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30 Days in Afghanistan–Arrival

June 28, 2007 by  


By Naeem Randhawa

“God gave me travelling shoes,
God gave me the wanderer’s eye,
God gave two gold coins to help me to the other side.
He then turned around and said–be careful how the small things grow,
When God gives you travelling shoes,
You know that it is time to go.”
“Home,” by Simple Minds

Kam Air Touchdown at Kabul Airport

Afghani owned, the Kam Air flight left Dubai, and is touching ground in Kabul in less than 3 hours. The Boeing 737 dips under the mountain range, and the pilot circles the plane to position for landing at Afghanistan’s Kabul Airport. Outside I see the blue sky blending into the gray shale clay mountain ranges surrounding the city, the mountains descend into a pale brown dirt that covers most of the land. For the last hour, I’ve been glancing through the window, and can’t figure out how anyone can possible tame this rugged and desolate land, and yet, here is a bustling city. Dry and dusty, rugged and scarred, and beautiful in its remoteness and wildness – a reflection of the land and people.

We’re taxiing to the small terminal, on our way, we pass a dozen or so American and Russian military helicopters and fighter jets. There’s only one other commercial plane I see on the ground, I wonder if I made the right decision to come and work here. The crew, I think they’re Russian, open the door as we come to a stop. I’m surrounded by families who are returning to their land, and by other foreigners, or expats as their known here, like me. We stand out from the crowd, it’s in our clothing, in our faces. Even though we’re trying to act casual, I know we’re all somewhat nervous. You can feel the vibe.

Outside, the midday Sun is beaming. It’s hot and dry, the heat’s not as bad as I thought it would be, but the dryness is harsh, I’m breathing in dust. The small building that is the main terminal is badly in need of renovations. I make my way into the building, my name is on a cardboard, carried by a young Afghani, my fixer. He greets me, and grabs my carry-on, I tell him I’ll carry it myself – he insists, I let him have it. A second man is waiting for my on-board luggage, he tells me the beltway is broken again, so the airline guys are carrying in the suitcases from the plane. We gather my stuff, a third man meets us as we exit the secure area, a company man. He extends his hand, I shake it, he hands me a charged cell phone, and proceeds to give me a de-briefing on company policies and security. I grab the phone, start dialing Sonia, and grab a seat into the back of an armor protected vehicle. As I look away from the hand guns and machine guns in the vehicle around me – I tell Sonia, I’m fine, all’s well, I’ve arrived.

Arrival in the Heart of Kabul

I’m not fearful, I’ve talked with people on the ground, I know its relatively safe, I’m more curious than anything else. Well, curious isn’t quite the right word, I’m flat out alive with electricity. I try not to act like school boy on a field trip, but I’m taking everything in, I’m scanning everything in front of us, around us, the first people I see on the street, the buildings, the other vehicles. I’m drinking it all in. What does a country look like that’s been at war for almost 30 years? What are the people like? How have they survived? I am wondering all of these things as we weave, bob and race on roads that are dirt, paved and full of potholes and obstacles.

I arrive at my assigned company house, which is rented at an exorbitant rate, because demand and inflation have gone through the roof. Demand has sharply increased from all the expats coming in to work on re-structuring projects. I enter through the gate to the house, which is surrounded by 20 feet high fencing, covered with rings of barbed wire, and privately hired security gunmen, inside and outside the front gates. The security guards are local, and most of them are smaller than me, but I know that they are probably as tough as hell – you’d have to be. They greet me, “Hello”, I respond “Aslam Alaikum”, I get a slight smile back – they know I’ve got a past here somewhere.

My room, along with a half dozen others, is pretty luxurious in comparison with local standards, clean, a big bed, a desk and chair, an A/C unit, a fridge, and a private bathroom. I put my bags down, and jump in the shower to wash all the dust off. After, I open my window blinds, and look up at the blue sky, it’s the same sky I’d stare at in Dallas, except for the barbed wire on my horizon, and the Afghani guards 30 feet from me, standing in the afternoon sun, with Kalashnikovs slinging from their shoulders.

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