From the blog...
***Scroll down for PICTURES!!! :)))
Hellooo guys! How is everyone doing?? So I’ve been working hard in the studio lately, recording my new stuff, which has me finding myself in a very special state of mind. One where I’m feeling creative and where my OCD resurfaces lol. When it comes to my art, I’m a total perfectionist. Sooo, this week I’m taking a tiny break from recording and will pick up next week. I thought I’d take this time to finally give you the rest of my story about my trip to Kabul!!! Here is the second-last part. Part 5 will be all about our return home. Will it be a smoother trip than it was on our way there?? You’ll have to find out! Heehee 🙂
Oh. My. Gawd. Still sitting here, in this allegedly Kabul-bound plane. It’s December 24th. I don’t believe this. I can’t think straight, I don’t know what’s going on anymore. Good grief, I’ve never been this tired in my entire life. How much longer can my body endure staying awake? Is this even human to go without sleep for 48 hours?? I’m sure doctors and many other professionals have endured this kind of thing (including the generals who are traveling with us on this trip!), however I have never experienced it myself so this is feeling pretty brutal right about now lol… I can’t even process my own thoughts properly. I’m starting to feel delusional. Why is this happening? Is all of this madness nothing but pure bad luck? Is it really just a coincidence? Or should I take all of it as a sign… A sign of what?? Good gracious, I am clearly too sleep-deprived for my own good. I’m beginning to lose all sense of rationality. Breathe Eva, just breathe.
The plane is only half-full, there are a lot of empty seats. Richard comes over from his aisle and sits down next to me. “How are you feeling?” he asks me. I look at him and with all the energy I can muster I smile and say “well, let’s just say this will make one heck of a story to tell when we get home!”
Believe it or not, almost exactly one hour later, the pilot was announcing our departure for Kabul. In my mind I thought, “I’ll believe it when the wheels of this plane leave the ground”… But this captain was a man of his word it seems, because a few minutes later, we were finally in the air. Un-be-lievable. I almost shed a couple of tears of joy. This was it, our final stretch before we arrived to our final destination!! What a relief. I cannot wait to get to the military base, to meet everyone, to take a shower, and… to SLEEP! Sleep sleep sleep. Never wanted it more that I did at that moment.
When we touch the ground in Kabul, it’s dark outside. I feel as though it’s 3 or 4 in the morning when in fact it was only 5:30pm. My eyes are stinging, I feel slightly nauseated from the lack of sleep, and I feel as unfresh as I’ve ever felt in my entire life (clearly I haven’t been on a real camping trip huh!).
We get off the plane, and we start walking to the terminal. By some sort of miracle, Richard’s acoustic guitar made it all the way here! With all the flight delays and changes, we were all astounded to see the guitar had followed us. A Christmas miracle!!! Captain Labonté makes a couple of phone calls to the military base where everyone was waiting for us to arrive. She turns to us and says “Ok, guys, welcome to Kabul! Now, when we walk out of here we will head to the airport parking lot, where you’ll be asked to put on your personal protective equipment. Then we will split the group into two per car and drive you to the camp where we’ll be staying for the next two days. Richard and Eva, you’ll be riding together along with two of our men. They’re waiting for you.” We step out of the airport, it’s freezing. There’s no snow, but I’m sure it’s almost as cold as it in in Canada right now. Oh, and that equipment she was referring to? That consists of a helmet, a tinted visor and… a 60 lbs bulletproof vest. That’s right, you just read that correctly. Unreal.
