Saturday, January 20, 2007

4.00am

BAIRES ABRIL 13, originally uploaded by frida world.

It is four in the morning. Part of me wants to write that I'm awake because I've just arrived home from a marvelous adventure. A little fantasy for tomorrow's Sunday Scribblings. But the truth is that I've been lying awake in bed for five hours. Tonight my mind is on a wild taxi ride, speeding through city scapes both familiar and unknown. Oddly, it wasn't until I got out of bed and sat here at the computer that I suddenly thought of the one thing which may be behind the alertness. Tomorrow I will probably be left as Officer in Charge of the Western Region. Last time I was Officer in Charge I had only been in the job a month and when the Head of Office left he said: "You'll be fine, as long as nothing goes wrong in Shindand, you will be fine." Last time, my OiC duty started on a Sunday and at midday that Sunday a successful assassination was carried out in Shindand, killing the most powerful commander in the district, Amanullah Khan, and his son. In retribution for these killings Amanullah's men attacked the villages populated by tribes aligned to the people believed to be responsible for the assassination. I heard about the fighting at about 1pm. By nightfall we were receiving reports of any where between 12 and 70 people killed. This came at a point when our national staff were all on leave for Eid, and all of my more experienced colleagues had taken the opportunity for an short break as well. I was out of my depth and felt as though I was drowning more often than I was floating. This was also the period when I first starting using this blog as an outlet for thoughts and feelings which had nowhere else safe to be expressed. In the midst of the craziest week I've had since I came here I even posted my first attempt at the Self Portrait Challenge.

I drew on every once of self-belief I could find and spent the week punching well above my weight. It began to emerge that a disproportionate number of the dead were children, boys aged between 12 and 18 years. Then, just when I thought it was over, it found a new lease of life and kept me in the hot seat for a few more days.

Looking back, I now notice that it was soon after these events that I started to suffer from the symptoms I described this week. One week after the worst of it all, the insomnia started. Two weeks later I was taking sleeping pills. I'm only now really seeing this. It seems blindingly obvious, of course, in retrospect. So, here I am, awake at 4.00am and it suddenly occurs to me that tomorrow, Sunday, there is a very good chance that I will once again be left in charge. More than that, this past week tensions in Shindand have been at their highest since that outbreak of fighting in October. The situation is considered to be unstable and the risk of further conflict is very real. But I haven't been lying in bed all night thinking about Shindand. I have a pretty strict rule about not lying in bed thinking about human rights cases. I've been lying in bed thinking about Enid Blyton's "The Faraway Tree", thoughts triggered by Laini's prompt for Sunday Scribblings this week: Fantasy.

I'm always up for climbing the Faraway Tree, I always have been. When I was 17 years old I left the small rural town I grew up in and headed off solo to Europe. Since then I've picked up my bags and moved to the Gaza Strip and to Afghanistan. But the thing with the Faraway tree is that you never know whether you are going to get The Land of Birthdays or The Land of Dame Slap. I developed this 'travel rule of thumb' when I was back-packing solo through Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Egypt about 12 years ago. I decided to always expect the best of people, places and situations, but to always be prepared to deal with the worst if it came.

I don't think I was prepared to deal with children getting killed while I was Officer in Charge. I'm not sure if you can ever be prepared for that. But this time at least I can be a little more prepared for the possibility that events could escalate very quickly to a point where I would no longer have any power to influence or control them. I can also be a little more prepared for the possibility that if this were to happen, it might take a much heavier toll on me than I have previously admitted. A good friend wrote to me this week and told me, amongst other incredibly helpful things, that depression is very prevalent amongst humanitarian workers. Others of you have told me the same thing. Does that mean I should get out of this place? Out of this line of work? Possibly. But first I want to see what difference it makes to be more conscious of the impact that events and experiences here are having on me. I want to see whether that awareness can be used to more intentionally process the thoughts and feelings that arise within me in response. I want to see what happens when I take the time to work through those thoughts and release those feelings, through writing, through creating, through moving my body more and through this business of sitting still every morning (I'm building up to the day when I can say "I meditate" without feeling like I'm faking it). Today is Saturday, I can sleep as much as I need to today. So this sleepless night hasn't made me anxious or distressed. On the contrary, during those five hours somewhere in the space between full consciousness and sleep a new understanding found its way to the surface.

12 comments:

Alex aka Gypsy Girl said...

What depresses me in "my world" is also the feeling of not being able to control a situation. And if it is tough for me as is, I can't even begin to imagine how it's like for you to be facing issues where lives are at stake. You are so bright and intuitive... I know you'll figure out what your limits need to be in order for you to preserve your own health. Your own life. This is possibly one of the furthest scariest trees out there, Fri. You are a brave girl! Keep sitting and breathing... Clarity will follow...There are plenty of trees out there, right? In fact, selfishly, I know one just up the street, here is San Francisco. That is pretty far from Afghanistan, isn't it? How is that for an attractive faraway destination? :P
x

Letha Sandison said...

