I have left Afghanistan. While it hasn't entirely sunk in that I won't be heading back there after the holidays there is a quiet ache in my heart that tells me I do understand, on some level, the significance of this departure.
I learned to love Afghanistan. Unlike Gaza it was not love at first sight. Afghanistan was a challenge, I had to overcome my fears and doubts and my own desire to be in control before I could really learn what this extraordinary country had to teach me.
As I drove to the Kabul Airport yesterday morning, on the first day of Eid, I saw the large group of men on the corner of Butcher Street hoping to be picked up for day labour. I was struck by a wave of sadness at the incredible struggle that is life for so many ordinary Afghans.
On the first day of Eid these men should be home with their families, thanking God for the blessings of the year which has passed. Instead they were standing out in the cold, misty morning chasing after each truck that pulled up hoping they would be picked to head off for a day of hard labour and the reward of a tiny take home pay, barely enough to cover the expenses of their families most basic needs, if that.
If I really believed there was a God or more accurately, if I really believed in divine intervention in the business of men, I would be down on my knees praying for Afghanistan. Praying for peace and stability, praying for a space from this interminable conflict - enough space for the people I met over the past two years to rebuild their lives and begin to build a future.
Instead I put my faith in those very people, having done my very best to support them over the past two years, having failed in so many ways and yet carrying home with me the satisfaction of those small successes and the knowledge that I did my best.
Leaving Afghanistan feels like the end of a difficult but precious love affair. On several levels that is exactly what it is. Despite all that Afghanistan has taught me, letting go continues to be my challenge.
Here in Dubai I am in transit, sitting for a few days in this strange space between my life in Afghanistan and my life in New Zealand. As I sank into bed last night this space terrified me for an instant. I felt entirely afloat, cutting my ties with one home, unsure of my ties to another. I felt as though I could let go and simply float away.
My instinctive response to that feeling was to want to get a grip on something, to hold on to the place I was leaving or grasp for the place I am going to. I stopped and breathed for a moment and then chose not to hold on, I chose to drift to sleep knowing that wherever I go, there I am. Knowing that there is no solid ground beneath any of us and that in these strange days I have the chance to really feel that truth and embrace it.
I'm going to take a break from writing here, and from visiting all your amazing blogs. I need to take a break from finding a way to put my transition into words and I need to be entirely present in every moment of my "homecoming". I plan to be back because I don't think that my story ends because I leave Afghanistan.
This year my challenge is to find a way to make peace in times of war while living the everyday life of a student in New Zealand. Over the past 18 months many of you who read and comment here have told me how difficult it is for you to see how you can make a difference in your lives. Moving to Afghanistan, or Gaza, is not the only option - obviously - in response to the challenges of our troubled world. I want to bring home the lessons I learned in Afghanistan and share here the journey of learning to live a life which makes sense and contributes to a more peaceful world without packing up and moving into the conflict zone.
I expect to be back in late January or early February so I wish you all happy and peace-filled holidays and many moments of joy and laughter with the people you love in the coming weeks.