Saturday, December 18, 2010

From Mazar to Kabul

Up early to depart and off to the Mazar airport.  Plane delayed, no make that canceled.  At least we were in a comfortable waiting area. See photo.

Also when Pamir Air cancels, they may be saving your life as their safety record is wanting.  In May they crashed on a run from the North into Kabul killing all 44.
Flights are full.  Bus is an option, but Hussein says that even he will only go by bus in traditional Afghan clothes, so I need to go shopping.  Driving is another option as very few problems have been reported recently but Taliban’s progress in the neighboring province makes me nervous.

Fortunately Kam airways comes through and I am on the 1:30 flight. There last serious crash was 5 years ago which they say with pride.  Of course it was the deadliest in Afghan aviation history, killing all 104 passengers.  These guys are cutthroat competitors; when you Google “Pamir Airways Crash” there is a paid ad for Kam Air.
This time we leave the waiting area and get frisked 4 times and all bags searched two times thoroughly.  I gave salmon pills to the first guy and a JOE bracelet (which I told him everyone in America is wearing) to the other guy.  We eventually finished the ¼ mile gauntlet and got to the terminal. 

They directed us into an old hangar; pretty sweet. 

Explosion and helocpters. This guy didn't flinch!
 All of a sudden there was a bunch of helocopters buzzing the field and a teeth shaking explosion.  I got up and went out to see.  Weird, because I was the only one to move.  Not sure if that meant I was the only guy curious about this everyday event or I was the only guy dumb enough to walk TOWARD an explosion.  Anyway, nothing more came of it except lots of military guys on the runways.

I got back to Kabul exhausted but upgraded.  The Gandamack was full so I am at the Serena which is very nice.  I used to be teased about being able to put a nice spin on anything (“Brotherton, you could shine shit” was a phrase I heard more than once.)  But these guys are the pros.  The Serena actually promotes the fact that it has not been bombed since the suicide bombers in 2008 killed only 4 people.   
Side story – Why travel?  I encourage all my kids to travel as much as they can to as many interesting places as possible.  One of the reasons is that when you are home or on a subway or on a beach reading, the book will come alive when it refers to a place you have been.  The book I am reading keeps referring to the Serena Hotel Bombing, which is not really the best illustration of the point, but reading that inside the Serena 24 months after the event is kind of cool.
Why go to Afghanistan now?  Tia asked this question for which I had no good answer, except that the opportunity arose now and I am old enough to know that an opportunity deferred may be an opportunity missed. (Or as Rhoady used to say to Riley, “At our age, a penny saved is a penny wasted.”)

Megan asked why go to someplace that most of the people who are there would give anything to get out of?  That was tougher because it sounded just like the kind of thing I would say.  The interesting thing is that life is pretty much going on as usual.  The Afghans are known for their resiliency and it shows.
One weird aspect of staying at the Serena (in addition to very tight security) is the characters you see here.  A war zone where money is (over)flowing attracts some interesting characters.  They are mercenaries and look the role.  I sense that the people of Kabul who used to love Americans (because they thought we were all people with long hair who smiled all the time) feel differently now.  It is partly because of the war machine that is here but I think the mercenaries do not represent us well.  I noticed a friendlier attitude in Mazar than here.

I saw a lot of Kabul today including Babur’s Gardens.  It is a great place of relative tranquility in this crazy city.  The guy wouldn’t let me pay the Afghan rate of 50 cents.  My silly beard hat and scarf had him going until he got right in my face and asked something.  I counted to ten in Farsi which didn’t impress him at all.  The honky rate is $5. 

The incense from this little  guy was an extra quarter. He would swing that incense burner at me, although as best I could tell it was only burning charcoal.  Still to smell like smoke is a bargain for 25 cents.

The gardens were great and I especially enjoyed hanging there and I enjoyed Babur's tomb and being with my friend Hussein and my new brother Quaderi.  He even called his son to tell him he has a new Uncle Joe.
Touring around the City, we saw cool things on all sides.  I love meat scenes in the third world; reminds me to keep up the vegetarianism.

I also saw my second Great Wall. The first one is of course in China but this one has its own great story.

Legend has it that a 6th century Afghan king was so worried about the security of his city, Kabul, that he forced all his male subjects to build a wall on the hilltops surrounding the town. Those that were too lazy, tired or sick to work would be buried in the wall's foundations. The peasants eventually revolted, killing the king and burying his remains along with the commoners he persecuted.

I saw a car wearing a Burka:

and alot of damage from the Civil War:

I had a great afghan meal tonight at place called Sufi with an old friend from Seattle who has been here most of the last ten years.  Tomorrow, Sunday, I know will be interesting.   I will be addressing the judges of the anti-corruption courts. 

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