Back in the Saddle

Kabul, Afghanistan - 28 / 5 / 02

I have returned to the land which has adopted me. I spent a day and a night in Dubai, a place which is amazingly humid for a desert, which I assume is from the plethora of swimming pools and fountains. I am at a loss to where they get the fresh water. Maybe it is from the sweat of the foreign workers toiling in the unforgiving heat. To a certain extent, I understand how the caste system works. At the top tier are the rich sultans, closely followed by the rich western tourists. Then there are the European college students, time off between semesters, making money in the service industry and lest we forget the occasional American radio DJ whose previous place of employment was Boise, Idaho. At the bottom rung, the dredges of the Islamic world can be found. The Pakistanis, Indians, Indonesians, fill whatever is left in the restaurants, drive the taxis, and do the construction of the gaudy architecture.

I left the hotel on Sunday morning at five in the morning, driven by a Pakistani Kashmiri. I was given some insight into the Pakistan/Indian conflict, from what every third word I understood. Upon arriving at the airport at the designated time, I proceeded to queue up for the x-ray machines and ticketing. I was appalled by the mentality of my fellow journalists when it came to purchasing tickets. Apparently afraid that they would be left behind, which in retrospect was a viable fear, began to cut in line. Were it not for an old Afghan, returning home after fourteen years away and tired from twenty four hours of travel, acting as bulldog, I would probably still be in line. After a three hour delay, we boarded the plane, packed in like cattle. The plane was an old Boeing 727, forever famous for being hijacked in the early nineties by the same man who is accused of killing Daniel Pearl. We taxied onto the runway, engines revving for takeoff, we began to make our way into the air. As we began to cruise down the runway, I thought it quite strange that this plane was only traveling about fifty miles an hour. My knuckles began to turn white as visions of barreling through the security fence at the end of the strip filled my head. As I closed my eyes waiting for the inevitable, we were informed that we had to return to the gate to pick up more passengers. The next three hours are a blur after my mental stability collapsed due to my paranoia, but I do remember looking out the window at the end of the trip to see Kabul below. As we landed, I realized in utter clarity that the pilots were Russian trained. Fast and hard is the only way to describe it.

I disembarked the plane, preparing myself for the problems waiting me and my two bottles of scotch. When the passport control officer noticed that I had no visa, I was sent to a back room to await my fate. I tried my best to use Dari pleasantries to ease the tension, but was received with silence. I awaited the arrival of the shock probes. A young man entered, very warm in nature, and asked if I was a journalist. I replied that I was an engineer (first mistake) and that I was working for CBS. He showed me a letter written by CBS stating two journalists were coming into town. He then asked if I had any CBS identification to prove I was actually working for them. I did not (second mistake). The soldier then informed me of the beaurocratic process that I needed to go through, and that he would have to keep my passport for safe keeping until it was accomplished. My wildest dreams were coming true. To be stuck in a third world country with my passport in the hands of the ir military. Thankfully I was able to find Bassir, the CBS translator, as well as a CBS pay stub that I had placed in my backpack. I was able to retrieve my bags and due to my wearing a cowboy hat and my menacing demeanor, was whisked through customs without having my bags inspected.

I have never in my life have had a reception like the one I got when I arrived at the compound. The warmth and joy that the Afghans poured on me, there are no words to describe. The amount of embraces left me sore and the happiness of the Afghans welcoming me back as a fellow countryman left me elated. I then met the Westerners. The reception was lukewarm at best. I am assuming it may have had something to do with my ragged appearance and my initial introductions were conducted in Dari. Thankfully there was one member of the CBS crew that I had known prior and had a good relationship with. It took little time for me to get back into the routine, eggs in the morning, touring the compound through out the day, chai in the afternoon, and after dinner drinks at night.

I now find myself once again at the helm of CBS Kabul as interim bureau chief. The call came last night for the crew to fly to Islamabad, Pakistan to cover the conflict. My nervousness is growing a bit when I was informed that I may soon follow so as to operate the uplink there. I think it is kind of funny when Kabul is the safest place to be in the region. The ABC engineer and I have already begun to make preliminary planning for worst case scenarios, if I have the fortune of staying in Afghanistan and if do end up leaving, at least I can get my fill of fat-ass sheep and I can drink the stores of liquor before I go. Well I was looking for excitement and meaning in my life. I think I have found it.

- Mike Brandenburg