WILDERNESS NEWS & VIDEO - "Nothing could have prepared me for it. It was a difficult time. The stress was overwhelming. At one stage I was close to suicide."
This was the experience of Kathy Whitehead, the journalist from Wilderness who fought for months to be repatriated from Afghanistan. She arrived back home on Tuesday 14 July.
Whitehead told George Herald she has worked in conflict and volatile areas in different parts of the world, but this has been by far the worst experience. She had visa problems and her passport was seized by the interior ministry in Afghanistan. She had no work and no income. She stayed in a civilian camp, and that only with the kind permission of the camp management.
"I was in isolation in a very small room. It was like a prison cell. I was also locked out of my own country," she remembers.
The support of the staff at the South African embassies in Pakistan and the UEA, her partner in Wilderness and a handful of friends was what carried her through.
Before the pandemic, she had been working in Afghanistan for five years.
"I always knew I could get out if needed. I have been evacuated a few times in the past," she says. This time there was no way out of the country for three months.
She is glad to be back home. "I am a bit nervous to leave the house and I am still coming to terms with the fact that I am safe and home."
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She knows one must never say never, but she has no intention of ever going back to Afghanistan. She will also think very hard before leaving South Africa in the near future. Even on holiday.
She has learned a lot from the experience. "There comes a time in one's life that if you need help, you must ask for it," she says.
She has a lot of sympathy for foreigners who are still trapped in Afghanistan. Her advice to the many people who are currently dealing with trauma because of Covid-19 is: "Think outside the box for solutions."
Kathy was on board a special flight that landed at Oliver Thambo Airport in Johannesburg on 30 June. She had to spend 14 days in quarantine at a hotel near the airport before she could get back home. Her mother, Mavis, is a resident of the Tuiniqua Care Centre in George.
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