It was surreal! We left Dulles still perplexed by the Boston marathon blasts. My Muslim friends were sure it was domestic terrorism – everything in the aftermath was “too quiet – that’s a sign.” By the time we hit Dubai, the cop killing and naked arrest in Watertown, Mass. were playing out on airport monitors. Westerners stood transfixed by the images on the screen, while the rest of the world just walked on by.
I felt a growing sense of bewilderment and anxiety as we flew over some of the most rugged and inhospitable terrain I’d ever seen – thousands of miles of sand and craggy mountains – and Argo played on my personal monitor. The faces of the angry screaming mob attacking the US embassy filled the screen.
We landed and Kabul was calm. The airport was just like any small town in Northern India. My passport was stamped with barely a glance; the eager baggage helpers overstepped and had to be swatted back. One hiccup – nobody had told me to bring passport photos for a foreigner registration card. The officials were polite, spoke broken Hindi, but I could sense a shift, an increasing hardening of tone. I could go to a registration office in the city later, but there was that strange undertone. Then the gods smiled. My baggage arrived and my duplicates folder yielded some buried photos. Everyone laughed. All was well.
A quick ride through dusty Kabul, a couple of police checkposts, much like Delhi, and we were enveloped by the incredible hospitality of our hosts.
I was touched. I was a non-Muslim, but that was irrelevant. I was kissed warmly several times and welcomed into the women’s room where there was a lot of laughter and goofing around. Thick red carpets everywhere; trays of dry fruit and subtly spiced teas; heaped plates of chicken and lamb kababs, grilled eggplant, noni breads, sweets, fruit platters.
And CNN on a large flatscreen TV. Tamerlan Tsarnaev killed in a violent gun battle on the streets of Watertown. Boston in lockdown. Fear on people’s faces. Second suspect on the loose; armed and dangerous. Watching American terrorism unfold from Kabul – that was insane. Red and orange alerts flashed through my brain; a painful sense of loss, again, of life as it used to be. But the women eating communally on the carpeted floor thought it strange – America’s fixation with a small event. Did Americans have nothing else to talk about? The channel was flipped to ghazals and dances from old Hindi films, Umraon Jaan and Pakeeza. People had to go on living while they could. They knew all about that.