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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 11:09 GMT
Expat e-mail: Afghanistan
Peter, inset, and one of the camel trains he passes en route to work
The downturn in the telecoms industry led freelance engineer Peter Fasan to look much further afield for work, as he tells in our series on expat readers of BBC News Online.

Last year just as the work was drying up in Britain, Afghanistan was opening up following the overthrow of the Taleban.

I came out here last May to work for Afghan Wireless, a start-up operation building a mobile phone and internet infrastructure.

Mazar-e-Sharif is 3,620 miles from Manchester
What Peter misses most is Manchester United - "they do better when I'm in the vicinity"
There was, and still is, little supporting infrastructure here for such enterprises - let alone comforts such as guaranteed electricity at the flick of a switch - and at first I wondered how the company would ever make a profit.

Nonetheless, we are somehow making steady and measurable progress, in a country which has never before had net access or a mobile phone system.

There are no pubs, no fancy shops, no off-licenses and no restaurants. I don't even see any women, just figures shrouded from head-to-toe in burkas. There are no banks, no post offices, and no phones except the ones we're putting in.

War-torn nation

When I arrived, Afghanistan was only just emerging from two decades of conflict.

Northern Alliance fighter during the
Afghanistan is slowly healing the wounds of war
Kabul is nestled in the beautiful Hindu-Kush mountains, so my flight in was just absolutely breathtaking - not to mention a little scary.

Luckily I flew in with an engineer returning from vacation, who told me I was crazy to give the kids who carried our bags $20; little did I know that $20 is nearly an adult's wage for a month. This became glaringly obvious when I changed $100 and got 4.5 million Afghanis - literally a small sack of dosh.

The airport was in total tatters, with wrecks of planes and military vehicles littering the place. The jostling and hustling around the airport immediately reminded me of Lagos, where I lived during my teens and early 20s. 'I can handle this,' I kept telling myself.

On site in Kandahar
Peter travels the country to install equipment
The people are by their very nature warriors, so almost everywhere I saw people toting AK-47s - very few of them in military uniform.

But over the months, the ever-present local militia with their Kalashnikovs have gradually been replaced by traders toting mobile phones, thoroughly engrossed in the serious business of reconstructing the nation's economy.

In fact, I feel safer here in Mazar-e-Sharif - the northern city that was once a Taleban stronghold - than in Manchester or in London, where I was born.

Brave new world

It's going to take years for Afghanistan to get back on its feet. But now I'm over my culture shock and my loneliness, I take great pleasure in seeing all this hard work starting to come to fruition.

Peter Fasan
Peter will be sorry to leave when his contract ends
Being here is a bit 'Star Trek'. The prime directive is not to alter the culture and lifestyle of the Afghan people, but to foster their development needs without importing the problems that progress so often brings.

I've become so accustomed to life here that when I came home for Christmas, England felt like another world.

For there is no stress here, and everything to live and work for. I'll be sad when my time is up in a few months, as I am truly in love with the way of life, the mountains and the deserts of Afghanistan.

Every Tuesday we bring you the story of a Briton who lives far from home. Tell us your experiences, using the form below.

I'm currently in Afghanistan as a contractor for the US military. Prior to this, I was two years in Germany, 7 years in Riyadh and in between time managed to marry my wife who is Costa Rican and that is where I have called home for the past 13 years, when I'm not somewhere else. I am a network engineer and from the US - I still have some friends with British Aerospace in Riyadh, Geordies from Newcastle. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this column and will be back.
Douglas Mizell, San Jose, Costa Rica

I left England 4 years ago to come to live in a quiet area of France where I bought a house in 12 acres [with river running through the land] in exchange for a townhouse in Berkshire. I don't have to lock my car or my doors, there is hardly any traffic, or crime, the locals are very friendly and helpful, and the expats here are mostly of a like mind. When I return to the UK the stress levels return. Many Brits seem to be house hunting here and I know why. Peace of mind, no materialism, big skies, no rat-race!
Carole Moody, Brittany, France

Having lived in Italy for a time, I just have to say that I am so glad to be back in the UK. Yes, in Italy things may be prettier, the food may be better, etc but public services are horrible, bureaucracy is a nightmare, shop workers are rude and unhelpful, and it is almost impossible to get anything done.
Daniel Jordans, Reading

I lived in Jeddah in the mid-90s and found the experience challenging but very rewarding. The difficulties all expats face in Saudi are but part of the knowledge base you build up when you are lucky enough to travel around the world. I am in Istanbul now and my knowledge gained those years ago has helped me immensely in the cultural integration process here. (And I still drink more apple juice than anything else - Saudi champagne, as it was known locally)
Ray Mc Shane, Istanbul

I moved to the US almost four years ago for love (I married an American) and although I miss the UK very much, we would never live there. We can buy a big, new four-bedroom detached house for the same price as the tiny two-bedroom flat my brother just bought in Farnborough. Plus people are laid back and friendly - I've had to work to overcome my English reserve and be more open with people. Still, I miss Britain very much - I get very frustrated by most Americans' ignorance of the rest of the world.
Rebecca, Seattle, US

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See also:

29 Jan 03 | Country profiles
22 Jan 02 | South Asia
01 Apr 02 | South Asia
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