“Welcome to Afghanistan, land of the brave”

Blog by Maya Evans

The Sun was setting as my plane approached to land in Kabul. My first sights of Afghanistan were the snow capped hills and gigantic mountain ranges which seemed to stretch forever. From the plane I could see meandering roads snaking round the endless mountain passes. It had just turned to dusk as I exited off the plane and onto the runway; I walked a few feet and onto a bus. The airport seems to double up as a military bay as the number of helicopters and fighter jets are also stationed there. As I got off the bus I was greeted by a large sign “Welcome to Afghanistan, land of the brave”.

I stepped into the immigration hall, basic and dated was my immediate impression. The pale blue uniform of the police looked like something out of a 1970s James Bond movie with pants pulled high up the waist, big belts and flat station master type caps. At a guess the airport interior dated back to the 60s, I later learnt it doesn’t even have a toilet. I immediately headed for a queue with some other women in it. My pious Islamic outfit purchased from Whitechapel Market only a week before hand was probably too authentic as all the other Afghani women wore western jeans and tops with scarves loosely tied round their heads. It’s likely that Afghans on the flight were from middle class backgrounds which may explain their taste in western style.

When I reached the front of the cue I approached a man at a counter inside a small wooden booth, it reminded be of the candy counter at Hastings fair ground. Despite the dated décor immigration control includes having your retina and finger prints scanned; likely a result of US money. I then followed some other people down a small hallway and into the luggage pick up area where I was immediately accosted by bus-boys with buggies wanting to help me with my luggage. My lack of familiarity for the norm made me resist any help as I prayed to once more see my luggage which I’d waved off in what seemed like another world, Terminal 4  Heathrow. I felt it was a small miracle when I spotted my backpack coming along the conveyor belt alongside a makeshift fabric bundle wrapped up with rope.

My mind was set on finding Parking Lot C where I was due to meet Kathy Kelly and the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. I looked around, there were no signs. I walked towards the exit and onto another bus which took us to what I hoped was Parking Lot C. When I exited the bus it was properly dark, there was no street lighting; the air was thick and misty with pollution. I looked around for my friends but they were nowhere to be seen so I wandered through the gathered crowd trying not to look lost or worried. I wandered into the waiting lounge and quickly looked around, hmm, no sign of any familiar faces. I made a beeline for a group of women sat on some seats. They looked up at me in amazement and smiled, the massive back-packers rucksack made me stand out like a sore thumb. I slumped down on the seat pleased to get the weight off my back and smiled, “Salaam!” They were nodding and smiling as if to humour me. One of the women with 2 children approached me, “My daughter speaks English”. I was so happy to make a friend. “Hello, how are you” I asked enthusiastically. I was to learn that the small girl was 13 years old, she’d been learning English for a year and her favourite subjects were Geography and Maths. The woman was overjoyed at her daughter’s ability to communicate with me; I was overjoyed to be communicating with friendly people. The woman then asked “Job, security?” “No” I answered, “Friend of Afghans”. She seemed sincerely overjoyed by my answer. A few minutes later the family cheerfully waved me good-bye and I was alone.

My phone had worked in Bahrain so I had a hunch it would work in Kabul. I switched it on and phoned Gabriel. Amazingly it rang and even more amazingly he picked up “Hello Gabriel it’s me, I’m in Kabul and I think I’m lost” No sooner had I finished my sentence had I spotted a hasty Singaporean man with a teenage boy in tow racing through the waiting lounge… “Hang on; I think I may have spotted them…” Then out of nowhere Kathy Kelly appeared followed by 4 incredibly smiley young Afghan faces, and then the hasty Singaporean and a young Irish-Iranian American woman. My friends had arrived.

There were enthusiastic “Salaams” all round as I met 4 members of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, Momajan, Ali, Abduli and Roz Mohammed; I later found out their ethnic groups include Tajaki, Hazara and Pashtun; due to the ethnic divisions in Afghanistan such a gathering of friends is unusual, I was to quickly discover that this is just one of the many unique aspects of the AYPV. The drive out of the airport to the apartment was wild. We immediately passed an open back police van with a mounted gun on the roof (standard police vehicle) and a group of police offices standing in the back chatting. It seemed like a dream as we hurtled down the road, cars flying in various directions, beaten up houses, beggars in the middle of the road, piles of rubbish everywhere. When we arrived at the apartment we had a proper introduction followed by Q&A. The AYPV got to ask me various questions about my views on peace etc, how many people in Britain campaigned against the war. That was a tough question, partly because it’s hard to know how many active anti war campaigners there are in the UK and partly because if I could give an accurate figure it wasn’t going to be very high, I really didn’t want to depress them.

I then got to ask them questions, I was immediately impressed by their well formed, peace based answers. They not only answered questions with intelligence and thoughtfulness but also through personal experience. One boy had lost his father to the Taliban, another was nearly recruited to the Talibs when he was 12, someone else had lost his brother in law to a drone bombing- his family member had just joined the police force and left a wife and small child behind… I asked them what they thought of foreign intervention in Afghanistan, AYPV Momajan a Tajik young man summarised: “If you want a continuation of violence then you support NATO, if you want peace then military foreign powers must leave”.