The Legend of Shizad and Barqan - Chapter 1
DescriptionThis is an account of a man, Tyler Kurt, whose lonely life reaches an all time "low", only to evolve into a very exciting life ... perhaps too exciting.
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Chapter 1 - The Adventure BeginsA fair-shake ... for you my friend? ... Not quite yet. You might have a fighting chance in the "after-world" at a fair-shake. In "this world", however, you encounter either happiness or heartache depending on how you play the cards you're dealt. Good fortune for you if you're holding a queen and a joker. Yesterday I set out on an "adventure holiday" to inject some fun and enjoyment into my otherwise dull life. My plan is to encounter heaps of happiness with no heartache for a while ... my trip of a lifetime. I spent the entire day, yesterday, flying from Toronto, Canada to Heathrow Airport, London, UK. Next we flew all night to Dubai, UAE. For the last leg of my journey, I took a short flight from Dubai to Kandahar, Afghanistan. Arrived here earlier this morning. I will be back here in two weeks to fly home to my old life. Little do I realize I have undertaken my adventure as a tenderfoot traveller arriving in this harsh badland. I hope to "play the role" of an explorer, a merchant, an adventurer while on this trip. I don't know it yet, but I may unwittingly become a friendless outcast that will need some no-nonsense deliverance to stay alive. Impending events, however, may cause my demise. Subsequently, if I survive, I may morph into a spirited vigilante, an advocate for justice in a lawless land. Eventually I may even meet my true heart's desire. I just have to learn how to be a caring, supporting and loving soul-mate. I have no prior experience in any of that. We just arrived at a shopping market in downtown Kandahar, Afghanistan. "It'll be fun", they said. ........................................................................................... 4 hours earlier today ... we flew into the Kandahar International Airport against all advice from Afghani authorities. It seems the tour organizers made special arrangements with the Afghan government and the US Air Force, and here we are. Most tours have to land in Kabul and start their holiday there, but we got a more colourful opportunity. Lucky us ... I think. 12 hours earlier ... I'm sitting quietly waiting to board my next flight in London Heathrow airport. They haven't announced we can board yet, but everyone has just started fidgeting around in anticipation of the call to line up for boarding. They haven't announced we can board yet, but everyone has just started fidgeting around in anticipation of the call to line up for boarding I notice a well-dressed couple strolling towards me and I get the feeling I should know her. "Hmmm." All smiles, she asks, "Small world ... you're Tyler Kurt, aren't you?" Once she speaks, I know ... this girl was in a couple of my university classes many years ago. I had better come up with a name... I mumble, "Jamie, Molly, Margie" ... nope ... finally "Ummm, Marcie. Am I correct?" She nods, "Yes. That's very good. I'm impressed you remembered me after all these years." She turns to her partner, "Jeremy, I'd like you to meet Tyler Kurt, a colleague from my university days." "Tyler, I'd like you to meet my husband, Jeremy Keenum." She recalls to her husband, "We were in the same chemistry classes in university many years ago. Tyler was going into Education and I was going into Nursing at that time. It was a blessing to sit near him in my Chem classes and labs." "Tyler, are you still working, or have you retired yet?" I reply, "Yup, now retired. Delighted to say ... thirty years and out. I had many good years of doing a job that I truly enjoyed, but there comes a time ..." and I smiled, "I'm pleased to meet you Jeremy. You are married to one of the nicest people ever." "And Jeremy, I would just like to point out; Marcie and I were never 'a thing'. And it was Marcie and her lab partner who suggested I become a teacher. I may never have done that if it wasn't for those two girls suggesting it. Their comments were the initial sparks that launched me in that direction." Marcie rolls her eyes and chuckles, "Well we just knew you were gifted at explaining things to people." Then she turns to her husband and points out, "You know Tyler is both an American and a Canadian citizen. His family moved back and forth across the border many times back in the late sixties." "Dual citizenship is probably harder to acquire now than it was back then. I'm sure he has two passports. I know lots of people that would give anything to