Visiting Afghanistan: a preparation process

IssueDecember 2011 / January 2012
Comment by Maya Evans

I sit with my Afghani friend in a coffee bar in St Leonards. Whenever we meet he is in a perpetual state of worry. Heís a few years younger than me though it's visibly obvious that in terms of life experience he is very much older. He expresses his ongoing concerns: will his mother die before he manages to return; will he get his citizenship in the UK; if he returns to Afghanistan will he be killed like his father and brother?

Life is a loaded die; it's more or less decided from the moment you are born.

He talks me through some Dari phrases helping me with pronunciation. Heís overjoyed when I manage a few phrases with an authentic accent. It reinforces my initial feeling that making an effort to learn about another personís language, culture, history is one of the most effective ways of forging friendship. It  says Iím genuinely interested and respectful. Annoyingly, my intentions are strong but my mind is weak, few words sink into the longterm memory.

As I flick through the visa application form, my eyes fall on the question Address in Afghanistan. I start to think about where Iíll be staying and how will I get there from the airport. For some reason I suddenly start to think about styles of luggage. Big rucksacks are convenient but the most unsubtle-looking luggage ever designed. Suitcases are probably more mainstream but a bore to carry any great distance.

Mental note: research current Afghan fashion.

I chat with my friend Jim who has just returned from Edmonton in Canada, where the temperature plummets to -40c in the winter. He advises me to take loads of woollies and thermals, practical for me and also useful as gifts. I try not to think about the cold factor, I know it will be an aspect Iíll physically find unbearable.

Much more work still needed to strengthen mind over matter - add that to the to do list.