My Afghan Experience, Part 1 of 3

I was mentally preparing myself for the vacation that I’d thought would never come. In a few days, my mother and brother would be arriving in England. That’s when a GDIT manager said to me, “Roger. Would you be interested in going to Afghanistan?” I, nonchalantly, said, “Sure…no problem!” (That’s honestly what I said). I then asked him for how long because I knew my sister was coming in October. They told me I would be there for 30-40 days. I agreed and we began the process of sending me to Kabul, Afghanistan. My manager told me that I would be at one base for the duration of my stay. However, it was possible I could spend some time at another base three to four miles away. Since travel between bases typically requires a convoy or at least one vehicle with two armed guards, she told me she would work to limit my time to that one base. Yet, by the time I returned home, I traveled to several bases and logged more than 1,000 miles traveling throughout Afghanistan!

My journey began with a two train rides, a flight from Heathrow in London, and a layover in Copenhagen, Denmark. I detailed my Copenhagen experience in an earlier blog. When I returned from my Copenhagen excursion, I met up with a co-worker, Henry, who was traveling with me. We boarded the plane shortly after 8:00 PM and traveled to Turkey. The plane refueled and completed the final leg of the trip and we arrived in Kabul shortly after 7:30 AM.

Henry’s drivers were waiting for him and they promptly took him to his base. Unfortunately, my ride was not present and this is not the place where one just grabs a taxi to his destination. Travel to any location requires designated drivers trained for the “unique” forms of road rage within the country. As a praying man, I truly didn’t worry. I knew someone would take me to my location, especially after I called and they told me they were coming. The escort arrived after an hour or so of waiting. It was two armed guys, a driver and a shooter. I later learned they are special ops military personnel trained to drive in this area. They gave me a bullet-proof vest and a helmet to wear. However, as a praying man, I wasn’t worried until the “shooter” started talking. He began telling me, “When we get shot at…” He told me that when we began receiving gun fire they would return fire. However, if the vehicle becomes disabled, they would work to defend us and I should remain in the vehicle until further notice. I said, “You mean we’re going to get shot at?” He said, “No, this is what we’re going to do if we get shot at. I just want you to know what the procedures will be.” I breathed a sigh of relief and I thought to myself. “You need to use the word “if” instead of “when”. That’s a big difference. However, I kept the thought to myself.

I arrived at the base and I met some of my co-workers. However, this was not my place of work for the month. Later, I traveled to my home base and I met my co-worker for the month, Frank. He gave me a tour, took me to my tent, and continued to show me around the base. After a busy first few days, I settled in to a routine. I did some work with Frank. However, I craved to do more during my time in Kabul. I contacted management and my co-workers at the nearby base. Within a couple of days, plans were made for me to travel and get the experience of a lifetime. The drivers came to get me so I could go to the nearby base and prepare to travel with my co-worker, Justin.

I was riding down the Kabul streets, where they drive on the right-side of the road, taking in the surroundings when we arrived at a round-about. What happened next was right out of a football playbook. The lead vehicle cut into traffic and block the lanes. Our vehicle quickly entered the round-about traffic and the lead vehicle continued around the circle. Now, we were the lead vehicle and to exit the circle, we performed a similar maneuver. However, the best part was yet to come.

We continued down the boulevard where an island separated the traffic flowing in the opposite direction. Nevertheless, I noticed the right lane was used for vehicles that wanted to travel in the opposite direction of us and vehicles in the other lanes. Therefore, we had to occasionally get out of the right lane to avoid the on-coming wrong-coming traffic! Our destination required us to exit the street with a left turn. However, there are no left-turn lanes and our vehicles did not want to be sitting in the middle of the street waiting for traffic to clear like sitting ducks. That left us with only one other option.

We’re approaching the side street where we need to make the left turn and the lead vehicle drives past the street and he’s looking for a break in the traffic. Suddenly, with no blinkers or signal to the oncoming traffic, he turns right in front of the traffic. The traffic comes to a halt and our vehicle quickly turns with the traffic being cleared and he follows behind us allowing the traffic to resume. That’s the kind of driving that my father-in-law would love!

A Day in Denmark
Copenhagen Train Station

It was less than a week after my family returned to Detroit and I was making preparations to leave again. I received an assignment to travel for a month. Ironically, I was given the assignment two days prior to my vacation and I was scheduled to leave two days after my vacation. Thankfully, I had a helpful Program Office.

The trip required a connecting flight in Copenhagen, Denmark. Originally, I wanted to arrive on Tuesday and take the second flight on Wednesday so I could spend the evening in the city. However, the approval process took a little longer than I expected. So, I departed on Wednesday which meant it would be a LONG travel day.

My day of travel began Wednesday morning at 5:00 and I knew it would be strenuous because I didn’t sleep the entire night. The taxi arrived at 5:00 AM and I took two trains to London’s Heathrow Airport. I arrived approximately 90 minutes prior to my two-hour flight. The flight to Copenhagen was smooth and uneventful. I arrived shortly after 12:30 PM. Yet, my next flight wasn’t until 8:45 PM. Now, I had approximately eight hours of free time.

A co-worker told me I could place my luggage in the airport storage area. When I went to check-in my luggage, the lady told me it would be 80! I initially thought 80 Euros which corresponds to nearly $100 dollars. However, it was 80 Kroners which corresponds to approximately $14. The next step was to the train station within the airport. The ticket was about $6 and I was off to downtown Copenhagen. SIDE NOTE: I love me Detroit city. Yet, I find it troubling that I can get to downtown easier from the Paris and Copenhagen train station/airport, where English is not the native language, than I can from my own city’s airport.

I walked around and within minutes I was at the town square.

Tribal rhythms

There were various restaurants and boutiques in the area; some stores were familiar and some not-so-familiar.   I was impressed with the tribal musicians playing music in the square.  Their style of music was very similar to the what we saw in Paris.  After walking around I went into a souvenir shop to purchase postcards. I saw some great photos and I asked the lady where the locations were. She told me it was a six-minute walk. I’m glad I asked because when I arrived I liked what I saw.

Sittin' at the pier

I considered going on a local ferry around the city. However, I didn’t want to rush back to the airport and I knew I’d spend a day in Copenhagen during my return to England. So, I relented.

Waiting for tourists

A few hours later, I made my way back to the airport to prepare for my next flight, and glad I made the effort to see the town.

When we take the time to venture outside our comfort zone, we actually expand our areas of opportunity. Taking the time to ride a train in a foreign land literally opened the door to a beautiful city waiting for me to discover and photograph it.