have those passports." "So, Tyler what brings you to London?" She asks, as she slurps on the last sip of her mocha latte. "I'm just on a holiday. My life has been boring and dull since I retired, so I'm on an 'Adventure Tourism' vacay to see Afghanistan and the old silk routes," I explain. "Just felt like having a trip, is all. Where are you guys off to?" Marcie reveals, "We are off to Moscow Domodedovo for a two-week vacation. We will visit Moscow historic sites, museums, monuments and statues. Also, we will take in two concerts, a 'pub-crawl' on the weekend, and end up with two afternoon foodie tours." We hear a commotion over by a beverage lounge. There's a couple flirting and loudly exclaiming how much they want to be with each other. Marcie says, "Oh my God, she's grinding on his leg ... cripes, she might start a fire like that." I say, "Well look at that, now she's licking his face. And now they're sliding off the seats to the carpeted floor. I'm not sure an old guy like me can handle this much passion. Ha ha." "And neither of them tipped their bartender on their drink orders. They have been acting so silly, so she just cut them off. Good one." "Look, as they are having words on this, the noisy 'lady' reaches over the charcuterie board and grabs a handful of cold cuts. And with her other hand she grabs some of cheese and biscuits." The noisy "lady" shouts at the bartender, "I have lots of money you know!" The bartender snaps back at her, "Regardless, you'll never be a silk purse dear." The PA speaker pops loudly and we hear, "Bing (tone) ... All persons traveling on Royal Brunei Flight BI98 from London Heathrow to Dubai, please ready to board now ... Bing ... people traveling on Royal Brunei Flight BI98 ... London Heathrow to Dubai ... please get your travel documents and boarding passes ready and form a line following the green checker marks on the floor. Thank you." I tell them, "Pleased to meet you Jeremy ... and so delightful to see you again Marcie. I must get my stuff together here and get in line." I make my way through the boarding bridge to get on the plane. When I find my seat, I see it's a gorgeous modern airplane with more leg room than I'm used to and a bit of elbow room to spread out. "This is so great." We are leaving Heathrow LHR for Dubai; then I am going on to Kandahar, Afghanistan. "Heathrow has got to be one of the busiest airports in the world. Arggh, exhausting! I hope it's going to be a tolerable ride tonight. This is a long flight." I say to the stewardess as she checks over the seats. For crying out loud, sitting behind me is a young lady that can't seem to stop hacking and sneezing. I could've easily handled this, except that she goes through bouts of noisily hawking up phlegm then spitting it into teeny tissues then scattering them carelessly onto her tray table. I hope this deathly dimwit can settle down without sharing her virulent malady with me. She alternates from wicked blood-curdling sneezes to blowing her microbial nose-juice right through the tissue onto the seat. I'm sure there is a green noxious mist of spit globules covering the back of my seat ... and the back of my head ... and infiltrating every bit of my air around me ... I'm doomed. I'm engulfed in a cloud of gas so potent I feel dizzy from lack of oxygen. If I could just exhale and not inhale. My gosh! 300 people in this turbine-propelled aluminum tube for 10 hours is extremely constrained ... and likely noxious. I sit here feeling woozy and strangely defiled. I locate my ear-buds, my iPad, and water bottle; all ready for take-off. Shortly we will have all the mandatory announcements and be gone, promptly ... that's how it's supposed to happen. I have an aisle seat ... the luck of the draw as I hadn't arranged any special seating. Occupying both (yes two) seats on my left is a generously over-proportioned lady of about 40 years or so with a gigantic bag of beef jerky. She is hogging the entire left armrest. She has raised her center armrest so she has one really wide seat ... and still there's not enough space for her curvy plus+plus sized kadunkadunk. When I say hogging the armrest, I mean her tattooed arm keeps bashing into my elbow and her excessive boobage drapes over the front part of the armrest. For crying out loud, her "upper deck" is the size of Jurassic Park melons. And they're covered with crumbs from the jerky. She looks at me and asks, "Want some?" She means the jerky, right? "No thank you." She busies herself feeding from her big bag of jerky, making mouth noises and wiping her greasy fingers on her skirt and the seat. She licks and sucks on her fingers - loudly. "Ewww!" She wheezes so deeply on every breath that I wonder if she's going to make it to Dubai. "Picture of health ... not." Like she has no neck ... just a giant flopping gullet. After a few more minutes slip by, she burps loudly and passes some wee silent farts like tiny clouds of fetid jerky-gas. I can feel my nostrils convulsing larger and smaller. They expand so much it starts to hurt. I'm having visions of a green gas rising from the floor and suffocating us all. The plane isn't even moving yet and the low rumbling of the engine warming up has her sweating heavily. I am so exasperated that, in a moment of ill-tempered meanness, I decide to have some fun with this annoying woman ... at her expense. "I don't mean to scare you ma'am, but something out there has been following our plane. That light just beyond the tip of the wing. Do you see it?" (pssst: It's just the light ON the tip of the wing of our plane ... and we haven't taken off yet) Hysterically, she spins around to peer out the window, only to spill most of her jerky onto the floor. She has trouble seeing the light clearly through the fog, so she panics and rings for a cabin attendant. She arrives, "Do you need something dear? She tells the attendant, "There is a strange light out there and you better check into it. It has been following our plane for some time now." The flight attendant calmly smiles and says, "It's just the light on the tip of the wing of our plane, dear. It looks a little spooky because of all the fog here tonight. Don't worry, it's all okay. We'll be in the air soon. Please buckle up." I would have preferred a drunk, a snorer, a teenager, a child, or even a "talker", but no ... I get "Lady-Gag". I grimace and assume a thousand-yard stare as if I have been scared half-to-death twice. If I can live through this, I can live through anything. After I reflect on my behaviour for a couple of minutes, I catch myself and realize I am being very mean to this lady. She is probably deathly afraid of flying and she is compensating with over-indulgent food gluttony. I think I had better make amends. I admit, "I'm sorry. I was playing a rather mean prank on you with the light on the wing and all that. I apologize and hope you can forgive me. I've been in a bit of a bad mood lately and it shows here today." She says, "It's very decent of you to say that. I also realize that I am a bit of a pain in the butt with all my eating and spilling. And I realize that I am kinda over-sized for these seats and a take up a lot of room ... and I'm very inept at times like this." "I must confess: I am terrified of flying. I hate it. It scares the crap out of me. To be seven miles up flying at ridiculous speeds in this tin can, really panics me. I can't seem to control it. It started off as slight jitters a few years ago has now turned into full-blown panic attacks lately." "So I apologize too. Let's have a nice flight tonight. I'll try to be better at this." I say, "You got it. Let's sit back and relax and enjoy the flight as best we can." Then, to make matters even worse, a tipsy mid 40s woman boards the flight with a man who appears to be her partner. I think I remember seeing them laughing and flirting in an airport lounge near our gate. She's behaved in an unruly manner right from the minute she stepped onto our plane. They didn't pre-book seats and as such her seat, and her man's are not next to each other. They both make a huge fuss about it. An airline steward ushers her to her assigned seat. She is now seated next to two middle-eastern looking men. Her partner is seated about 3 or 4 rows further back from her, and he now seems okay. After being seated only five minutes, she starts an uproar of swearing about the guy seated beside her. It seems she was just been fighting about arm-rest space with him. He appears to be in his mid to late twenties and likely from some middle-eastern country. The guy, and his friend beside him, seem to be two mild-mannered quiet fellows. Next there is an outburst of profanity and offensive racial insults coming from her about the young Muslim man. She is slurring her words and shouting loudly. The cabin crew try to talk her into getting off the plane. She calls out, "I'll take a double Jack and coke right now thanks." She complains about the packed-full flight, the service, her man, the hot stuffy air in the plane. Now she is protesting having to sit next to this poor guy. I wonder how he feels about it. Now she starts accusing him of sending "terrorist" related text messages on his phone. She goes on and on that our flight is going to be involved in some kind of bomb explosion while over