Safiza and Mirwais are about the same age. One is 28, the other 31. Three days a week they come close to each other but they have never met, and it’s unlikely that they ever will.
Safiza was born in Vancouver and now lives in Calgary. In her late teens she moved to Whitehorse, for the adventure, and stayed there a few years. She has a partner but so far they don’t have any children. She had spent ten years working in various roles for an airline company, including as the operations supervisor, when the opportunity came to travel to Afghanistan.
“I never wanted to be a flight attendant in Canada”, she says, “but this opportunity was too great an experience to miss”.
Safiza is now a member of a Canadian team that flies a Dash-8 aircraft on contract to UNHAS, the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service. Like the two pilots and two flight engineers who make up the team, she rotates in to Afghanistan on a regular basis. This is her third mission to the country this year. Each of her tours last for seven weeks, after which she goes home for five weeks. She hopes to keep doing this for another couple of years, then settle down and have a family.
UNHAS flies a regular service between all of the major – and some of the not so major! – cities in Afghanistan. It transports NGO and other development workers, food and other required aid supplies, and so forth. Last week my colleague and I left Kabul and flew with UNHAS into Mazar-e-Sharif.
Mirwais was born in Balkh province and now lives in Mazar-e-Sharif. He is married, and has two young children. In his teens he spent three and a half years in Iran, as a refugee. His family returned seven months after NATO had helped the establishment of the transitional government of Afghanistan.
“To get to Iran was very hard,” he says. “We had to travel nearly two weeks, first through the mountains to Kabul, then across the border in to Pakistan, and then to Iran. There were checkpoints and fighting everywhere. We had no food. It was very frightening”.
Mirwais attended high school in Iran and completed a university degree when he returned to Afghanistan. Since his graduation he has worked with international organizations. He spent seven years as the Coordinator of Humanitarian Assistance within Balkh province and now works for an international NGO. During his years of experience he spent six months in Japan on a training course, sponsored by his employer. He learned passable Japanese, and enjoyed the country very much.
Safiza and Mirwais have never met. Although she flies in to Mazar-e-Sharif every second day, she is not allowed to leave the airport. Even in Kabul, her life is restricted to her guest house, the vehicle that transports her to and from the airport, and the plane.
“It was easier until last February”, she notes, “we could go out shopping or for dinner in Kabul. But the new security rules mean that we’re not allowed to do that any more”.
Mirwais travels to the airport a lot, to meet visiting guests or workers connected to his INGO. They often fly in on the UNHAS plane. He has to travel through two checkpoints and show a special pass to get in to the car park where he can meet people, but he can’t go to the arrivals area.
“The security is very strong”, he says. “I am hopeful for the day when we can be free to move around, like I could in Japan or you do in Canada”.
When that day comes, perhaps Safiza and Mirwais will be able to introduce their children to each other. Until then, they will each live separate lives, visiting Mazar-e-Sharif on different sides of the security check points and not knowing that the other exists.