I found my Afghan notebook last night. Just sorting through a box and there it was. A nondescript black soft backed Moleskin notebook.
I have always loved notebooks and being into my stationary porn (you know, walking round Staples errr touching books) I loved having it out there with me. I resolved NOT to keep a dairy of my time out there, this blog was enough of that, but instead, being a ‘bear of very small brain’, I resolved to write EVERYTHING I did down. That way I would always be able to refer back to events as time moved on out there.
My job in Afghan was basically a Project Manager, providing advice, support, accessing funding and expertise for the locals, reconstructing, rebuilding, stabilising the country, so it was important that I kept a track of things going on. The Moleskin was perfect. It fitted into my trouser pocket easily and weighed nothing in my daysack. It went everywhere with me. I lived in fear and dread of losing it…
But I never did, and I religiously wrote down all sorts of things in there. Names, places, figures, lists. All in note form, but strangely enough, last night just opening it again and looking at stuff from a year ago I was able to pick out events quite easily.
Obviously I looked back to see what I did exactly one year ago. It was one of the more interesting days…
– Met with elder Haji Abdul Ali Khan to look at scales of payment for damages to his compound when used as a Check Point. Agreed to identify number of rooms damaged, windows and doors damaged and walls broken down. (HAAK’s compound is not listed on the database for occupation and no records exist for the occupation. Need to establish when and who occupied and if there is any evidence of BritFor occupation. Will require deliberate Op by 24B Multiple to set up security cordon and carry out survey.)
– Notes for today’s Shura. Inform elders that only one project per village will be allowed at one time. Elders as a council need to decide on priority for projects. Strano 1/3 wells proposed, Norzo propose new Sluice Gate for irrigation ditches, Barakazai investigate road reinforcement idea. Locals need to learn to prioritise what they need over what they want.
Projects need to become more community focused. In particular Sluice Gates and Irrigation projects are not looked upon so favourably. Propose that the Shura starts to think about community meeting places to refurbish and improve. Funding for low level projects will be more difficult to find.
Locals need to be reminded that bringing electricity to each compound is a long way off at this stage and that the idea of a large bridge over the Helmand will not be built in out lifetime. Similarly funding for huge projects is just not there.
– Compound 44 damaged by Huskey. Mohammed Rsoule claims 22,000Afghani damages. Will require close inspection, however worst case figures available for damage described is:
Wall 3m at 1,500
Door at 3,000
Door frame additional 1,000
Total available for damages 5,500afa. 23A admits his Huskey driver hit the wall, but the damage is minimal. Will have words with Smudge about his driving through the village. Thank God he didn’t hit the Mosque on the other side of the road.
– ANA commander from CP Shin reports his second well is now unserviceable. Invest possible repair from Hekmat Wali Construction. ‘Terp to phone Gul.
– Compound 5 identified as Ghani’s house. Has been know to be a teacher at some stage.
– District Council member failed to show at Shura again. Claimed to ‘terp on phone that security ‘wasn’t good enough’. Shura held at CP Shin. Talking bollocks.
The Shura (a meeting or consultation) that I made the notes for didn’t go to well. I basically had to tell the local elders that the central funding had been reduced. This was because there was an up-coming major Op to capture Loy Mandeh from Taliban control in the offing. This would mean the money that there was available from the central funds would have to be shared out amongst more people and places.
Obviously, I couldn’t tell them that there was going to be an Op – security and all that – so it was difficult to get the elders to understand that they would have less projects in their villages. This meant less development and less construction. This meant that people still had to get their drinking water from filthy irrigation ditches, that their fields were not irrigated efficiently, and that they would have to try and work as a community more for their own development.
The reason for my job out there was to reduce the locals dependence on foreign aid and foreign advice. They simply had no idea how governance worked. They had no experience of operating as a community and how to prioritise projects and ideas. The aim was to get the locals to think about how THEY could improve their own communities by themselves. We were there for help and advice, and to try to get them to see what they needed, rather than what they wanted.
When I first arrived in the villages, I asked at a Shura what the locals thought was important for the development of the area. They all asked for generators to provide electricity to the compounds, for a new road to be built, for a huge wall to be built next to the River Helmand and for a big bridge to be built over it.
