Thursday. My parents are due to arrive on Kam Air flight RQ006 at 10am. I leave for the airport with Taher, our driver at 9.00. We get most of the way there without mishap, but3 km from the airport are stopped by barricades and police. They are stopping everyone. Normally being a foreigner I am allowed through. Not today. I try my usual tactics: ‘Let me pass, I have business at the airport’; ‘Let me pass, it is urgent’; ‘Let me pass, you can’t stop me here.’
Nothing works. I play my trump card: ‘Let me pass, I am a foreigner’. The policeman looks at me as though I am an idiot as well. Nothing doing. I leave Taher with the car and walk. That’s the crazy part – no car, but you can get out and walk into the secure area.
A few kilometres on the reason for the barricades is clear: Rohullah Nikpai, the only Afghan ever to win an Olympic medal (Bronze, in Tai kwon Do) and now a national hero, is arriving. There is a parade, convoys of military (I count at least 12 armoured police 4WDs), dozens of Tai kwon Do fighters prancing down the avenue. And on top of a truck festooned with ribbons, Nikpai. Now, astute readers will know how much of a sport buff I am, but even I feel a swell of pride to see this young guy being hailed and welcomed. It is a wonderful kind of underdog story, and it felt good. Afghans obviously felt so – there are posters of him everywhere, he has been given a house and a car and a cheque for $10,000. Poor guy – he will have 10000 people wanting stuff from him now. Probably he will be made into a Bollywood movie star soon – he is good looking and has inspired a whole nation – if only briefly. Being Hazara is doubly good, in my view – a member of the ethnic group that is the most marginalised, was the most persecuted and has suffered the most under successive regimes.
It is a good moment. But it is still stopping me from getting to the airport: the security cordon here is tight, and a policeman calls me over. I tell him I am a writer (kind of true, I do write). I show him my camera. He pats me down and calls someone on his radio. They talk about me for a few minutes. I show him my card. ‘Hagar. Hajer. H-a-jar’, he murmers to himself. I have flashbacks to Jalil. The policeman gets me to turn the camera on (since Massoud was killed by a camera bomb, all cameras have been seen as potential weapons). The radio crackles again, and he waves me through. I walk confidently up through the next security cordon, and then right into the airport – normally it is impossible to get in here without a valid ticket for travel for the next flight. I walk though into the baggage claim area. No one blinks. There is a hall that leads out to the tarmac. I walk down it. I open the door for several cabin crew arriving and they thank me, and walk on, totally incurious. Two policeman exit, uninterested in this new foreigner who opens doors. It is my turn now, and I open the door, walk through, and I am on the runway. Extraordinary. I watch as Mum and Dad’s flight arrives, I see them walk down the steps and get on the bus and arrive at immigration. I scoot back down the hall, through baggage claim, and ask a guard if I can go into immigration to help them. He refuses, then waves me through, and next thing I am standing in line beside my parents. It is an emotional moment. I have a memory of Mum and Dad with us in Peshawar all those years ago, when they were refused visas by the Taliban and we spent two weeks in Pakistan instead. I remember Dad dreaming of Afghanistan, and telling me how he thought he would never get to visit here. The guard sees Mum’s tears, and calls them to the front of the line. 20 minutes later with their bags collected, we are out into the Kabul sunshine.
Welcome to Afghanistan Mum and Dad.