Monday, June 1, 2009
By the end of my time in Afghanistan, I will have spent two-and-a-half weeks in the country, during which I've seen and learned an awful lot.
You may not realise it, but it can be incredibly beautiful. Flying in a Chinook down the river near Kajaki was simply breathtaking, as the sides of the gorge towered above us, while below, white water rushed over the rapids.
The green zone isn't a military term either: it really is green and fertile, with streams and meadows and orchards. More than one soldier told me they loved the scenery and how it was much more pleasant than Iraq, although they were always quick to qualify how dangerous it can also be.
Patrolling through the trees and fields, with curious children running around, and men - but few women - out working in the fields, it's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. Round every corner there could be an improvised bomb waiting, or the Taleban could be watching and getting ready to fight. It was comforting on one patrol to have black labrador Caleb was with us, one of the dogs the Army has that can sniff-out explosives.
Out there, if anything did go wrong, it was also good to know the Medical Emergency Response Team was back at Camp Bastion, always on call to run onto a helicopter and fly into possibly dangerous situations to try to save someone's life - this in a part of the world where life is often very cheap.
I visited the towns of Lashkar Gah, Musa Qal'eh and Garmsir as well, which are all places that have had more than their fair share of fighting. Now, though, the push by British forces to get rid of the Taleban and create more security around them seems to be making a difference. It's very early days, but if it hadn't, women wouldn't be bravely deciding to become teachers with death threats hanging over their heads.
At the very best, when the Taleban ran Afghanistan, they turned a blind eye to pregnant women getting medical help. At the worst, they refused it and mothers-to-be had to get on with it alone. Now, midwives are being trained and delivering babies that have a much better chance of being healthy.
I was even able to hold a newborn baby girl who had arrived in Lashkar Gah's Bost hospital only ten minutes earlier. She was a perfect little package, looking back at me with her gleaming, brand new eyes. I just hope she will grow up in a country that's safe and fair, where she has the freedom and equality that women deserve.