Sometimes an opportunity knocks at your door that needs you to get out of your comfort zone. When that happens what will you do? Will you grab the opportunity or pass up and wait for another chance?
That happened to me… I was offered a job that not only required me to get out of my comfort zone but had me tread the unknown and live in a war-zone! Before I knew it I was on my way to AFGHANISTAN.
This story happened in 13 Feb 2009 when I was about to set foot in this war-torn land. My 2.5-hr flight to Kabul was at 6:00 in the morning. Since I had to get my UAE residence visa cancelled, I had to get to the airport earlier than the usual 2-hour check-in time. The flight was delayed, snow was heavy in Kabul that day and our plane was waiting for the go-signal to depart. Passengers are mostly expats and somewhere among the crowd, I spotted three Filipinos. Yey! I found out that 1 of them work in the company I will be working for. Double yey! That did not make me frightened anymore. I found out that it had been terrible trying to get into Kabul the past 2 days. It was winter in Kabul and the snow was so heavy that the plane could not land. The flights did not have a choice but to go back to Dubai. For some of the passengers, that day was their third try. It will be my first encounter with winter and snow that I did not know what to expect. All I thought was that it doesn’t sound so pretty with all the hassle it caused the passengers.
Then, we took off.
At mid-flight, the conditions in Kabul were not good. Snow was heavy, the runway was slippery and visibility was very poor. So… We were told we cannot land in Kabul! The plane wouldn’t go back to Dubai (again!!!) but will land in MAZAR-E-SHARIF instead! I started to panic! Where is Mazar? Are we going to be safe there? Where are we going to stay? Are we sleeping in the plane? Where do we keep our luggage? Panic button, panic button…
Then, my thoughts were starting to get answered. It helped that my seatmate was a good lady who “pacified” first-timer me. I also had a “security blanket” in the 3 Filipinos who assured me that Mazar is a “safe” city and there was no need to worry. Mazar is a city in North Afghanistan which has a small airport. The airline arranged for a bus to bring us to our hotel in the city which was paid for by the airline. REALLY!?!?! Hotel in Afghanistan? Hmmm… A part of me was scared yet my daredevil side was smirking about this adventure! I knew this experience was going to be interesting.
We landed in Mazar late in the afternoon when it was supposed to be touchdown Kabul at 9am. It was starting to get dark, making the experience more frightening and exciting 😀 We got out of the plane with only our handcarried bags. Checked-in luggage stayed in the plane. Then we again had to wait for the immigration officers to get into their counters. Remember, ours was an “emergency” landing not a scheduled one. Right outside the airport building were armed local guards, jersey barriers and several checkpoints (even before you get out of the airport compound). It was like a scene from a computer game. It was especially difficult for me with several “hand-carried bags” that had to be “inspected” at the checkpoints. Heaven-sent were the Pinoys who helped carry my stuff.
At the entrance of the airport, the bus that will take to our hotel was waiting. Hmmm… During the trip, I was afraid that I had my window curtains closed the whole time. I didn’t look outside, but I noticed the roads were paved. It was a 20 minute ride to our hotel. The area was actually better than I expected. It seems progressive with the buildings and establishments, it was quiet and does not bear signs of being violence-ridden.
So what does an Afghani hotel look like?
Like this! This photo was not taken during my stay but months after when we went again to Mazar for a site visit.
The hotel was not bad, actually. It could pass up for an normal 2-star hotel. Instead of a lobby, the hotel has a living room complete with sofa and TV! However, the living room was dark, lacking in lighting. On the other side of the room is the dining room where dinner was served. We had a standard meal, complete with soup, 2 kinds of Afghani bread (I think), salad, rice and kebab on skewers and softdrinks! I actually liked dinner and the one type of bread 🙂 The other type of bread was gummy, the kind that fights with you when you bite! Hehe…
Now, the room… I shared a twin room with another lady since the hotel does not have enough room to accommodate all of us; I didn’t mind. The room was basic. It was clean and it had aircon/heater and TV.
We left the hotel very early the following morning. We wanted to arrive in Kabul early when snow is not yet falling heavily.
Second try getting in to Kabul.
Afghanistan is mountainous and most of the area was uninhabited. It was just a vast land of “white chocolate Toblerones”. From the plane, the landscape looked like these.
Fortunately, the weather was kind to us that day. It was actually sunny and we were able to land in Kabul in no time. A new international airport was just completed but was not yet operational. We used the old international airport. At the immigration counter, it was just chaos! Locals practically “owned” trolleys and you have to pay for their “service” if you want to use the “trolleys”. Good for me, I was with my officemate who helped me carry my luggage so that we didn’t have to pay “rent”.
At the parking lot, our convoy that will take us to our camp was waiting for us. My supposedly-3-hour-journey-that-took-2-days is over!
Time to say chotor asti (how are you), Kabul?
Looking back, it was a decision I would not regret. 3 years later, I am still here in this so-called war-zone.
Hadn’t I made that bold first step, there would not be this blog I am writing today. From this one great adventure years ago, more exciting and happy journeys were born 🙂 Aptly titled, my journey to Afghanistan is what I consider the “mother of all my adventures”