the English Channel. This whole time the poor guy is protesting his innocence. He shows his phone so everyone can see. I have never felt so ashamed to be "white". By this point, hysteria is building among passengers and the cabin crew contact the police. The cops are onboard the plane almost immediately. They separate the woman and the (falsely) accused man. They are interviewed at opposite ends of the plane with curtains drawn so you can't see what is going on. They are interviewed at opposite ends of the plane with curtains drawn so you can't see what is going on I'm seated near the front and can hear them talking to the man in question. They ask to see the messages on his phone. He's incredibly courteous and content to assist them with their inquiries, stressing his innocence the whole time. By this time everyone in the adjacent seats next to the commotion are voicing their concerns. They are saying that this man has done absolutely nothing wrong ... and that the woman is crazy. 45 minutes pass while the interviews are conducted. It's established that there is no risk on board. The woman in question has falsely accused him. The whole thing is just so senseless. The flight crew ask him if he is happy to return to his seat and remain on the flight and he confirms that he is. The poor guy. The woman is now brought back to her seat. She makes a fuss about sitting next to the guy. And she doesn't shut up. They offer her a vacant seat a couple of rows further ahead of where she was originally. That seems to be okay to her. Then another flight attendant asks her to stow her carry-on bag under the seat in front of her. She warns, "Can't do that! Ha ha ha." The flight attendant tells her it's company policy. "All personal items must be stowed away. It is for your safety as well as the safety of those around you, so please put it away, ma'am." She babbles, "Well, I can't. There's a bomb in it, ya know." The stewardess hustles to the jump-seat phone and calls the pilot to report what's been said. We all know it isn't a serious threat, she's just such a befuddled idiot. They never mess around with this kind of threat. The captain calls security and police. Two security officers and two police come on board. They tell her, "Collect her belongings. You are being deplaned." At this point, they advise her, "Ma'am, you are being refused the right to fly. You must be removed from the plane immediately." "Stand up and carefully walk down the aisle and off the plane. If you act out in anyway, you will be handcuffed and forcibly escorted from the plane." As this was heard, we all began to cheer and applaud. My faith in humanity is now restored. The drunken woman next, delays the flight further. After getting off the flight, then she informs the officers, "My carry-on is stored in one of the overhead compartments." So now, they all have to be checked, until they can get her bag off the plane – good grief. By the time we reach the runway we have been delayed nearly 3 hours, thanks to an obnoxious, racist bimbo. I can only assume she acted that way in the hope it would gain her some fame or notoriety or something. What an absolutely disgraceful human being. The flight crew and a number of passengers including me did what we could to reassure the gentleman how rudely he had been treated. Gotta show some bit of decency after he had been so publicly humiliated. I must say the flight crew and police handled the situation brilliantly. The woman's behaviour was vile and shocking. "I really hope she is charged with a hate crime offence immediately after she is off the airplane." These initial bad omens have appeared and the plane hasn't even taken off yet. I will endeavor to just smile and cope. My hopes for my long flight now are just to survive in spite of all the sick people around me. The crying baby three rows back, the girl who kicks the seat beside me, the teen who's trying to get the movie to play by pounding the screen ... these things are happening just to "test" me. Right? I just need to forget this foolishness ... it's so hard but it will save me buckets of stress and blood-pressure to just let this pass. Flight attendants come back to my seat and offer to move me to another seat where there would be more room. I am about to accept this offer (to move) when a cheerful and fit-looking young lady boards and sits right across the aisle from me. Her dazzling smile and photogenic looks are so refreshing. I think, "Wow, she's so good-looking, she must be an off-duty flight attendant." I Immediately speak up, "Hi, my name is Tyler Kurt. How you doing? Where are you headed tonight?" She answers, "Hi, I'm