Walking out of the office and into war

Last updated 05:00 22/06/2014
Nick Latty
Nick Latty in Iran.
Nick Latty
LIFE IN AFGHANISTAN: Nick Latty took this photo in Kabul.

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It is something some people would only dream of - quitting one's job with only a letter left behind in explanation. But a Christchurch man did just that. 

Nick Latty put a typed and undated letter on his desk, his belongings in a gym bag and caught a lift down from the 16th floor.

One of the partners of the law firm was in the lift with him.

"We exchanged pleasantries. No one had any idea I was leaving."

It was early October, 2013, and Latty's note explained "that I did not require my last pay cheque and that I would prefer not to be contacted again".

"My mind was set. Why waste everyone's time by seeing out the contract?"

After consuming "a solid amount" of whisky, the 26-year-old and his "good friend Joe" booked one-way flights to Kabul.

Latty, who grew up in Christchurch and studied law and geography at the University of Otago, was already no stranger to adventure.

He lived and worked in Tanzania on a Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) graduate programme for a year and helped "clean up the mess" after his city's devastating February 22, 2011, earthquake.

He spent a year in Wellington after that, setting up VSA's social media programme, before moving to Canada to plant trees.

Latty then travelled through the United States, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Chile, and on his return to New Zealand, landed a position in a law firm in Auckland's CBD. He lasted "six months to the day" in the job.

Latty says his law firm treated him well "from start to finish", but "ultimately it was a case of me not wanting to be a cog in the filthy machine of corporate life".

When the news broke, people - including those Latty hardly knew, offered him "a strange type of congratulations".

"I later heard that the story was sweeping through the law graduate world in Auckland - with massive embellishments," he says.

"One account from a law graduate at a major firm had me storming out of the office cussing and flipping the bird. That certainly was not the case."

Soon after Latty's "abrupt" departure from the legal fraternity, he and Joe Dowling boarded a plane to Afghanistan via Melbourne and Delhi.

They arrived in Kabul, "an expensive place for tourism", just before the country's heated election.

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"We had great contacts there, including locals and a United Nations Development Programme adviser, and the consensus was that our only option for accommodation was four- to five-star hotels with sufficient security in place," he says.

"We were blowing around US$150 a day, each, just for accommodation and a driver. It was an amazing experience, but undoubtedly dangerous and very expensive. We only left because we could not afford to stay."

Latty says it was fascinating visiting Afghanistan and later, Iran, and getting an insight into Middle Eastern culture.

"The people here have a great sense of hospitality. The world is so paranoid about Islam, but Islam is not the problem. The majority of Muslims are normal, kind-hearted, family-orientated people that despise Islamic militants as much as the rest of the world," he says.

Latty started a job at an international school in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan in May, teaching 29 pupils everything from physical education to history.

The city is 80 kilometres from Mosul, where conflict is raging between Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants and the Kurdish Army.

Latty says he plans to stay in Erbil until this time next year, unless the security situation changes.

"My school is 80km from Mosul, yet we feel relatively safe. It is a bizarre situation."

According to the latest Global Peace Index (GPI), which ranks 162 nations according to their "absence of violence", Latty is from the fourth most-peaceful country in the world, but living in the fourth least-peaceful country in the world.

"Luckily", he says, "four is my favourite number".

Nick Latty online go to: tigerconundrum.tumblr.com 

- Sunday Star Times

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