My trip to Afghanistan

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The question “Will you go to Afghanistan?” was not something I had expected to hear when I first joined the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). I certainly had not anticipated I would be travelling to the country. Of all my travels so far, my trip to Afghanistan was the least expected. Had I been a soldier, travelling to a country fighting a war would have come along with the job description, but in my profession, in geospatial technologies, I had not expected such a trip to be one of the highlights of my work.

It began in the August 2017 when Rajesh Bahadur Thapa, the Geospatial Solutions Capacity Building Specialist at ICIMOD, spoke to me about conducting a training at Kabul University along with my supervisors. Because of the war that has been waged in Afghanistan since 2001, the prospect of going to the country is not always embraced by everybody. However, I clearly remember being excited by the opportunity presented to me when Mr Thapa asked me if I would go there. Afghanistan would be my first official work trip destination.

When I picked up the phone to call my parents, I had already prepared multiple arguments to convince them to consent to let me travel to Afghanistan. I had a long speech about women’s freedom ready. I was ready to talk about how women often miss opportunities because of concerns about safety, and about how I really wanted to do this on my own. I was extremely nervous about making the call and I was afraid they would not accept my decision. I was pleasantly surprised when my mum and dad both proudly told me that this was an opportunity I should not pass on. Even weeks later, with all the paper work done and with my visa approved, the readiness with which my family had agreed to my decision to travel to Afghanistan surprised me. 

I would be lying if I said that I was not nervous about the journey ahead of me. The reality of the situation finally sunk in when I was waiting to board my flight to Kabul at the Tribhuvan International Airport. For a few seconds I even toyed with the idea of evading the trip altogether. It was my supervisors who made me straighten myself up with their friendly and encouraging words.

I checked all my documents and boarded the flight. The moment we landed, I recited a quick prayer, checked my bags, and arranged my head scarf ready for the experience.  

The ICIMOD team on the flight to Kabul from Kathmandu.

The airport seemed deserted and there was high security at the immigration station, but it was the smiling faces and the polite gestures of Jawid Ahmad Rezia, the ICIMOD Administrative Officer in Afghanistan , and our car driver that welcomed us to the country.  

As we drove to Kabul, I was surprised to see that the city wasn’t how I had imagined it to be. It surely did not look like a war ravaged city filled with rubble. The media has not focused on this part of the city—wide lane roads, busy traffic, and life that seems to be functioning normally. Kids running around playing, people busy with their everyday lives—these were sights I had never thought I would see in the country. 

After a fast drive, and we reached the hotel. I noticed immediately that it had a military quality to it. There were security guards walking around with guns, guard dogs stationed all around, and high walls around the perimeter. These sights gave me goose bumps. As I stroll around the hotel that day, I realized that over the course of the next ten days, I would be experiencing things I will remember and share for years to come. 

On the road: Sights observed during the half-hour commute from the hotel to the training location.
Photo Credit: Trilochana Basnett

The training location was a half-hour drive from the hotel. Every day, during the commute, I had chills going down my spine. Kabul, with its long history of suffering and its present of omnipresent tight security, made me experience a range of mixed feelings. Even though you can hardly miss the war-torn buildings, bullet holes in dilapidated houses, and armoured security vehicles along the road, the city capital does have a fair share of vibrant coloured apartments, offices, and even its fair share of massive, gaudy wedding halls and shopping centres. 

A view of Kabul
Photo Credit: Trilochana Basnett

Having read quite a few articles about the oppression of women in Afghanistan, I was prepared to see male dominance manifest itself in the presence of a predominantly male faculty and student body when I walked in through the gates of Kabul University. I was yet again blown away to see a large number of girls enrolled at the university, rushing towards their classrooms and casually walking around with their friends, all of them headed towards their future. 

Group photo taken at Kabul University.
Photo Credit: Jawid Ahmad Jawid

With the teaching faculty across me and the trainees in front of me, I realized I might have been one of the youngest among the trainers. With pride and excitement, I started the training. At no point during the course of the training did I ever feel discomfort or unease. I did not feel like I was in an unsafe environment. The concerned and friendly nature of the trainees, the delicious meals that I enjoyed every day, and a gift I received as a token of appreciation at the end of the training warmed my heart. 

Trilocahna Basnett at the training.
Photo Credit: Jawid Ahmad Jawid

When the training ended, I stood with a smile on my face and a proud feeling of having seen my Afghan experience through to the end. It was not just about visiting a place that is forbidden but about the constant support provided by my family and about being a part of an organization which has always encouraged me. My trip to Afghanistan made me not just a proud female but also a human who sees hope all around. 

Trilochana Basnett


Comments

Chetan Gurung wrote on 2018-03-08 23:04

I seriously see a firm and determined woman before me. As i read through the lines i felt an urge to read more of your blogs. You really have changed my perception about Afghanistan! Anyway! Kudos to you for successfully completing the training!

Bibhusan Basnett wrote on 2018-03-09 14:25

Hello Trilochana, nicely composed and Keep up the spirit... All the best!

Trilochana Basnett wrote on 2018-03-11 11:38

@Chetan Gurung Thank you for the appreciation. Such words of encouragement really boost my morale

Trilochana Basnett wrote on 2018-03-12 19:03

@Bibhusan Basnett Thank you