Flying with Russians to Kabul

Kabul, Afghanistan Ė 19 / 12 / 01

So Iím finally in Kabul.† Iím pretty sure I left London on Monday, but I think I have traveled too many time zones to be sure.† I ended up taking an Estonian charter flight from an old RAF base near Kent, on the coast of Britain.† The plane was a Russian AN-72 cargo plane, equipped with 28 seats, and luckily there were only 14 passengers.† Imagine the horror as the male flight attendant, with a thick Russian accent, began to explain the safety features of this particular aircraft.† At least the safety placards didnít portray the passengers smiling.† I decided to sleep as much as possible on this 12 hour flight, so I canít comment on the dinner that they served.† I was told it was quite good, but then again most of the passengers had brought a good amount of alcohol on board for consumption on the flight.

We had to make two refueling stops, the first being in Odessa, Ukraine at 1000 local.† This was a good test to see if we would be able to deal with an Afghani winter, with the winds above 40 mph with blowing snow. You can never say you have been to a place without setting foot on the ground, so the whole lot of us emptied out of the plane onto the tarmac.† Then after a quick photo, we all ran back into the plane.† The next stop was in Tehran, Iran.† For some reason, it felt quite bizarre getting out of the plane there.† We were constantly waiting for armed guards to detain us while the plane was refueling.† The worse thing that happened was the laughing and pointing by the airplane fuel guys.

Finally had a chance to have an in-flight meal, complete with the attendant having a lit cigarette hanging from his mouth.† The meal was not bad.† I still donít know what it was, besides seeing the wilted lettuce, but it was not bad

We arrived at Bagram Airbase at 1200 local on Tuesday.† It was a bit of a chaotic scene when we finally came to a stop, and by the time I disembarked the plane, British SAS had already unloaded most of the plane, and all our supplies were being loaded on an unmarked lorry.† Bombed out buildings and planes everywhere.† Bullet holes riddled the air traffic control tower.† Empty large caliber shells lying on the ground next to us.† It didnít have a chance to affect me.† I was more concerned where the special holiday care packages from CBS were, since they contained an assortment of precious liquids.†

About 8 of us piled in the back of the truck with the luggage, and the others boarded a dilapidated land rover (when in Rome, do as the Mujahadeen do) to meet with our particular contacts at the end of the road.† Lots of military at the airport, lots of bombed out tanks and armored personnel carriers.†

Met with my contact, Patrick, who was the engineer I was replacing, and took the 1 Ĺ hour drive to Kabul.† The destruction that I saw along the way could only be described as catastrophic.† There were more annihilated tools of war, along with some that were still in working order being commandeered by Northern Alliance troops.† Families gathering wood in areas that were marked for landmines and remnants of mud buildings were a constant sight on the high speed ride.

About the style of driving.† I have yet to figure out the rules of the road here.† It seems the drivers switch between left and right sides of the road depending on which will get them there faster, and the honking of the car horn is almost constant.† Bicyclists and children beware.† If you didnít hear the horn, itís your own fault.

After having to deal with the driver of the truck who wanted 20 dollars then 120 dollars from each person who had luggage on the truck, we finally arrived at the CBS/ABC house.† Itís in the one neighborhood of town that has not been overtly affected by the years of war.† The compound has high cement walls and consists of three separate buildings.† It is not advisable to be on the roof after dark, since certain individuals in the area like to use that as an excuse to target practice.† All the rooms have wood burning stoves, but we have the latest electronics available to us.† The people here are a good group and there seems to be little friction between the two networks.† Dinner is a group affair, and the after-dinner ambience creates a very homey feeling.† My fears of no alcohol have been alleviated, even though it was a special occasion.†

The one problem of being an engineer here is I am not expected to just work with the satellite uplink.† I also need to be able to work on the computer network connectivity, water pump repair, guarding holiday supplies.†

I wish I had more time to make an entry today, but I must repair the printer network.† More Later.

- Michael Brandenburg