Thursday, December 13, 2007

On the other side

We are here. This is how it happened.

Monday evening at 10:30 p.m. EST, we departed from Dulles for Dubai via Paris, nervous, excited and most of all, anxious to arrive in Kabul. Our journey to Dubai was unremarkable. We exited Dubai International's shiny Terminal 1, and were at our hotel at 11:30 p.m. Dubai time on Tuesday (2:30 p.m. Tuesday EST). We got up at 4 a.m. in order to make it back to the airport - Terminal 2, which is considerably less shiny, and which, judging from the departures screen, might more aptly be named "Danger Depot."

I was taken with the Christmas tree in the duty free shop.

Probably, we should have paid more attention to the people sleeping under it - that might have better prepared us for the ensuing 32 hours. Events unfolded thusly:

7 a.m. Designated boarding time

7:30 a.m. We are informed that the flight has been delayed until 9 a.m. due to bad weather.

7:30–9:30 a.m. Airport officials manning gates 2 and 3 play ping-pong with miserable travelers who just want to know which gate their flight is departing from. Finally, a mob bum rushes gate 3 to board. Judging from our fellow passengers' staggering inability to form an orderly line, it appears that nobody in this part of the world went to kindergarten.

10:30 a.m. Take off!

1 p.m. (Kabul time, which is half an hour later than Dubai time) - The plane comes within 100 feet of the runway, and we catch a brief glimpse of squat houses and lots of dust of Kabul before the plane inexplicably ascends.

1:15 p.m. The captain langorously informs us that the runway was snowy, so we will of course be flying to Zahadan, IRAN, to bide our time until the weather improves. I rack my brain, without success, to try to remember what, if anything, I was taught at FSI about what to do if your plane happens to get routed to Iran.

1:45 p.m. Captain gets on the intercom again, and, between yawns, tells us that, actually, we'll just go on to Dubai now. Jeremy and I are relieved and vaguely disappointed all at once.

3:30 p.m. As we touch down in Dubai, the cabin crew thanks us for our business and invites us to fly Kam Air again. Enjoy your stay in Dubai, they say, as though it is perfectly normal to fly five hours only to arrive right back where one began.

4 p.m. We depart the plane and proceed back into the departures area of the terminal. In the terminal, no one can tell us what is going on. No one from Kam Air is at the gate. Passengers descend upon the hapless gate attendant, shaking pitchforks and demanding information, until he runs away, ostensibly to locate a Kam Air official.

4:20 p.m. Gate attendant returns to inform us that no one from Kam Air is in the airport. They have all gone home. He calls Kam Air’s city office and is told someone is on his way

5 p.m. Kam Air employee arrives. Passengers descend vulture-like upon him, demanding to know why he wasn’t here when we got off the plane. He protests that he did not know we were coming back. Good point. If only, if ONLY there were some sort of device that would enable the pilot of a plane to communicate with the ground!

Once the riot subsides, the Kam Air employee tells us we will be departing at 7 p.m. Seasoned Kabul residents express dismay, since they know that flights never, ever land in Kabul after dark. Also, a Kam Air plane crashed into a mountain on a snowy day almost exactly three years ago.

6:30 p.m. Kam Air tells us our flight has been canceled. We are stuck in departures. Our bags, quite properly, are en route to arrivals. No one has any idea how to unite us with them. A security force of small men who are generally complacent to the point of negligence, becomes amazing riled up when we try to leave departures to go back through to arrivals. It is decided that the only possible way we can clear immigration (and thus reach our bags, at arrivals) is to relinquish all 115 of our passports to a gate attendant, who, as far as we know, will put them in a bag and go off to have an extended smoke and coffee break before returning to us, having conveniently forgotten both the purpose of his excursion, and our travel documents.

6:30 and 1 second p.m. Passengers protest. Loudly.

7:30 p.m. The gate official has been persuaded to see reason, primarily because a burly Australian contractor's promised to turn his face into oatmeal if he tries to take our passports away.

8 p.m. Finally in line at immigration, we find ourselves having to argue with the immigration officials, who are apparently opposed to doing their jobs. They say there is no way they can get 115 of us through immigration because – wait for it – we all have different immigration circumstances (visas, no visas, entry stamps, deportees). We agree that yes, that is true, and that is why we all go through one at a time instead of in a big mob (the kindergarten thing again). It takes the better part of half an hour to convince them.

9 p.m. We finally make it through immigration, collect our baggage, and are waiting in line for a cab to our hotel.

10 p.m. We check into a hotel and then head to a noodle shop (appropriately named Yum!) for some much-needed food.

11 p.m. We pass out on the bed.

3:45 a.m. Wake up call. Totally refreshed, we spring out of bed, check out, and head back to Danger Depot. Aside from confusion over departure times and gates; the usual, elbow-thrusting mob of people; and the fact that we took off two hours late, this morning was unremarkable. I had this exchange with the security guy after the metal detector detected metal in my shoes:

Guy: You have gun?
Me: No.
Guy: You have bomb?
Me: No.
Guy: You have knife?
Me: No.
Guy: You have grenade?
Me: No.
Guy: OK. If you have gun, shoot only the pilot.

And he walked away chuckling with the air of a man who knows he is blessed not only with an unparalleled sense of humor, but incomparable good looks to boot.

Fast forward.

We got on the plane.

We did not look our best.

I passed the time by arranging the more interesting items at my disposal into unconventional configurations, and then taking photographs of them. Like this Kam Air barf bag and our wedding rings.

Then we landed at the airport in Kabul, and there was much rejoicing.

And then our driver handed us bulletproof vests and asked us to put on our seat belts.

The End. For Now.


  1. this is freaking hysterical. here i am, in my cozy apartment in nyc, and just laughing aloud.

  2. Holy cow!!!
    That's it!

  3. I think this is going to be a good blog...

  4. Thanks ... and which Julia are you? I know several - Julia H, Julia O and Julia M.


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