Monday, May 7, 2012

Kabul - The Blondes Have Arrived

In the essence of time, and the fact that my eyelids are being held open by toothpicks (I'm going 48 hours strong -- woohoo! This Afghan tea must be strong!) I will copy some of my emails home about my first few experiences on this adventure to Afghanistan. I'm currently listening to the evening call to prayer and it's melodic, beautiful, almost hypnotizing...Here is my story of our journey to Kabul, Afghanistan. Much more to come.
I left Phoenix Saturday morning. After waking up early to volunteer at Kitchen on the Street with S., we packed 1000 bags of food for hungry kids, then I jumped on an airplane for 24 hours! 
Here is a brief overview of what we've seen, done, experienced, loved, learned.... SO much more to come, along with real photos...Not just iphone ones. Sorry, again. Sleep deprivation.
My pre-flight snacks! Blueberries, dried blueberries, sliced jicama, apples, cucumbers, oranges, radishes, watermelon twizzlers, baby carrots, bell peppers, and of course... hand sanitizing wipes. 
We were lucky enough to have a seat empty in between us on the Atlanta to Dubai leg. This made stretching out/semi-laying down possible!

We arrived in Dubai and followed orders from our Kabul girls to pick them up some of the essentials at the duty free shop. :)

24 hours into the trip, 2 movies watched, lots of music, lots of pacing the aisles, making friends with the flight attendants... Finally made it to our hotel room in Dubai for a 4 hour nap, then catching a local flight to Kabul. I was beyond excited when I opened my door to find a MASSAGE chair! Highlight of the day.
As we lined up to board the plane, we quickly realized we were 2 of maybe 7 women in the entire area (full flight of hundreds!). Half were locals, half were Western security contractors...

The 3 hour flight to Kabul wasn't too bad. I'm enjoying my tea on our final descent into Afghanistan, with the beautiful sunrise out my window. 

Welcome to Afghanistan

Everyone gets a porter to carry the bags through security on the way out of the airport. You have to screen everything again, even after baggage claim. He wheeled all our bags to a far, far, far away parking lot because cars are not allowed to drive in to the airport for any reason. So, if you're being picked up, be ready to walk! It had just rained, so it was more of a mud run than anything else... All in my nice new white sandals. Yippee.

Our friends at the AUAF picked us up, we braved traffic, pedestrians, animals, dust, construction, and diesel fumes... and finally made it to the hotel. We aren't allowed to take photos of the lobby, front, etc. The big beefy security guards will yell at you. I saw it happen. Not to me though... I'm covert. :) Or I guess, only get photos of the ceiling...

When I checked into my room, I opened the elevator door and this man with a HUGE cart of flowers was waiting to get inside. I remarked how gorgeous the flowers were, and he immediately just handed me this bouquet and welcomed me to Afghanistan. Amazing. They smell so lovely. :)
 So, here are my last few emails home... They'll give some details about these photos and what we've been up to. Now I'm off to dream-land my friends. sleeeeep now, please!
Monday AM
Grrr. So just had my first experience with the ever-so-reliable Kabul power system. Wrote you a long note, attached pics, and the power went out. Lovely.

Well anyway. I'll try to remember what I said! I am on my way out in about 1 hour now for a day of shopping, shopping and more shopping!! then trivia night and chinese food tonight. haha. We met some British security contract workers who guard Embassy folks. They said they might come join us. Haha! See, we're already making friends in all the right places.  We also made friends with our middle seat companion from Dubai to Kabul. He is a Afghan entrepreneur working in one of the cities we'll visit this weekend. He was coming back from Washington DC because he was doing an internship with BPeace, one of the non-profits Thunderbird for Good partners with quite often. 
He was so smart and thankful that we were traveling so far to see his country ;) I am the one who feels thankful to be here!  
He made a point of shaking our hands and giving us his business cards while we were in the crowded baggage claim area. We were some of the only women, and this legitimized us. It's different how the culture works... But he showed us this respect and shook our hands in public, which every other man took notice of (some more blatantly than others!). I was grateful for that.

Kabul is beautiful - for the most part. The flight in was uneventful, and people on the whole are fascinated with who we are, why we're here, and are very grateful for the work being done with 10,000 Women. Many have heard of it. Our flight was half Afghans, half contract security workers. So...think - big American military looking dudes who are certainly not blending in with the locals.  We have about 5 of them in our hotel lobby 24/7. Our hotel is seriously Fort Knox. We had to go through 4 check points just to get within 30 feet of our hotel. Hood up, check under the car, xray us and our luggage, no photos allowed in the lobby or outside, etc... It's very, very secure. I feel safe for sure. It's a compound!

So I love you all... I'll attach some photos of my hotel room - it is so beautiful :)
Monday PM
I had quite a few firsts today... Our car was stopped in bumper to bumper traffic next to a donkey, it's cart & passengers. Our car was then chased by children, who knew how to beg for money and dodge traffic simultaneously. Absolutely heartbreaking. Then, I was swarmed by about 40 twenty-something boys during a market asking if they could take photos with me?!? Am I that weird blonde westerner? We left there pretty quickly... However, the best part of the day was being welcomed into the wood working studio belonging to a graduate of a Thunderbird for Good program. This young girl started her business teaching and hiring women and men apprentices to carve the most intricately detailed pieces of wood I've ever seen. This art was incredible. We sat together at her wood working table as she told us stories while the sounds and smells of wood being cut and chiseled swirled around us in the background. Her mother served us tea, dried chickpeas, almonds, and more... The friendliness, the hospitality, the generosity, the curiosity... this country is full of amazing people.


Bring Pretty Back said...

What an amzing trip! Thank you for taking the time to post this!!!
Have a pretty day!

Ioana-Carmen said...

Chic baby! would you like to follow each other blog? :X

Punctuation Mark said...

This is very interesting! Have a nice one!

Nina Gonzalez said...

sounds like an incredible experience :) i really enjoyed reading your posts about your trip to Afghanistan. What really caught my attention is that you and your friend were one of the few women on a flight of hundreds! Makes me a little nervous that so many big security guards go to work in the country. are the hotels there primarily American/European owned/run?

Isn't it funny how things have to get scanned after baggage claim? I always laugh when that happens to me in Honduras, I'm like whaaaat, I just flew IN from the

So no cars are allowed into the airport parking lot! for security reasons i assume? so ya have to wear comfy shoes, and preferably not white, or else they'll get dirty..i will remember this tip :) hopefully I'll get to visit one day!