Gillian Whitley, glad to meet you Tyler. I am a journalist. I work for a magazine based in 'Straya' (Australia)." Good grief, I notice the flight attendant is still here waiting for me to give her my answer to her offer to let me move. I say, "Oops, I'm sorry. No thanks, I'll stay right here. But thanks for thinking of me. That's very considerate." Gillian says, "I've been in such a hurry to get my passport up to date, my work visa, and my blood-type docs. When my employer offered me this assignment, I jumped at it without a great deal of thought. Maybe my ambition has been too much and it has got the better of me in this case." "I will be embedded with a special forces squad of US and British soldiers. They are working somewhere in the north part of the country to fight ISIS and Taliban units operating in that area. I don't know much more than that so far." I tell her, "That sounds mind-blowingly perilous. I hope there are plenty of precautions you can take to complete your story and still be alive to publish the tale." Buckled up, seats up, phones off, we are about to take off ... so far all's well. Everything seems normal on takeoff except about 15 seconds after getting off the ground the engines suddenly throttle back; they seem so quiet now. Then, there's a loud clunk. I know this is just the landing gear retracting into the body of the plane. The lady beside me asks, "Do you think everything is alright with this plane?" I say, "I think it's okay. A few noisy clunks, but it all seems normal." At that point we hear the high-pitched motors of the flaps being adjusted. The plane swishes about a bit, then the engines throttle back up and we continue on our ascent. All of that is normal except the timing seemed strange – as if we were too close to the ground for all that manipulating of the controls. As we climb through 10,000 feet there is a heavy bang from the left side of the plane followed by some strong vibrations for a few worrisome minutes. Thankfully there is no "wing on fire" and the red light is still on the wing. And we resume our ascent. Once we reach our cruising altitude, the captain makes an announcement over the intercom, "Ladies and gentlemen this is your pilot, Captain Morrison speaking. Welcome to Royal Brunei Flight BI98, nonstop from London Heathrow to Dubai." "The weather ahead is good so we should have a smooth and uneventful flight. Now sit back and relax. Morrison out." She tells me, "As a journalist I have visited some very untamed places and the flights often scared me more than what happens on the ground. That's why they sent me on this mission. I have been on some dangerous assignments, and this one is the scariest bar none." "The war activities in Afghanistan have continued to rage for years. It remains one of the most dangerous countries for us journalists. The statistics are out now that show that the danger in field reporting is twice as great for women journalists as it is men." "I have friends who are journalists that have been arrested and held without trial in China, Egypt and Turkey. Each of these people are accused of anti-state crimes. Some journalists that have been detained in these countries were charged after making coerced confessions ... if you get what I mean." "This flight will get me to Afghanistan where I will travel north to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with soldiers fighting for democracy and freedom. Well that's what we believe. Now I just want to see what they do and how they do it. I want to explain it to the world." "And I hope I get there okay. I am an easily agitated flyer at best, but my boss booked this flight not really thinking of the flight route. Now I have to sit here and put on a brave face." "My work as a journalist, means I have to fly not just in 'safe' places but into corners of Africa and Asia where castoff planes go to be reborn and be re-used by small local airlines." She continues, "I am concerned that I will have to fly over Syria and Iraq. Or to avoid those, we might have to fly over Iran which doesn't seem much safer. This terrifies me!" To that I reply, "Flying over the edge of Iran is moderately safe. Syria and parts of Iraq have heavy active fighting going on, but Iran ... it's not a war zone. And the Iranian government does not have any history of shooting down non-military aircraft. We will use a very busy airway over Iran that is in heavy use by multiple airlines." "Take a look at my flight map. They gave this to me while I was getting my boarding pass in London. You can see they make a little detour around Syria and Iraq." "None of that poses a genuine risk to flying