Before and After Afghanistan

by - 5:27 PM


Afghanistan was always going to be a bittersweet chapter in my life. It was difficult but utterly divine for me to have lived there for three years from 8 April 2018 to 18th June 2021. A few months before I completed my teaching mission at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, I was burdened by the pervasive sense of foreboding that surrounded everything and everyone in Kabul. We felt that the Taliban were at the gates of the city. They were already in control of many provinces in the country, by early 2021, almost 70 percent of Afghanistan was theirs.

I left Afghanistan in June. 15 August just two months later, the Taliban took over. It was shocking but I was not shocked. Many friends and colleagues both local and foreign were holding out hope that things would not end this way. But it did. Before I left, I remember feeling strongly that this isn’t about being positive or hopeful. Sometimes when darkness comes, it feels inevitable, unstoppable. Being hopeful does not stop the darkness from coming.

I believe in being hopeful. I believe God is sovereign and is still working in this land of endless war.

I knew that I would be in Afghanistan for one to three years. I never imagined I could have stayed as long as I did. I knew it was a temporary assignment, after which God would open a door for me (finally) in Africa, where I knew I would probably live and serve for longer periods of time. Temporary as three years in Afghanistan felt, it still feels like a long time to be in a place where as a young woman you cannot let your hair down, wear the clothes you like, and walk around or laugh aloud the way you could in freer places. Being a follower of Jesus in such context makes it even harder, the level of spiritual oppression you experience is incomparable to anywhere else in the world (unless you’re talking about another similarly oppressed country like Somalia or North Korea).

Before Afghanistan, I travelled on mission to places like Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, India, and the Philippines. I reached out to young people and families of refugee backgrounds from countries like Afghanistan, Iran, and South Sudan in my home city of Melbourne. But I had never lived or worked anywhere alone and away from my family at length. In 2018 when God was soon about to answer my prayer for an open door work as a teacher in a country beyond Australia, I honestly couldn’t have imagined Afghanistan to be the answer. But I always wanted to go there because of the many books I had read about the country’s history and the plight of women, and also because I had come to know some good Afghan friends who were refugees settling in Australia.

Before Afghanistan, there were a few practical things I was yet to learn. Who knew? At 24 years old, I would get the opportunity to live alone, work full-time as a teacher in a foreign country that is current war zone, and experience life in a place where church and the Christian community was not a seen reality. My new work did not provide me with health insurance. I could not find any reliable or reasonably-priced insurance company for living in a war-affected country. Unimaginable things. I would live, dress, and reach out to people very differently than I normally could in Australia.

Before Afghanistan, I had always lived with my parents and sisters. I never had to cook for myself. I would soon have to learn to do that and buy groceries in a place where markets were deemed dangerous for foreigners and where mini-market shops were guarded by guards carrying AK-47 rifles, where speaking English on the streets would draw too much unwanted attention. How much did living in Afghanistan for 3 years change me and teach me things that made me change the way I used to be? What did I change that was good for my personal growth and character? What did I change that wasn’t so good, but that was inevitable due to the circumstances I lived in? What did I change that I did not realize then, but that now I realize when I no longer live there? What changes am I unhappy about and that now as I live in Rwanda, I would like to undo?

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