Monday, September 10, 2012

Off We Go Again

The beginning of a new adventure always fills me with a combination of excitement, trepidation, and homesickness. Homesickness tends to abate, at least to an extent, after I've settled in, but in those first days, when I have just left my wonderful family and familiar environment for a place I hardly know...

Excitement comes in waves: it crests as the plane takes off, then crashes during the thirteen-hour flight. Up as I smell the delicious local foods I've missed, down as I lay out the chadar (head scarf) I'll be wearing continuously for the next ten months.

Trepidation is perhaps the most difficult emotion to deal with, because I'm a worrier through and through. It's easy to find reasons to worry, and even when I smile and reassure others, their doubts feed my own.

My new adventure to Afghanistan begins today. My colleague Josh and I will be living in Kabul for ten months, returning to the States in June 2013. Last time we were in Afghanistan, in June 2011, we hosted that wonderful tournament, and the students asked us, “What's next? When is the next tournament?” We looked at each other and had to say, “Well, we are about to go home. So...”

This trip is an extension of the last one. There have been some debates hosted in here over the last year, by APT, by student-run organizations, by other local non-profits. Our goal this time is to create a program that can be sustained after we leave, without bringing in trainers from the U.S. We'll be working with our current debate students and recruiting more, training coaches, hosting tournaments, and training judges and tournament staff. By next June, we hope that they will have the tools they need to continue training more debaters and hosting more tournaments with only long-distance support.

It all sounds great on paper, but there are so many pieces of this plan that contribute to that trepidation I mentioned. I'm a writer; my mind imagines every possible (usually negative) scenario. What if we don't recruit enough students, coaches? What if our language barriers limit our options to the point of failure? What if the program we create doesn't do any good, doesn't reach beyond the surface, doesn't teach true dialogue but merely the illusion?

Moving to a city like Kabul offers even more fodder for a worrier. How will I manage to stay true to myself and my faith in an Islamic country and an environment that is so different? Will I be able to stay my too-outspoken tongue and learn to listen and support? I will survive without the amenities I'm used to, but will I do so without whining or calling attention to my “sacrifice”? What if something happens, the kind of something I promise my loved ones wouldn't happen?

All these fears, all these worries, all these potential problems. But now, I look outside and see the rising sun. I hear the birds chirping, smell the hint of rain. Then, suddenly, the excitement comes flooding back, in a wave that buries everything else. Everything will be okay. What a grand adventure this will be!

Hello from Kabul!

Kabul in the Morning

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