My company sent me to Kandahar for a few days to join a training set up primarily for our other program. Training registration, check! Accommodations, check! Tickets, check!
What??? Tickets!?!?!?! That means I’ll be taking a commercial flight… No, wait… That means I will be taking the commercial flight ALONE! What’s so scary aboout it? Let me count the reasons…
First, this is Afghanistan and my flight takes me to “Taliban-landia”! That alone made me scared. Second, I haven’t taken a commercial domestic flight in Afghanistan before. Yes, I have flown many times to the provinces, but those were US government flights. Third, I take reason # 2, with emphasis on the word “ALONE”. Fourth, how safe are the airplanes? Were they being maintained regularly? What about the pilot? Fifth, what if there is a suicide bomber in the flight! Such crazy thoughts… But work is work, I have to go…
A convoy brought me to Kabul Domestic Airport very early in the morning. I wore conservative clothes along with a head-scarf. Getting in the airport and check-in procedures were a breeze. It scared me. This was one of the times where you want your ID’s checked and your baggage opened one by one. This was one of the times when questioning to the point of “interrrogation” was fine just so we are sure we don’t have a “mafia” on board. I was scared I was praying I would not die that day.
Ok… Darna, you can do it! At the waiting area… I got even more scared. 98% of the passengers are men. Afghan men! Afghan men like the ones in this photo all looking at me like I was from a different planet.
Luckily, I found a seat by the corner. It was a good spot, I was seated against the wall so I would be able to observe. I sat there quietly, waiting for my flight to board. Despite the intimidation I felt earlier, I relaxed a bit after a while. No Afghan man came to bother me. After my awkward entrance, they went back chatting with their seatmates. Thank God!
I slept the whole flight. I was so sleepy for waking up early. I thought if I’d die today, I’d rather die not knowing I’m dead. When I woke up we were preparing to land. Yes, I’m alive! I woke up! I looked around to check if St. Peter was there. No. He was not! I’m alive! Thank, God!
I was instructed to wait for my convoy to pick me up from the airport. So ok, I went outside the terminal building. I noticed the beautiful garden and I smiled. I didn’t expect to see a garden in Kandahar. I looked around for my convoy. The area was empty! There was nobody at all. There were no vehicles. Hmmm… Where could my convoy be? Did I get out at the wrong exit? But there was no other exit! Panic button, panic button…
I called our Kabul office and told them I could not find the convoy. They contacted our Kandahar office. It turned out there was a mix-up. They thought I will be coming via a military flight in the military airport. No! I was at the commercial airport. They told me to just stay where I was and they will come to pick me up. It shouldn’t be long… Ok…
1 hour later… NO convoy still. A local guard approached me twice already and asked me if I need help. I was skeptical talking to people that time so I said I was OK and I was just waiting for my convoy.
Another hour passed. My Kabul office was getting worried for me. I was, too. But not really… What could I do? I thought wearing that worried look or crying would not help me. It would only catch other people’s attention.
I looked around. I had a park in front of me and a garden behind me. I have my camera! Photo-op time! I took photos of myself in a headscarf, I went to the garden and took pictures of the flowers. Haha! I saw the guards looking as me, I can almost hear them saying, “What is she doing? She’s crazy.”
I didn’t care. I didn’t want to mope around and sulk. I had to enjoy this beauty! Look at the flowers… Aren’t they beautiful?
A little later, my convoy was at the gate which is probably a 5 minute walk. Finally! A short while later, I was in my hutch 🙂
My thoughts on the trip…
1. Impressions are one thing, actual experience is another. You do not travel and expect to be 100% in your comfort zone. After all, the real world is not all good as much as it is not all bad.
Kandahar is noted for being a “dangerous” place. Taliban activities are high. I’m not saying that just because I came back to Kabul in one piece is it’s a “safe” place. Extreme caution still needs to be exercised. However, it does not mean that beauty is nowhere to be found. The place is not all blood and gory stuff. I experienced the “soft side” of Kandahar, the kind that I did not enjoy in my previous trip which was more organized and secure.
2. Travel prepared, but keep an open eye and an open mind. The few days I’ve been there, there was rocket “truce”. Rocket alarms did not sound off. We never ran to a bunker. I went “prepared” but I kept an open eye. I was on a look-out for Kandahar’s good side. It was not so bad, after all.
3. Getting back home safe, it is comforting that my God has been with me throughout my trip. He kept me from harm’s way.
Our preconceived notions of a place often deter us from going. I’m not saying that these “news”, “rumors” or testimonials are baseless. I believe that for every x bad stories are y good stories. And everytime I go to these “dangerous” places, I pray that my experiences are good so I can share them with people and encourage them to travel too.
And if not-so-pleasant experiences come, lessons are meant to be learned. Good side, bad side, there will always be something that will make your trip worthwhile. After all, that’s the essence of living.