Going to Afghanistan on a delegation with the US peace group Voices for Creative Nonviolence feels like the right thing to do, the natural next step following the last few years of my activity: a high court judicial review into British complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees, various actions, arrests, meetings, campaigns. I mentioned my intentions to a good friend, she immediately commented: “That’s a very brave thing to do.” I thought about it for a second and replied: “Either brave or stupid, maybe a bit of both….”
A few weeks prior, I was standing at the bar in my local pub. It was Friday night and there was a throng of activity, noise, music, people spilling out onto the street, the familiar Hastings weekend scene. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a large collection bucket strapped to the side of the bar, I read the notice: “Collecting for Giles Duley who suffered a sever accident while out in Afghanistan taking photographs”. Was it the same Giles I last saw running along the seafront training for a marathon? I later looked up his story online, and it was him.
I read in total disbelief, shock and horror. He had embedded himself as a photojournalist with an American squadron, and after two weeks of being in Afghanistan he had stepped on a makeshift bomb while patrolling in Kandahar province, and he’s now a triple amputee.
I looked at a picture of him and read various interviews. I started thinking more and more seriously about my planned trip to Afghanistan. Is it a good use of my activist time to travel into a war zone and potentially lose limbs or worse… a knot started to form in my stomach.
My first steps towards preparation started with the initial idea of being kidnapped, probably the most likely worst-case scenario. How would I cope with perhaps being chained to a radiator for six months?
I read 118 Days the story of a Christian Peacemaker Team held hostage in Iraq, eventually leading to the killing of activist Tom Fox. I quickly realised I should make steps to toughen up. I took early spring swims in the sea and started lifting weights; my rationale being such activities would mentally toughen me to harsh physical experiences.
As my potential departure date draws closer I’m ambivalent about the possible experiences which may lie ahead, I continually ask myself the questions: Do I really want to do this? Is it worth it?