Saturday, January 30, 2010

In Kabul - First Day, Part 1.

I am have a semi-eventful week. Starting on Sunday, January 24th, when I headed out from the USA on an American Airlines jet to Frankfurt. On time and baggage accounted for, I headed straight for my connecting terminal and put my baggage into storage. I would wait approximately 10 hours for my connecting flight to Kabul on Safi Airways. Other than paying too much for everything in Europe (come on American Dollar!), I had a completely acceptable day.

Both the DFW to FRA and the FRA to KBL flights were over half empty. I had a row to myself to Frankfurt and a window seat/aisle to myself to Kabul. I slept quite well.

My arrival in Kabul was at the break of dawn. You could see the sun cresting over the mountains and the valley with its farmlands waking up with color. It is winter here and mostly shades of brown. Landing in Kabul was easy and the bus taking us to the new terminal clean and efficient. The plane was full of what looked to be ex military and businessmen. Only a few men wore local garb.

At the airport arrivals we first went through immigration. My visa was in order. The men had to get their photo taken. The women get to endure barely a glance and a quick stamp. Nothing to it. You exit immigration hall to the right and approach the baggage claim area. I was greeted warmly by a young Afghan man asking me to hire him to help with my baggage. I gladly did so. I would hire him for 5 dollars (and a tip) to carry my four heavy bags. He communicated with his handler about the transaction and nods were shared. Then we waited for the bags. My first of four arrived early and the rest were not the last. We then piled everything onto the cart and got in line with many local men all in traditional garb. Their luggage was tightly tied blankets that were white with woven belts to fasten them safely. We cut in line ahead of them. It was a kind of 'merger' but they were definitely there before I was.

All of our luggage had to be scanned. I could not tell that anyone was actually watching the scanner. The guards were blissfully chatting about something funny to them. As soon as we were through the scanning, my bags were loaded back on to the same cart and we headed towards the front of the terminal and out the building to the parking area.

I was to be picked up at Parking Lot C. That is the farthest from the terminals. You walk out front and to the left. There is a sidewalk that dips ever so often for drainage. The sidewalk is smooth and the effort to roll a baggage cart with about 200 lbs of weight did not seem to be a problem for the young man. Periodically, especially after a dip in the sidewalk, the luggage would need to be adjusted as it was piled nearly as high as he was tall.

You walk along the path with the old terminal on your left. The old terminal has a now closed, u-shaped road. You walk past the old terminal and approach an active road, which you must cross. Once you are across the street, you approach the first guard gate. They make sure that no one without a boarding pass gets through. And they are in ANA uniforms (dark green) and armed. This is Parking Lot P. You walk all the way through Parking Lot P to a narrow passage approaching the gate for Parking lot C. Parking Lot C also has a guard gate, a guard house and a more narrow passage way where people are coming in and going out. This is interesting with a baggage cart heavily loaded, but we passed without incident. There are good reasons to be a woman in this country sometimes! Just past the guard gate are those waiting for you to arrive.

My new boss and our handler were waiting there for me with a sign with my name and the emblem of the American University of Afghanistan. I greeted them and alerted my baggage man. We then walked together another 50 yards or so to the 4x4. We loaded up the bags and I paid my baggage man 5 dollars as promised plus a dollar tip. I have been told that you can get away with about 3 bucks in negotiations, but after the distance we traveled, I was glad we were all untoppled and all together.

We went straight from the airport to the guest houses. A professor of Mathematics was with us and he was dropped off first. Then I got to see my new, albeit temporary digs.

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