Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On the Ground in Afghanistan

Perhaps a somewhat appropriate first step in Kabul: Your intrepid correspondent arrived on Safi Air. This airline does indeed feature a recorded prayer from the Koran before takeoff, accompanied on the big screen at the front of the cabin by flickering static. Then they show a safety video featuring background music reminiscent of TV action show theme, as if the people on the plane are leaping into action, putting on their own oxygen mask before helping others around them, but doing so in a very heroic way. During the flight, they used the big screen to show an Afghan version of "Candid Camera" with the silly music and sound effects played aloud in the cabin for all to enjoy headset-free. The "Fasten Seatbelts" sign was presented in two languages: Pictogram and Chinese. There was a food service offering unreconstructed airline food - mushy, microwaved meat insulated tightly in its little serving tray by some form of mashed vegetable. The in-flight magazine had a splashy travel feature on how you might want to come to Afghanistan to see their famous dogfighting tournaments. By the time they got to my row, they were out of Coke and Sprite, and could only offer Fanta.

The whole plane (other than the dogfighting thing, which is weird in any year) could have been from 1982.

And in fact, it probably was.

And then we arrived, and due to some other problem at the airport, couldn't park in the "normal" place, so the plane just stopped at some random spot, and we all climbed down the little mobile staircase and sat there and waited for something else to happen. Eventually a couple buses showed up, in far worse shape than even the saddest Guatemalan chicken bus, and we all piled aboard, and then the buses didn't go anywhere for a long time, and then they did. And then they stopped again, here, where I took the above picture. And then the guy in the little zamboni thing showed up and chatted with one bus driver for a while, and then the driver of my bus yelled at them. And then we went to the terminal for immigration formalities and X-raying our bags for Afghan customs.

This is, so far, the only picture I've taken out and about in Afghanistan.

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