Arrive in Kabul. Panic.
Arrived in Kabul. Immediately set off in the wrong direction, on foot, and found myself accompanied by seemingly friendly young policeman intent on leading me to a car. Got increasingly far from signs of military or police presence. Asked, “Do you know where the main military gate is?” Response, “Haha! Yes, yes.” Considered this. Asked, “Do you understand what I’m saying?” Small frown, “Aha, yes, friend. Car.” Recalled scene from Nicole Kidman flick about mail order bride. Asked, “Are you a giraffe?” Response, “Oh, yes, yes.” Frowned. Policeman sped up, carrying my duffel with body armor. At least too heavy to steal on foot.
Didn’t trust him so asked a white guy driving a truck in parking lot where I ought to be headed & whether I should trust this cop and car he is leading me to. White guy and comrades definitely military contractors, tough British types with aggressive tattoos and scarves for concealing non-Afghan-ness. Eyeballed cop and gave me a once-0ver. Took pity on obvious cluelessness and moderately stranded situation and agreed to give me a lift to the military gate, a good mile and a half away (not in the airport, as I had been led to believe).
Seriously owe them, though honestly was not going to trust the policeman and would have headed back to the airport to get directions from someone more trustworthy. Unfortunately over here pretty much means more Western. Had been feeling uneasy. Received much advice to tune of always trust instincts. Instinctively trusted British guys. Looked like they’d killed a few people. Funny how that is reassuring.
Got to military gate in warren of barbed wire and blast fences. Much gratitude to British fellows, now carrying a small arsenal of weaponry they picked up at checkpoint to civilian airport. At military gate public affairs officer not there to meet me. Make friends with Belgian checkpoint guards Bob and Dennis (Bob not real name, real one too effeminate for use in military, says Dennis) and realize have lost passport, press credentials, emergency credit card and all other contents of travel wallet, including travel wallet. Also phone number of public affairs officer who is not there. Presume stolen at airport. Distress.
Eventually pull email up on very smart phone at jaw-dropping roaming data charge of $20/mb. Get phone number, contact made, T. Sgt. Carmony on his way to pick me up. Bob and Dennis grinning and seem to find this funny though being very reassuring for obviously inept journalist who has been dumped upon them by random Brits. Still lack passport etc., not sure how this will impact trip. Contemplate possibility that I will be shipped back to US, with mixture of horror and mild relief. Notice voicemail, try to check but rebuked by cold female robot on other end of line. Abandon pursuit.
Carmony arrives, gives me ISAF media credentials, scratches head at passport situation. It is a first. I suggest embassy, he suggests his boss, but all plans somewhat hindered by fact that I am to fly out 0930 hours next morning on enormous military bird heading for ass-end of country. Carmony gives tour of base, which seems empty, though maybe just because it is late. Apparently only about 2,000 people on this base. Kandahar has 30,000. PX, canteen, restaurants, terminal, tent where I will sleep, shower where I will attempt to scrub thirty-six hours of travel out of me.
Have dinner with Carmony in mess hall. Food isn’t terrible but can imagine that after a week or two would get pretty repetitive. Pork lo mein goes down well though in very hungry stomach and Arabic-labelled Coke helps stave off jetlag. Talk about Sergeant’s wife and daughter, Texas, Australia, horrors of living with parents as a grown man.
Afterwards head to MWR (Morale Welfare Recreation) tent for wifi to contact embassy and assess how screwed I am. About to call embassy emergency number when I see voicemail still waiting to be checked. Shrug and try one more time. Miraculously cold female robot misses call and it goes through. Voicemail not from friend calling to wish me well as suspected but from Afghan police at airport who have found travel wallet, complete with passport, credentials, emails, etc. Not sure where they got phone number from. Possibly read emails? Applaud detective work.
Call Sergeant to share good news. He is equally astounded. Both assumed that even if found by police contents would be taken to sell on black market. Apparently the one unbent cop in Kabul working airport shift today. Call cab, head back to civilian terminal. Cabbie nice older guy named Jodan (spelling entirely haphazard). Arrive at civilian entry to find blocked by cones and several police. Airport closed at 7:30pm. Explain situation to them, really Jodan does because they barely speak English so he doubles as translator. Long discussion ensues. Once situation is clarified policeman in charge tells me to come back tomorrow, no-one is in terminal anymore. Bummed. Jodan tries to persuade cop otherwise, to no avail. Return to base, morose.
At gate pull out money to pay Jodan. We had agreed to 15 for there and back. He says only five because mission failed. I insist on ten because he translated and tried so hard to get me in. He insists on five. I am astounded. I give him ten anyways. Head back in, say hi to Belgian sentries on the way, who are also bummed that passport was not recovered but wish me luck for tomorrow. Decide that Belgian military must be very friendly place.
Shower. Finally. Cease to smell like am made of feet.
Go back to MRW tent. Write this.
Emails! Bed! Passport at 0700!