This was written in 2005 in an email to family and friends
We arrived Kabul in the wee hours of the morning. By then I had been awake for close to 19 hours and though my eyelids were becoming heavier by the seconds, the inquisitive in me was too excited to miss the glimpse of the treacherous and prestigious mountains, over 7000 metres in height, that dominated the Afghan landscape. As we approached, an American funnily commented, ‘Osama could be gazing up into the skies right this moment’. I wondered then and there, did the world define Afghanistan with the name, ‘Osama’? And is Afghanistan merely a breeding ground for ‘Islamic terrorism’ and tyrannical Muslim clerics? Was there more to Afghanistan behind the veil that shrouded the mysteries of a once-beautiful land?
Visiting schools in Kabul was a refreshing and hopeful but quite a sad experience. Some schools were merely UNICEF tents, art classes comprised of a chalk and a black board, primary classes were packed with students ranging from ages 6 to 23 even!, some children had no limbs (blown by mines or injured by war and war-related diseases), others showed only sadness in their eyes, and what some teachers and the Principal told me left me depressed. Many of the children were extremely traumatized by the war that it had affected them psychologically. Some of them while doodling or during art classes drew pictures of dead bodies hanging on ropes, gunmen, soldiers shooting at villagers, Taliban executions and their dead parents. These children grew up seeing nothing but war and it left an indelible mark in their memories. In math classes, children found it difficult to add up figures and they used pictures of grenades, guns and dead bodies to aid them in their math calculations. This illustrated the paradox of Afghanistan- a country where the people had hope, yet no hope.
I spent a lot of my time with Sunbol, my sponsored child, and despite difficulties in communicating with her, it seemed that our lives that ran parallel were starting to converge. I played silly games with her, learnt the French alphabet, sang Afghan songs, told her about Singapore and listened to her recount stories of her life- she would hold my hand and convince me that she was happy and contented with her life. Every day I spent with her, I learnt so much about her and began to love her for her. Her family of 5 were poor but their generosity and hospitality were unmatched. In reciprocation to the food I brought them, Sunbol’s brother made me a Western/Arabian costume, her sister bought me a traditional Afghan costume with matching slippers and her mother gave me this beautiful set of traditional accessories. Sunbol’s mother was very hospitable and knowing I was afraid of rats that ran along in the kitchen, she piled up boxes for me to sit on and then said ‘Don’t worry, I will be your mother here and I will take care of you.’ Numerous times she invited me to dine and sleep at her home but I had to refuse because I was already having a major problem of diarrhoea(even with the clean food!)
By the time my journey was over, I was in tears, holding Sunbol in my arms, promising to return. The journey I was afraid to embark on initially has left me craving for more. I am convinced that my future will be in Afghanistan. But, as for now, let me finish my A’levels first!