Today, I flashbacked to seventeen…telling my parents that I wanted to move out, not just out, but move to the big city and pursue a career as a modern dancer. They must have internally been shitting a brick, but externally they accepted that perhaps it was time to let me test my wings. Amazingly they released me into the wild and let me stumble, fall, crash, and eventually fly.
In Kabul its been a steep learning curve and I’m still in the left side of the bell curve – its a difficult country to assimilate into, not just because of headscarves, restrictions, and heavy security concerns, but also because streets signs don’t exist, houses are unmarked, businesses are unsigned. How is one develop their internal map if one can’t even find where they are on a enlarged paper version?
Najibullah was my initial introduction to Kabul and greater Afghanistan by proxy. He acted as guide, translator, fixer, Dari instructor, and led me through the warm ups prior to stretching my wings. He got his first taste that I wasn’t going to rely on him forever when I sent him on an errand and went for a motorcycle ride around Kabul a week into my very first visit. He then began to allow for more freedom in our daily excursions . Initially he had avoided markets and walking beyond what was essential, but the next day he took me to Chicken Street where we perused book shops, talked with children selling maps of Afghanistan and Kabul, and shop keepers. He even agreed to ask a group of Afghan police if they would pose for a photo with me on the first ask. Didn’t even bat an eye when I seized the opportunity to ride a Buzkashi horse. It made all the difference.
I learned that its normal to change large amounts of money into Afghanis by dodgy looking men standing on the streetcorners. You know they are money changers by the enormous wad of cash they carry. Same with the cell phone cards. Cell phones are pay as you go and you buy the cards often by the same guys changing money.
Now this visit, I push back a bit more. I chose a different guesthouse, more centrally located, get picked up fairly regularly by motorbike, and use him and a driver per day rather than per trip – planning out our schedule a few days at a time. I don’t tell him that I am walking alone in a burqa, go out to dinner at night instead of staying in at the guesthouse, or that I road trip up out of Kabul on a motorbike, don’t want to give the poor man a heart attack, but slowly he is educating me branch out on my own as my skills improve. He helped me purchase my own cell phone, he taught me about how to fly for free with PRT cargo planes in order to get me into Khost, and he has offered to be a liason for drivers when I need a driver but not Naji.
He was even a little bit proud I think when I bought my cellphone, a sign that I would be remaining loyal to my word of working in Afghanistan. To seal the deal he bought me a small Afghan flag on a stand for my desk in America to remind me of the good work to come in Afghanistan.
All of this is done with mixed feelings. I’m thrilled to be testing my wings in this new land that I am adopting as my home away from home. While I’ve not yet tried to fully fly on my own yet, each day I stretch my wings a little further and hop a little closer to the edge of the nest.