avatarKerstin Krause


My Time in Afghanistan

It will always be like a grim fairy tale

Photo by Zabihullah Habibi on Unsplash

Last night, I returned to Afghanistan. To the place where I spent three of the most demanding years of my life and which has never really abandoned me.

When I think back, I am struck by one emotion above all. Longing. For a different kind of truth, concealed and well-hidden behind Afghanistan’s many walls and veils. Behind all those terrible upheavals that have torn the country and its people apart since time immemorial.

When I first landed in Kabul in 2012, I was terrified. Convinced that my decision to come here had been wrong, that I would become the victim of an ambush on my ride from the airport into town. That I would never reach the hearts of the Afghan people. And find an alienness I might be unable to endure.

But I stayed.

I found the Orange House—my home—which I shared with five other development experts and went about my job. Despite the dangers lurking everywhere and the endless roadblocks and checkpoints, I somehow felt I had landed in Kabul.

I remember the heavenly smell of freshly baked flatbread that was available in small, humble bakeries at every corner of every city and town. In every imaginable size.

And those rugged mountains surrounding Kabul that I could see from the rooftop of our house. Covered with dwellings way up the steep slopes and painstakingly put together, brick by brick. Reserved for the less fortunate who could not afford more than the rocky soil with minimal water and electricity supplies.

There were those countless bazaars I was never allowed to visit but only marvel at through the windows of an armored car. And it was there that I felt the vibration. The vibration of an entire peace-loving nation on the banks of the Kabul River.

The atmosphere at that time was a mixture of hopefulness and excessive violence. The power struggle between rival factions that refused to unite was not always paralyzing but never liberating.

My fear subsided over time, although I knew the risk was ubiquitous.

We were briefed at work and via our phone chains. About brutal attacks, bloodshed, detonations, and kidnappings. And while all that happened, we were surrounded by a cocoon that miraculously sealed us from the brutal external world.

Interactions with our Afghan colleagues were limited to office hours and usually remained somewhat superficial. Invitations to private homes were rare for safety reasons and not to raise more suspicion.

And I quickly learned firsthand that whoever is a friend today can be an enemy tomorrow. So, I had become a little cautious towards Afghans.

But during the few project visits I was allowed to undertake outside of Kabul, I fell for this extraordinary country.

There was this harsh vastness that began just outside the city’s gates. It unleashed my battered thoughts and allowed them to flap in the wind joyfully. Just like the paper kites that traditionally adorn Afghanistan’s ever-blue skies during its kite-flying season.

I remember Afghanistan’s countless oases where we would escape the intense afternoon heat under vine-covered canopies, enjoying the most scrumptious meals. And the blossoming almond trees that interrupted the monotonous, rugged landscape so vividly.

The countryside’s beauty captivated me as if I had found the missing link. To the sweet fragrance of spring that smelled of hope and the iciness of winter that wrapped its shimmering white robe around the majestic Hindu Kush. And to the smiles, the stoic Afghans shared once they understood that we had come as friends.

I felt the longing in their eyes when they met mine. To drift off into a peaceful night after a long day’s work. To rest under a starry sky that contained nothing but the twinkling celestial bodies and the pious prayers of the people who gathered under their shimmering roof.

Afghanistan is like a grim fairy tale you must immerse yourself in to understand. It’s a journey that requires you to get involved. To look at its many wounds that are constantly being added to. At the most inhuman atrocities carried out against its own people that still seem to outdo one another. But also at a foreignness that almost painfully reveals the austerity of the Western world.

The memory of Afghanistan still captures my mind to this day, making it pound and throb. There is a yearning that dissolves into the immensity of the land and does not wish to ever return. A desire to remain in the lap of the intimacy of this surreal world. An almost painful longing to put my head down under a flowering almond tree by the riverside and attain peace — Afghanistan, A barren beauty that stole my heart

I wish to return once one day and delve into the Afghan mystery again, which I know I will never be able to unravel.

Much love from New Zealand — Kerstin 🍀

Thank you for your time and interest in my time in Afghanistan. I had the honor to work in Afghanistan from 2012 to 2015 and discovered a land that has so deeply touched my soul in many ways. Although the news coming from Afghanistan have been so disheartening for so long, I must remain hopeful. That peace will return one day to the Afghan people.

Once it does, I will be on my way!s

There are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood — Khaled Hosseini

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