I remember the first time I was awed by the beauty of the landscapes, only to have to leave less than 24 hours later for an emergency dental procedure. I remember the night my colleagues learned the words to ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ and sang it for an Australian’s colleague’s birthday, the words bouncing around the remote field base and slipping out through the windows to a dark, star-filled night sky. I remember long days driving to communities at the highest points of mountain valleys, and the families I met there. I remember the women who proudly showed me their kitchen gardens, lush with radishes and lettuce after a summer of planting. I remember their daughters, bright-eyed in school uniforms, drawing flowers on the backs of receipts or spare notebooks. I still have them.
In my time in Afghanistan I was welcomed into people’s homes like family, and gifted stories that are still more precious to me than anything money can buy. I met men who let me photograph them while they helped care for safe water points or drew disaster maps of their communities. I met women who allowed me to photograph them and their families in their homes, insistent that I join them and have a cup of water or tea. I met families whose kitchen gardens had been so successful that they couldn’t give away their produce fast enough, feeding entire communities with the vegetables they grew. Elsewhere in the country, my colleagues sent me photographs of previously malnourished children that had fattened up in our nutrition programmes, and told me via text message and email about the families they’d met that day.
I got to meet and know a side of Afghanistan that many don’t have the opportunity to see.
My experience of Afghanistan was one of compassion and determination, of deep love and perseverance. It was a country I got to know over countless cups of strong, black tea served in glass cups with an inch of sugar swirling around the bottom of each glass. It was a country where we would watch residents fly kites and pigeons, arching and swirling beneath a mountain-rimmed sky. It was the country where my colleagues shared their stories with me, translated for me in shops and during meetings with the community, and made me laugh when I was homesick and pining for my family.
I left Afghanistan six years ago, but my memories of this country are so deeply embedded in who I am now that it takes nothing at all to take me back there. Sometimes the memories are such a delight that I’ll just start laughing, leaving bemused friends and family to wait until I’ve caught my breath again to explain. Other times, they’re so heartbreaking that I’ll have to stop my morning run and just cry.
Afghanistan is woven into the fabric of my life. It is and always will be my first aid work love. The walls of my apartment are decorated with photographs of sunrises over majestic landscapes, and families that I met. I have mugs in my cupboard that I bought in Kabul, and still bundle up in the scarves I once used to cover my hair. But more importantly, the memories of my time in Afghanistan have made themselves a welcome, treasured home in my heart.
I still miss Afghanistan every single day – but I’m never far from this country I love when I can take it with me everywhere I go.
Lucy Bamforth served as Medair’s Communications Officer in Afghanistan.
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Medair is an international humanitarian NGO that provides emergency relief and recovery services to families made vulnerable by natural disasters, conflicts, and other crises. This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organization.