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Getting out of the “deep field”

Friday, September 28, 2007 by Marianne Elliott

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This morning, over at The Road to the Horizon, when I read this post about what it meant to be in the "deep field" and this post about the heart-lurching experience of trying to get out on RnR, I realised that Ghor – like Bor – is deep field.

Enrico's experience of having colleagues in Khartoum look at him in sympathy when they heard he was being posted to Bor is an almost perfect replica of the response I got – and still get – from Kabul (and Herat) based colleagues about Ghor.

Most of the time I disagree with them completely. I don't miss the "conveniences" of Kabul or Herat. Perhaps it is hard to get fruit and vegetables here, and finding "Super Lemon" (the local equivalent of Sprite) in the bazaar this week may have been an exciting event for me, but I feel much more accepted in the local community here and that makes up for an awful lot of missing vegetables.

The remoteness of this post, however, does bite a little bit when it comes to getting in and out of the country for RnR.

We have an airfield here in Cheghcharan, and over the summer, when the ground is dry, we have about a 50/50 chance of having the scheduled weekly flight turn up. In the winter, once the snow sets in, that rate drops considerably. If there is fresh snow on the ground the fixed wing planes cannot land and getting a helicopter up here requires a degree of political wrangling that can only be invoked a few times before you lose all credit – so I figure it is best to save that up for genuine emergencies.

Unlike Enrico, however, if my flight doesn't come there is no viable option for me to drive to the next airfield. The drive to Herat takes two days, as does the road to Bamyan. However, I think that if I was really desparate and I fed the drivers PowerBars and Red Bulls, I could pull off the Bamyan road trip in one very, very long day. Believe me, I've been through this in my head.

On my next leave I'm planning this amazing trip to the States. Getting there is quite an adventure in itself. First I have to get out of Ghor, there is (in theory at least) one flight per week, on Tuesday. This will take me to Herat to collect my pay and some warmer clothes. Then from Herat there should be a flight the next day to Kabul. Another overnight stop in Kabul and then I should (assuming all has gone according to plan so far, which of course it never, ever does) be on a flight the next morning to Delhi. From Delhi – I have just discovered, there is a direct flight to Chicago. Voila – in only four days I should have made it from home to my destination.

But it is almost out of the question that each step of the journey would go that smoothly. So instead of pretending it will and then finding myself, like Enrico, standing on the side of the airstrip wondering what just happened to my leave plans, maybe I would be wiser to drive from Ghor to Kabul. It would take three days and I'd need a security escort and permission from everyone who has a rubber stamp in this organisation. Even then, however, there would still be the risk of breakdowns or road closures due to snow or security.

So I have learned to make contingency plans and even then to hold on to my plans lightly. Be ready to release them if the stars are simply not aligning for me.

When I was on my way to my wonderful yoga retreat in Thailand, I made it all the way to Kabul with no hitch. The day before I was due to fly out I was in the office in Kabul doing some last minute work when the security guard ran in and told us to evacuate immediately, no stopping to gather our handbags, this was not a drill. Indeed it was not a drill. There was a fuel tanker parked outside our compound with an improvised explosive device attached to it. Holy crap. That's all I can say about that.

So we spent the afternoon in the relative security of a neighbouring compound waiting for word that the IED had been diffused and we could go back in. The word never came. We were eventually all told to go home. But wait. My handbag is in the office still. My passport is in my handbag. My flight to Dubai and then to Thailand is leaving tomorrow morning. I need my passport.

There is no way I am allowed back in. So I go home, figure there is nothing to be done for now, agree to go for a drink with a friend and keep my fingers crossed that the IED will be diffused over night. At 5.00am I call our driver and he takes me to the compound. I have never been happier to be allowed into the office. I collect my passport, send out the documents that I had been supposed to send the day before and head happily off to the airport where my favorite RnR travel buddy is making sure the flight doesn't leave without me.

I'll tell you two things I've learned in this country. There is never anything to be gained from fretting about what you cannot control, and it always pays to make back-up plans for your departure on RnR!

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11 Responses to "Getting out of the “deep field”"

  1. Jeni says:

    Holy crap!!! I am counting my blessings right now as I try to get my mouth to shut as it is still agape in disbelief in what you live with/through. I kept thinking, as I was reding, about your other post about lessons in letting go. Your life is truly a daily exercise in letting go, isn’t it?

  2. Roy says:

    Very true, I always had a hard time explaining how hard it was to travel there. One Base in eastern section has daily flights, but no radar. The strip is gravel and around 1600 everyday it would rain so the strip would close. For a week straight a flight would be coming in fly over and go back due to visibility. It took 9 days to get out of that place.

  3. Roy says:

    Very true, I always had a hard time explaining how hard it was to travel there. One Base in eastern section has daily flights, but no radar. The strip is gravel and around 1600 everyday it would rain so the strip would close. For a week straight a flight would be coming in fly over and go back due to visibility. It took 9 days to get out of that place.

  4. tiny noises says:

    It gives a whole new meaning to RnR, no? I wish you luck on all legs of your trip and look forward to seeing you at the tail end of all that travel! Of course, getting back is just as challenging. . .

  5. susanna says:

    Oh my lord, you must have the patience of god, Frida. Next time I’m standing at a full stop in a long lineup at the airport or train station I’m going to think of you! Breathe in…breathe out…what would Frida doooo…? 🙂 Well, I hope that everything runs smoothly this month when you visit the States. I am so looking forward to meeting you! And if the airplane gods create never ending lineups then hopefully karma will kick in and you’ll have the most amazing pumpkin spice lattes, window-shopping excursions, gallery-hopping adventures through the neighborhoods of New York.

  6. HiK says:

    yes, I am sending you warm wishes for easy, speedy travel.
    I hope we get to catch up soon…

  7. megg says:

    Amazing. Where you are constantly blows me away. I hope your travels this time go smoothly – where you are going they should take very good care of you 😉
    P.S. i got your email – will write soon!

  8. ceanandjen says:

    Thank goodness that you have the perspective that you have beautiful you, because without it, you would get no where…literally. Ugh, how difficult it is to leave, I just don’t know that I would have the patience that you do. On the other hand, I suppose that when you know that what is on the other side of that long road is a wonderful destination, it makes the view that much different.
    What I do know for sure is that I will wish that your plans are executed smoothly and that you get here to the states and have the most wonderful time!
    love to you.xoxo

  9. Margaret says:

    “I feel much more accepted in the local community here and that makes up for an awful lot of missing vegetables.”
    This is a beautiful and powerful sentence, Frida. It sounds that this experience makes all the rest worth it.
    I also thank you for reminding readers like myself who live in westen comfort but who daydream about living and working internationally again. It is a good reminder that I will need to just accept things and not get too worked up if things like travelling don’t go as planned.

  10. Swirly says:

    It sounds like you have learned an artful balance between creating what you want and surrending to how the journey ultimately unfolds, which is a wonderful skill to practice in any situation.

  11. Alex says:

    You are so mindful and that makes all the difference on anyone’s journey! Hope you get here safely and soon, to enjoy some restful times among friends xo

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