One Wild Journey, One Crazy Couple, One Life to Live
Photography © 2005 Matthieu Paley, www.paleyphoto.com
For the last five years I have been in Afghanistan (yes, I know five years is too long and I should get out – my mother keeps telling me that), I have wanted to get myself to the Wakhan Corridor. Supposedly it is one of the most remote areas of the world.
A while back, I remember listening to Irish radio as they interviewed an American college student about what she thought of Ireland. She bubbled on about how beautifully green it is but ended with the comment, ‘it rains too much’. There was silence from broadcaster before he said ‘well how the hell do you think it got so green?” I feel if I complain about how difficult it is to get to one of the most remote and untraveled places in the world, I am going to appear as thick as the American student. However, I am going to complain about how difficult it is to get there.
Firstly, there is the issue of security. The road from Kabul to Faizabad is probably ok, but the road from Faizabad to the Wakhan is considered too dangerous. As a matter of fact, a couple of NGO workers were kidnapped in that area not too long ago. There is a northern road that is safer, but it is still closed due to snow. Yes, that’s right, snow. Yes, I am bringing my -22 sleeping bag on a hike in July. Am I crazy?
So, the alternative is to fly or to go through Dushanbe, Tajikistan. If I go through Dushanbe, the permit, visa requirements, and bureaucracy requires 5 days before I will reach my hiking destination. As I was originally supposed to leave yesterday, but plans fell through (see below), I do not have enough time to go that route. So, flying is my only other option. Of course, that option is not so easy either. As it turns out, most flights only go to Faizabad – see first issue. I found a friend of a friend who works for US Embassy air. She tells me they can take me, BUT, there needs to be heavy duty security on the ground in order to get clearance. What do you mean? A herd of yaks is not enough security!? Remember, this is one of the most remote places on earth, so why the hell they need security out the wazoo is beyond me. And, she proceeds to tell me, for the amount I would have to pay; I may as well buy the plane. On to plan E!
PACTEC is a great humanitarian airline that serves the NGO community. Unfortunately, I am no longer part of the NGO community. I try calling anyway. Yes! They have a flight for July 14 to Kret, which is actually IN the Wakhan Corridor. I do my little dance. Then they tell me my registered NGO only has to send them the paperwork, and I can get my ticket. Sigh.
I call a few NGO friends and beg for a few favours and presto! I have the paperwork. So, today we are on our way to get the ticket. Unfortunately, there is a demonstration in the area between me and my ticket. Security calls us back. Hopefully I can get that tomorrow.
Prior to this, I was told that I need a permit to walk in the Wakhan. But, that permit is only available outside of the Wakhan in a place called, you guessed it, Faizabad – see first issue. Since I am flying INTO the Wakhan, I will be illegal. Apparently stress is a key trigger for a flare up of CD, and I am supposed to avoid the evils of stress at all costs; how am I doing?! I am told there is nothing I can do; I will have to go to Faizabad to get my permit. I don’t have the times or means. I think I have hit my dead end.
I make one last ditch effort. I call the great and wonderful people of the Aga Khan Development Network. Juma Gul is in Ishkashim, which is not too far from Faizabad (relatively speaking). He approaches the Department of Information and Culture and the District Governors office armed with a copy of my passport and request. They tell him they cannot give the permit to him without a letter of support from the Minister of Information and Culture’s office.
I trundle off to the Minister’s office with a friend who knows everyone there. Thanks be to Christ for friends and friends of friends and ex-colleagues and people who actually do their jobs. Timor introduces me to some folk at the Ministry and asks for the letter. Unfortunately they are unable to provide a letter without an official request. I nearly fall off my chair. An official request from WHOM? It’s me that is making the request!! Apparently, that is exactly who needs to make the request. I ask if I can hand write it. This is considered for a moment, then a smile crosses his face and he tells me I can use his computer – even better! So, I sit in the Minister’s office at the Minister’s computer to write an official letter of request to the Minister to ask for a letter from him to tell his staff in Faizabad to support my request for a Wakhan permit.
They accept my official letter of request and tell me that I can pick the letter up the next day. Today is the next day. I go for lunch with Timor who said someone from his office would pick up the letter. However, anyone who could sign the letter was not in today, so maybe tomorrow.