Asia Centrale/Attualità/Diritti/English articles/journal de voyage/Politics/Sentimenti/Viaggio

The death of a fellow traveller

by Aleksandra Pawlik

I see traveling as an act of expressing affirmation of life. We can watch all this marvelous things around while we are hitting the road and feel SO ALIVE. We can be in the moment of now, surrounded by people, their talks in unknown languages, their laughter, but also hypnotized to this deep meditative state by the road itself and those wide, open spaces seen through the window of the train. We can breathe excitement, we can feel our body being tired, we can truly BE. And the last thing we want to think about in that moment is our mortality.

And there is no need for that indeed. But what if the death comes? I hit the road for two good years now. Time passes fast when you are living your life with plenty of excitements in high-risk environment. Certainly being “high-risk” is one of the most accurate expressions defining my home since cold December 2011 – Kabul, Afghanistan. And it is not an easy place – believe me. The air is polluted, there is no central heating for cold winters, as a women you need to be really careful and control yourself all-the-time not to provoke, you can’t go for a walk because you can get kidnapped. Everywhere there is razor-wire and guns. You just stop noticing this all AK-47 – there is so plenty of them. You are body-checked few times a day when you are entering to a restaurant or to work, and you know the procedure so well that when you are landing in – for example – Bologna, you can tell if the airport customs security lady, who is checking you, has been well-trained.

Let’s say it clearly: we, the kids of European democracies, are not used to this kind of life. But I got use to all of this because the jobs here in Afghanistan have been much more exciting than anything I could get in my home country, Poland, just after graduation. And here I felt I could do something good. I felt I could bring small positive change. Nothing big, nothing spectacular, but be part of the effort to bring Afghanistan to better shape. And I still believe it is something good to do – to care about the people of a country so far from mine, so different from mine, such a terrible country to be in. Why? Because we – the people – we are linked and if there is an unrest in one part of the world it can easily affect our own neighbourhood – that’s obvious, we all know what globalization is about.  And this is why I took the first step, then a next step and, before I could realize it, I was already so absorbed in my travel to Afghanistan that I become a taxpayer in Kabul, I rented a house and I had my boyfriend coming from Denmark to live with me, in the war zone.

The time passes fast – I just started my third year here. And even if the time passes fast indeed, the moments pass slowly. The moments. Not much good to say about them. “The moments” are when you are stuck in the traffic jam and you know that you are completely vulnerable and if something explodes around you, you are dead. Then you sit back and relax thinking that you hope it will be quick. You try to not think about people you love, because you are aware that your make up is not waterproof. You keep breathing, the traffic moves. You are still alive. All good.

The thing is that in Kabul people die. People die everywhere but we prefer to focus on being alive – that what we should do, in fact. But here people who are the travelers, foreigners as you are – aid workers, embassy staff, contractors – die, because the other people, with some political agendas, want them to die. This is just something what you don’t take seriously when you decide to travel to war zone for the first time. And yes, it is serious because you can be the one who have been in the wrong place, in the wrong time. But let’s say that you are lucky. There was an attack, rockets were hitting here and there or maybe it was a suicide attack on restaurant, but you are safe and sound. Your spouse is safe. Your friends are safe. But there were 21 victims out of whom you known one. This is something you do not want go through. And have this thought haunting you, that you are grateful that it was nobody you have known closer.

The death of fellow traveler is something you should never experience. No matter how close to you the fellow traveler was. I wish traveling was always about beauty, amazement and freedom. But it is also about experiencing, getting wiser and putting ourselves under pressure and risk. The thing is that it is all good as long we do not underestimate our chances to not come back and be able to tell the story of what we experienced. Sometimes pushing yourselves to the limits is good, sometimes is bad, sometimes it is about balancing between life and death. The question which you should always be able to answer – and for which you are most time unable to answer – is:  am I more on the side of being killed or there are more chances I will reach the end of the next day of my “wonderful travel”?

Whatever the answer is, and whatever the decision will be -on leaving or staying- the one thing we should keep close is the faith that it all will be fine and find some good things around. There are plenty of them.

Note about the Author: Aleksandra is an anthropologist, journalist, and social activist originally from Varsavia, Poland. She has been living in Afghanistan from the last three years. She has already travelled far and for sure she will travel further, follow here moves on


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