Saturday, September 30, 2006

Delhi to Kabul

The next morning we woke up early, and had a nice breakfast at the hotel. I watched with envy and fear as my dad drank orange juice, mango juice and had fresh peeled fruit. I wanted it so badly, but knew I’d better not take the risk. My dad wanted to leave at 1030 for an 1130 flight, but we managed to get him out the door by 9 am.

Now was the moment of truth. The night before I left Phoenix, I read something about visas for Afghanistan. I didn’t need a visa the last time I came in, but that was a year and a half ago. According to the Afghan Embassy website I didn’t need a visa because I was born in Afghanistan, but my sister did since she was born in Boston. Although Wazhma is 7 years older than me, she was born in Boston because my dad went MIT there. When they returned to Afghanistan I was born. Despite the late notice, I called Wazhma up to make sure she had gotten a visa, and she said she hadn’t because my dad said it wasn’t necessary.

When we reached the check-in counter, my dad managed to check in before us and decided to go downstairs to check on his luggage. Wazhma gave the woman her ticket and passport and the woman asked for a visa….uh-oh. We called my dad over and he said that she didn’t need a visa etc, etc. But the woman asked we speak with the Immigration officer first. The immigration officer didn’t quite know what to do and went to speak with someone else. Meanwhile, Wazhma and my dad were sweating bullets. My sister’s blood pressure started to rise and my dad was feeling guilty for not getting a visa for her. My dad said, “Well isn’t it better if you get to Kabul and they refuse you there, rather than getting refused in India?” My sister’s green eyes started to flicker and she said, “NO!” I informed them that the Embassy website said that people entering Afghanistan without a visa would be deported and their passport would be confiscated. Now Wazhma was really upset and time was ticking until we were to board our flight.

The Immigration Officer finally returned and told us if it was OK with the airlines it was OK with him. So we went to the counter and the woman issued our tickets. We stood aside and arranged our things, and my dad asked me why I hadn’t told him that Wazhma needed a visa. My dad spoke too soon, and an Asian man from the airline interrupted us and started questioning us. He said he needed to confirm with Immigration that we could go through. So here we were again! He returned 15 minutes later and told us we didn’t have permission. So my dad had to argue with them for another 10 minutes and they finally let us through. Maybe we exasperated them enough that they gave up.

We now had 10 minutes to spare and still had to get through immigration and security. After getting through immigration my dad started wandering toward the duty free store. “Dad!” we pleaded, but there was no use. Wazhma and I got through security OK, although I was stopped for having a water bottle in my bag (whoops!).

Luckily the plane was delayed and we made it on the plane despite my dad’s last minute duty free shopping (*sigh*).

There was a beautiful Afghan man sitting in front of us on the plane and I had to keep nudging Wazhma to keep her big green eyes to herself! I had already decided that she would need sunglasses on this trip to keep us out of trouble!

We arrived at the Kabul airport, and to my dismay things had changed in a year and a half. The last time I came there was no immigration counter; just a short old man that said “Welcome!” We had filled out a green form and were admitted. This time there was an actual counter with disciplined lines of people waiting. This didn’t look good for Wazhma.

A large adverstisement for the fancy Serina Luxury hotel decorated the otherwise bleak airport. We finally got to the counter and a man with a mustache and a kind face stamped my dad’s passport. He did not, however, accept Wazhma’s passport because she didn’t have a visa. My dad tried explaining that we were his daughters and we were traveling as a family, but the man didn’t care. Rules are rules. Furthermore, he was perplexed by how Wazhma was born in 1974 in the US and I was born in Afghanistan in 1981. He wasn’t convinced we were his daughters. Wazhma scooted closer to my dad so that the man might see some resemblance between her and our dad. After 15 minutes of holding the line up, he finally stamped Wazhma’s passport and told us to get a letter from the Embassy in Kabul. We finally made it in the country!

