Archives for posts with tag: kabul

….and the story continues.  (I almost missed the van this morning, so you know that means I forgot my camera cord for a second day in a row.   Hopefully my words make up for it a teeny tiny bit…)

So, I’m riding from the airport into Kabul’s busy, frenetic, streets.  I have that BLUR feeling again, so I’ll just transcribe my very first thoughts.

  • DUST! LA’s smog is bad, but this right here is…. Eye & lung burning DUST.  Dust.  dust.  dust….. floating every. where.
  • They’ve got Mexico beat by a longshot on the harrowing driving style. To my Mexican friends:  …. read my typing A. LONG. SHOT.    Cars and dust and cars and dust.
  • Men, men, men, is that a woman?  no MEN, men men.  Oh there are some women!  wow!  men, men men.
  • Oh, okay – I guess in order to cross the street you just pray up to Allah and make a go for it.

Pull up to the house.  DOGS!  We’ve got guard dogs.  Only, they’ve got to be taught that I live here too now.  …. I have a fear of dogs so, they put them away and save that lesson for now.

I enter the house.  And while on paper it sounded like the United Colors of Beneton would be living there – I quickly learn that I was pretty much the only one who didn’t speak German.  Meaning, everyone else in the house was German, Swiss, Austrian or from some other country where it is customary to know German.   Even the Austrailian man seems to be in on the whole German thing.  Whelp, add THAT to the list of things to learn while here.  This is REALLY going to be interesting.
Everyone was super sweet and excited to meet me.   I got a quick tour of the house and her many many quirks.  **ahem** and then it was dinner time.  YES!

So the rule of the guesthouse is: everybody takes a turn cooking one night of the week.  Rumor has it that there are some good cooks and some pretty bad ones in the group…. I wonder which side things they’ll find mine.

Anyways, tonight’s especially special because we’ve got one housemate and another friend of the house leaving leaving Kabul the next day.  Everyone’s merry – someone makes cupcakes, it seems like a party is about to start.  I should mention that the friend of the house is an American dude from the midwest.  Totally the type my friends in LA swoon over.  He digs up old land mines and swears it’s no more unsafe than working in your average American factory.  Hmmm.  Okay, well since I won’t be doing that job anytime soon, I believe him.  It looks like he’s the guest of honor at a couple of spots around town, and we’re all invited to join.

If I were in a John Hughes movie – this would be the moment I turn and do an about face to camera.  See, at this point, I’ve been traveling for somewhere in the 40 hour range with little to no sleep.  Not to mention carting all those fantabulous bags around.   But, the Niki in me can’t watch everybody else making merry and then sit alone in a new house.  Not. gonna.  happen.   I hop in the shower.**  Throw on whatever the first thing my hands touch, and am out the door into a cab with these people.  Yes, that’s right into a cab at night in Kabul, Afghanistan.  I will say that there were more men than women, and many members of the group have lived here over 2 years.  So…. I went for it.

I somehow got up some sort of miracle energy and had a really great time.

There was something absolutely surreal about the last place we went to.  We were in some place that was basically European.  There was an odd mix of individuals I won’t even attempt to try and explain.   Folks in “uniform,”  (for what country, I don’t know because I’m 75% sure they weren’t American)  people I’d assume were reporters,  other forms of war profiteers, a dabbling of locals in the know…. Very, very interesting.

Here’s what I noticed.  And this was just my first dog tired night in town – so I may recant this observation.  But.  I noticed that there is some sort of odd tension between the humanitarian/NGO community and the “profiteer” community.  Yes, there were a good number of Americans.  However, folks didn’t organize by country like that.  It was more:  Are you here to help or profit?  Very interesting indeed.

At some point I realize I can’t take another step.  I must get sleep. Finally.  It was about that time for everyone it seemed.  We hopped in a cab, and in moments we were back at the house.

I did not wake up again until 3p the next day.  Boy did that feel good.

I spent the day chit chatting with a reporter staying in our guesthouse from Nepal. I think we watched movies the rest of the day/night.  It was the perfect way to wind down and kind of gear up for all that was to come the next day.

