Thursday, December 16, 2010

Back to Kabul

As we approach Kabul by air, it seems to be protected by the mountains around it.  Customs was easy.  I was pleased to have been advised to find the table (unmarked) in the baggage area and to have two identical passport photos with me.  I was issued a foreigner’s registration card in addition to the visa already in my passport.  It is apparently a big hassle if you fail to complete this step.  Leaving customs was similar to many third world countries although less frenetic than some.  I was to meet someone who said he would put JOE on a sign although he would not be allowed to leave the parking area so I would need to walk there outside of the secured airport area.  In fact, Mr. Quaderi was there in the airport and found me.  As we walked to the parking area, he introduced me to a woman from Uganda who works in logistics at the UN office where Mr. Q has his day job.  It was great to tell her of our visits and our interest in her country, especially that my wife had just visited two weeks ago.

Driving into Kabul it became clear that things have changed.  Near the airport, many people had guns, some had uniforms and some were “undercover” (or as undercover as you can be with an ak-47).   The streets were clogged with traffic and the driving was comparable to other places in Asia.  I was to be deposited at the Gandamack, a classic guesthouse favored by ex-pats and journalists from around the world.  They must not get much walk-in business because there was no signage, only a guard and a door in the wall.  After some discussion, our car was allowed in to an area with another armed guard and people to inspect it.  Ultimately I took my bag and walked in.  The place is rustic but nice enough and more interesting than many.  As a Flashman fan it was great to see that Harry is revered here.  (If you haven’t read the Flashman books, I recommend them.)  The owner has collected some interesting armaments that are on display throughout.

As I settled into to room #9, there was a knock and my friend (and a student of mine last year at the UW law school), Hussein Ali Atefi was there.  It was great to see him on his home turf.  He agreed to accompany me in the morning to Mazar i Sharif but went home to sleep as he was ill.  Before he left, Mark Hough with whom I served on the UW Law School Foundation, knocked.  It was also great to see him and he indicated that he would be in the Flashman Bar and I was invited to join him and his guest.  Mark is working with US AID there.  Suzanne Griffin who was a fellow Villa parent 35 years ago also arrived and joined us.  She has been working here for a number of years.  Her husband Mike (who was also a friend from the old days and who is now sadly, deceased) was in Afghanistan with the Peace Corps when I was last here.  Suzanne is raising money to build a school in his honor.  I headed for bed as I needed to depart for the airport at 5 for a 7am flight to Mazar I Sharif.
4:30am came too soon but the water was hot for a shower.  I was out the door on schedule, bags in hand.  It was pitch black which is the only excuse I have for walking off two foot drop thinking it was flat.  Dirty and bruised I got up and determined that I was still good to go, albeit with a very tender knee.  There was no one at the desk which is my excuse for the e-mail which came a day or two later saying you haven’t paid your bill.

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