Monday, July 30, 2012

Back Home Again

Traveling across eight and a half timezones really messes with your body.  Particularly when you do it in one swell foop, it's like throwing a monkey wrench into your inner body clock.  So at 2:30 a.m., I was lying in bed, wondering whether to lie there and pretend to sleep, or just go ahead and get up and find something productive to do.  I compromised: I lay there a half hour listening to my dog snore, then got up and made a cuppa joe to get my day started.

The trip back was pretty uneventful.  I flew from Kandahar to Dubai, then took a cab over to Terminal 1 and waited for the Delta desk to open.  People-watching in the Dubai airport is quite interesting, as folks from all over the world are passing through: Chinese stewardesses in long slinky dresses, Arabic men in their white thawbs and kheffiyas, Indian women wearing the traditional sari, Europeans in business suits, Americans in shorts and T-shirts, and all manner in between.  Eventually the desk opened, I got checked in, and headed off to the passport line.  Where I was stopped.  I'd only been in-country for two hours and apparently my entry into the country had not made it through the system yet. But it got straightened out after a bit of a wait, and off I went to wait on my plane to board.

At the gate, I wound up talking with a very interesting man.  He's a naturalized American from Afghanistan who is now working in the country.  There are a lot of people like that in both government service and with the contractors.  This man's father had just died the day before and he was on his way home.  He told me about his father's accomplishments, and then the topic drifted to our mission, how it was proceeding, and what the various possible outcomes were.  He had a lot of insight and, really, he just needed to talk.  I barely said a word, just listened.

But then it was time for me to get on the plane.  We loaded up and left on schedule for the long 14-hour flight.  It always amazes me that you can stuff that many people into a long metal tube, with all their junk, get it in the air, and land it halfway around the world 14 hours later.  It's mind-boggling, really.  I watched a movie and a couple of TV shows and actually managed to get a few short snatches of sleep here and there.

We landed in Atlanta early in the morning and went through the immigration lines.  Atlanta is far and away better than Dulles.  It's more modern and better arranged, but the biggest difference is the people. Even at 5:30 in the morning, they were cheerful, efficient, and friendly.  I don't think I've ever seen anybody at Dulles be cheerful or friendly.  Efficient, yes, but definitely not cheerful or friendly.  Never.

And one of the best things is hearing the immigration agent tell you "welcome home".

The final hop to Asheville was pleasant.  The sun was up and I could look out the window at my own country again.  We landed, I grabbed my backpack, and headed out the door, where Janis and the dogs were waiting.  It was a great homecoming!

What really hit me on the drive home was how green everything was.  Southern Afghanistan is brown. Western North Carolina is GREEN.  Green trees, green grass, green fields.  What a difference.  Another thing was how fortunate we are to live in this country.  Even a small house in North Carolina is a palace compared to the mud-walled, dirt-floored homes that shelter millions in Afghanistan.  We take 24-hour electricity, clean running water, paved roads, and general lack of warfare for granted.  Trust me, these are blessings.

So now I'm home for a couple of weeks.  I've got a honey-do list that's not too big.  We've got dinner dates with friends and tickets to a ball game.  I need to start making some contacts for after-Afghanistan employment.

Mostly, I just want to be with Janis and the dogs.  Home again.

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