I am not gonna lie, sitting in that vehicle, I felt rather small underneath all that massive gear, but very well protected. The two soldiers who were driving us to the camp were very friendly, and they were chatting us up as if we were just driving to the supermarket. Richard seemed at ease, it was after all his sixth time visiting the troops. He’s gone through all of this before. I was focusing on my breathing, determined to remain as calm and as composed as possible, but I will admit my heart was beating faster than usual. Looking out the window, I could see that the streets of Kabul were extremely polluted, dusty and unsanitary. There was a lot of people roaming about however, I could spot a few stray dogs and cats, a few children pushing fruit and vegetable carts, and many people riding their bikes, making me curious to know where they were heading. Perhaps just coming home from work, or going to the market…
No more than fifteen minutes later, we arrive at the gates of camp Phoenix, my home for the next 36 hours or so. We are asked to press our passports up against the windows as a guard flashed his light in our eyes. Suddenly I remind myself that it’s Christmas eve at this very moment. We get through the gates, and we are told it’s safe to remove our helmets and glasses. We park, get out of the car, retrieve our bags from the trunk, and thank our drivers who made this first drive in Kabul very smooth and overall, not so bad 🙂 We are then introduced to Captain Valérie Harvey, who’s there to greet us. She tells us she is the one in charge of looking after Richard and I during our stay. She asks us if we are hungry, if there is anything we need, and we decide to head to the cafeteria to grab a small bite to eat before heading to our bunkers and pass out in our beds lol. The cafeteria is huge, and there are endless amounts of food. There’s a salad bar, a hot meal station, a dessert station, three refrigerators with any beverage you could possibly want, with the exception of alcohol of course. I was impressed by the size and by the food variety. I find out that all the food is imported from Dubai. We take a seat and chat for a bit while I have a hot cup of oatmeal. At one point during our conversation, Captain Harvey says something I will never forget. “Being in the military has to be a conscious choice, because it’s not a profession, it is a passion. I was taught, when I first joined, that my three priorities are: 1-Get the mission done, 2-Feed my men, 3-If there is any food left, feed myself.” I will never forget those words, who came from a young woman from Quebec, who’s only one year older than me…
Captain Harvey shows us to our bunkers, and hands us our keys. We all say goodnight, agree to meet at 7:30 the next morning, and I head to the women’s bathroom to take a quick shower. They are located a few bunker rows away from my room, and I need to use a code to get in. Oh boy, I thought, I hope I don’t need to go in the middle of the night! So I get showered, head back to my bunker, quickly get settled (it’s a tiny room, but very cozy!), and slip under the soft fuzzy covers. Oh my gawd. What a delicious and comforting feeling. Just as a start thinking of how surprisingly comfortable this mattress is, I am already long gone, far away into dreamland…
4am. I’m a bit startled when I open my eyes and try to adjust to the obscurity of the tiny room. Where the heck am I, what’s going on?! Oh, right, I’m in Kabul, Afghanistan. I’m on a military base, oh my god. I remember now… Shoot, I have to pee. So I actually had to get up, put my boots and jacket on, grab my bunker key, and head outside to the bathroom. Brrrr, it’s freezing! I make it as quick as possible, then run back to my bunker. Take off my boots and coat. Crawl back into bed. That was something.
6:45am: My iphone alarm goes off. I’m disoriented still, I’m not sure what’s going on. I’ve never been the kind of person to linger in bed and hit the snooze button 12 times, but for the first time probably since high school, I would’ve given anything in the world to stay asleep all day. Then reality catches up to me, it’s Christmas today!! And I have a busy day ahead of me, visiting military bases! How exciting, now I’m up. After getting ready, I meet with Richard, Captain Harvey and a few of the generals at the cafeteria for breakfast. We have a quick overview of the schedule for the day, and off we go!!
We had to wear our protective uniforms every time we got into the vehicle, and were able to take it off as soon as we would pass through the gates at each base. From camp to camp it was a different experience every time. Some camps were quite small, with only forty or fifty militaries present; and others were much larger, with over two or three hundred soldiers ready to welcome us. I would say there was an average of one woman for every ten or even fifteen men. Every base has its own purpose. One was to train doctors and nurses, another one’s was to give training to the afghan police force. I truly wish I could’ve stayed longer in Kabul because I really wanted to become more educated on the work that our troops are accomplishing here. But from what I can tell, these men and women work incredibly hard, and under conditions that not a whole lot of people can relate to. They are away from their families for a minimum of eight months, sometimes up to a year. Basically they are helping the afghan people to get back on their feet, teaching them how to be a community, and a solid society as best as they can. What a noble thing to do for a country so far away from the comfort and safety of our own home in Canada.
On Christmas day we visited five camps in total. It was an amazing time during each visit. I remember the second camp we dropped by, it was during lunch time, and they had a huge Christmas spread for everyone. Decorations all over, tons and tons of holiday foods (turkey, roast beef, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, the whole nine yards!) It was pretty wonderful. In those moments I definitely felt a bit less disoriented lol.
