As Christmas approaches, my husband and I are almost halfway through our year-long assignment to Kabul. Serving at an unaccompanied post was not something we had to do, but something we chose to do. We expected the work to be interesting and rewarding, but we had no idea how many special, rare, and unique moments were in store for us.
I consider myself enormously privileged to have the opportunity to meet a wide variety of Afghans, many of them students and many of them incredibly brave. I value the brief glimpses into the lives of others, the few moments when I learn a little about the difficulties that other people face daily.
In a provincial capital, women talked about some of the obstacles that prevent girls getting an education. In one village, for example, girls cannot go to school after sixth grade because there is no female teacher and adolescent girls cannot be taught by a man.
There have been heartwarming but sobering moments, including visits to a home for children whose mothers are in prison. During an art therapy session at the center, a little boy told the therapist he wanted to grow up to be a 'good' religious leader. Workers at a women's shelter talked to an American counselor about the stress they were under as a result of dealing daily with the victims of abuse. The counselor taught them some simple techniques they could use to help both themselves and their clients, but I also felt that giving them time and space to talk to was helpful in itself.
There have been unexpected moments -- such as the scholarship applicants who talked about Kafka, Tom & Jerry, and Harry Potter. There have been surreal moments, such as listening to Afghanistan's first heavy metal band play at the residence of the Deputy Ambassador, at a concert dedicated to the memory of journalist Daniel Pearl. There have been inspiring moments -- watching a female general in the U.S. Air Force tell high school girls that, yes, they could aspire to owning a business, learning to fly, or joining the military.
On Christmas Day, I will miss being with my own family, but I will also enjoy spending time with the Embassy family. There are decorations in the cafeteria, and Christmas trees all over the compound. We had a lively holiday party last week: people in jeans mingled with guests in suits and evening gowns, while others dressed festively in red and green. I shall treasure the holiday ornament marked "U.S. Embassy Kabul 2012 -- Be Merry" as a tangible reminder of an unforgettable experience.
Carol singers came on Friday, and church services are within easy reach. On the day itself, friends, and co-workers will be sharing meals and looking out for others, hoping to ensure that everyone has someone to be with and somewhere to go.