Here in London, free to hop on and off buses, run down the street, yell at the top of my voice, I am mostly afraid of being knocked off my bike by a truck or swallowing a poisonous cleaning product.
But over there in Kabul, as an unwelcome foreigner I could be attacked or I could be kidnapped. I could be hit by a suicide blast in a crowded place.
To go over there with a peace delegation I needed to prepare for what would happen in the event of my death or if I was kidnapped. My deepest fear, was what it would be like for my children. Does a peace activist with children do this kind of thing? I was afraid of what my mother would think of me. Why was I going? Why wasn’t I able to explain why I was going? I must be stupid.
Close friends reacted to my plans in various ways according to their own experience and expectations. I found that some were encouraging and even a little jealous, some questioned me at length, while some others couldn’t bring themselves to mention it at all. The anxiety this last group produced in me, as well as my own pre travel nerves, might have been enough to put me off altogether.
As well as being a foreigner I was a Christian and therefore at risk of being perceived as a legitimate target by the Taliban. There was no way I could pretend not to be Christian. However silent I remained on the subject of faith, to the Taliban, anyone western was probably Christian.
In the weeks before setting off, near my workplace, a church building, I suddenly noticed the street signs: the Angel, St. Giles Place, St. Martin’s Lane, Newman Street, Charing Cross. In Kabul these fearful addresses would get me into trouble. But this was wandering into the absurd, I told myself. I even started to grow a little defiant, an emotion I quickly batted away.
A few weeks before we were to depart, Afghan news site, Tolonews, regularly reported suicide bombings and attacks in Kabul. A South African and his two children were killed in an attack on an international aid organization in the same district that we would be visiting. The Taliban had claimed the attack and said the organization was a ‘secret Christian missionary group’.
Still, I reasoned with myself, if there had been a shooting or explosion in Hackney, I wouldn’t discourage friends from visiting. We gathered for a pre-trip Skype call, faltering, in trepidation, wondering if it was a bad time to be go. Maybe we should consider postponing. But as we sat down and listed the positives and the negatives and the positives outweighed the negatives, we decided we should still go ahead with our plans.
Once in Kabul, I learned that as the government doesn’t want to scare the population, some attacks are left unreported. Even if they are reported accounts of the numbers killed are often inaccurate.