Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Self Portrait - free of heart

This is a self portrait I did recently - my 'Afghan look' - an image I feel very comfortable with. It is part of my identity.

I have just been in Kabul where I chair the board of a partner NGO. I travel every May and November. It is something I enjoy immensely. There is something about Afghanistan and the Afghan people that gets inside you. It is a privilege to be involved in some small way.

The NGO work is demanding, with many projects designed to serve the people of Afghanistan. And sorting out governance and management We have just had a consultant with us helping to restructure the board governance. There was an overwhelming sense of agreement in the direction we are going. But it all takes time and is necessary. And sometimes seems a distraction form the real work.

Afghanistan is not an easy place to be. The demands are high, with constant security threats and the need to be vigilant. I recently wrote blog on the Mazar UN murders

There is a lack of infrastructure - so many basic things to do. Yet there is a sense of excitement in what some have called the Wild, Wild East.

I remember reading the classic 1960s novel set in Afghanistan - James A Mitchener's 'Caravans' with stories of play readings in Kabul and packs of wolves wandering the streets, of Nomadic Kuchi peoples wandering the Steppes on Camels, of a German engineer learning about how flexible Afghan bridges survive better than solid Western ones. There's a lesson there...

'I love Afghanistan. Who cares about the dysentery and the loneliness? For I knew that Afghanistan was the toughest assignment on record. Here was the post which sooner or later tested a man and for me the preliminaries were over. I was about to plunge into one of the world's great cauldrons' James A Mitchener: Caravans
People get romantic about Afghanistan and see enormous significance in its untamable wildness. Maybe none more so than Mohammad Iqbal (1876-1938) Pakistan's Poet laureate:

Asia is a living body, and Afghanistan is its heart.

In the ruin of the heart lies the ruin of the body;

So long as the heart is free, the body remains free;

If not it becomes a straw adrift in the wind.

A reminder to us all to be free of heart, free spirits ...

like the young woman in James Mitchener's 'Caravans' in spite of the trouble it may get us into.

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