A City of Prisoners

by - 6:00 PM

I am not in a prison. But it seems like the whole of Kabul has made its inhabitants prisoners of some sort. People like me who cannot walk out of their homes because they cannot predict what harm might befall them, families who cannot stroll freely on the streets with their children unless they are running an important errand or sending them off to school, young people who cannot simply go to a cinema or café to hang out – one, because there are no cinemas, two, because the restaurants that are around are usually not safe places to hang out in as an everyday social activity. When you are in a place where time ticks slower and you are left with your thoughts, you begin to think about the word ‘freedom’ and what it really means to be free in a city of prisoners.

What do you do when you are trapped, somewhat confined to the same room for many hours at a time? When I am here I realize that for most of our lives, we are distracted by various preoccupations – work, study, hobbies, social events. All these necessary evils and unnecessary trifles. We are busy working, surviving, living, travelling, doing good things, and trying to fix the wrong things we’ve said or done. In this place, I learn the art of silence – the practice of listening, waiting, brooding, reflecting. I learn the peace of non-distraction, of being content to be still, and to quite literally, ‘sit’ with my thoughts. While it is good to occupy myself with my list of passions – to paint, play music, sing, write, read, and of late, to cook – it is also necessary to lay all those things down and to talk to God. Sometimes, even praying becomes a passion that occupies us so much so that we fail to listen to God, to commune with Him, to know what’s on His mind.

I reflect on the last few years since 2014 and see how each of those twists and turns have prepared me for my time here. On my first faraway trip, I found myself in a very conservative and religious Arab-Druze village in Northern Galilee, Israel, just a two-hour drive from the Lebanese border. I was there to teach conversational English to Arab-speaking young people. It was the first time I felt complete isolation due to the language and cultural barrier. There were only one or two people I found who could speak a little English and with whom I could converse on a very basic level. That first time was very hard for me, even though I relished the opportunity to be tested in that way. In subsequent journeys, I found myself in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda (on multiple trips), and last year the United Arab Emirates, India, and the Philippines.

They were all very different places, and yet they all took me through the same windy roads of life-long lessons. I made mistakes. Sometimes I almost trusted the wrong people, but God always protected me and sent me the right people. I learnt to be completely fine with feeling totally alone and friend-less in a foreign place. I learnt to trust people in the most unexpected situations. Some of those situations resulted in small and big miracles, stories that I shall one day recount in a book. I learnt to pray, and really pray. Out of desperation, in faith, from trust, in fearsome wonder, through the moments I felt like life was pointless and I wanted to run away from my calling to those tough places. He kept me steady. He helped me to overcome fear and embrace the unknown with joy, to conquer loneliness and to enjoy solitude, to dispel the dark thoughts and discover my destiny step by step, to see beyond the present and help others do the same, to face questions and opposition with quiet confidence in His word alone.

In this place of unnerving solitude, where there is little to distract myself with, I have come to realize that I am not here for any special (or rather, predictable) outcome or solution. But what if I don’t get the outcome that I expect or that others will inevitably expect? Does it matter? Really, I now see that it doesn’t. Because right here, right now, I am where I am meant to be. Even though it is not easy to be confined, to have to think about security and bombs and kidnappers and wearing a hijab, to not be free to walk out or do as I please, I would still not rather be anywhere else, and living any other kind of life. I am here; and I am satisfied in Him. Right here, right now – each and every day – I will continue to listen and to act as He wills, as He leads me in love. 

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