From Kabul to Faizabad
Yesterday in Kabul full of very useful meetings and a wonderful evening with Leslie Knott, who made the film Out of the Ashes, Miles Amoore, journalist and Raees Ahmadzi, cricketer, joining us. But today we left Kabul and I was SO happy to get away. Boarded the UN flight for Faizabad and reflected that it was on a UN flight from Peshawar almost exactly 10 years ago to the day that I flew in to Afghanistan for the first time, landing in Faizabad.
At that time Afghanistan was in the grip of the Taliban who had just destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan and were fighting the Northern Alliance and causing misery across the country. I was terrified then, but at the same time,I remember the feeling of exhilaration as I landed and began my incredible journey to a clinic in the Panjshir. Back then there were no tarmac roads and few foreigners and we never knew from day to day where we would arrive at dusk or where we would stay. We relied on the hospitality of strangers and finally made it to the clinic, where I saw hundreds of women and children and heard the stories of their lives, which had neither joy nor hope. There were hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people living in refugee camps which stretched out as far as the eye could see and hospitals, bombed by the Taliban, operating out of shells of buildings on patients from the frontline. It is strange to look back on the ten years and seeing how that journey has changed my life.
The landing strip is the same and the approach as treacherous and beautiful, over the Hindu Kush and hairpinning down to the metal runway and an isolated Badakshan. It is uniquely beautiful, with vast lush hills and massive mountains and villages perched impossibly on to the steep shale strewn slopes. But the road has tarmac and we sped along past timeless scenes of donkeys with bright saddle bags, men in purple and green striped Badakshani coats and women clad in brilliant blue burkhas.
Arrived in Taloqan within a few hours and were greeted at the office by Mukhtar, whom I have known for years and the familiar faces of the guards. Splendid lunch and off to Sari Sang School, twinned to St Catherines. Deeply conservative area in a village hidden in the midst of adobe walls, narrow dusty lanes and fields where men followed the oxen ploughing as others had done centuries before. The girls were great and begged us to get them better teachers. But as with everything else in Afghanistan, it is fraught with complex issues and the headmaster has little power to hire and fire -so much is dependent still on the powers that be higher up and who they know and which teachers they favour. The girls spoke English, though it sounded as if they had learned the phrases off by heart. They loved the cards and letters from St Catherines and asked lots of questions about the girls in England.
And now about to sleep in my dorm of 4 – Sima, Olympia and Jane and we will head off at dawn for Keshem to visit Jari Shah Baba School.