We arrived here yesterday morning. Again a dodgy plane and this time not even a terminal at the airport- just a gate and plenty of armed men to greet us. Friendly enough though- especially when they saw we were with Khalid.
I realised that not all of you know why I came to end up here. Its all down to my friend Zahra who I met whilst at University. She studied physiotherapy and graduated the same time as I did last year. But instead of joining the NHS she fell in love with a Afghan man called Khalid. She is also Afghan but came to the UK as a child. They were married last year and Zahra moved to Kabul to be with Khalid. They invited me to come here and learn about what is happening here and the work they do. An opportunity which I felt I couldn't say no to.
Khalid comes from a family of unique people. His father was a Marxist and as such he is not religious- quite exceptional in the "Islamic Republic of Afghanistan". Most of his education was in a modern school in Pakistan. Every member of his family who I have met so far is exceptionally friendly and kind. His sister Andeshia runs many orphanages/ foster homes http://joomtest.afceco.org/around the country and is working hard to build a better future for Afghanistan. We met her in Kabul before we left and visited one of the foster homes where 45 children live. They have a real home there and a Doctor who visits three times a week happened to be there whilst I was so we saw the children together. He turned out to be not a paediatrician but an Infectious Diseases specialist and when I return to Kabul Ill try to visit the hospital.
Since coming to Mazaar we have visited the Blue Masjiid (Mosque), so called for his beautiful blue tiling. I was surprised how many women and children there were around, sharing food and chatting. I think I will remember it as the blue masjiid as there were so many blue burquas! I didnt see many burquees in Kabul (not sure if that's a real word) but there are more here. I tried one on today- as expected its horrible. Can't imagine wearing one in the heat.
There seems to be more women in Burquas here in Mazaar, yet it is one of the most secure cities in Afghanistan with very little Taliban support. Yesterday Khalids older sister, who lives here, told me some terrible stories about genocide and torture that happened in Hazaara and Uzbeck villages around Mazaar during the Taliban. The signs of war are less obvious here than in Kabul but the oppression of women seems more apparent.
That's why the work that Khalid and Zahra are doing is so important. They run many different businesses; catering, import/export even road building. The ethos behind them all is that they employ women and give them equal rights and pay as men as well as insisting that all their employs children go to school. We visited the Afghan Police Academy today where they provide the catering services. The academy is funded by Germans and was an insight into the "rebuilding" process that is happening here.
This is turning into a bit of a book and I havent even written about the Ancient City of Balkh which we visited today.
Im going to play scrabble with Neer- not much to do in the evenings here as its not safe to go out. Haven't found any bars open either!