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.