Monday, May 10 2004
I was deployed to Panjao on 26 April 2004. I was supposed to leave with Danny Brown, who eventually became the Provincial Process and Training Officer for Panjao. Danny and I worked in East Timor before and he was my coordinator.
That morning when we were supposed to leave, Danny decided to stay back for another day in Bamyan because he had not managed to finish what he had to do. It was about 12pm when he decided to stay back and I was to go with A (name withheld), our new Provincial Logistics Officer from the Philippines. A was to be deployed to Uruzghan and he would stop over in Panjao for one night before proceeding to Uruzghan.
It takes at least 6 hours to go to Panjao from Bamyan and at 12pm, it was really not a good idea to leave. However, I was determined to go because I had stayed up until 2am the night before packing my things and office. Besides, I was at a point where I just couldn’t stand staying in Bamyan for another night. Gayatri has given me the green light to leave at that time as well. I think he wanted to get rid of me too after finding out how desperate I was to leave Bamyan.
There are 2 ways to go to Panjao; the long or the short way. The long way takes more than 10 hours through Besud district in Wardak Province. The short way takes 5 hours through Yakawlang district and the Shatu pass. Shatu pass is closed during the winter because of excessive snow. It’s a narrow path through mountainous terrain in the middle of nowhere.
Early that morning, at about 6am, another convoy from UNAMA had gone to Panjao through the Shatu pass. I called the radio room to find out whether it was safe to use the Shatu route that afternoon and the radio operator reported that the UNAMA convoy had arrived in Panjao within 5 hours after using the Shatu pass and hence I had the green light.
We left in 2 UN Ford Rangers with tonnes of luggages and office equipments at the back of the pick-ups (international UN staffs have to travel in 2 cars for security reasons). The 2 drivers we had were newly recruited; Arif and Farid.
We normally have the Ford Runners with the Barrett, an older version of radio communication system. But with these new Ford Rangers pick-ups provided by UNOPS, it uses a newer type of radio; the Codan. Since it was the first time I was travelling in the Rangers, I did not know how to use the Codan.
Before we left, I asked Arif whether he knew how to use the Codan and whether he could show me. Because we were late, Danny just shoved us away and said that the driver knew. We all assume that part of the driver’s responsibilities is to use the radio communications, as he needs to report to the radio room every hour. But I insisted to find out from the driver himself and he told me yes. So, we left.
Also, I was supposed to carry a Thuraya with me when I’m on a road mission. Before I left, I asked Gayatri whether I could have a Thuraya and he said it was not necessary, as we would have radio communications.
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
So, if the Acting Regional Coordinator said it was not necessary, then I guessed it was fine.
Anyway, we took off and arrived in Yakawlang at about 4:00pm and had about 3 more hours to drive. Because we were on the Rangers with heavy loads at the back and new drivers who were not familiar with the roads, it prolonged the usual travel time. We stopped by for the drivers to take a break and then proceeded with our journey.
A few minutes after we left Yakawlang, the weather started to change and turned cloudy. I thought it was going to rain heavily but it just drizzled. Off and on, the sky cleared and it was sunny. Yakawlang is the biggest district in Bamyan Province with extremely dispersed population settlement. The people are more educated than anywhere else in Bamyan. The landscape in Yakawlang is different from anywhere else I had seen either. It was green and there were lots of beautiful white and pink cherry blossoms blooming in the field.
There is a “hidden” treasure in Afghanistan and it lies in the middle of Yakawlang. The treasure is named Band-I-Mir. It should be considered as one of the Seven Wonders of the World but unfortunately it isn’t.
In Bamyan itself – there are 4 famous landmarks; the Buddhas, the City of Sighs, the Red City and Band-I-Mir. All of these are in Bamyan Province. The Buddhas are pretty self-explanatory. The City of Sighs used to be a prosperous ancient city in Afghanistan hundreds of years ago. Then, an emperor ordered the city to be flooded with water to drown the people living there. As a result, the population was wiped out and hence the name City of Sighs as it was filled with pain and suffering. The Red City is a place with red mountains. I have not been there before but I’ve seen pictures of it.
Band-I-Mir is just breathtaking from the photos I’ve seen. It’s a huge lake surrounded by mountains that look like the Grand Canyon in America. The water is deep blue with the reflection of the clear blue skies of Bamyan. It’s a very popular spot for fishing and picnic in the summer. Raffaele had been there last summer and the photos taken are evidence of the real existence of the place. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have believed that such a beautiful place exists in this world. Whenever Kabul hot-shots come to visit us in Bamyan, all they want to do is to see the Buddhas and Band-I-Mir. None of them cares about what we are doing or what we need.
I immediately spotted Band-I-Mir from afar but we were not exactly near it. The drivers kept asking me whether I wanted to stop by at Band-I-Mir and have fish. They even suggested staying overnight in Yakawlang and then travel to Panjao the next morning. The idea was tempting as I don’t know when I will ever get a chance to see Band-I-Mir but that day, my whole focus and determination was to arrive in Panjao. So, I told them to move on.
Then, as we were close to Shatu pass (which is just one and half hour away from Panjao), it started pissing down with rain. The wind was strong and I was beginning to worry about our documents and equipment at the back of the pick-ups.
Then, as we moved along Shatu pass, my worried about the loot turned into whether we would ever survive the bad weather. Our cars were stuck a couple of times because by now, the roads were slippery and muddy. The ground had become so soft that the tyres kept getting caught between the mud.
It was getting dark and cold as well. It was 8pm when I started to realize that we were stuck right in the middle of nowhere on Shatu pass. It was completely dark and still pouring with rain.
....to be continued in Part XIV......