Bethany Matta (MJ 2010) has arrived in Kabul ready to work as a freelance reporter. She sent the report below to the JMSC to describe her first week in the capital of Afghanistan:

Bethany Matta in Kabul

“I arrived in Kabul one week ago. So far, so good. Everything is going well, though moving along at a slow, steady pace.

I have no choice but to take my time; life here moves at a much slower pace due to the insecurity of the region. I am also trying to get a sense of the local culture and customs. I have been meeting with people from all backgrounds and listening to their stories – from high-ranking officials who fought alongside the Taliban during the Soviet occupation years to Afghans who grew up as refugees in extreme poverty.

It is a hard adjustment. I have travelled and lived in many countries but have not experienced culture shock as deep as I have here.

The hardest, and most abrupt realities of living here are the restrictions placed on my movement and the constant reminders of loss and suffering.

Walking down the street by myself is not allowed. Being woken by explosions in the middle of the night is not uncommon and stories of loss are always a topic of conversation at every gathering.

Even though I had been planning a move to Afghanistan to work as a freelance journalist since the beginning of 2009 – I was right in the middle of my studies at the JMSC when I made my decision – I don’t think I could have ever prepared for these things.

On the upside, the Afghan people are, without a doubt, the most hospitable, genuine people I have ever met. Loyalties run deep here. They are resilient and never give up hope that someday they will have a peaceful country.

As a journalist, I feel like I am in a prime place. Afghanistan is extremely under-covered. Most days, there are several breaking stories leaving little time for staff reporters to cover feature stories.  There is a lot of opportunity here for freelancers.

Bethany Matta in front of the Presidential Palace in Kabul

I am stringing for Voice Of America (VOA) and will also do video and print for various other news organisations, both locally and internationally.

I plan to work as a freelancer for some time; experimenting and using different multi-media platforms to put stories together. Studying the local language and Islam is also a must. Down the road, I would love to make my way into Iran to do some reporting.

This is a tremendous learning experience for me. Prior to studying at JMSC I had no background in journalism. It will take some time to get up and running here but I would not have been able to do all this with out the help of staff, friends and classmates, both at the JMSC and now here in Kabul.”