Afghanistan was a training mission that came out of the blue. I had been home from Haiti for less than a week when I received a call from a gentleman named Steve. He said he was from a company then called Armadillo at Large. To this day I have no idea how he had received my name, but I am certainly glad he called.
Steve informed me that he had a training contract available for a week in Kabul, Afghanistan and asked me if I was interested. The opportunity was for a week, which was new for me after the long missions. Now, I have to be honest, I had never trained before in NGO capacity, but I was confident that I had enough experience now that I could manage.
Discussing this with my family, and having nothing else going on in my life, we decided that since it was only nine days door to door, it would be good. Quickly repacking for yet another trip, I set off for the airport where I would fly to Istanbul and meet my training partner, Kjell (pronounced Shell). At the Istanbul airport, I met Kjell in the food court and we exchanged the normal pleasantries.
After grabbing a quick bite to eat and gathering my bearings after a 15-hour flight, Kjell and I boarded our flight to Kabul. During the flight, Kjell gave me an overview of what our tasking was and I attempted to absorb as much as I could. The flight was not that long, approximately 5 hours if I can recall correctly. During the flight meal service, I had decided to take a couple of extra bottles of wine and bring them with me to enjoy in my room in Kabul.
The arrival process in Kabul was something of an adventure. This was my first time as a civilian entering a conflict zone and going through in bound security. Everything I had was searched quite thoroughly, but to my surprise, nothing was said about the bottles of wine that I had taken off the plane. Once we had passed security, we met our driver and headed to the compound where we were to deliver the training.
By this time, I was ready for sleep, jet lag was quick and our first day of training was the next day, so Kjell and I ate a quick meal and prepared material for the next day. It was agreed that I would watch and learn on day one and then have my chance the day after. He did give me some material to read in preparation, which really helped me fall asleep!
For those that understand NGO security training this was a mix of Security Risk Management Training (SRMT) and Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT). More on the SRMT side, this was a lot of PowerPoint and little practical. The team we were training also did not speak English, which Kjell did not know, so we spend a bit of time waiting for a translator. My first-time training and through a translator begged to an interesting experience.
Kjell was a good mentor in my training capabilities. By the time I was up, I was feeling confident. In front of 30 participants, I delivered my first presentation on the Security Risk Management Cycle, which looked more complicated on a slide. Having reviewed my presentation earlier, it was a natural explanation that I was able to deliver.
After the first day, I was grateful for Kjell’s constructive criticism of my delivery. Had he not been there to mentor my abilities, it would have been an uphill battle from there. The main point that he offered me was that I came off as monotonous, my voice did not have pitch and was dull. I did not argue as I knew myself that I had that about me. So, I made adjustments as the week went on and was able to improve my style of delivery.
Having experience stories also helped, as I learned. When a trainer has real life experience that is current goes a long way in capturing your audience. My experiences story of Afghanistan is the food, which is amazing! I fell in love with the Afghani bread, cooked in the earth and served hot, this pizza round bread melted in my mouth with a flavor I had never experienced. Since then, I have not found a bread equal to this.
One evening, or middle of the night at around 0200 I received a phone call from my colleague I had met in Haiti, remember Brendan the response security advisor from World Vision? Having woken me up thinking I was still in Canada, Brendan had asked me if I would be interested in the security manager position in Haiti. Given the hour, I asked him if he could call me when I was back home and we could discuss this opportunity at that time.
At the end of the week, Kjell and I sat down and did an after-action review and he provided me with my first every training assessment. Of course, there were things to improve upon, which even today I am still learning, but nothing that could not be managed. I had found something that I thoroughly enjoyed doing and was hoping for more opportunities with Steve and Armadillo at Large. Sadly, those never came, changes were made on the corporate level and Steve branched off to form Safer Edge by the time I had settled into something else.
Now, if you recall the little bottles of wine that I was able to enter Afghanistan with on arrival, leaving was a different story. Getting into the airport in Kabul was just a security ridden as entering the country. There was something like seven security checks before I made it to the waiting area for my flight. I am not sure at what search I was at when my little bottles were discovered, but the Afghani officials were less than impressed.
Asked why I had these little bottles of wine, I could only say that I had planned on drinking them, but had completely forgotten about them. I was informed that I could not take them out of the country and that they would be confiscated. Not sure why I could not take something out that never originated in the country, but I was not one to argue and offered them up. I am sure they enjoyed them after their shift.
At the final security check, my Zippo lighter came into question. This was a prized possession of mine at the time, personally engraved and gifted to me. I was informed that this also was not allowed to go on the aircraft with me. They immediately tossed it into the garbage and finished processing me. When I was done, I went and sat in the waiting area for my flight, giving thought to my Zippo.
I decided to return to the security check point and negotiate not on getting the Zippo back, but at least the case. I knew I could replace the inside components when I got home, but the engraved part was important to me. Somehow, I was able to convince the official and he removed the insides and gave me the shell.
Happy that the week was over and that I had learned a new skill, I was ready to be heading home. Eager to discuss Brendan’s proposal and really, just to take a break and enjoy time with my family. It had been a merry go round whirlwind of travel for the past 18 months, the home life needed some attention.
Next – Enter World Vision, The Big Orange