Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Looking Back: Staying Safe in a War Zone

Weren't you scared?

This is a tricky question for me. Security is constantly visible in Afghanistan: armed guards on streets, roadblocks, police everywhere. All those precautions ought and sometimes did make me feel safe, but there were times when the lack of security stared us in the face. When bombs went off down the street. When people I know got kidnapped or attacked. When frighteningly close gunfire made me question what in the world I was doing there.

But the reason you heard about some of those is that we tend to write about the big events in our lives, not the daily stuff. So here's a post to show the reality of day-to-day security in Afghanistan.

The biggest security measure I employed was integration. Speaking the language, dressing appropriately, not flashing around my fancy things. These measures and others ensured that I had more freedom of movement than most foreigners, which contributed to my sense of comfort, which made me more secure because I felt capable of dealing with many types of emergencies.

Of course, there is a significant amount of danger in Afghanistan that can't be avoided by speaking the language or wearing a headscarf. We mitigated these to an extent by practicing caution- staying in close communication with our boss and each other, driving in certain cars, varying the routes we walked, not speaking English in public or otherwise broadcasting the fact that we were foreigners, not spending time in places that were targets. But that didn't mean we couldn't end up victims because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and in terms of personal safety and the safety of those close to me, I suppose that was the most frightening part.

What honestly frightened me more than the physical danger were the attitudes than often surrounded that danger. I've posted about this before, but I'll say it again because it really hit home for me. More than once, I caught myself thinking of the violence as an annoyance, the attackers as people to simply be eliminated. More than once, the "eye for an eye" concept of justice rendered me speechless. When we stop seeing "others" as people, when we find excuses as to why they deserve what their getting, we lose the aspect of humanity that is our best hope for peace. Far more than the physical danger, the fear of losing my ability to empathize was the scariest concern I've ever faced.

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