Getting to India


My morning started out by checking in at the America West ticket counter in Phoenix. There was an announcement on the loud speaker for everyone to take a moment of silence on the behalf of the Southwest Airlines worker that was recently killed in Afghanistan. “Great” I thought. Is this supposed to be some kind of warning sign? But I ignored it and continued my check in, not letting the woman know that I was flying to Afghanistan after Delhi.

When I arrived in New York, I had to figure out how to get to my correct terminal. Riding on the sky train from Terminal 7 to Terminal 4 I was reminded by just how HUGE New York is. And more than anything, I am constantly amazed by how diverse the city is. I mean, there are so many people from so many parts of the world there, it is really frickin’ cool.

Arriving at Terminal 3 I still had to figure out where Air India was among the many choices of airlines. Luckily, I was able to locate it by the bright red turbans I saw in the distance.

Wazhma and I connected and made it on the plane to London. We put out some fires by switching seats so two Indian families could be united on the plane. I’ve never seen so much drama on an airplane as on this flight! The stewardesses were GORGEOUS. We had a stewardess named Rita with caramel skin, Asian like features and a bright red silk sari. A red dot adorned her forehead, while a green dot adorned the forehead of the other (equally beautiful) stewardess. I still haven’t figured out what the different colored dots mean, but I plan on getting to the bottom of this by the end of my trip ;). I wondered if the stewardesses had beauty requirements in order to work on the plane.

Arriving in London, we deplaned and had to go through security again. An anxious Australian couple waited in line behind us, fretting over missing their flight. We finally connected with our dad (who flew from Chicago) and he informed us he almost didn’t make the flight because they had oversold the Indian Air flight. And boy did it look oversold. There were so many people flying on this flight. Probably 1200. On this leg of the flight Wazhma and I were stuck on the back of the plane surrounded by several children, one of which wouldn’t stop screaming the whole way there. My eye mask and ear plugs helped shut out the deafening roar of the engines, the babies, and the gossiping travelers, but it wasn’t enough. Wazhma and I started plotting how we could upgrade to first class on our way back.

We finally made it to the Delhi airport and made our way to the baggage claim. My dad started panicking as we watched the endless number of suitcases pass us by, with his no where to be seen. Luckily, Wazhma’s and my bag arrived but my dad’s didn’t. It’s not a trip to Kabul without my dad’s luggage getting lost!! He ran around in a frenzy trying to arrange for his luggage to be sent to Kabul, all the while cursing the head of the flight agent that checked his bag in.

We were concerned about getting a hotel in Delhi because this is the height of the tourist season in India. Wazhma and I thought we should call some hotels before taking off, but before we could find a phone our dad was out the door looking for a taxi. The air felt balmy and the darkness and quiet were a relief from our long flight with the screaming Indian child.

Our taxi driver was sweet, trying to make small talk with my dad, who was simply not interested at 2 in the morning. We arrived at the Westend Inn and a man in an Indian outfit and red turban opened the door for me and carried my luggage. I felt a wash of guilt come over me—I always feel weird with people waiting on me like they’re my servant or something. Eww!

Much to our dismay our dad haggled with the hotel man for our rooms and we were in bed by 3 am.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

In 2 days I'll be halfway around the world!

Wow. In less than 24 hours I will be on a plane to India and then Afghanistan. I’m not sure what to think or do, so I’m just going to go with the flow! No use stressing! I’ll be in each country for 1 week between September 28th and October 14th, and I’ll do my best to update this blog so you know what’s going on.

You may ask WHY!? Aside from the adventure of it, I’m going to start on a project called Resonance, which will include the stories and photos of Afghan women and women around the world. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of this on Resonance and I welcome any suggestions/participation anyone may have to offer!

I’m excited, scared and curious all at once. Part of me expects my trip to be like my last one in March 2005, while part of me knows it’s going to be different. Incidentally, this will be the 25 year anniversary since my family originally left the country during the Soviet invasion. Funny how things work out like that. My sister and dad will be going with me on this trip, and this will be Wazhma’s first time back to Afghanistan since we left when she was 7. I’m definitely anxious to see her reactions and how her old memories come to terms with this “new” country.

Enough chatting for now—I must pack!