“Two months, three months, one year… Stay as long as you want,” Mr. Abdul, the Executive Director of Shuhada Organization, told me in Urdu. I was sitting on a worn-out couch in his dimly lit office with Sarah – a co-worker from northern Afghanistan — by my side. In my own imperfect Urdu I expressed my desire to see Shuhada’s initiatives in various provinces and districts in central Afghanistan. “Of course,” he replied with obvious pride, “We’d be happy to take you. You should spend at least 2 – 3 nights in each location. We’ll arrange everything.”
I thanked him profusely, stifling my impulse to jump up and down with triumphant fists in the air. I shook his hand, and left his office, beaming.
I spent the next few hours editing a report on Shuhada’s agricultural projects in Bamyan. Around noon, Shuhada’s 20 or so staff crowded into a tiny concrete room for lunch. Each plate had a large piece of naan next to it, and we all shared a pot of okra and potato curry. Mr. Abdul sat next to me – at the women’s table – and leaned back in his chair. He then pointed to Nabeela, a shy, beautiful girl with green eyes, and said, “You’ll go with Afreen. We’ll have one person from the Kabul office and one person from the Bamyan office accompany her on this trip.” Nabeela looked startled, and pulled at her headscarf nervously. In Dari she whispered to Sarah something about how Sarah should go because her English is better. Sarah shrugged and said she’d just signed a new contract so she couldn’t. “We’ll teach each other!” I said (in English – because nobody other than Mr. Abdul speaks Urdu) with an enthusiastic grin and awkward, emphatic hand gestures that I hoped conveyed what I meant. Nabeela burst out laughing.