John Mitchell, Country Director for British Council Afghanistan, blogs about taking up his new posting and his initial impressions of the country and the work that we undertake there.
A new posting is always a time of change and readjustment, but when it is preceded by a compulsory SAFE (Security Awareness in Fragile Environment) course and plans A, B and C for airport pick up you know you’re up for something special. So it was 4 weeks ago as I moved to Kabul as new Country Director Afghanistan. To my relief arrival Plan A worked!
I arrived at British Embassy Kabul (BEK) just in time to say a brief hello to the British Council team before being immersed into the essential admin requirements – in particular getting the required security passes. These are essential – one cannot move anywhere without them – and also allow access to important things like being able to use the canteen, bar and shop! I’m now the proud owner of three passes which make life possible.
BEK is based on a compound that it is around 200 metres by 150 metres with a road running down the middle separating ‘Egyptian’ and ‘Bulgarian’ sites. It contains all essential services and houses a vast contingent of British Government staff from just about every department you’ve ever heard of, security guards, service staff etc. Many are housed in ‘pods’ (or ‘superpods’ if you are lucky) – 40ft converted containers. There are also some residential houses split into flats.
Life is rather institutionalised. I’ve heard it compared with a UK boarding school; prison and even a Butlins holiday resort! (but not sure what they were on). My impression was more of an Army camp – there are security measures / tough looking people with guns everywhere. With this territory, acronyms are a major part of life – when I attended my first BEK morning meeting I hardly understood a thing!
Movement can be very restricted and armoured vehicles are the norm. I was extremely fortunate in attending a school’s training the day after I arrived, because the following day we went onto heightened alert status following the Prophet Mohammed videos and weren’t able to get out for the following two and a half weeks.
Despite these constraints, British Council Afghanistan delivers a wide range of programmes across the Arts, English, Education and Society. Delivery has to be adapted to the environment and security constraints but the team are professional, dedicated and keen to make a difference to the future of Afghanistan. I feel fortunate to have joined them.
So, many new experiences; fascinating place to be. Frustrations, yes – particularly not being able to get out and about – but certainly a feeling of helping deliver Cultural Relations where it is most needed. Of which more anon…