Kabul International Airport is a frontier airport in the middle of a warzone. The ISAF/NATO(one or the other, I'll call it ISAF) base stands out. The civilian building is understated: small and dirty and crowded. Somehow I found my way through a small, disorganized room to the desk with the sign that had my flight number posted over it. I got my boarding pass and headed out to the departure lounge, a long, plain room with a row of dirty windows looking out onto the roof of another part of the airport. Only the tops of Ariana tails were visible. The roar of a fighter jet punched through the air periodically. Helicoptors circled the runway.
The waiting lounge was packed. I took a seat near the entrance to it. To my right sat a row of buff Afro-Americans. One had an iPod strapped to his barrel-like bicep. He was singing along. I wondered if they were with the military. I couldn't see anything about them that identified them as such.
Later, a man appeared in the small doorway at the end of the lounge. He had a loudspeaker and announced quickly, in accented English, "Kam Air, Dubai". At once most of the people in the lounge stood up and crowded towards the loudspeaker man. The afro-americans were on the flight to and stood to get in line. I guessed they were taking leave and travelling to the Emirate for a holiday as, it seems, most of expatriate Kabul does at some point.
Another flight, this time for Moscow-Kabul's one-time colonial lord-was called, then another for Dubai.
The lounge had emptied considerably. At one point a mass of bearded mean in white shalwar-chamise and prayer caps stood up and moved toward the exit. No flight had been called. I wondered if it was mine and I had missed a telepathic announcement. As the line thinned out and men disappeared down the staircase, I started to worry. I walked to the end of the line and asked one if the flight was for Peshawar. He said "No", it was for Dubai.
Finally a man in a suit walked through the lounge and said the Peshawar flight was ready. I walked down. A large, scruffy-looking camera man with a reporter's multi-pocketed vest and his collegue, a diminuative, attractive young woman were on the same flight. They sat in first class and tried to sleep.
My seat turned out to be an exit row seat. So I stretched out my legs and leaned back in comfort for the entire 30 minute flight.
Two ISAF Huey's rose and skimmed over the runway just before we took off. We passed Italian F-16s in their bays. The view of Kabul was stunning from the plane. The city is covered in dust. Even the concrete, multi-story buildings look like mud huts fromt he air. We flew over the TV tower that the Americans took out in the first air strike on the city in 2002. Brown, desolate hills stretched out in all directions from the city. Then we were off, above the clouds.
My seat was right over the wing. I saw a gap in the cowling over the structural joint between the port engine and the wing. It widened under the stress of flight once the aircraft lifted off the ground. Bording the A-310, I had noticed a large section of the side of the fuselage which looked like it had been patched up (after what?, I thought). But the plane held up and we landed in Peshawar. As I was walking from the plane to the arrivals area, the siren for Iftar (the breaking of the fast) sounded. Hardly anyone was around. The airport was deserted. No one manned the customs table. I took my bag off the carasoul and left. The streets were deserted. Eventually I hailed a motor rickshaw, folded up into the back seat and told the driver where I wanted to go.