TEN YEARS LATER
#2 Snow Day Delay
February 18, 2012…Kabul, Afghanistan. It is Saturday and all things are on hold. I arrived on Friday
morning around 10:00 AM in a snow storm. Flying over Kabul and peering out the window seat, it
wasn’t until about five minutes prior to landing did I see the terrain below. We had come in through
clouds and all I could see was white. Then, just before the wheels were lowered, I could make out signs
of life below. Everything was white with the familiar rectangle shape that is so common in Afghanistan.
The snow on the ground made things look beautiful as a blanketing of white from nature always does.
The simple and pure things would be in focus on this trip.
It was the end of a long set of plane rides that had begun nearly two days earlier in Albuquerque, New
Mexico. The routing had taken me to Dallas for a change of planes and then a nine hour flight to
London. Thankfully, I had an aisle seat on a row of five seats. The aisle seats on both ends were
occupied which left three seats empty between us. In short order, I laid out and slept on and off for a
while. Once in London, I had an additional eight hour layover and found myself in the American Airlines
comfort lounge after some negotiation. First time in my life I’ve taken advantage of such amenities. The opportunity
to take a long, hot and relaxing shower was luxury at its finest. The complimentary food and drink as well as exquisite
lounge chairs was too much to pass up.
By the time I had gotten all caught up on things and stopped fretting
over whether my two bags actually made the switch from American
Airlines to Turkish Air, it was time to find the departure gate for my
next flight. As is the case these days in global travel, a delay had
ensued. It was only an hour or so and I had given myself much time
between flights when I booked. I used a fair bit of accumulated miles
in my American Airlines club to obtain travel from USA to London.
However, the portion from London to Kabul on Turkish Air would set
me back $800. I was committed to go so as I booked my “free miles
flight” I forked over the remainder on a credit card and told the agent,
“Book it lady. This mission is a go”. The one thing I want to remind
everyone is this; Free miles ain’t free! Just wanted to throw that part
out there in case anyone else thought what I did.
Having switched to Turkish Air and now headed to Istanbul, I found
myself on a window seat. The flight was packed and a bit on the warm
site. Once again, I felt like a sardine that had just come from the wide
open ocean to a tightly packed metal can streaming across the night
sky at 650 miles per hour. It would be about four hours until
touchdown in Istanbul. As we approached Istanbul I noticed water all
around and lights everywhere. It reminded me of the Pacific Northwest
part of the US and I quickly determined I was about to land in the
Seattle-Portland part of Eurasia. The landing was perfect amidst the
night skyline of the city. Istanbul is huge and very, very modern
looking at least in the night through a window on an airplane.
The passengers disembarked via a ramp brought to the plane and we
exited in a drizzle and cold rain. It was nice actually. Cramming into
the bus was another story. The only planes I saw in Istanbul were
Turkish airliners. And there were scores and scores of them
everywhere. Come to find out, this place is the hub for everywhere I’ve
never been before. Once inside the terminal I saw names of places on
the arrival and departure screens I had only read about over the years.
Some of the places intrigued me and I wondered if the years ahead of me would take me to any of them on the list I
was now making in my mind. For now though it was for me to navigate the maze ahead and figure out where my
connecting gate would be. Thankfully, I had over three hours to pull this off. Eventually I found the gate and located a
table outside a bar-restaurant of sorts that had Wi-Fi near where I would need to be for my next and final flight. I
purchased a $2 bottle of water and took two hours to drink it using the free Wi-Fi. It was the middle of the night and
no one cared anyway. The terminal reminded me of the airport in Dubai kind of loaded with merchandise I would
never be able to afford or want for that matter.
Eventually, 3:00 AM rolled around and it was time to board the flight to Afghanistan. It would take place in an obscure
part of the terminal. The area was cold and now packed with passengers having Afghanistan as their destination. We
all went through a kind of screening and then were herded into busses and shuttled to the plane where we once again
used a ramp truck to walk onto the plane. It was really cold now and quite damp and the matter of squeezing all these
passengers onto the ramp without any order was not so pleasant but not all that bad either. It was just cold.
The flight was packed. I sat in the first row behind the first class section. Sounds good but, there is this giant curtain
in front of you and the folks ahead of you all seem to have these chairs that lean back at about 120-degree tilt. I had a
window seat again and two ladies next to me. The one in the middle turned out to be a diplomat who worked at an
Afghan Consulate in Europe. She was very interesting to speak with and I learned again some things about
Afghanistan that I had not heard yet. Listening to her relate things of the past ten years coupled with the experiences
of how things were in Afghanistan after the Russians left and prior to America coming in 2001, made me realize how
much I don’t know or maybe ever will know about Afghanistan. All part of the job of an observatorianist.
It was now about 10:00 AM local time and the plane was coming into Kabul for landing. The clouds were thick and the
ground below was white. We landed without fanfare. Another truck ramp came up and the passengers began to exit. I
took my first steps off the plane and lifted my hands and arms up into the air and felt the snow coming down as I
made sure not to slip and fall down the ramp. It was nice welcome to Afghanistan. I had been warm for the past five
hours, even hot and now the cool air with the snow falling was like a scene out of a movie where everyone else is the
star and I’m the only member of the audience. It is a very inter-active movie however.
I passed through a very brief customs procedure which reminded me a little of my first visit to El Salvador in the
1980’s. A young man offered to get my bags which this time I thought was a great idea. I had been instructed to take
a taxi from my POC in Kabul to get to the other side of the airport and arrive at the entrance to the base. That little
exercise cost me $25 US and then I waited in the snow at the gate for a while to be picked up by the PAO handling the
arrival portion of my embed. In times past, I was allowed to fly on military air from bases in Germany or Kuwait. This
time however, I was told to fly commercial to Kabul and from Kabul the system would accommodate me. New things,
new experiences. I’ve taken it in stride.
In short order, I had a tent, a place to eat, a place to sleep, a place to shower and a place to communicate via phone
and/or internet. It was snowing and predicted to continue for a day or two or three. I now find myself flight delayed in
Kabul on the other side of the commercial airport among soldiers from all over the world, again. It’s a familiar site,
but there is an aura in the atmosphere that it’s been a long time now. That is why this trip is called, “Ten Years Later”.
I was tired from my travels. I think a lot of people are tired from their travels and deployments as well. The crop of
people I see now have all been deployed for what seems like forever.
As I write this, my son has just returned from Korea and headed to Alabama for what is to be a time of three years of
not deploying. I never would have thought when he joined the Army in 2000 that he would have spent six of the last
twelve years deployed. I never would have guessed I’d be in Afghanistan for the second time either, after having spent
nearly three years in Iraq wandering around like Abraham of Ur. But then again, none of us know what
tomorrow will bring.
Maybe tomorrow, I will write from a place that is not Kabul but does start with the letter ‘K.’ Kandahar
coming into focus, maybe.
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