Rise of the Phoenix-Part 2 – On the day of the journey

The day of the journey arrived sooner than I hoped. It was not a great day to wake up at 6 am after spending time with friends till 1 am in the night (yes you guessed it right, that was my last supper at least that’s what some of my friends told me. I should thank those friends, who made it really a memorable night). However I managed to wake up and reach the embassy before 9.30 and I was surprised that they kept their promise and issued me the visa. As I was leaving someone working at the embassy asked me why do I want to go to Afghanistan? I expected this question before they issued me the visa, nevertheless I was glad they asked me this question and I informed them about the project. Then he gave me a big smile and said “it is going to be challenging and something like you have never seen before”. I could not distinguish whether it was a warning or a wish, either way I thanked him for the visa and left the embassy.

I reached the school to say my final goodbye’s (I think at some point even I was convinced that I will not come back again, call it peer pressure or fatalism), I was in for a surprise that some of my friends got me a box full of chocolates as my farewell gift. I remember watching the movie Forrest Gump, and one of the dialogues is that “life was like a box of chocolates, you never know what you might get”. How symbolic was this that my friends give me a box of chocolates. I could never thank them enough for their concerns and care and I think these are the people that make you think life is worth living. Soon all my colleagues joined in for a picture, maybe it would have been my last one with them, but destiny has its own plan.

After few wishes and goodbye, it was time for me to get to the airport, and every time when I am in Airport, something has gone wrong. This is one situation in my life where Murphy’s Law “everything that is bound to go wrong will go wrong” is applicable every single time. However this time I consciously wanted to change it and hence reached the Airport at least 2 hours before the flight and did not carry anything except my laptop bag (because of my experience of losing my checked in luggage). Finally boarded the flight and everything seemed to go so perfectly well that I began to doubt, whether if this was part of a bigger scheme of things. Soon in six hours (which is quite a long time for sitting in one place), I reached my first destination and to my horror, this was the same airport, only two months back, I promised myself that I will never fly though. As fate would have it I was there, but I can only laugh at how I make these promises only to break them.

After an hour and half of waiting, I boarded my next flight to Dubai, and this was a short one actually I could only see the takeoff and landing, I think in 45 minutes it’s the best you could see. As I had sometime in Dubai, ordered a coffee and was relishing it, when for the first time I witnessed something that made me think. As I was drinking my coffee, I saw a couple of kids playing next to me and taking one of these nicely wrapped sugar package and opened it and ate its contents. I just thought they were having fun and did not want to stop them so kept my focus on the coffee and the kids kept doing this and they were smiling. When suddenly one of the ladies sitting in the table next to me took the sugar from my table and chased the kids away. I was shocked, not because the lady took the sugar from my table, but on the realization that people have lost their ability to enjoy the simplest things in life. After all what is more beautiful than a smile on a child’s face.

Soon I realized it was time for me to collect my boarding pass for my final flight to Kabul. I went to the counter to get the boarding pass and I was given a form to fill in. This was a very strange form, where I need to give my consent saying that if my baggage gets lost in the flight, it’s my fault and the airline is not to blame. I thought to myself, so one has to pay the money to fly in this airline with luggage and they can lose the luggage but it is your fault because you chose to fly with them. This for me is a perfect contract to implement in financial markets (or should I say already implemented), where investors can take your money and invest and if they lose your money then it’s not their fault rather yours because you chose to invest with them in the first place. To my surprise this airline was not as bad as I thought it would be and actually managed to reach Kabul. (What happened on my first day in Kabul… to be continued)

Rise of the Phoenix – My Kabul Journey

I named the blog ‘Rise of the Phoenix’ not because of any affiliation to Harry Potter or the world of wizardry. But being a muggle (apparently it’s a word denoted to describe someone who doesn’t know magic and believe it or not it has already been included in the Oxford dictionary, however my word software fails to recognize it, what a sacrilege) one of the things that always fascinated me is Phoenix, a mythical bird that arises out of ashes. So why would I name a blog to narrate my travel to Kabul as rise of the phoenix, does it mean I am going to be burnt to ashes then rise, well some of my friends definitely think so, at least that is what I inferred judging by the farewell dinners I was invited to. However, to their disappointment it is not about me, rather it is about the nation of Afghanistan and my hope that one day it will arise out of its current miseries and shine bright like the feathers of Phoenix.

Although my exact date of travel to Kabul was only on 7th of October, but the real journey began almost 4 weeks back, when I chose the project. Ever since then, there were sympathy notes detailing that life is not so bad as to travel to Kabul, cynical comments asking me why do I want to commit suicide so young, suggestions that asked me to change my name and nationality and above all a sense of contentment for some hoping that I will not show up again (sorry to disappoint, I might actually show up again). However in all this one thing that was very evident for me was the love and care of my friends and well-wishers.

Every journey has a starting point and my journey started with a visit to Afghanistan Embassy and to my surprise there was no one to be seen anywhere. I was not checked as I walked in and no one came running to arrest me as I went searching from room to room to find someone (Maybe other embassies should take a cue from this, especially the US embassy, because who cares about them so maybe they should stop taking themselves seriously). After five minutes of search, I found someone in a room sitting behind a desk (what a relief). However he was totally surprised to see me there and his expression said it all. He gave me a look of disbelief, when I told him I needed a visa, he for a moment thought I was insane, but I can’t blame him because this is not the first time I got the expression. After reading through my document and seeing my dates of travel, he said he will issue the visa on October 11, now I thought he was insane. I explained to him, that I needed to travel on 7th and there was no way to postpone it. He now had the bargaining power and told me as the embassy had a lot of work to do they did not have time, but I knew it was his BATNA not to issue me the visa before 11th.

There are many problems with me but chief among them is my stubbornness (in MBA lingo you can call it persistence) and I was not returning back without a visa. So I just kept standing there (for one I did not understand what he spoke, because two languages he spoke are not the two languages I spoke), after seeing that I will not go away, he went away but only to return in five minutes with someone else. The new person walks in smoking a cigarette and asks me very cheerfully, whether I am from Pakistan, the moment I replied I am from Chennai his cheerfulness was gone and now he wanted to get a solution to get rid of me or so did I thought. After bargaining and good cop, bad cop strategy (in Negotiation this is called as dirty trick) finally I was told that I will be issued a visa on Friday October 7th. I thought it was some kind of prank as the embassy was officially closed on Friday. As I pointed it out he told me they will make an exception and asked me to come early on to get it. I still didn’t believe, but one thing I have learned is to trust people, even if I didn’t believe them because what choices do one has. Soon to follow my travel and my encounters in Kabul…..