On 2nd April, as I was going through immigration at Delhi Airport, the person checking my papers asked me why I was going to Afghanistan. I told him the reason. He asked me if I knew about Afghanistan and why I was risking my life to go there. I told him it was to help prepare the young Afghans in combating drug abuse. He told me it wasn’t a good reason to take risk. I told him if India was in Afghanistan’s situation, what would he feel like if people from outside refused to help their youth.
‘You are willing to risk your life for people you don’t know?’ I nodded. He smiled and said, ‘Be careful. You are travelling alone and let me know you got back safe when you return.’
‘I will if I see you again,’ I said, taking my documents from him. About fifteen minutes there.
After two hours of flight, someone said we entered Afghanistan. I turned in my window sit and looked down. I couldn’t believe what I saw; mountains and houses were all white. ‘What! Is that snow?’ I said aloud and people around confirmed. It was beautiful. I remember asking if we really were in Afghanistan. The pilot’s voice boomed over the speaker and said we would be arriving in Kabul shortly. I held my breath. I looked out of the window and everything was really white. My clothes, I thought.
The pilot spoke again to say that due to some situation at the airport we would be in the air for extra 15 minutes. ‘We have fuel enough to last for 15 minutes,’ he added.
Okay, I thought and looked out of the window. The pilot took us up north and south and made a circle above Kabul. I wasn’t going to die of a bomb attack; I was going to die in air, I thought when the plane didn’t prepare to land after 30 minutes extra in air, I amused myself with my humour and told Mr Thomas. The plane was delayed at the Indra Gandhi International Airport in Delhi by an hour, and we landed at the Kabul International Airport after another 15 minutes. We were late by almost 2 hours. I was worried if Jawed would be still waiting for us. It was 8 months since our training in Bangkok and I didn’t like the idea of walking into a new country without a native.
The Indian Airlines aircraft taxied up the runway and slowed down. It had rained and was still drizzling. I looked out of the window and saw for the very first time what I have read about and seen in movies –American soldiers like GI Joes; their uniforms, boots, guns, sophisticated gadgets, armoured truck and their shiny reflective sunglasses.
Mr Thomas got worried when we walked the aisle to the exit because I was wearing a half sleeved shirt and my head was uncovered. He told me to pull my green scarf over my head, and an Afghan woman and man told me it was fine not to cover my head as I was a foreigner. The chill caught me off guard when I walked out the door and down the steps. I never imagined Afghanistan to be that cold.
Between covering my hair and my arms with my scarf, I walked into the immigration check. I handed over my documents to the officer and stood behind the camera. He looked at my passport and looked at me. He asked my business in Afghanistan. I told him I was there for the 1st Afghanistan Youth Congress. He kept going through my passport and said nothing. He conversed with his colleague and said nothing again. He asked me the same questions he asked when I walked in ten minutes ago. He was silent for few minutes and went through my papers again. I looked for Mr Thomas but he was nowhere in sight.
‘Why are you keeping me?’ I asked agitated. ‘My passport is valid, I have a valid Afghan visa and I have my invitation letters.’ He said nothing. I bent forward over the counter so he could see me well and said, ‘I feel like crying right now but I won’t. I will wait to get outside to cry. You won’t have the privilege to see my tears.’ I rested my chin on the counter, waiting for the officer to explain. I was already there for fifteen minutes.
To be continued…