most. There is a particular breed of person, almost all men, whose job it is to look for, find and destroy unexploded land mines (both anti-personnel and anti-tank mines) and other unexploded ordinance (UXOs) like rocket propelled grenades. It's "crazy work" as they say, but it is incredibly important work. This country is riddled with land mines and UXOs. In the western region (covering the four provinces of Herat, Badghis, Farah and Ghor) in 2006 there were 25 fatalities caused by land mines or UXOs, and 113 people were injured. Those injuries can be horrific. The anti-personnel mines are cruelly designed to maim and inflict terrible damage to the human body. The anti-tank mines, not surprising, are designed to inflict damage to a tank, so it is not hard to imagine how dangerous they are to humans. Today I heard from an UNMACA official that he was recently talking to a Mujahadeen fighter in Herat province who told him that he had personally laid 1000 anti-personnel mines in Khosan district of Herat. The United Nations Mine Action Coordination Agency and its predecessors have been working to survey and clear mine fields and battle fields since the collapse of the Soviet regime in 1989. This morning I went to briefing on their work in our region. In that time they have cleared 55 million square metres of mine fields and 18 million square metres of battle fields. They have found and destroyed 802 anti-tank mines, 13,553 anti-personnel mines and nearly 1 million UXOs. In the past year they have conducted mine awareness education for 153,000 people from high risk mine areas and have cleared about 3 million square metres each of mine field and battle field. So, yes, they are doing incredibly important work. But can you imagine what this job must be like? Not only is it dangerous (since 1989 there have been 87 accidents while clearing or destroying mines) but it requires what seems to me to be inhuman levels of concentration and fastidiousness. When they survey mine fields they do it inch by painstaking inch. If they get sloppy or bored for an instant it could result in their death, or a terrible injury. I met these guys from time to time, and I have the feeling that a disproportionate number of them come from New Zealand. But wherever they come from they are likely to be hard-cases. One guy, who I think is decidedly cool, goes by the name Ru - he is Maori, from a town not far from my home town. He is not so big by our standards, but here in Afghanistan his size is pretty impressive. He dresses in a black shalwar chamez (the long shirt and pant suit preferred by most men here), and has a 'fauxhawk' (a la David Beckham, but somehow it looks a little different on a big Polynesian guy in Afghanistan) and a decent sized beard. If his appearance isn't enough to make people nervous then his sense of humour probably will. Of course he makes me laugh uncontrollably, but then I'm a Kiwi girl from Tokoroa and that lets me into the small club of people who understand what Ru is talking about most of the time. He's probably a pretty typical deminer - I think he likes to appear rough around the edges and possibly a little bit mad. He is doing "crazy work". He's one of many who are doing what in my opinion is the work of heroes. This is my tribute to them. PS: Last night I got on the treadmill in the bunker for 40 minutes with my iPod on shuffle to provide the stimulation that was lacking in the scenery, went home and cut lovely pictures and words out of my one and only magazine to use in a collage of positivity (I wanted to do something creative and fun and it worked!), then danced around my room to bad pop music. I slept! Very well, even. This morning I woke with a little bit of energy and so I managed a baby yoga session (15 mins) and a bit of sitting still (my name for meditating, I find this label less intimidating). It has helped, as have all your kind, wise and loving comments. One day at a time. PSS: Just to prove that nothing is completely random, here are some of the songs that my iPod shuffle offered me last night while on the treadmill:
  • Keep on Pushing by The Black Seeds;
  • Colour Me Life by Katchafire;
  • You've Got a Friend by Carole King; and
  • I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm by Bille Holiday.