First Day - Sept. 17, 2009
I got to the airport and everything went reasonably smoothly despite my overweight baggage.
Surprisingly, I got stopped by Turkish customs because there was some irregularity with the stamping of my passport the last time I left and entered Turkey.
I finally just showed them my NATO work Docs. and assured them I was leaving Turkey for good.
I had been waiting for a year to leave Turkey, yet when I took off on the plane and saw the lights of Istanbul, I actually felt kind of sad. I had spent most of the decade there. In some ways I had become more familiar with Istanbul than my hometown of Toronto. No more nargile water pipe or Turkish cuisine such as Tantuni or Kokoreç.
Two nice Turkish guys sat next to me on the plane. They were shocked to hear me speak Turkish to the stewardess. Upon learning that I was from the Caribbean, they made sure to tell me how much they liked the film Pirates of the Caribbean. I assisted them in immigration as they couldn't understand the officer when he spoke English to them. Basically, they were truck drivers who had been hired to drive a big rig from Germany to Turkey.
They then asked me to carry some extra cigarettes through customs for them :-)
Once we got through, they offered me a carton of cigarettes as a thank you. However, I politely declined as I don’t smoke.
Now I was in Cologne at midnight. My flight was supposed to leave at 6:30 on September 18. The rest of my trip would be on a military plane. This is the protocol even though there are quicker ways to travel.
I thought I would go to the military airport and chill. As I came out of the civilian airport everybody around me was speaking Turkish. I went to the taxi drivers and asked if they spoke English, they kind of nodded and started speaking Turkish to each other :-)
I had been given a link for the military airport didn’t work. Well I learnt something that night, Zulu time should not be mistaken for standard time. I got to this empty ass airport at almost one in the morning. I was told to come back that my flight would leave at 10:30 am local time.
As the airport link didn’t work, I simply had to go back to the civilian airport kill six hours and hope that I wasn't being jerked around.
I killed the six hours and came back at 7:30 am. Some German soldiers immediately helped me with my bags - nice fellows. They told me the plane would leave at 12:30 and that I could go to the restaurant upstairs.
I got on a huge commercial looking flight, staffed with only military personnel. About 180 German soldiers and seven odd civilians.
Six hours later we arrived in Termez, Uzbekistan. This was a military camp specifically for the Germans as part of the ISAF effort against the Taliban. Got some dinner, chatted with some civilians and went to sleep in a tent with seven other fellows. No pillows, so I rolled up my jacket and used it as one. Not the best option but it got the job done. However the tent did have electricity and air conditioning. They were also nice enough to give us big, thick, brown blankets.
Aysel finally showed up 90 minutes after our call.
I had been looking forward to seeing her again. We had first me roughly 18 months before in Istanbul. There was a website where locals and foreigners could exchange idea on a variety of topics. She and I had communicated in terms of a Turkish-English language exchange. It was the first time I had ever done this with a stranger on the internet. I had no idea how that decision would have an astounding effect on my life.
She had been a TV reporter in Ankara and was now an ISAF journalist in Afghanistan. I was fascinated by her accomplishments as I myself was in the same occupation. We had a great chat on MSN. We met on Istiklal Avenue which was the centre of much action in Istanbul and coincidentally where I worked.
She was a pleasant attractive woman with tanned, olive skin, long, light brown hair halfway down her back and a warm smile.
We had a great chat over some beers and then went to another bar and polished off two bottles of red wine. She told me about her accomplishments. Her family was a reputable one, her father was a former Minister in the Turkish government, her Uncle was the Civilian Head of NATO in Afghanistan and her sister was a successful Doctor working abroad.
This was a woman who not only had IQ but EQ as well. Her English was not really good enough for the job but during the job interview if the conference call got too tough, she would pretend to have technical difficulties, “What! What! Can you speak up please? I can’t hear you.” She would scratch the phone and then disconnect. They would call back and in a one-hour interview she had technical difficulties three times.
Once she had arrived in Afghanistan, she was sent to the Kunduz Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). As a civilian woman she was given special attention, she had her own office and sleeping quarters which no man would have been privy to. Too paranoid to speak a lot to the officers around her, she would bury her head in a book to make it look as if she were busy. She even had a friend proofread her English before sending it to Head Quarters.