Saturday, 24 April 2010

2010 - A new visit...

Saturday 24th April


Despite the ash cloud and despite the security threatening to destroy our trip, 4 of us made it out to the Kabul mountains and met up on the Jalalabad Road to start our travels to Northern Afghanistan. Uncertainty had dogged the lead up to the trip and until the day I left, I feared it would be cancelled. This cast its own cloud and it was with apprehension that I set out from London. But, the moment I stepped on to the runway at Kabul and looked up to the Hindu Kush through the familiar light of the city, it felt like coming home. This reassuring feeling is vaguely contradictory, since Kabul remains a fortress city, constantly on alert for terrorist activity, dwarfed by check points and watch towers, a city of vulnerability, swathed in barbed wire and concrete. We were stopped and had our passports checked and in just a year, I see a huge difference to the place and a nervousness accentuated to its limits.

Sitting in the Swedish Committee offices, just yards from the ISAF base on the Jalalabad Road, surrounded by roses and freshly planted turf, sipping tea with my newly met travel companions, one could never have guessed at the tension beyond the walls. I am here with Mary, from The Spectator, Oliver, who is filming the trip and Pat, who is a donor. All much younger than me and I feel like the true veteran of the trip!

Our day began at 3.30am when we left the haven of the SCA compound and headed for the airport. Outside the gates was a different world. Sinister in the darkness, blue lights on speeding police vehicles illuminated the blackened city. Armed soldiers lined the roadside and at intervals, Afghan Army stood in the road, armed with RPGs. Extraordinary to think this was all going on in a seemingly peaceful night. The road to the airport was blocked and as dawn broke and the distant mountains were released into view on a perfect morning, there was a general decent into chaos. Desperate passengers were queuing on the road awaiting the all clear.

Our plane scared the lives right out of us. It looked as if had dropped from the skies at least 30 years ago, with no attempt made to disguise the dilapidation. A relic from Russian times -Brejnev according to one onlooker, the fuselage looked like a patchwork of soot stained scrap metal, the paintwork peeling off the whole exterior. The inside was filthy and the seats flimsy. An old rug hid untold horrors up the aisle, the instructions on the emergency exit were in Russian and the seatbelts didn’t work.

A fantastic journey to Kunduz despite the surroundings, and great to land safe. Surrounded by German military, we came off the plane and headed for the Kunduz School for deaf children—linked with Arbour Vale, Slough.

As always our greeting from the children was overwhelming and they ran into my arms. We had a glorious morning of unadulterated fun - gave all the work to them prepared by the English twin school and had fun going through the projects and photos of London with them.

They also played with a massive parachute donated by Mary Hare School and all the children played magnificent games with the massive cloth.

Then on to Taloqan, where I am sitting in the sun, unable to step outside the compound to the splendid bazaar which we love so much as security won’t allow.

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