Thursday 3 April 2014 by Alison Wishart. No comments
Opinion, views and commentary, Personal Stories, Afghanistan, education, Dubai, souk

Day 23: 1971

After work today, we left the military camp on the moon (aka AMAB, see day 4) and caught the “R&R” (Rest and Recreation) bus into Dubai. We went to the old part of the city – Deira, and wandered through the old souk (markets).  Before I’d managed to glance at the colourful fabrics and spices, the stall holders were putting pashminas around my shoulders and handbags in my path.  I felt I was swotting them away like flies. The sellers in the grand bazaar in Istanbul were never this desperate.

Wooden boats that take about 25 people across Dubai Creek

We caught one of the old wooden boats across the Dubai Creek for 1 Dirham (about 30 cents) and found the gold souk. There was more gold jewellery in the most elaborate designs than I have ever seen in all my life. This was not bling, but the real thing.

Gold jewellery for sale in the gold souk, Dubai

We also went to the Dubai Museum which has interesting artefacts, dusty dioramas and terrible labels. It was good to get a sense of what the place was like before the oil money poured in. Today the commercial transactions take place in air-conditioned skyscrapers instead of in a souk under the shade of date palms. Dubai feels like it is a million miles away from Kabul.

Dubai Museum in an old fort

In 1971 Latifa Nabizada was born in Afghanistan. In the same year I was born to parents from Australia and New Zealand and Sally Sara, the ABC journalist who has written about Latifa’s story, was born in South Australia.* We have all had such different lives, by virture of the opportunities our countries offered us.

Latifa lived in Kabul during the Russian occupation, fled to a refugee camp in western Pakistan when the Taliban took over the country in 1996 and gave birth to a daughter after an arranged marriage in 2004.  Latifa was lucky that her father encouraged her to get an education. Many Afghans cannot afford to send their children to school, and don’t believe it is a priority for females.

Most of the ADF personnel I have spoken to as part of this project did not connect their work to “making a difference” in Afghanistan or helping Australia achieve its four objectives in the MEAO (Middle East Area of Operations). They were just here to do their job. One senior soldier from the Special Forces rationalises his deployment as helping to stem the production and sale of opium in Afghanistan, as he believes this has a bigger impact on life in Australia than the Taliban.  I wonder how Latifa would view Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan over the last ten years, and whether it will have a lasting impact on her life, and the lives of millions of women like her?

* Thanks to my mum for pointing this out.

Twelve months ago I went to the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) with the Australian War Memorial. I was working on an oral history-photographic project. The core part of the project was interviewing and photographing 19 currently serving members of the ADF - from the army, navy and airforce - before, during and after their deployment in 2013 to the MEAO.  In another 12 months time, you should be able to see the results of this work in an exhibition which will travel around Australia.

These blog posts were written while I was in the MEAO but were not uploaded to the AWM website at that time.

I am planning to upload one blog post each day, exactly 12 months on from the actual day I was on deployment. We left Canberra on 12 March 2013.