Letters from Kabul (Airport): Continued

Kabul airport lounge – continued

The only problem with using the WiFi in the departure lounge at the Kabul airport is the lack of sockets, for electricity. After two hours of working, and waiting for the plane, my laptop battery was getting seriously low. I sent my last letter, then turned off the computer, and sat for another hour or so until the plane arrived.

Two men from Kandahar walked through the lounge, small bearded, their skin dark and desert burned, their small round embroidered pill box skull caps making them as foreign as me in this land of turban and pakoul. At the end of the hall there is a sign on the wall, a directional arrow indicating Mecca, and after using the bathroom to wash they joined others in kneeling and standing on the brightly coloured carpet laid beneath the wall.

A clean shaven Afghan in a light grey suit walks up and down beside the long glass windows which look out over the runway. He has a cell phone clamped to his ear and is shouting, as people do, that his plane is at least two hours late. We know.

He is not looking through the window, so he doesn’t see the blue and white Safi plane pull away from the gate. It has to hold on the apron, as in the middle distance a large green Hercules rises slowly from the military side of the airport. Helicopters come and go, and in the far distance I notice the shells of apartment buildings being constructed in the lee of the nearby hills. Further out, beyond the airport and the construction and the hills, the peaks of the Hindu Kush are already showing a dusting of snow, harbinger of the winter soon to come.

A man comes to the door in the glass wall. He is neat and tidy, in a casual way – black suit, open necked short, well groomed hair and beard, black flecked with grey.

“Tehran Mashad!” he shouts, his voice echoing. The three Americans who had been sitting across from me stand up. If I didn’t know who they were before, I would have done now. Short, close cropped hair, black aviator sunglasses pushed back on the foreheads in desert chic style, backpacks on tight, they march in single file, double time across the hall. They approach the man in the black suit and show him their boarding passes. Even from my vantage point I can see that these are Turkish Airlines passes, for the Istanbul flight.

The man in the suit looks at the boarding cards, then at the expectant faces before him.

“Tehran! Tehran Mashad!” he shouts again, enunciating each word clearly as he leans in towards the Americans from about two feet away. He is obviously using the British style of foreign language teaching – if at first they don’t understand, then repeat louder and slower.

They do a smart about-face turn, and march back across the room. As one passes he catches my eye and says, “I can’t understand what these people say”. Behind them the man in the black suit smiles, and shakes his head.

The Kandaharis come back, moving with ease through the crowd. I am reminded of two Masai men I saw once, in Nairobi, walking slowly past me and yet making their way more quickly up the street than anyone else. Perhaps it is a desert trait, this ability to move without haste, with no lost effort, and glide through a throng of city dwellers as a hot knife glides through butter. I track the red and gold embroidery of their hats, the sparkle of the semi-precious stones. They show their boarding pass to the man in the black suit, and he waves them through the door, to Tehran Mashad.

Another hour, and the Istanbul flight is called. I get to the door in the glass wall and the man in the black suit is there again. He takes my boarding pass, rips off the small end and returns it to me.

“Have a good flight,” he says, “it’s a beautiful day.”

I don’t look around to see where the Americans are, or if they are listening but just don’t understand.

Previous: Letters from Kabul (Airport): 19 October 2013
Next: Kosovo Interlude – Old Friends