Monday, November 08, 2010

Safe in Mazar

ISAF troops walking by our plane, probably admiring my cute pink carry-on bag, at the Mazar airport.
A guy hanging by his house in the mountains outside of Mazar.
In my typical hiking gear; a walk in the mountains outside of Mazar.
A lady standing outside of her house in Mazar.
Friday market in Mazar.
Traffic jam in Mazar. The donkey cart cut us off. What an ass.

Mazar-e-Sharif is a couple hundred miles northwest of Kabul but seems like a world away. Five days ago, I squeezed myself and my cute pink carry-on into a Balmoral Beech 1900c, also known as the smallest passenger plane in the history of mankind, and flew over the Hindu Kush mountain range to one of the safest places in Afghanistan. You see, although Mazar was one of the first cities to fall to the Taliban, it was also the first city to kick the Taliban out in 2001. It was the center of Ahmed Shah Massoud's Northern Alliance, the good guys in the fight against the Taliban. Because they have suffered so much tumult (seemingly more than the rest of the country) at the hands of invaders, they refuse to allow the Taliban to gain control of the area again. This makes for a really safe neighborhood. I was looking forward to enjoying the security of this city.

But first I had to get there.

Landing in Mazar-e-Sharif was an eye-opener. There is one airstrip in all of the city, so Embassy Air, commercial airlines, and military all use the same airport. As our tiny plane landed, so did a couple of C-130s and another really big plane (sorry dad, don't know the name of the big one). My colleague Tara and I disembarked in our fancy, "Afghan city girl" work clothes with our stylish luggage and handbags. Needless to say, we were out of place. We were standing in the dust among hundreds of ISAF (International Security Assistance Forces) troops, being buzzed by F-16s and bombarded with questions by private security people patrolling the airport.

I quickly scanned the area for the civilian car which should have been waiting for us. My inspection turned up...nothing. Not knowing where to go, what to do, or who to look for, I deployed my Dari.

I walked towards a security guard and said, "Ma motorwan nadarum." "I don't have a driver."
He said, "Motorwan kuj as?" "Where is your driver?"
I said, "Na me famum." "I don't know."
He pointed at an embassy vehicle and said, "Un jos." "There."
I said, "Tashakor." "Thanks."

I knew it wasn't my car, but I had used up all of my Dari so I walked over to the embassy guy. I explained to him my situation and he kindly offered to drive me to the front gate. At the front gate he deposited me and Tara in a United Nations (UN) vehicle to take us to our guest house.

Halfway into the city we realized we were in the wrong car. The driver kept on asking us question about our UN project (you all know I am not with the UN), so we asked him who he was. When we didn't recognize his name, we decided to call our guest house to tell them about our plight. When we got someone on the line, we gave the phone to the UN driver. Turns out that the owner of our guest house and the UN driver were old buddies, so the UN driver dropped us at our guest house, no problem. After talking with the guest house owner, the driver laughed and said, "Mazar is a safe place. Everyone knows each other here." Apparently true.

The rest of our trip went swimmingly. Thankfully, all of our contacts were in the right place at the right time.

The first day in town, we took a trip into the mountains with a local American teacher. We drove along bumpy gravel roads until we couldn't drive anymore. Then, we parked and started walking along a dryish river bed. After a few minutes, we arrived at an idyllic mountain village. Glancing around, we decided we had had enough walking and headed back to the car. On the way back down the river, I took time to look up. I couldn't believe that people lived in these mountains. Not only was the terrain unforgiving, but the rock faces in this little canyon put El Capitan in Yosemite to shame. It was a rock-climber's dream. Beautiful, craggy, untouched. I thanked the Gods for letting me exist in this canyon, at this time, in the Northern most corner of Afghanistan and hoped that there were no landmines (as always).

The next few days were full of meetings and tours of the city. Besides being a very safe place, Mazar is also a bit more conservative than Kabul. Burqas and traditional clothes abound. It is rare to see an uncovered woman (one in normal clothes and a head scarf). As an exception to this rule though, we did see a more liberal style of dress at the University. The city is poorer and less crowded than Kabul too. Most of the buildings were made of mud brick and there were only a few buildings that were taller than two stories. The roads were wider and less congested. Kids played soccer in the streets as the sun set. It felt like summer...except for the biting cold at night.

All in all, Mazar was beautiful and friendly. But I am glad that I live in Kabul. Being surrounded by the mountains, honking horns, and people from everywhere, makes my heart race. When I was away from Kabul I missed it; I felt lonely in the solitude and calmness of Mazar's plateau.

Tomorrow I will travel even farther west to Herat. I am looking forward to experiencing yet another, different city. What adventures lie ahead? Who knows, but I hear Herat is famous for its sweets. Uh oh.

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At 6:57 PM , Blogger Kat Buckly said...

I love hearing about your adventures! I picture in my head what you must see... Love you lots!

At 1:01 AM , Blogger matt mulka said...

"What an ass!":)))

Such an awesome blog! Keep posting. Your adventures sound movie-ready. Like FOR REAL!

Take care and enjoy the traveling, climbing and teaching. Thinking about you with admiration!


At 5:21 AM , Blogger Jaala Thibault said...

Thanks Kat. I miss you tons. Really! I need Kat and Buddy snuggle time asap. Come to Kabul.

mELF! Will you be the guy blending into the background in my movie? It is the most important part, really.

Miss ya and hope all is well in UGANDA.

At 3:50 AM , Blogger TESOL_Chris said...

Jaala, love the blog...highly inspirational stuff. Keep up the good work!

Chris Tebbe

At 4:56 AM , Blogger Jaala Thibault said...

Chris, thank you for the nice compliment. Hope all is well with you!


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