Martine Morincome, Admin and Financial Coordinator of our mission in Afghanistan, unveils her views on a country that, despite its restrictive security context, continues to seduce humanitarian workers.
When did you go to Afghanistan for the first time?
I left in October 2011 and stayed there until August 2012. I then traveled to Pakistan to try and understand what was happening on the other side of the border, and maintained a feeling of fascination, shared by many who travel to Afghanistan. The Afghanistan of novels is still there; the same violence and the same beauty.
In comparison to your previous mission, do you have the impression that life in Kabul has changed?
Yes, without a doubt. I experienced the end of the «light» years: restaurants full of expats, the hope for change, the beginning of disillusionment of a clumsy and insolent West towards a society which remained opaque towards it and resisted it with all its strength. Today, Kabul seems cleaner and less miserable, although urbanization (not always very esthetically pleasant) has taken over the old Afghan homes with rose gardens. Trees are making a comeback and so are kites. We can hear the muezzin’s calls to evening prayer from the terrace of our home, and it is magical.
As an expat woman, how can one envisage a mission in Afghanistan?
Women can definitely go to Afghanistan. If we go, we must accept having to wear a disguise (a long dress and veil) and forget, or better still, make people forget our femininity. We are regarded as different beings that are not to be touched, while men greet each other with big hugs. However, this also means being on the side of both men (who accept us as a third sex) and women (who expat men never get to know).
I will never forget how, as the only woman among a group of men who had gone to pay tribute to an Afghan colleague who had died during the night, I entered a house full of women and found a brotherhood and closeness unknown to me. The Afghan woman does have a certain importance: she reigns over domestic life, which can be stifling for us but essential to them. It allows us to rethink our positions as Western women and, for feminists like me, to never take for granted what our mothers conquered!
During your mission with Solidarités International, how were you able to unwind during the evenings or weekends?
Going to restaurants (not so simple now, given the current unstable situation) is an amazing experience in terms of both the cuisine and the decoration: traditional Afghan houses with superb gardens are always sunny, even during winter. We also spent time hanging out with colleagues, all different and unique… and most of all reading, which is an essential part of my life. And watching movies: each expat is a goldmine of films and series. Weekends are sometimes tricky because of the workload.
How did you get your family prepare themselves for your departure to Afghanistan?
My relatives all supported me. We only leave if we have settled this aspect, if the relatives have understood and accepted this choice, otherwise it becomes too great an obstacle. There is Skype and the Internet. There is no problem of losing any of the links we wish to keep. On the contrary, we renew some of them even more intensely.
With what can one identify himself/herself in the Solidarités International mission in Afghanistan?
When we go on a mission, we no longer have any doubts: eating at night, sitting in a suit surrounded by twenty Afghan colleagues (and no, Afghan women are not present) is a very strong sharing moment, even if we do not really understand each other. The following day, going to see a water reservoir which would solve the issues of many villages; seeing the planting of hundreds of trees to retain water on a barren, ochre mountain; visiting a nursery in a village at the end of a road built by Solidarités International. And all this, in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. It certainly does erase all fears and doubts!
© Frederic Penard