As I stepped onto the landing of the stairs to disembark I realized it was raining! That was honestly the last thing I was expecting, figuring to leave the rain back in London! (Seriously, the average wet days for autumn here are 3-4 days over a three month period!) I hadn’t thought to pack an umbrella, so I was very glad to have my head covered to keep dry.
The Immigration officer, whilst official, was courteous and one could say approaching friendly (as friendly as you can be as an Immigration officer…). Apart from his more pressing duties he managed to enquire whether this was my first time in Afghanistan and asked my impressions of his country. I didn’t say that it was a little early for me to give my impressions having only just arrived and gotten as far as immigration; but I spoke briefly of the beauty of the landscape as viewed from my window seat on the flight into Kabul. Then with a smile he welcomed me to Afghanistan and sent me on my way.
Locating my contact for pickup proved daunting as there are different areas for pickup and locating the correct one (parking ‘C’) was far from straightforward. Part way through my trek (I’m not exaggerating, the correct zone seemed an alarming distance from the airport terminal!), upon arriving at what I was hoping was the correct parking zone only to find no cars or parking spaces visible I enquired from an armed guard if I was in the right place, luckily I was on the right track as I found out when he responded in perfect crisp English that I was at the beginning of said parking zone and directed me to continue on. Ringing my contact proved fruitless from my UK mobile, with what I understood as the correct International dialing code, all I seemed to get was a message in what I assumed was Dari (the Lingua Franca of Afghanistan) and saying what I can only assume was the Dari equivalent of “We are sorry your call cannot be completed as dialled…”. I pressed on through a building and came out onto a platform and Lo there were cars! I received confirmation from a western man also on the platform that I had indeed arrived in ‘C’ parking zone. When I asked for advice on dialing codes, he kindly offered to dial the number for me from his local mobile. He got through to my driver, I had two names and mobile numbers for both a pickup contact and driver, and said, “Hello, is this Ziya? I am calling on behalf of Ms. Melanie; she is here at ‘C’ parking. I am on the platform. Can you see me? Yes. Please come and collect her from here, Thank you.” Phew! Then just when all seems right in the world, disaster strikes (okay so maybe just the potential for a minor catastrophe), I realized that somehow my long skirt had become caught in the wheel of my luggage cart. I could not free it whilst holding onto my cart (on high, uneven platform) and I also couldn’t free it without my headscarf falling off. What to do? The western man, South African in fact, and an older Afghan gentleman came to the rescue. The Afghan gentleman held the cart; the South African gentleman helped me to free the skirt. Apart from some very puzzled looks from others nearby the crisis is averted but not without a casualty. My skirt has been ripped about 2 inches from the hem. Small price to pay really. Then just as I stood up the driver is there, “Hello Ms. Melanie? I am Ziya, driver from Turquoise Mountain please come this way to the car”. Sheer relief! He negotiates the cart down from the platform via an extremely steep ramp. I dread to think how I would have fared had I had to negotiate it alone, not well I reckon. It would have been a serious operation without assistance!
Just as we are putting the luggage into the car an Englishman appears, out of nowhere. He is also travelling to Turquoise Mountain, and I recognize him from the flight (would have been good to find this out a little earlier…). Then my contact also arrives, he had been trying to locate me as I was trying to locate him and had travelled to the terminal and back. As he hadn’t found me, or heard from me, he had begun to wonder if I had arrived and decided to fly straight back on the next flight!
Soon enough we were in the car and on our way. I was distracted on the drive by my conversation with my fellow traveller, which was good because traffic was pretty chaotic. How can I begin to describe what the driving and the roads are like in Kabul? Think a mix between city driving, rally driving and 4×4 off-roading along a triple lane dual carriage highway, except there are no discernible lanes and don’t even get me started on the roundabouts where vehicles, people and bikes converge at alarming angles and with no apparent, obvious order or right of way.