Traveling out of Kandahar
I will start this day in a creaky, old twin bunk in a room with 5 guys from the ADT and will end it, I hope, I a bed with real pillows, sheets and privacy. What I difference a two hour flight will make.
I woke up early, really early. I didn’t know where my PT belt was, this reflector belt is required on KAF during times of low-visibility. 1am is one of those times. Without the belt I didn’t feel like I should venture over to the MWR to jump on a computer, so I decided to pull my computer out, buy a day’s worth of Internet and learn what I could learn. On a whim the first place I went was the Ariana Air web page. 6 hours before I was to leave for the airport my jaw hit the ground as I read that they changed their schedule AGAIN. I wouldn’t be leaving Kandahar at 10am, my flight was pushed back to 6:30pm. In hindsight, as I write this from a hotel room in Dubai it’s no big deal; however, at the time I was more than a little disappointed. I had planned for the unplanned by giving myself 30 hours in Dubai. But still, another day at KAF didn’t feel like progress.
Up at at ‘em. Coffee and a doughnut with COL Ahlness, LT Fischer and CPT Tucker. Back to the hooch. Shower. Internet. Nap. Walk around. Kill time. Walk the boardwalk. Go to the PX. Kill time.
At 3pm it was time to move. Bags packed. CPT Tucker drove LT Fischer and me to the airport. After we cleared the Afghan-run security gate we picked up an Afghan guard and rolled towards the front entry. Tucker, Fischer, and I followed the guard in; he brought me to the Ariana desk. I was in their flight log. Whew. They gave me a boarding pass and I said my good-byes to Fischer and Tucker.
The guard lead me to the security check-point. Shoes off. Computer could stay in bag. They didn’t ask me to remove my liquids. I’m patted down on the other side of the metal detector, quite thoroughly I might add. The bag with my computer and hard drive is cleared. My backpack isn’t. They tell me they’re going to go through it. Boy did they. Everything out. Batteries, microphones, camera…which they asked me to turn on…dirty clothes, offensively dirty clothes, Afghan rocks I picked for the kids. They emptied the entire bag.
Then they said, ‘it’s good’ and I started re-packing. As I was packing they noticed my mono-pod strapped to the outside of my pack. The guy looked at it. Picked it up. Showed another guy, extended a few of the segments, closed the segments then held it like a club. “This, no”. He said. “Checked bag”. He wanted me to check the deadly force-capable camera mono-pod. This bag isn’t packed in a way that it should be checked, my camera was in it, and I didn’t want to deal with reclaiming it in Dubai so I said I didn’t need it and he could keep it. Dang it. That was a good mono-pod. They put it in the garbage. My money says they resell it. They should.
The same guard who climbed in with Tucker, Fischer and me at the main gate was still standing by. He brought me to my next stop. Passport control. My photo was taken, the four fingers on my right hand were scanned, my Visa was closed I was let through.
Ten steps to my left my passport was checked and I was given a boarding pass. No seat assignment. General admission.
The guard brings me to the waiting area, I say thank you. Now I have 3 hours until we jet off.
I look for a place to sit. I opt not to sit near a fully veiled woman sitting alone. It felt like the right thing to do. The waiting area fills up slowly. There are people in traditional clothing and people in Western-influenced clothing. There are a lot of kids around. These are not the kids I met in Qalat, or Shah Joy, these are kids eating Lays chips, wearing jeans, colorful t-shirts and Adidas on their feet. I think of Run DMC. I’ll bet the house that I’m the only person in the Kandahar Airport thinking of Run DMC.
The group of people across the way, men, women and children have dwindled in number. The men and older children are still there, but a guard has just instructed the women and younger children to go into a separate area with a sign that reads “Women Praying Room”. No one in the main area is praying, but all of the women and children are gone, out of sight.
An Ariana plane is on the tarmac. I’m beginning to wonder when the flight will be announced when there’s a subtle electronic bell sounded. All of the men snap up and rush to a door. The Guards at the door say something and all of the men slouch back. A few minutes later something is said and it is a dash to the door. I hang back. We line up single file; I’m towards the back. The women and children are brought to the front of the line and they pass through.
The men are patted down one more time; boarding pass, passport, walk to the the plane and up the steps. General admission seating, the entire back third of the plane is empty. I sit on the isle. Of the 24 seats in my row and the two rows in front of me 20 of the seats are empty. I spread out.
We start moving, I glance at my watch. It’s 6:19. 11 minutes early. The wheels leave the ground at 6:29. Good bye Afghanistan.
Kandahar Airport is buttoned up; they have their act together. Ariana Air, not so much. Since I bought my tickets back in January my flight schedule was changed 4 times. The last change took place a week ago; I did find an email from them buried in my inbox; so they did do their job, but I would recommend trying a different carrier if you need to fly into or out of Kandahar.
Dinner is served. I fall asleep. We land. I’m in Dubai, a step closer to home. Progress. It’s easy to get through passport control at Dubai. My passport is stamped with a 30 day visa; I take a cab to the Holiday Inn Express, call home, grab a beer downstairs and collapse into a queen sized bed with four overstuffed pillows.