Thursday, November 23, 2006
As soon as we all stepped out of the old Antonov airplane onto the tarmac in Dubai, my fellow travelers from Afghanistan and I all simultaneously noticed how filthy we all were. My friend and colleague Scott said he had just noticed how much his jacket smelled of goat... Somehow none of us had really noticed until then. I looked down at myself and noticed Kabul dust and grime everywhere, not least under my nails. The bright sun of Dubai, combined with the relatively clear air, seemed to suddenly show up the grubbiness we become accustomed to on a day to day basis in Afghanistan. But it wasn't to last long, I'm on my way home for my sister's wedding so it was time to scrub up a bit. Dropping my bags off at the hotel I went straight to the nearest salon and began the process of scrubbing dirt out from under my nails and sloughing away skin dried out by the cold and ingrained with pollution and dust. Three hours later I am most of the way to being wedding ready. Now I can slow down, look around and once again soak in the amazing sensation of liberty. I just walked from the salon back to the hotel, stopping on the way to wander through a few shops and then for a coffee and some ice cream. Just to be able to wander at will, without calling security or transport, is a lovely and simple pleasure. I'm also slowly unwinding after a very hectic few weeks, the last few days of which were spent in Kabul (hence the lack of posts here) at a meeting of human rights officers from around the country. As well as each taking a bit of time to talk about the key human rights issues in our region, and some of the strategies we employ to address them, we had some fantastic training sessions. I really enjoyed learning about gender and criminal justice from my good friend Kathryn Khamis. Kathryn and I arrived in Kabul just weeks apart and were put in touch with each other by a mutual friend - the marvelous Catherine Anderson. Kathryn (like Catherine) has been a great friend, lots of fun and fabulous company for a long chat or a night of dancing around the living room, but also a wonderfully intelligent and engaged lawyer whose studies in Sharia law have proven invaluable to me. Another training on international humanitarian law was followed up by a very interesting question and answer session with the legal advisors from ISAF - one of whom had very recently transferred to ISAF from the US led CTC-A. I think they were surprised to discover the level of military understanding from the human rights officers. Of course it helps that three of our team have military backgrounds themselves and know perfectly well how to identify different weapons and uniforms. Once they realized they weren't dealing with a bunch of leftie, pinkie tree-huggers (their words) they seemed willing to answer direct questions with relatively frank answers and overall I found the session informative and also, somehow, encouraging. Anyway - for the next few days I'm leaving all that behind, my nails have been filed and painted a fabulous dark red, my skin is polished and I'm ready to indulge completely in a weekend of family, food, fun and above all, celebration of my sister's marriage. Just one more sleep and I'll be home. My very special friend Andrew Cochrane is going to meet me at the airport, since my family will all already be over on the island where the wedding will take place. Andrew is the only one of my friends to come and visit me in Afghanistan. He was always going to have a particular distinction for that fact. But the momentousness of his visit was escalated significantly by the fact that he arrived on the morning of the day that the Kabul riots broke out, in May this year. He spent his first day in Afghanistan sitting in our house listening to gunfire in the street outside for hours on end, and eventually running with me to the back room ready to scale the fence when the angry mob managed to break through one of the panels of our front gate and appeared to be about to burst into the front section. We both survived intact, but it was a terrifying experience and sharing it with Andrew is just the latest in a very long of memorial occasions in our long friendship. I am looking forward to being greeted with his smiling face when I arrive back home tomorrow.