From Herat: a relief I didn’t know I needed…

Just a few minutes ago I came back from the so called “Mobile Bar”, the weekly social get together of the internationals working with the different NGOs or other international organizations. And let me tell you something: You would not belief the kind of relief I felt right the minute I came to the rooms of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who hosted the event today. People, male and female, were chatting to each other, music was playing loudly, alcohol was served – if you wanted it, and the headscarves were abandoned right at the door.

When we arrived at maybe 9.15 p.m., the room was already packed. Heineken was flowing by the can, water as well as vodka orange by the glass and that perfect mixture of English, French, German and a few more languages, so loved by all, who’ve spent some time abroad as a student, filled the air. …the mixture where you change the language in the middle of the sentence yet still everyone understands what you want to say.

Apart from that, the people talking, having fun and appearing as they might in any bar in the western world were extraordinary! Mine searchers, doctors, people working with handicapped men and women, those that work to give pure water to the people… Idealists who might have spend more than 25 years going to places like Cambodia, Iraq or Afghanistan, to better the lives of the regular people like you and me.

I’m not surprised that they seemed to suck up the atmosphere just as I did, enjoying every second of it. If I, after just a short few days, craved being in a familiar western environment, in which I didn’t have to cover myself up to avoid annoying anybody, in which I actually could communicate with the people somewhat more sophisticated than “yes”, “no”, “thank you”, and “good bye” and in which I could have easily flirted with people if I’d wanted to…
How relieving such a meeting has to be for someone, who spent 7, 12 or 24 months in this city already. I won’t know it for sure, but now I think I can imagine.

6 thoughts on “From Herat: a relief I didn’t know I needed…

  1. Two (very different) comments:

    First, this is a pretty good representation of how people from far-off lands (eg refugees from Afghanistan) feel when they’re living in Europe and have a chance to meet their countrymen (or women, for that matter). Forming a clique with your countremen when living abroad is natural and feels good (although it may not always be a good thing in the long run).

    Second, it’s also a pretty good example of the very different cultural backgrounds of a lot of the (muslim) refugees/immigrants coming to Europe have.

  2. “people from far-off lands”

    It is indeed a natural phenomenon. Yet you need not have to go as far as far-off lands. Here in Brittany, just across the Channel, the Brits behave in a very insular way as well. Not all of them, but enough to get noticed.

    In Spain I have seen colonies of Dutch, Belgians and Germans (and Brits).

    As an expat, who was never part of any colony, I sometimes really welcome the sound of my mother tongue. But sticking together is, as Oskar says, not a good thing in the long run. And not all people can handle emigration, either. It is tougher than you would think.

    One anecdote. Someone I know and who adheres to extremist rightwing populism (she’s not really a feascist) moved abroad one day and was shocked to discover she was being treated as ‘a foreigner’. Just as those ‘foreigners’ she despises in her own country.

    I know it is umpossible, but everybody should ideally spend a year or two away from their home country once in their lives. You get to appreciate your own culture better and you become more understanding, not necessary tolerant, of other cultures.

  3. “people from far-off lands”

    I don’t know Dorothee, but I would guess that one of the first things you must notice are all the children. As a spin-off from some other work I’m doing, I just checked, and Afghanistan has the sixth highest fertility level on the planet (at TFR 6,8), the twelfth lowest life expectancy at 42.9 (and this is without a significant level of HIV-aids presumeably, and the 18th lowest median age at 17.56.

    I mention all of this, since it seems to me self-evident that the Western presence there looks set to be in for the extremely long haul. Since stable political systems seem to kick-in at a median age somewhere around the median age 25 mark, this seems to be decades away from stability.

  4. I know it is impossible, but everybody should ideally spend a year or two away from their home country once in their lives. You get to appreciate your own culture better and you become more understanding, not necessary tolerant, of other cultures.

    Well, OK, maybe it would be impossible to make really everybody do so, but why should it be impossible to make, say, all university students to?

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