Saturday, November 01, 2008

October 9, 2008, 7:30am: London, England

I had endured the 8 hour bus ride to London in the middle of the night with the belief that when I arrived I would head to Joe’s place in King’s Cross, have a nap, then a shower, check-in for my flight online and take care of other last minute emails and logistics, meet the travel agent (who supposedly had my plane ticket to Kabul), give Joe & Gerhard (who were flying back from Seattle that same day) a welcome home hug and kiss, and then be on my merry way with enough time to pick up last minute essentials at the airport.

Robbed of all of these possibilities thanks to the late arrival of my bus, thereby missing Joe’s roommate before he headed to work, I was forced to do the last of my prep for the trip from Camino, my favorite wifi café tucked away not too far from St. Pancras station. Fortunately, it was a good base camp as I literally found everything I needed within a 2 block radius plus several cell phone calls and texts to Andy and Jason, which carried a range of helpful antidotes to prep me for my trip:

“You’re a nightmare! You don’t even know what terminal you’re flying out of??? Just where were you expecting to go when you got there???" –Andy

“Make sure you ask for a room in the back, that way the next time the hotel gets bombed the blast won’t blind you. Although, it really doesn't matter as the whole place is glass... not that there would be anything left... um, sleep with your back to the window.” – Jason

The hours of my 10hr layover in London were quickly passing and I began to get anxious when within an hour of me catching the tube to Heathrow, I had still not heard from my travel agent. I did, however, manage to line up my fixer in Kabul, who would be like my “Alfred” if I was Batman. After a brief phone call we had worked out that he would meet me at the airport with a driver, take care of my hotel reservations, help me buy my domestic plane ticket to Mazar, change my money, get a local SIM card, credit card, and teach me some survival Dari.

Fifteen minutes before I needed to leave for the airport, my travel agent appears. We do the exchange: $700 USD for a roundtrip ticket. We talked about safety, journalists he’s worked with (I find out that he helped Seamus Murphy extensively with his book on Afghanistan), burqas and headscarves.

“So, do I need to get a burqa?” I keep asking this question to different people to see if I will ever get a different response, but each time I’ve received a definite: “No.”

“You’re fine, just the way you are, you’ve got a scarf, so no problem.” I was wearing my old AG jeans and a plaid cowgirlish-like button up shirt. I had wanted to change and have a shower at Joe’s, but…

“…and you don’t look American,” he continues. “Everyone will just assume you’re from the north. I just came back 3 weeks ago, it’s better now. Just make sure you’re not in the wrong place at the wrong time.”


We come out of Camino’s courtyard and are blinded by sunlight. He looks up, “Ah, beautiful. See this sky?” he points upwards, “So different than Afghanistan. The blue of the sky in Afghanistan is unlike anywhere else.” He sighs, then asks, ““Do you know anyone in Kabul?”

“No. Well, yes, but he’s not there yet. I do have someone meeting me at the airport, though.”

“Good, good,” he says as we reach the station and say goodbye.


Anonymous said...

with each new blog I get both nervously excited and anxious to hear "what's next" as I follow along your amazing journey. What your doing is incredible. Though I selfishly wish we could still be those three little kids in Maryland, reading your make-believe newspapers instead! I could relax knowing that my little sister was safe, at home with us. But you're too much like the wind and more like Dad I suppose. I am so proud of you! Go do what you do Heather and be safe, smart and know that we all love and miss you very much. Hope your home by X-Mas!!! - Bro

drjekyll said...

I don't know what to say.. I'm never usually a fan of reporter stuff.. saying that, I mean I've not actually read much :) But this is good, I love reading your blog.