My dream with journalism is to travel to the frontiers and send their stories to breakfast tables thousands of miles away. Join me for my first chapter, in Afghanistan, summer 2006. These are my letters to you.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Afghanistan, at last...

Kabul. (Photo by Angelo Fratini)

"The great thing about travel is that it takes you to places in yourself where you've never been." Pico Iyer

The passport control officer at Dubai International Airport said it all. On my way to board my flight to Afghanistan, I handed him my documents. He was more interested in my guitar. He pointed at it.

"You take that to Kabul?" he asked. I nodded. "You should take gun," he said, and smiled winningly.

The flight was packed full of proud, bearded Pashtuns, and a handful of foreigners. We asked each other the usual polite question for air travel: "So, why are you going to Kabul?" only we genuinely meant it. We exchanged our reasons, then grinned boyishly for the sheer excitement.

It was a rickety old plane that carried us up and over Iran and into Afghanistan. We broke through the fluffy clouds above Dubai, the plane shook, and the sunlight was glaring. Three hours later we were descending on the rugged, windswept mountains of Afghanistan, which folded dramatically into green valleys and craggy passes. I saw thick black smoke rising from an unidentifiable object in the distance.

Kabul International Airport was much tidier than I remembered it; 11 years ago it was strewn with rusting Soviet tanks and airplane carcasses. Now a dozen or more helicopters stood in their place, poised for flight like perched insects. I stepped off the plane and walked towards the terminal. The walls bore large poster images of Hamid Karzai and Ahmed Shah Masud, the charismatic Tajik military genius, who was killed by suicide bombers posing as cameramen two days before the September 11 attacks. Karzai's poster welcomed us to Afghanistan. Beside him, Masud was pictured with crossed arms and furrowed brow. His inscription called for national unity.

The terminal was bustling with security men, both Afghan and foreign. I got my bag, then stepped up to a phone booth to dial the number I had for the FCCS office. The man told me the license plate of a car that would pick me up, and I walked outside into the sun.

The scene outside the airport was intriguing. Teams of muscular Land Cruisers with tinted windows and no pates rolled by, next to UN Land Rovers, and Red Cross vans. There were plenty of guns around, and I was quickly ushered away from the doors of the airport to behind a barbed wire barricade.

The car came, and ferried me through the busy streets to the Foundation for Culture and Civic Society compound, at the foot of the mountain pictured above. I was shown to my beautiful 'penthouse' room on the roof, and promptly fell comatose for the next few hours. I awoke in the cool yawning of the day, had green tea with the Hazara cook and met my colleagues, a friendly group who banter together in Dari and then shake uncontrollably with laughter. We dined on Kabuli palau and mutton curry for dinner, before reclining on cushions on the floor to smoke and watch the latest installment of an Indian soap opera. It struck me then, for the first time all day, that I was in Kabul. I had made it.


Blogger destinednomad said...

jacob baynham,
congratulations! look forward to reading your letters...

1:17 AM


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