What Afghanistan Taught Me About Love

I no longer hold hope that what we did will be enough.

What Afghanistan Taught Me About Love mbrand85 / Shutterstock

I wrote this story in the fall of 2013. This is not journalism, this is a love letter. Names have been changed to keep this account anonymous.

I lived and worked in Afghanistan for eight years. I worked on programs that gave rural communities access to water, basic health care, and education. I saw the country gain access to electricity, and programs change hands from international to Afghan leadership. I saw streams of girls raucously swarm the streets every morning and every afternoon, light-heartedly getting access to education.


I also saw the security situation deteriorate. I saw people get scared and leave. I felt the lockdown, the loss of freedom, hope, and control.

I’m not the same person I was, and I’m so glad.

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I left the population of Americans that can hear fireworks and not jump. I joined the population who feels a pulse of terror and assumes there was a bomb blast, before realizing their neighbor is lighting fireworks to celebrate the Super Bowl.

When I read the email that my travel was approved, something dropped in the pit of my stomach, and I started to cry.


I imagined myself walking onto an abandoned stage. Like in a bad dream, where I knew I was dreaming, but couldn’t wake up. I was wandering around, looking for my friends. The stage looked mostly the same, but the cleaning crew was lazily sweeping and taking down the props.

Infuriatingly, I could hear Amena, but I could not find her.

Her laugh was echoing in the background, but all I could see was this old fat man in his loose baseball cap sweeping the stage floor. What I wish I didn’t know — is that he can’t clean this up.

I should have gone home, or moved on, to anywhere — like nearly everyone else.

I was here when things were exciting. When my friend James was aspiring to write for The Times — just as much as he was trying to get that French girl to stay over, and sleep with him.


I want to lounge around the French restaurant retelling the story of my “Welcome to Kabul” fall in the ditch. Covered in the kind of human mess that only an open-air sewage system can provide, how Jack laughed and pulled me securely onto his lap anyway.

I want to sit on Franny’s lattice-covered patio, drowning myself in wine and enjoying my, “I don’t know why, but I only smoke in Afghanistan” cigarettes listening to what’s-his-name gush his admiration for the beautiful and committed Ida. How her work brought her to tears and what he would give to feel that way about anything.

A street dog we found caught in the barbed wire outside of our house in Kabul, 2012 — taken the day we picked him up from the vet.


I want to be the newly married 28-year-old intern, working behind the bar with Elle as she describes her surprise at being single at her age, wondering if she missed her chance to have children, if she has stayed in Kabul too long.

I don’t want to be the old hand consultant, closer to 40 than 30, divorced, and uncertain of the future. I shouldn’t be the one to turn out the lights.

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Johnny wants to do that. He earned it. It was his fiancé that was shot in the head for delivering medical aid to children in Nuristan, not mine.

I wanted to leave when Fridays meant playing Spongebob with William at the UN pool, when leaving meant I still had friends to leave behind.


But here I am, and tomorrow I will meet with the Institute of Health, and the man who is running the women’s health program.

I will broken-heartedly inquire about the quality of the education program, but he won’t notice my demeanor, and I will hold no hope or confidence in his answer.

I will ask about the tracking system for graduates and pass this information on, with no hope that this will actually happen or that anyone will notice when it doesn’t.

The bursting, passionate hope I once held for the future of Afghanistan, fled to Sweden and India, and Australia in the handbags of my friends. They didn’t leave because of a lack of education, although that is what we will tell the donor when trying to get funding.


Malalai left because of her abusive husband. Amena left because she didn’t want to marry that old man — because they couldn’t live with the shame of not being able to protect their sisters from their mother-in-law’s beatings.

They left because they could, and for that, I am proud and grateful.

Years ago — I cried as I hugged you goodbye. Wondering if I would ever see you again. It was, after all, probably my last trip to Afghanistan. Amena left the room saying she “couldn’t bear to see my tears.”

The oil buchari that gave us such bad headaches has been replaced with an electric heater, but there is no warmth.

I’m sitting where your desk used to be and I miss your mess. I miss the way you always wanted to sit together to work. I miss telling you to stop cleaning your teeth with the sharp point of the paper clip that still makes me cringe.


I miss being asked to keep it down.

The door is shut, but there is no laughter to be quieted. You aren’t here to see my tears, and I wonder why I still am.

What I’ve learned the hard way is that only love can break our hearts.


I went back to Afghanistan, again and again. I couldn’t stay away, and I hope I never do.

At my very first going away party, a colleague said that I “built a home in his heart.” And it’s like that. Part of me will always live in that house. I left that piece, and I will never get it back.

And I don’t want it back.

One of the great treasures of my life — is that I get to carry an Afghan home in my heart.

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Meghann is a professional coach and co-founder of the Seattle Coaching Collective. Connect with her here.