Three days of travel and we finally arrived in the Kabul airport. Marcus, Tony and I met up first with our trapper and star Boone Smith, then our WCS team: Dave Lawson and Peter Bowles.
Despite similarities to other airports I’ve visited in developing nations – Kathmandu, for example – something is very different. It’s quiet. The people waiting outside aren’t thronging, they’re waiting silently, and no one is trying to get you into their taxi. This was my first indication of a much larger, even ubiquitous aspect of Kabul that sets it apart from any other place I’ve been: the overwhelming presence of security.
After a much needed ten hour sleep, we headed back into town to meet the Ministry of Agriculture and the Director of Protected Areas, where we were very kindly received. We then headed out to get our travel documents, which is where things got interesting. Through Dave’s stories and the view out the window, a picture of the deep-seeded violence in the area began to emerge. Grain factories marked with holes from Mujahidin rockets – whole blocks still being rebuilt from conflict with the Russians – bullet holes marking the mud walls. You can see the history of Kabul physically burned, blown, and punched into its landscape.
As usual, the topic was cats. Boone told a story about wrestling a female Jaguar, hallucinating from a dart and mad as hell, as it wrapped itself around a tree and chewed through the safety rope he was harnessed to. “We had donors out that day, I think they liked the show,” he said. Climbing up a tree to hand-rope a hallucinating animal seemed to me like a great way to get mauled, but Boone’s done it almost 200 times without a serious injury. Dave Lawson told us about darting Lions in Africa, then told us about the Lion in the Afghan zoo, Marjin, who’d recently died. “Someone got in his cage and got eaten, so the next day his brother came back and threw a hand grenade in with him.” Miraculously, Marjin survived the grenade (though he was blinded in one eye) and lived a long life. Still, it was one more example of just how deeply present violence is here.
And today was no exception. While securing our travel documents, we got word that there’d been an assassination attempt on the vice president just outside the compound, literally blocks from us. Small arms fire. A vehicle cutting off the VIP procession to make the attack. The sort of thing that would have shut down a city block or even a city back home. Here, the Afghans just carried on – and so did we. We got in our cars, drove to the WCS office, and kept on shooting.
Tomorrow I fly out with the vet (Stephane) and the gear, and start the journey north. As fascinating as Kabul is, I won’t be sad to start towards the more remote – and safer – parts of the country.