I’ve been postponing writing about my experience at the refugee camp because it was really difficult and scary for me, but I think it’s important to write about my experience and share it with others. When we checked in with Global Exchange a couple months before the trip we talked about our itinerary and I was a little worried that our itinerary wasn’t more firm. I’m a planner, and I like to learn about the organizations we are going to visit beforehand. The people at GX said that the reason why our itinerary was not more firm is because of security, that we may be visiting places like an underground school and a refugee camp and that for security reasons they had to keep our plans flexible. After our first day in Kabul I realized just how flexible our itinerary was, after getting of the plane, we visited 3 places that were slated for different days. Our tour guide asked if we wanted to go see a refugee camp; I had no interest in doing so, however my fellow travelers convinced me that this would be a singular experience and I had vowed to be more adventuresome on this trip. Our tour guide said if we go to the refugee camp that we should go on a Friday, the weekend, because on this day there would be more people to interview; the men work during the week. So we decided to go to the refugee camp that day.
In the morning we went to see Kargha Lake nearby, in the car, our tour guide Najib talked to us about his country. He explained that most Afghans don’t hate Americans they hate the Pakistani Military and the American policy. Although they felt there were improvements under Obama, they felt that there could only be progress in Afghanistan when American stops giving money to the Pakistani government which is funding the Talilban. Although he said there was not very much anti-American sentiment in Kabul, he said that we might find some in this refugee camp. He told us that the people in this camp were from Helmand province where they had been displaced due to US and Taliban bombing. Najib explained that the reason why we were able to get into this camp is because he knew one of the camp leaders whose name was Ismail. Najib had been a surgeon during the war had taken Ismail’s son to the hospital, this is how they knew each other. Najib also explained that we may have heard about this camp because the New York Times had recently written a story about it because they had a particularly difficult winter and some children had died of exposure.
This was our second day in Afghanistan. I didn’t know the tour guide well, I didn’t know my compatriots well and, although I had read about it for years, I hadn’t really experienced Afghan culture. I would later come to understand that all these people had my best interests at heart, but walking into the refugee camp was shocking and terrifying to me. It was early spring and everywhere we went the ground was partially frozen. The sidewalk in Kabul isn’t always paved and in this part of town it was not only muddy but smelled of raw sewage. When we walked into the tent city we were greeted by Ismail (Najib had called him on his cell phone), and other elders, as well as children who were curious about these strangers in their midst. As we walked in, sat down and waited for the journalist to set up her equipment, I decided to do what I normally do in situations that confuse and intimidate me, I observed carefully, took copious notes and sought to understand what was going on around me.