All good ideas for development and progress. But not exactly what they needed right then. What they really needed was the roads they had to be made safe and resurfaced. They needed to be able to access medical care for their families. They needed to have access to safe, clean water.
And they needed to start thinking about their own community and how they governed themselves. They needed facilities for government and governance. A place to meet. A place for the community to use as a small market. They needed a small school and maybe support for the three women who operated as midwives and the one man who acted as a doctor (although in reality he just sold medicines that he bout in the Bazaar in Lashkah Gar).
I spent a long time with the 20 or so elders trying to get this point across to them. They were proposing huge projects that had no chance of being approved. Me and my ‘terp sat with them for over an hour arguing and explaining and repeating…some of them saw my point, but a few refused to see it. When I told them that just one project per village would be allowed at a time, several elders got quite angry. Eventually I had had enough We were going round and round and getting nowhere. I told my ‘terp to say that the Shura was over and that everyone needed to calm down.
A few of the more sensible elders agreed and nodded. But I got up and walked towards the door, I shook hands with the senior elder there and went around the room shaking hands saying goodbye until next time, and went to leave.
One man was still angry, he started to shout and began to move towards me. I told the ‘terp to say we wouldn’t be speaking about the projects any more today and that the Shura was over. I would be happy to speak in a day or so, but not today.
This didn’t placate the man. He was still very angry, another man appeared on his shoulder, shouting. He shouted again and stood in my way. My terp got very nervous. I got very nervous. The man pushed me and as I tried to walk past him he pulled on my left arm to stop me from leaving. My right hand went to the handle of my pistol, nestling in my pocket. I used one of the few words of Afghan that I knew ‘DREZH’ – ‘STOP!’ In English I shouted for everyone to calm down, but I don’t think my terp translated that, he was too shocked by what had happened.
One of the other elders, a man I really respected, an ex-afghan police commander, a really shrewd and clever man, named Daroo saw my hand move. He himself moved quickly. He pulled the man away. He looked him in the face and said something quickly to him and then quickly turned to me. I was standing at the door. My Terp was just behind me. I still had my hand on my pistol, but it was still in my pocket.
He spoke and my terp told me that Daroo was very sorry for what had just happened. He said that some of the people there didn’t understand that they had to move on themselves. Daroo said that it was time for the people of Afghan to start to look after their own affairs, but it was difficult for some because they didn’t know how to. The other man moved towards me slowly and held out his hand in apology. He told me that he was sorry for what had happened.
And I told him that I was sorry too. But I understood why he had gotten so angry. And I told him that the reason that he had got angry was a good one. Because it meant that he cared for the people off the village that he represented. He wanted the best for them and he wanted the country to develop and grow and become a better place to live. I told him that the only way to do this properly was to work with us and to work with the Government of Afghanistan. He should use his passion to fight for his villagers, and that they had a good elder who obviously cared for them.
I looked over at Daroo who was nodding in agreement. ‘Shaa’ he said – an Afghan word which sort of means, ‘yes, indeed, true’. I thanked him for his intervention and for his wise words too. I told everyone, not to be disheartened by what had just happened, and that it was a good thing. I wanted them to care about their communities. Because if they cared about them then they would want to build, develop and improve them.
None of this went into the notebook. But I remember it vividly. I remember my terp after saying he was not happy about what had happened, and that it had been a good job that Daroo had been there.
But not as glad and happy that I was. And I am glad that people like Daroo are there in Afghan, because for all the stories in the news about insurgents and ‘Green on Blue’ and the implications by the media that the locals don’t want us there in their country, there are people out there who do. People like Daroo who want to work with us to help develop a country that has had so little for so long.
And on the day I left the CP to begin my journey home, Daroo and a few of the elders from the village came to see me and say goodbye. And I noticed that the last one who shook my hand was the man who had tried to pull me back into the Shura. ‘Manana’ he said, ‘Deera manana’. ‘Thank you. Thank you very much.’
I sometimes miss Afghanistan. Much more than the dry facts in my notebook describe.