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A Travel Diary from Afghanistan: Kabul, 29 September 2014, Day 8

Arrival at Mazar-e Sharif Airport. Picture: Julka Jantz

Arrival at Mazar-e Sharif Airport. Picture: Julka Jantz

We are stranded at Kabul Airport. Airport Road has been closed since 6am for the high-ranking guests of the president’s inauguration. Civil flights have also been postponed for an indefinite time – including ours to Mazar. The pilots and crew have arrived too late at the police blockade and haven’t been allowed to pass. Even when our flight is eventually cancelled, it doesn’t help us very much because the dispatcher cannot pick us up at the airport anyway. The city holds its breath. There’s nothing we can do: We just have to sit and patiently wait for eight hours to catch the next flight to Mazar. Travel time in Afghanistan usually seems to involve 50% waiting, discussion, and planning. Mr. Sadeqar, who is accompanying us on our journey, is permanently on the phone, rescheduling appointments and changing all the relevant details, remaining friendly and good-humored throughout. I admire him for that!

At some point, we start to relax and a sense of fatalism creeps in – the most important thing to do now is to find something to eat and drink and a get book to read. I head off with my Afghan escort to fetch food and drinks. We manage to park in parking area three – after all, it is a special holiday. On our return, we walk past the security checkpoints laden with coffee pots, bottles of Coke, packets of cookies and nuts. The guards either laugh or shake their heads. It’s so baking hot at noon that the soldiers of the presidential guard put up blue and yellow sunshades over their black and grey tanks, and now I have to laugh. Mr. Sadeqar notices a famous singer from Herat in front of us, whom the guards quickly wave through. We’ve now organized basic provisions for a long wait. The deeper we rummage through our suitcases, the more “valuable” things we find: Harald Fuhr still has an entire bag of Haribo gummy bears, and Thurid Hustedt has found some fruit bars. Well, here we go… computer, gummy bears, and a good book.

We get a string of text messages telling us about the latest attacks and explosions, but it was obvious that the city wouldn’t remain peaceful on a day like this. Hopefully, we’ll soon be in Mazar. The prospect of moving freely, perhaps taking a walk to the blue mosque and across the bazaar, appeases us. And, we’re still looking forward to the highlight of our trip: a visit to the new faculty building, the project’s infrastructural component.

After 12 long hours we finally land at the new airport in Mazar, which was built with German assistance. The capital of the northern province Balkh is a boomtown and is designated to become a logistics hub for the whole region. Plans are already under way to convert the halls at the large German army base next to the airport, Camp Marmal, which will soon be vacated. Much of the logistics of the Afghanistan mission, and now also its redeployment, is being managed here. The infrastructure could ideally be adapted for civilian purposes in future. Let’s see how the situation develops here. The present Governor Atta, who uses ruthless methods to ensure peace and quiet, the former warlord General Dostum, and the Northern Alliance are split between the followers of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. The new government will be put under severe pressure here.

Text: Julka Jantz - Project Coordinator for the project “Strengthening of Public Administration Education in Afghanistan.”
Online-Editing: Agnes Bressa, Translation: Pearl Wallace
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