Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bamiyan bound

Alternate title: initiate travel-blogging

My friend and classmate Afreen has been in Bamiyan for several weeks now, conducting surveys on women's rights and development progress in the province. She's interviewed the governor and received a sheep, and for real news on the province you should definitely see her blog.

As Afreen prepared to return to Kabul, I contrived to plan a visit to this place she'd brought so vividly to life online. On Monday afternoon, the liaison's office at the Commission confirmed that they'd reserved a seat on the UN Humanitarian Air Service flight the next morning, and so I packed my bags. Arriving at the Kabul International Airport at 5:30am, I received a thorough pat-down from a bored female guard (good morning!) and fell in behind a group of men wearing Electoral Complaint Commission badges after I heard them ask for directions to the UN terminal.

I had no weapons to unload, so after a brief passport check, I found myself pacing a small waiting room with Al-Jazeera English playing on the television. The man in the ECC badge introduced himself - their group was returning home to Daikundi Province from a training in Kabul. He was a physician chosen to serve as the Election Complaints Coordinator for the province as a respected but apolitical figure. Daikundi is a twelve hour drive from Bamiyan, but the half-hour flight saved them at least part of the 48 hours it would take to drive from Kabul.

After boarding the turboprop and buckling in, I pulled out my camera to catch some of the scenery we'd be flying over. The newly-lit sky promised a clear blue journey.

Between dusty peaks of strangely mineral red and gold, valleys kept green by snow runoff and human determination widened to accommodate small house-clusters below. Looking over meandering dirt paths, I wondered at the thought of surviving winter snowed in to one of these villages.

As the high hills gave way to true mountains and I began to see snow on their peaks, the attendant announced our descent into Bamiyan.

The airport has a gravel strip, a tiny outbuilding/"terminal", and an all-NGO clientele. No fewer than four separate UN vehicles waited outside for arrivals.

Afreen had walked from the hotel to the airport, and so we began the return trip down a tree-lined road, the famous Buddha niches already visible in the distance. I had only just landed, but the simple ability to go walking, the sense of having left Kabul and mysteriously landed in Colorado, and a serious dose of exhaustion conspired to form a curious euphoria. This would be a good week.

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