I was really really sore from the infamous bags I am now swearing never to bring anywhere else ever again.**

** Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Quirks of the house.  Well, it’s like camping in here.  You’ve got to go on the roof and plug in the water pump to get pressure enough to take a shower.  You’ve got to fill the gas furnaces with fuel so they’ll work, but they run out usually 2/3 of the way through the night.  As much as I’m still cursing those bags, and the Germans laugh at me about them, I will say this:  I am so so so very thankful for the things I brought.  Especially, the super thick Thai blanket that makes me forget that its freezing in my room.   I think I’d carry alla that all over again to know I had a warm bed.  Not to mention, the water HEAT has now been out for two days.  And while we can take warm showers in the office, the truth is even washing your hands in freezing water and taking sponge baths leave you cold cold cold in the end.  So, I’m lying in this blanket right now elated at that choice.  Yay me.

Since this trip is about learning, here’s my status so far:
Learning German – they teach me in the car.  But it’s only a word or phrase at time.  I think I’ll have to push them to teach me another way.  They’re going to get tired of me – and one girl even asked why I cared to learn.  Hey, if I’m gonna be surrounded by a bunch of folks who know things I don’t – I’d be a fool not to at least TRY to learn from them.
Learning Skateboarding – take THAT naysayers… I can go straight and kick, push at least twice in ONE LESSON!  Imma get it, just you see.  After six months of training with the real deal dudes, I can’t wait to see how much I learn.
Learning Dari – The kids I think are eager to teach me…. but, they speak English more than the Germans.  So, I don’t know if any real Dari will be passed along.  We’ll see what I get in the end.
Learning Afghanistan – well – I HAVE been asking the people I can what their impressions of the US & the war are.  I think many, many people would be shocked at the answers I get.  Wow.  I don’t feel right posting that here in my blog.  I think in a way, I’ll save that for the personal conversations I have with friends who know me.  This is probably a wise decision.

I’m tired now, and will have to continue tomorrow.  But let’s say, yes, there is lots and lots of learning happening here.  I love that!

PS:  its 4:45a.. ADAN (azan) time!  I’ve heard plenty of adans being called in my day.  The Afghan version isn’t quite as pretty as the ones I’ve heard.  Maybe it’s the echoing across the mountainside?  I also can’t make out the Arabic like I can in others I’ve heard.  This just sounds like moaning.  Oh well.

So here I am in Kabul, Afghanistan.  I wanted to upload all my pictures so far… but I forgot my camera cord at the guesthouse.  I’ll have to add them later.  Sorry.

What a week it has been.  So many many things have happened.  I’ve seen and learned so much so far it’s almost all a blur.  I’ll try to break it down/remember as much as I can before it slips away from my memory.  Sadly, for now the internet is out in the house where we are staying.  Which means I’m writing this before I get into the office so I can upload it once there.  This is worth mentioning because right now it’s 4am on Saturday our time.  Which means I’m WIDE AWAKE seeing as it’s 3:30pm Friday in Los Angeles.  …. I fear for 4p Kabul Time today.  This should be funny. I think.  Or, maybe not.

Here’s a recap since I was last connected to the rest of the world.

MSP
TOTAL BLUR.  My flight from Chicago was delayed so I had to have one of those men with the golf carts radio to the flight to wait and whisk me across the terminal so I didn’t miss my flight to Amsterdam.  When I say blur, it literally was a blur.

However, once on the plane the flight to Amsterdam was lovely.  I had the best seat mate ever.  We talked politics, France, America, education, healthcare, cancer, women’s rights…. We both knew when to leave the other alone to sleep/watch a movie.  I think that was my favorite leg.

AMS
Got in to Amsterdam.  Sleepy.  Hungry.  7 hours of time to kill.  What a beautiful airport!  Amazing little pods to sleep in, a kid’s zone, plenty of television, restaurants…  If I had to be trapped in the airport of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, unable to experience the city’s charms, I guess this would be the only way to take a stab at making up for it.  Thank you Amsterdam for understanding that. Sadly, the internet WiFi was not free as was promised on my boarding pass.  I did figure out a way to purchase some and hopped on Skype to chat with a friend.  That was nice.

