Quite suddenly and not to mention unexpectedly, I heard a familiar voice on the radio, “This is Bravo Golf 78. Ms. Ka Ea don’t worry and don’t be scared. I’m coming over to help you. I’m only 10 minutes away from where you are. Don’t worry – I’m coming. Don’t worry. Over”
I thought I was dreaming and I just couldn’t believe it. It was the voice of Ismarai, the tiny-built 21-year old UNAMA driver. Ismarai speaks fluent English and easily one of the best drivers for UNAMA. His small stature does not stop him from being the bravest and craziest driver. He was the driver that had brazed through Shatu pass within 5 hours that morning I left. He could be very arrogant as well because he acknowledges his driving skill and ability. Some of the international staffs hate his guts.
But Ismarai has always been friendly with me and I have a particular fondness for his little 7-year-old brother, Almos (which means diamond in Dari). Almos speaks fluent English and he’s very popular with all the international staffs for his charm and million-dollar smile.
Almos looks Tajik with blond hair and blue eyes. We often joke with Almos that we would hire him as a language assistant. Ismarai invited me once for lunch with his family and that was when I learned he is engaged to a 14-year old cousin of his.
So, that voice on the radio was no stranger to me. I just replied, “My God, BG78, you have no idea how happy I am to hear your voice. We’re stuck here in the middle of nowhere!! I’m not worried anymore now that I know you’re coming and I think I’m going to cry. Over!!”
I had no idea how he knew where we were or that we were stuck. I just didn’t know what was happening anymore and frankly did not care. We waited for about 30 minutes before we saw 2 white UN Land Cruisers stopped about 200m in front of us. Ismarai just jumped out from the car and started charging down the hill like an agile goat with a spade in his hand towards our pickups.
Another of our dear old driver, Rasudad, also came bouncing to our rescue. I went running towards them and Rasudad immediately asked me to sit in his car and put a blanket over me while he went to help Ismarai with the pick-up. My 20-hour ordeal ended as soon as I saw our drivers. I knew I was finally safe.
To add icing on the cake, I received radio communication from Raffaele. He said he was sending a rescue team of 2 cars from Panjao and I should expect them to be there soon. He asked me how my night went and was I cold, etc. He had sent 4 blankets with the rescue team.
I just told him, “BG41 (Raffaele), is the rescue team consist of BG78 (Ismarai) and BG75 (Rasudad)? If yes, let me tell you that they are here already. We’re now waiting for them to get the car out and we’ll be proceeding to Panjao after that. Over”
He replied, “BG47 (me), Don’t wait. Get into one of the cars and ask BG75 to send you to Panjao right away. Let the rest of the team fix the other car and they can come after. But come over to Panjao immediately. Over.” I replied, “Roger that. I’ll be moving over right now. BG47 out.”
So, I took off with Rasudad and headed for Panjao. It took us another hour before I finally arrived in Panjao Provincial Office with the familiar UN flag waving in the wind, beckoning me home. That was the second time that I have felt happy and relieved seeing that blue and white flag. The first was when I crossed the Mecedonian border to Kosova on foot at around 12 midnight 2 years ago.
I had been awake for more than 30 hours without food, drink and a shower. My eyes were bloodshot and my boots were completely covered with mud which was hardening already due to the sun. As I walked out from the car, Raffaele came out from the office. We just looked at each other and he grinned, “Welcome to Panjao”. Under normal circumstances, we would have hugged each other but in Afghanistan, such show of affection or comfort in public is frowned upon.
He started asking me what happened, etc. and all I could say was it was my fault that all this had happened and I realized that I had jeopardize my job and I would be fired, etc. I thought, gee, what a way to start my job in Panjao. But I think under such circumstance, no compassionate or sympathetic person would start having a go at someone who had spent a whole night on the Shatu pass. I guess I had been punished for my own mistake already.
I subsequently found out from Danny that at around 10:30pm that night, Bamyan had to make a decision of informing Kabul Chief of Security that I hadn’t call them and the possibility of security threat. Kabul was notified and they decided that if by morning, they still had not heard from me, they would have to send an air rescue team to look for us. But at this stage, I am still trying to figure out what was Kabul doing between 5am to 9am when we had not establish contact with Panjao base. I was not going to pursue the matter since nothing was brought against me until now.
So that was my journey from Bamyan to Panjao. I’m sure some of you may doubt the validity of the whole story because it sounds like a dramatic action movie. But let me tell you that it all did happen.
.....to be continued in Part XVI....