My wish came true.
I am no longer a caged bird, but a roaming gazelle. Okay, I am not really a gazelle. I am just a simple (dramatic) American girl in Afghan clothes who has been admitted to a little-known world; the world of Afghanistan, circa now.
Initially, I thought I would be stuck in my house too much. Now, when I get home after a long day I feel like pressing my hot body to the concrete walls and melting in to their forgiving coolness. My apartment has become my home, and I like it. Now back to the roaming…
Two days ago I showed up at school and my department chair said, “Lets go on a trip!”
I didn’t quite understand what he meant so I asked him, with much sophistication,”Uh, when?”
He smiled and said, “Today, now!”
I asked him where we were going and he told me that first we would go to Paghman Mountains, then to Qargha Lake. He might as well have told me we were going to Mars, because I had no idea where either of these places were. I felt a tinge of adrenaline at the prospect of getting out into the wilderness, so I agreed to go on the mini field trip.
As we gathered our things in the office and made our way towards the car, I hurriedly called my security people and told them I was going on a day trip to the mountains with some teachers and students from my school. They gave me their blessing and said, “Have fun, beware of land mines!” Great advice.
A few minutes later, three teachers, two students, and about twenty pounds of apples piled into the car. We sped through the late morning dust and thick pollution of the Kabul Valley and into the clear air of Paghman Mountains.
On the outskirts of Kabul, we passed a huge refugee camp. There were tents and homes made from cloth, cardboard, remnants of building materials, and mud-brick. Thousands of refugees from Helmand province made this acre or so of land their new place of dwelling. I rolled down my window, looked at the camp and asked my students if the refugees may be able to return to Helmand soon. One of the girls said, “It is not likely, the situation is not good there.” I mentioned that the poverty was so sad, I wished it didn’t have to be like this. My department head said, “You can’t blame the people for their poverty. They have lived through 30 years of war.” I didn’t know how to respond to his statement, so I just looked out the window and tried to hold myself together.
After passing the refugee camp, my department chair slammed on the brakes rather suddenly and stopped the car on the highway. He declared that we were running low on gas and proceeded to lay on his horn for a good 15 seconds. There were no buildings or signs in sight, so I wondered what he was doing. Then from nowhere, a man came running towards us with a 5 gallon jug of petrol. Hoping he also didn’t have a match in his pocket, I inhaled deeply and closed my eyes. A few minutes later, the side of the car and the “gas guy” soaked in stinky fuel, we were on the road again, cruising towards nature still in one piece.
About 45 minutes later, now northwest of the city, we ambled along a rocky, tree-lined road towards higher ground. I liked everything about being in the wilderness. People on the road walked with a little less purpose and smiled more. The goats and sheep were happier and seemed not to be stressed about our little dirty Toyota Corolla invading their space. I didn’t miss the sounds we had left behind, the merchants yelling, cars honking, the drum of construction, helicopters constantly cutting through the air interrupting the rhythm of the day. The wind blew in my face and my scarf fell off. My students told me to leave it alone, so I freed my hair as well and let the breeze carry me away.
Eventually, we couldn’t drive up the mountain anymore. Huge boulders and the river blocked the road, so we parked, paid a local boy to watch the car, and walked towards the river. Remembering the security people’s advice, I hesitantly took a few steps forward. I thought to myself, “How can I be aware of landmines? What should I look for?” As if he could read my mind, my department chair mentioned the he used to work for an organization that specialized in land mine awareness. Of course he did! I grinned and told him that he could go first; I would follow.
The rest of the afternoon was magical. Gradually feeling more comfortable in our surroundings, I bounded across the river and climbed up a scree face. I played on the rocks as if I were a five year old again. My department head joined me and we threw rocks at the river. The students took pictures and ate apples as the afternoon winds blew the turning leaves off their branches.
Parting WAS such sweet sorrow. I wanted to build a house on the river and stay there forever. But it was time to return to the city. On the way back, as if I wasn’t happy enough standing in the river and running through the hills, we stopped at a lake for lunch! At Qargha Lake, usually busy with Friday picnickers, we sat in the rose garden and ate lamb kabobs. Some men paddled around in plastic boats, laughing and splashing each other. A lone jet ski waited to be taken out into the water.
Our return to the city came swiftly. Soon enough we were back in the traffic of Kabul. Thankful that my wish of getting outside came true so quickly, I smiled and put my scarf back on. On the outside I was covered again, but on the inside I was free.