Wow, I am in awe of your bravery!! I can only imagine how stressful it is to witness the pain and suffering and not be able to control the situation. I struggle with control too, I am trying to remember that it is an illusion even in the safest of lives.

I hope that you and the people in your area stay safe. That cool heads prevail and peace reigns.

I am so glad you visited my blog so that I could find yours. Your bravery in the face of so many challenges makes me feel like I can face our upcoming move to Africa with more courage.

Be safe!

Letha Sandison said...

I just took a moment to look at some of your photos on flicker. They are amazing! The children are so beautiful!

You are a very good photographer!

Regina Clare Jane said...

Oh, Frida- the courage you bring to your life and what you do... I can't even begin to say how much I adore you right now...
Confronting your fears really is the best way to make friends with them... and I admire you so much for all the good work you do. You'll know when you've learned the lessons you came to Afghanistan for- and I suspect that you will only do greater things in your life because of them...
Take care, sweetie...

My Marrakech said...

Frida-For certain people (me included), sadness and suffering have a very real and tangible impact. But then again, how terrible would it be if it did not?

I was once working with a psychiatrist in Nepal who had set up a Center for Victims of Torture. He had been wrongfully imprisoned and isolated. He vowed that if he ever got out he would set up this center. And he did. He would hear cases all day long. I asked him how he managed, how he coped, listening to all that sadness in such graphic detail. He told me that he figured out the number of cases it was possible for him to listen to before nightmares or sleeplessness set in. And he stayed below this number.

So what I am saying is that I think it is the question of figuring out what the right balance is so that everything - most importantly you - stays intact.

daffa said...

"somewhere in the space between full consciousness and sleep a new understanding found its way to the surface."

some might call this meditation... don't be afraid of terminology... don't let it put you off... not with meditation, not with anything!!

you can do anything your heart and soul imagine you can...

paris parfait said...

No one can advise you what to do - everyone has different coping skills and coping mechanisms. It sounds like you're finding your way through these issues and will come to your own conclusions about what's best for you. I will say that all the people I know who've worked in human rights say that after about two years there's a burnout period of some sort, in which everyone needs to take a break. But most human rights workers I know are still doing the same thing, albeit with different organisations in different locations. I think the key is change and finding a way to achieve the balance you need between work and real life. It's hard in a situation such as yours, when you're so restricted in where you can go and what you can do, in a particularly volatile region. But I have confidence you can cope with whatever gets thrown at you and do so admirably. Stay strong. xo

Mardougrrl said...

As always, I agree with Paris Parfait. :) I think you are so incredibly brave, to do what you are doing. So many people have a passing fancy about putting themselves out there, but you actually DID that and I find that incredibly awe-inspiring. I can only imagine what it's like for you to live in that kind of situation...what a roller coaster of emotion it must be.

Be good to yourself. You deserve it.

[a} said...

Wow, these people have been doling out super advice. I can't add a thing.

The Faraway Tree: I know how that is. I've been travelling/moving forever and each time, you don't know what shock to expect next. All you have is yourself.

Chancing upon the Land of Birthdays, is it worth the Lands of Topsy-Turvy, Dame Slap, or all those creepy giants and sorcerers?

wishing you peace and happiness
xoxo

susanna said...

I can't imagine the pressure you must feel in your position, especially while living in a country where extreme action (and reaction) can happen so quickly. Despite this, it sounds like you are a finding a balance in your own life through meditation and writing. Take care of yourself, Frida, and I hope that you'll get a good night's sleep tonight. :)

Laini Taylor said...

Frida, to be in the midst of such times and events, it takes such courage -- you are amazing. I am not surprised to learn to that humanitarian workers suffer from depression. For those of us at home in our comfortable lives, a dose of TV news can be a big downer -- to be living it, unable to "turn off the TV" is something else altogether. I had an ex-boyfriend who was a paramedic in California, and I learned that paramedics have very short career spans, I think it was an average of 5 years before they go on to other things because the stress and the sadness gets to be too much. I wonder what the average career span is for a human rights worker?

On a lighter note, I also split at 17 to travel solo in Europe -- the very day after graduation -- and it was a hugely important experience in my life! I haven't gone on to such amazing travels as you, though I dream about it. Ah, the places you've been! And how much fuller your understanding of the world is than most people's!

homeinkabul said...

http://www.dervala.net/archives/000873.html

Just wanted to share the above article on depression - I think it's a good read.