The Dove Has Landed :)

May 17, 2004: Kabul Airport

Finally…I have arrived in Kabul and am actually blogging from there.

The flight left Delhi about 2 ½ hours late and was thankfully uneventful after my initial drama with my supposedly “unconfirmed ticket.” I tried and failed to catch a glimpse of the Hindu Kush or the Khyber Pass, the natural barrier that deterred and decimated many a conquerors before they could get to the Indian subcontinent. Of course, there was no “Indian subcontinent” then, but that needs a separate history book not this blog. After a good lunch and just a thought of a nap later, we were landing…As we landed, down below was this totally remarkable tableau. Surrounded by mountains, Kabul city stretched out like a huge encampment in the middle of a desert. It was all brown… a pale brown. It was almost as if Mother Nature decided Kabul’s color was the muddy, pale brown and proceeded to paint every single object in sight with it. The mountains, houses, rooftops, roads, moving cars, people, and everything else you can see was brown or was taking the brown hue to become part of a monochromatic picture. The only break in the color scheme came from a few yellow cars. I will see if I can get a picture on the way back…

Security guards hovered around the plane as we touched ground. I have already decided not to cover my head. I guess wearing red (Beaconfire Red :-)) was not rebellion enough for me. Initially, I did feel self-conscious about it and people did stare. However, it was more of the “strange object in our midst” look than anything else and one soon gets used to it.

The flights from Delhi and Sharjah had arrived at the same time. So, there was utter crazy chaos at the airport. My first gut reaction was one of dread: of the unknown and unfamiliar. There were only a few women on the flight, so it was also quite disconcerting. However, it is not the dread or the trouble that I remember from the airport. My memory is of the enormously helpful people.

A grandfatherly man helped me get to the immigration counter. (Yeah, I cut the line, but I plead “not guilty” for reasons of insanity brought on by heat, fatigue, and thirst. :-)) A baggage check official asked me if I was Indian and when I said yes, found a cart for me, helped me find my baggage, and a person to load my baggage. All because he has been to India, liked the country, and the people. So, I was technically his mehman (guest). A young cop literally forced a way out for my bulky cart through the bedlam at the narrow passageway between baggage area and customs.

When I stepped out of the airport, I could not find anyone from AIL (Afghan Institute of Learning) initially, so I tried to call from a mobile rental shop. The owner of the booth allowed me to call, spoke on my behalf when I had language problem, made me manager of the booth while he went to look for my ride, and even gave his number to the AIL office staff to call back after they have located my pickup.

So, this then is my first impression and memory of Kabul and of Afghanistan. Generous and helpful people whose culture of hospitality has survived the decades of anguish the country has been through…

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