A large sign greets me with ‘Welcome to the land of the brave’ in the arrival hall in Kabul. I have just stepped off the plane, and am wondering what the year ahead will bring.
This is my first time in Afghanistan and I’m excited and nervous, only having seen one week before the news of attacks in Kabul – just as I was telling my family that living in Kabul was no more dangerous than riding a bike into central London every day.
As I sat on the flight, I was curious to see who else would be coming to this intriguing country. There were only a few foreigners, with the bulk of the passengers Afghan families, many of whom were coming to visit family members.
The children behind me were playing ‘I spy with my little eye’ in English for most of the trip. Two Afghan men caught my eye and I quickly recognised that they were the owners of my local corner shop which made me realise the world really is so small! They were going home for a few weeks with their extended family to sort out business matters.
It was a long journey from London, but I was rewarded with stunning mountain views and a wonderful sunny morning as we touched down at Kabul airport.
As the only blonde person in the terminal, I am grateful for my headscarf. Immigration is remarkably efficient and after a bit of a wait for my luggage my transport whisks me off to the ‘Green Zone’ where the UK and many other embassies are located, as well as government ministries.
The dusty roads are jam-packed with colourful scenes of noisy traffic – cars, bikes, motorbikes and donkeys and carts – and before I can take it all in, I arrive at the DFID office.
My first impression of DFID staff is that they are a welcoming and very dedicated group of Afghans and UK staff. My job is to work on programmes that support local authorities to deliver basic services such as water and electricity to people in more remote parts of Afghanistan. This is crucial in a country where over a third of the population lives on less than 60p per day.
The population has high expectations of what basic services the government and donors can offer them and DFID is working hard to help meet them in a place which is rebuilding itself after enduring over three decades of conflict.
I have worked in DFID for seven years on a variety of roles, including working on job creation in conflict areas and providing debt relief to poor countries. Coming to Afghanistan offers me new challenges and the opportunity to make a difference.
Over the next few months I will share my impressions of Afghanistan and its people through this blog. I will be likely to see more of Kabul, as well as visit a number of provinces and districts to see the impact of our projects for myself. I am very much looking forward to gaining my own impressions of this fascinating place.