Our pilot pulled out a tiny staircase – and we emerged from the helicopter. Two employees of Shuhada’s Bamyan office were waiting for me on the gravel airstrip.
“Afareen?” Karim – warm, eager-looking man with a round face and a constant grin – asked.
I nodded energetically.
“Many welcomes to Bamyan!”
I thanked him and climbed into Shuhada’s van. We drove quickly over unpaved roads. The homes we passed were made of mud, with uneven walls and holes carved out in their sides for windows. Little boys in trackpants and sandals herded cattle along the sides of the streets with sticks, and little girls in bright dresses balanced tufts of grass on their heads. Older women moved more slowly down the roads – their pale blue burkhas pulled back over their heads, revealing their tan, wrinkled skin. And men in checkered turbans prodded donkeys to plough their potato fields.
Every so often we’d pass an abandoned, decomposing tank from the Soviet invasion – an anchored reminder of Afghanistan’s history of failed interventions. Tattered green flags, signifying a gravesite, flapped in the wind. We were surrounded by mountains – of every shape, size, and color. And the orange cliffs — once home to the Buddhas — were spotted with hundreds of caves – once home to the Hazaras.
We pulled up to Shuhada’s office – a yellow brick building – and I jumped out of the car. Before I entered the office, I was asked to take off my shoes (required in any building in Bamyan city), and I was then escorted to a room in the back of the building. Shuhada’s staff stood up when I came in, put their hands on their hearts, and welcomed me.
I explained my project – researching women’s initiatives in Hazarajat – and we came up with a tentative schedule for the upcoming week (the week after that, Nabeela and others from the Kabul office would arrive to show me Shuhada’s work in other regions). The following day – I would visit two schools, where I would conduct my surveys and interviews with students and staff.
We then went into the lunchroom – and sat down on blue and white patterned cushions on the floor. A red tarp was laid out on the ground, and we each had a naan, a bowl of beans, and a small plate of mint leaves and cilantro. I leaned back against the wall and smiled. Bamyan was beautiful. The Shuhada staff were kind. And the exciting work would start tomorrow.