………………………….<><><><><>………………………..

This ends the “nice” portion of my journey.  At this point, I’m a day in traveling, and since I’m unable to really get REM sleep in public/on planes, I’m in a bit of a daze.  I’m excited, so I think so what normally would have wiped me out I think I was able to get over.

On the plane I was seated in the “baby” row. Anyone who knows me understands how torturous the idea of this would be.  iCried on the inside.  WHY ME?  And of course, the woman next to me and her whiny son were the epitome of flustered, overwhelmed, self unaware, and unapologetic.  The mother and father next to her was about as nice as one can be when traveling with a baby.  Unlike the other one, they had toys, food, blankets, and knew to get up and do a couple laps around the plane with their bundle of joy.  The woman next to me even had the audacity to:
1- get up and go for a walk herself while her son screamed in the bassinet.
2 – use my pocket so that I couldn’t put my things in it.
3 – place her items on my tray so I couldn’t put mine away
4 – she was also chubby.  so me chubby + HER more than me chubby + big headed baby = no room.  BOOOOOOOO.  I tried to sleep, couldn’t, so I read.  And tried to mentally slip away.

This lady nagged the flight attendant so much she got a very strong tongue lashing from the Dutch flight attendant.  Sigh.  And of course, I was physically in the middle of this argument.  WHY ME?

DXB
We land and it’s show time for me.  I had a 3 hour layover.  However, I also had to make it through customs, get my 4 million bags from baggage claim, go back through to the other side of the airport and check in to the next airline.

I get my bags which were big and heavy, and embarrassing.  Load them alone, struggling for every step as I make it across the whole airport to this little airline.  It was awful.  Cursing the whole way, not one supposedly stronger, wiser and more efficient male offered to lend a hand to hold a door open or something.  I was pushed aside, laughed at, or simply ignored.  I’m not a helpless woman.  I don’t mind doing for me on my own,  but SHEESH.

Anyways, I make it to my airline.  I’m on the only flight they’ve got.  All I see in big red letters is: CANCELLED.  Again, iCry on the inside.  I go through security anyways.  In this airport, you go through the security bag scanner thingamabob with all your bags BEFORE you check in or even make it to the ticket counter.  So exhausted me gets all my bags through the security to the utter disdain of their version of TSA.  Why, I don’t know.  Until I get into the ticketing area.

What looks to be the ENTIRE COUNTRY OF CAMEROON is in this tiny ticketing area.  I don’t know what the story was, but it looked like the whole country and all its belongings they scooped from travels in Europe were there too.  I could not even make it in any direction without bumping into a cart, a box, a booty or an ankle.  I knew enough French to get by but MAN OH MAN.  I get it. I’m supposed to be from Cameroon too.  Great.

At the counter, they explain to me that they’re going to now check me in to this other regional airline that actually leaves 30 mins earlier than my scheduled flight.  Okay – this means now, I’ve got a little over an hour to make the flight.

But wait.  I have to go to this OTHER counter, across the sea of Cameroon, to actually actually check these bags and pay for them.  iCry on the inside.  again.

Now at the excess baggage desk, I learn, amongst other things that they don’t take credit cards.  I must pay in cash.  I’ve got some Euros and some dollars, but not quite enough to pay the whole fee.  Guess what else?  There’s no ATM in the ticketing area or the surrounding gate area.  I’ve got to cross the Cameroon sea AGAIN go OUT OF SECURITY, and come back.  !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I do this.  I grit my teeth and do this.  I should probably skip the whole story of me, lucky to DXB for free WiFi, having to hop online, chat with a friend in Oakland to call my mother in Gary,  to tell the bank to allow me to use my card in the UAE, because of course, it wouldn’t work (because of course, my wonderful EVO phone doesn’t work there either).  Sigh.  I can’t leave out the part where I was scolded by a room of short giggling men about how if I don’t stop playing games on my computer, I’m going to miss my flight.  😦

I somehow, miraculously make it back through security, back to the excess baggage desk with 15 minutes before my flight leaves.  I cut the line, slam my money down and get my boarding pass.

