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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dear Post-Conflict, (Apparently) I’ve Missed You

Rising above Adult Disneyland (i.e. Dubai), it suddenly dawns on me that I’m on a flight to Kabul. Four days ago I was in Cuzco enjoying roasted guinea pig and the finer points of lunchtime cocktails. Today I’m on my way back to post-conflict.

For someone not naturally inclined to thrill seeking (see here), having Iraqi, South Sudanese, and now Afghan visas in my passport may seem counter-intuitive. Some people (many of whom are sporting khaki cargo pants, crew cuts and ballistic sunglasses on this very Safi Airways flight) seem to thrive off of post-conflict environments, seeking them out perhaps for the same reasons they liked roller coasters as children. Not to mention that the money one can earn in a place like Afghanistan is nothing to scoff at and, in some places at least (thankfully not where I’m going), thrills and close calls are a dime a dozen.

Or maybe they are more like me (though I did leave my khakis at home this trip). I’d be perfectly ok never experiencing the inner workings of an RPG attack, money is important though not everything and roller coasters still give me the willies.

I was lucky enough to get my first bit of field cred in 2009 at a time when ‘coalition of the willing’ troops still maintained outposts on large swaths of heavily guarded Iraqi land. That first overseas posting is ever important for a young international and it doesn’t hurt that it was in an area of key US foreign policy importance.

But as charming as towns like dusty Hillah or sandy Ramadi were, it was my colleagues that made me want to stay despite the lack of freedom and other inconveniences. A proud people, my Iraqi friends embraced me as one of their own, regularly inviting me to their homes and family festivities. They threw parties for us and, through our project, dedicated their lives to improving the lots of their neighbors often at great risk.

Although one will always hear stories of shenanigans that permeate post-conflict environments (Afghanistan and Iraq are by no means exceptions), I’ve heard similarly glowing things about the people of Afghanistan from friends and from books. From the ever-controversial “Three Cups of Tea” and “The Places in Between” to “The Kite Runner” and “The Photographer”, a common theme is the decency of Afghans and their treatment of guests as family. Add to this ethnic diversity, quality tea and the physical beauty of snow-capped mountains on the border between ‘middle’ and ‘east’… needless to say I’m looking forward to it!

This morning I saw a CNN special on Iraq: Ten Years On where Arwa Damon returns to the neighborhoods she visited while embedded with US troops. No helmet, no armored vest, just an uncovered western woman walking the streets of Fallujah and Baghdad, re-interviewing folks she met under fire all those years ago. I’d love to take Lauren back to Hillah and Ramadi one day, finally able to accept my former colleagues' dinner offer. One can only hope the day when this will finally be possible is approaching.

And perhaps one day in the not-so-distant future, the same will be true about Afghanistan.