Surprisingly we were left for around 40 minutes to blockade the gates of Downing Street, red paint daubed around the six of us, kneeling, heads bent in silence. I held up a large sign saying “End the Afghan War” while others in the group announced to passerbys that we were protesting about the 10 years of war with Afghanistan and that everyone should join us.
Our support team hung around across the road clutching large banners while reading the names of all those killed in the Afghan war. Familiar names to me now, it almost feels like they were acquaintances.
Up to now Afghanistan has always seemed so far away. A war torn dust bowl somewhere in the middle of Asia, a lifestyle of varied extremes, people who experience more horrors in a day than most of us do in a lifetime.
The distance and differences between our societies has a desensitising effect. A police officer interviews me at the police station: “So why do you care about people in Afghanistan”. The officer looks blank as I talk about the effects of war on Afghan people, I mention the number of dead British soldiers; he immediately hangs his head as if he carries more remorse than me.
Three days later I’m at the Amnesty Centre looking at Guy Smallman’s photo exhibition. An Afghan boy, orphaned, standing in the rubble of his former home; an amputee getting high on cheap opium; shanty towns; pop-up graveyards filled with entire families; villages flattened; absolute poverty and destruction.
The most vivid picture for me was of a Hazara boy at an evening market place. He sits surrounded by towers of luscious leaves, maybe coriander or some such. The picture carries the hum of the market, the excitement of people coming and going. It reminded me of the romantic side of Afghanistan, the type of romance often attached to places like India, that vision of exotic wild lands filled with beautiful people. It reminded me that Afghanistan was once a major trading hub between Asia and Rome. It was famed for its master crafts, quality goods and grand Rome influenced palaces. Funds have been confirmed for my trip to Afghanistan.
I’m realising now that the hardest part of my trip is not going to be dealing with the fear of being kidnapped or blown up, but coping with destruction, pain and desperation. Coping with powerlessness.
Maya Evans is visiting Afghanistan with Voices for Creative Nonviolence. If you want to donate to this delegation send cheques to JNV, 29 Gensing Rd, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex, TN38 0HE.