I have been here in Afghanistan now for nine months and have moved around primarily between the three Southern Provinces of Kandahar, Uruzgan and Helmand, on this particular deployment over here, I have split my time between Tarin Kowt and Camp Bastion and, I can tell you, I really can’t wait to get home to Ireland in a few weeks to see my family and friends and walk around freely for 3 weeks-
Lots of people ask about what the experience is like working in this environment, and it can be hard to describe but I will attempt it.....
First of all, your daily experience is working within Military Bases where your normal freedoms do not exist to the same extent as they do back home any longer, as you must appreciate that you are under the protection of a Military Force that is at war and does not have the support of the native population living here. This involves carrying identity cards at all times, observing curfews, observing entry control rules in and out of bases. This process is very understandable given the well reported attacks, protests etc. that have been well reported in recent weeks both here in Helmand and also over in Kandahar, very sad an regrettable events that only increases each sides mis-trust in eachother.
I have experienced on a number of occasions, when there has been a heightened alert status, which can be stressful as on this occasions, is the “not-knowing” that can be most distressing. These can be events that last 20 minutes to maybe 5 days !
There is also an aspect of being confined that is also worth noting, as Westerner working as a civilian Contractor, you generally do not go outside the Base, well I don’t anyway, though some do obviously but only with the required security involved. Being confined to the same area whilst big enough can become claustrophobic as for example, you can’t just “go for a walk in the woods” to clear your head , so that be an issue and can take some getting used to.
Routine becomes essential, getting up at a regular time every day, eating at regular times, long working hours are a big part of the lifestyle that can both help you but also drain you, and I have found that it is only when you go out on leave, that you take a deep breath and appreciate how exhausted you really are as when you are here, you are always “on” and always alert.
There is also of course an opportunity to work with Afghans , who are of course essential to any construction activities here, for supplies, logistics and labour. I have found this the most interesting part and have got to know some pretty well who will speak openly about their damaged land and the massive effort that it will take to rebuild the country, they will speak about their children, how they wish for the best for them and their education and their hopes for the future. It has given me a chance to understand their culture a little better. They do have some way to come here in terms of education and rebuilding but I have absolutely no doubt they have the knowledge and ability to do so despite the huge challenges. More than Thirty years of conflict and many power struggles from different politic and religious beliefs have left a lot of divisions here that will take many years to heal, but my experience of Afghan people is of warm welcoming people, focussed on their families, though like any culture there are unfortunately those who spoil it for others.
Obviously, the most challenging of all is being away from home for long periods, when I get home, I will have been away for 16 weeks which is tough , and there is no way, a Skype Call can replace that (that’s assuming it works !),
Simple stuff can be the most cherished, having a meal at home, chatting with Laura, tucking the boys in at night, comforting them when there’s a problem, helping them with homework or just a good old “mess-fight” with Dad when they can have the pleasure of beating 10 colours of “shite” out of me , simple but glorious things !