Sunday, September 20, 2009

Headed to Afghanistan soon!

The photograph I took, shown to the right, is of one of the Buddah statues that once stood in the Bamiyan valley dating from the 6th century. When I went to see those statues, and climbed to the top, sitting carefully on the Buddah's head, looking over the beautiful, lush Bamiyan Valley, it never occurred to me that one day they would be gone forever, destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

I return to Afghanistan with memories from an Afghanistan of 40 years ago. Although I most certainly did not understand it at the time, the Afghans think back to the late 60’s as the glory days, the time of peace and prosperity. A calm before the storm, a storm that has raged for almost 35 years.

With my trip rapidly approaching, I’ve spent some time these last few days writing down what I remember about my time there. Swarms of memories are returning – images, feelings, sounds, smells – all of them very vivid, even after 40 years.

Many of you have asked about what I’ll be doing there. I'll be staying in Kabul for 6 weeks and during that time my main focus is to evaluate and assess how the songbook project is going, what is happening now and what is needed for the future. This information will determine what our next steps will be. There are currently 14,000 songbooks in schools and orphanages across Afghanistan. I’m curious to see how they are being used. I plan to meet with people who have helped distribute the book (some of those mtgs are already set up) and also visit schools and talk to teachers and administrators. I’ll start by going to schools in Kabul and then I hope to visit schools in outlying Provinces. Travel beyond Kabul will depend on security issues.

I’m incredibly excited about this journey. Despite what you read in the paper about recent events in Afghanistan, I am feeling quite comfortable about going and I anticipate this to be an amazing trip. It is really coming full circle for me. Of course I’m a bit nervous and plan to be very cautious. But I’m fortunate to be staying under the wing of an NGO, SOLA (School for Leadership, Afghanistan) directed by my good friend Ted Achilles. (There was recently a great article about some Afghan students from this program in the Globe.) SOLA's compound is situated in Karte-Seh, a quiet part of Kabul and interestingly where I used to live. They have generously offered me room and board and access to their translators and a driver. This is an essential part of being there and I am very grateful for their support.

I’ve packed the appropriate long tunics and head scarves, none of which I had to wear when I was there in the late ‘60’s. I’ve purchased a new SLR digital camera that has good video capability and I have a digital recorder. So I should be set. I’m realistic enough to know you can only plan so much when going to Afghanistan. As the Peace Corps so wisely reminded us when we first arrived, be flexible. Just see how it unfolds. That’s what I intend to do.

Thank you for your interest and for following along. Blogs are a new thing for me but I’m delighted to share this journey with all of you. I invite your comments and questions as well. I’ll have wireless which makes communication via the internet easy. Kabul does tend to lose power on occasion so yes, I am bringing a backup battery for my computer.

I look forward to telling the stories once I get there. On October 4 I fly to Dubai, arriving the evening of Oct. 5th. On Oct. 6th I fly into Kabul, a city that despite years at war, now has a coffee espresso bar, a restaurant that serves steak, wine, and lemon meringue pie and an escalator in the Kabul City Centre office complex. Imagine!