I RUN.  RUN. RUN. with my carry on and computer again back across what felt like the entire airport.  Nobody mentioned that the gate was a good 20 mins away from ticketing.  Just as I get tot he door of the gate, I can see the plan taxing away.

😦  😦  😦

at this point, I am to tired to iCry.  its’ 3am in Dubai.  The ticket office to my original airline doesn’t open until 9a.  oh joy.  At this point, I decide to try to sleep.  Only, there’s really nowhere to do this.  Folks are using the space between the chairs and the railing to lie down, but knowing me, that wasn’t really gonna work.

I get coffee.  I wait.  I Skype home to my friends, graze through Facebook, and try to reach my mother.  Sadly, DXB has arbitrarily blocked access to various sites.  I am able to work around them to find a way to put money on my Skype to call landlines.  However, they’ve blocked the ability to actually TALK.  So, the free chat version will have to do – only, at this point I’ve not yet actually spoken to my mother to let her know I’m alive, I’m safe, and I’m pissed.

I email her, explain the situation, and she eventually responds back.  Yay.   I decide that perhaps, it would be a good idea to throw on hijab.  I wanted to see if I was treated any differently.  I made my transformation.

From this point forward, no Western man knew how to take me.  My American accent didn’t help.  They were either hostile, confused, or had looks of pity.  Western women would smile a lot and say hello.  That was nice.

When 9a eventually rolled around, I learned that 1- They’d have me on the next flight out but 2 – it didn’t matter that I already paid for my bags.  I’d have to REPAY because the money I fought so hard to pay went to that other airline.  Too bad for me.  The nice Australian man, Egyptian man, and “otheridon’tknowwhathewas” man all pitched in and tried to help me fight the woman at the ticket counter over this.  The Australian man even offered to “check” my bag for me.  No dice.  They did however mention that my argument with the woman was an amazing American sight to  behold.  Aside from my loud, “you don’t cross Gary, Indiana,” bossy lady tone, that I made points (such as WHAT KIND OF CUSTOMER SERVICE IS THIS!?!?!)  that were purely American in spirit and carry no weight anywhere else in the world.  Nice try.

LOL. oh well.

On the plane, let’s just say that 85% of the people on there were war profiteers.   They REALLY did not like me, Ms. Hijabi.  Again, my “Hey!  What’s up!?!” offerings did not wipe the look of scorn from their face.  I never once got a hello back.

I didn’t sleep.  I rode with dry eyes.  Landed in Kabul.  Finally.

O

M

G

I was bumrushed by men shorter than me – grabbing me.  I read enough blogs beforehand to know that they all wanted to carry my bags for me.  Nice, but it also means that they want to be well papered in American dollars in the end.  I’d given what I would have used on them to the fine folks at the Sea of Cameroon.  So, instead I turned on the muslimah at this point.  I knew that women weren’t really to associate with men, so I did what was customary hand gestures to let them know they were violating me.  They were a little confused because I didn’t have a maharam.  But, the greater offense, they knew was to violate me.

Um.  It worked!  They backed off!  YAY!

Once the bags rolled around I found a black dude who was prolly military.  I told him look – I know I have on hijab, but I’m really just a regular black girl who needs some help with her bags.  Will you 1 – fend me off from these dudes who want money and 2- just help me get my bags onto this wobbling cart.

The Southern accent I heard in return assured me  YES, no prob.  I got you.

Well, he did “help” but was outta there the moment my bags were on.  No prob.  All I had to do was make it through customs.  Oh wait.  This means unloading and reloading these bags again.

And of course the ONE moment I faltered with my bags, the little men returned.  Sigh.  I would have let them help me willingly and openly if it weren’t for the fact that  I knew it would mean I’d have to pay them.   But, my bags were too much for the rickety floor.  I had to let him help me make it a pretty good distance to where my team was meeting me to pick me up.

Luckily, my team paid him, laughed at me and all my bags, and we were off.

Welcome to Kabul.  FINALLY!!! Whew!  I guess I’ll save the rest of this adventure for tomorrow.  It does not end here.  No, no, it certainly does not.