Our ritual for each visit was to get through security at the gates, get out of the car, meet and greet everyone, get settled as best as we could, and then Richard would take out his guitar and we’d bust into some Quebecois tunes, some Christmas favorites (of course we did our rendition of the Little Drummer Boy, which got amazing airplay in Quebec!), and we also did some all-time classics. We had a setlist mapped out, but it changed and varied every time. Our songs were diverse, from Ginette by Beau Dommage to I wanna hold your hand by the Beatles, to Diamonds by Rihanna. The setting was super intimate, no microphones, no speakers, no amplifiers. Just Richard and I, his guitar, our voices, and the moving energy in the air. It was family-style, as if we were at a gathering in someone’s home. Most of them were even singing with us! 🙂 After every performance, the soldiers came up to us and thanked us for being there with them and bringing them joy, as well as the gift of music. Some of them told me that while they were watching us perform, they forgot where they were for a few moments, and simply enjoyed hearing the music. Most of them couldn’t believe that we actually left our families, during the holidays, to come half-way across the globe to spread some love to them, who really and truly needed it on a day like Christmas. After our performances we would stay for a while and mingle with everyone. It was wonderful just to talk to them. I learned that there is a very strong sense of fraternity and loyalty, and that while they are far away from their families, they have one here too. And they love and support each other in everything they go through as a team. It was beautiful to witness that.
After a very long but amazing day, we returned to camp Phoenix where everyone was waiting for us to have a special Christmas dinner. After we ate we sat up on one of the cafeteria tables, right in the middle of hundreds of soldiers, and performed a few songs for the last time that day. A bit later in the evening I called my family, who were having a lovely time at the cottage in Tremblant. They had just had breakfast, since it was morning for them! It felt so weird. I talked to nearly each member of my family, and wished them a merry Xmas, and said good night. It was an early bedtime for me once again.
So I went to bed at 9pm, and woke up at 2:30am, unable to go back to sleep until I had to wake up, which was at 6:30am. I felt super tired still, but at least I got a few hours which is more than I can say for the first two days of our trip!
After breakfast, I called my family again, and this time it was 11pm their time, and they were just finished up opening presents. I could hear the music in the background, and everybody was screaming into the phone: “Merry Christmas Eva! We love you!!!” Hehe. I then returned to my room to pack up my bags. We had two more camps to visit, and then we were heading straight to the airport. We were going home, already?! My goodness, we just got here. Can’t believe how fast time went by.
The first camp of the day was a fun time, but a little cold because we weren’t actually inside, we were sort of in a hut with no doors lol. So Richard and I sat down on a big wooden box and the soldiers gathered all around us. It was pretty cool, I just kept my jacket and my gloves on 🙂
The second and last camp was located very close to the airport, which made it very practical for us afterwards. Since this was our last military base visit, they did something special for us. General Giguère, who followed us at every visit, made a special speech and thanked us for our presence. On behalf of everyone at the camp, he gave us a special badge of honour. It was so incredibly special. I was feeling very emotional at that moment, and couldn’t help but shed a few tears. Richard and I both took turns thanking everyone for the amazing and warm welcome we’d received, and expressing how fortunate we were to be able to come spread some joy to them.
After our performance there was a BBQ lunch, which was delicious. Afterwards, Captain Harvey told us we had a few hours before we had to head over to the airport. We decided to go shopping! There was an adorable little market within the camp, next to a coffee shop and a Pizza Hut (that’s right!). I wanted to get something for my mom, so I decided to look for a pashmina or a piece of jewelry. I found a gorgeous ring with the afghan stone lapis lazuli. It’s blue and simply beautiful. I had to do a bit of bargaining, which I was never particularly skilled at, but I got a pretty good deal.
A couple hours later, we were unloading our bags from the cars in front of the airport main entrance. We said goodbye to Captain Harvey and to our drivers, we thanked them and wished them a wonderful new year, and a safe and healthy mission. I had only been with these people for a day and a half, yet I was saddened to say goodbye. All of us were heading back to Canada; Richard, myself, Captain Labonté, and the generals from Quebec.
We wave back as we enter the airport, and proceed to the security check. I notice they are taking women into a small cubic shaped area, blocked off by curtains. I start panicking a little, “are they gonna do a strip-search??” I whisper to Captain Labonté. She reassures me and tell me no, they simply ask women to empty their pockets and all that usual business. They just do it in a private area because it involves taking off a few articles of clothing such as scarves, jackets, boots…
After security we head to the waiting area to wait for our boarding time. There is a huge red rug on one side of the room, where several men, foreheads against the floor, are praying and chanting.
Once we board the plane and I’ve taken a seat, I find myself letting out a huge sigh. A sigh of joy, relief, fatigue, fulfillment, melancholy, peace. A mix of so many emotions at once. I was so happy with what I had just experienced in the last few days, yet so incredibly anxious to head back home. I close my eyes and thank the higher power for blessing me with such intense and exhilarating moments. And now, here we go for another blitz of airplanes and airports. And let’s not forget all the time zones changes! Let’s hope that please please please, our trip back home will be an easier one than the one getting here…
(to be concluded!)