When you type the word Herat into Microsoft Word it automatically changes to HEART. The largest city in western Afghanistan, with a decidedly horrendous pre and post-Taliban women’s rights record, less than one hour from the Iranian border turns into the word HEART. Just as Google China has trouble with the word democracy, Microsoft is trying to vanish the entire city of Herat.
Carrie and I are going to Herat to facilitate one day of a two day workshop. This means we will be away for a minimum of four days. When we asked about our return flight we were told it would be Friday (in’shallah)…but maybe Saturday…hopefully not Sunday. Apparently you cannot book your flight to Kabul, from Kabul. Carrie believes that this is because the tickets aren’t computerized. She thinks there is a man sitting someplace with a stack of ticket stubs counting down the number of seats until the flight is sold out. Sadly, this is the single most rational explanation I have been given about any number of things that happen in this country.
Our journey formally began the day before we actually left. Rubina, a very sweet, very young woman who works in admin at AWN was tasked with getting us our plane tickets. After an uncomfortable episode (lasting a touch too long) involving her sounding out and repeating our names we convinced her to let us write them down. A few hours later she returned from the Kam Air office and handed me a ticket made out to Redeka. No last name, just Redeka.
Though no one else was bothered, I admit I became slightly anxious about the thought of attempting to board an aircraft with a handwritten, smudged ticket made out to a name bearing no likeness to that on any of my official documents. I asked Rubina to give Kam Air a quick call to ask if it is a problem that I am planning on getting on one of their planes and flying across the country without any form of valid identification. She did. They didn’t.
For some reason – which still escapes me – Carrie’s ticket was given to our boss Afifa (who would give it to her on the way to the airport). 6AM Tuesday morning, en route to Kabul International, Afifa hands Carrie her ticket. It seems that one Mr. Kare is joining Mrs. Redeka for the trip to HEART. At least I got to be the girl.
But is this really funny?
From the moment I entered the airport to the moment I boarded the plane I was herded with, pushed by and pointed at with a combination of weapons. The officer at the entrance of the airport wanted to speak with me so he knocked on my window with a loaded AK47 to get my attention. Another wanted me to move into a different security line. He grunted at me and guided me to the appropriate area with the the barrel of a Krinkov. Heavily armed ISAF troops line the hallways of the once operational airport creating small openings so that only a few people can move at a time.
As the troops let me into the one waiting for all of the flights – UN and commercial, domestic and international – I couldn’t help but wonder how much it costs the international community to keep up this show of force. Because it is just that – a show, theatre. These troops are more likely to kill a civilian, or twenty, over routine airport tension then deal with the ‘terrorists’ they were sent here to root out. These troops are more likely to get killed by a person whose luggage has not been scanned and ticket bears no capacity to identify then deal with the ‘terrorists’ they were sent here to root out.
What are we doing? How can we even begin to approach peace and discuss democracy when civil society is policed rather than protected?
Posted By Erica Isaac (Afghanistan)
Posted Jun 13th, 2006