overhead at 10 km in a civilian airliner." "And the London-Dubai flight path is quite a busy one, with many flights from numerous carriers; and these airlines care strongly about passenger, crew, and freight safety." "The old flight path has been modified recently to avoid Iraq and Syria, and skirt around them to fly just outside those regions. It seems to be working well. It's just a tiny bump in the flight path that is such a good idea." "Regardless, it takes expensive hardware to shoot down an aircraft traveling at cruise altitude and speed. This is not something that any moron with a shoulder fired rocket can take on. You need radar tracking, expensive missiles and training to operate that equipment." It's been a totally smooth flight, then suddenly 'boom'. The whole plane felt like we hit a brick wall. It was just a short, sudden jolt pushing us backwards that would have put me on the floor if I didn't have my seat belt on. Minutes later the captain comes on the intercom, "Sorry about that folks, we just passed through some jet-wash from a plane that passed in front of us several minutes ago. We were never too close to that plane. Nothing else to report at this time." Perhaps I am not that convincing, as she turns to me and mutters, "Not sure that means 'no need to worry at all'. The Syrian military probably have high-altitude surface-to-air systems, and Syria, Russia and others are performing air combat operations in Syrian (and sometimes Iraqi) airspace." "All it takes is one mis-identification and we're all vaporized." She puts on her hijab, so she might get used to wearing it. "Wearing this will make it easy to mix with the locals while I travel here." I hope she stays safe, as that sounds extremely remote and hostile there. Soon, we are on our descent into Dubai. Everyone's seats and trays are checked before landing. On approach to Dubai International [DXB], Gillian and I discus the arriving at Terminal 1 Concourse D and getting to Terminal 2 Concourse F for our connecting flight to Afghanistan. I point out, "I hear they have a free shuttle to get from one terminal to the other. Dubai International is the world's busiest airport, made up of three separate terminals. They are so well organized." Gillian adds, "They also have 'travellators' and escalators to help us get about in the terminals. That is handy for quickly moving about without getting too tired. We will need to take all our carry-ons with us when we disembark this flight. Hope you have your 'e-Boarding' pass in your iPhone wallet ready to go. Ha ha." Both Gillian and I have the same connecting flights, and not a lot of time to find the new gate for boarding our final flight. We have to collect our bags here in Dubai, to ensure they make it onto our flight with Ariana Afghan Airlines. Thank goodness we don't have to go through security screening again. First class and Business class passengers should be able to quickly slip right through and check bags, then board our final flight. This leg of the journey is a little over two hours; quite short in comparison to the long flight from London to Dubai. Now on our final approach from the air over Kandahar, it is quite fascinating to notice how modern and well-kept the airport is. I also notice some rough patches on the sides of our landing strip. I figure these were caused by the fighting that was going on. On the pavement surface of our landing strip, there are numerous fresh repairs in the asphalt that ended up being surprisingly smooth. Our landing goes well, with only a couple of noisy bounces, as the wheels screech back onto the tarmac. We are able to leave the plane quickly. It is so sweet to stand up and walk about. It is rather austere on the inside the airport but quite modern looking. Signs are everywhere in Arabic, Pashto, and English. Our tour operators collect us once in the terminal building and they lead us to the baggage carousel. We then are spirited out of there quickly and into Afghan Customs offices. After clearing Customs, I board my bus to go downtown. Jillian is greeted by several people in plain clothes and is quickly escorted outside to a waiting black SUV. She then meets with several women in US military uniforms and off they go to start her Afghani adventure. Once we get loaded onto our bus, we go straight into the inner city, to the first of many bazaar/market areas. We are in a small convoy of vehicles to simplify our movement through the streets. They are taking us to a market where we can shop and sightsee. We will tour several sites while we are in Kandahar today. The plan is to visit several historic sites and shop at one of the bazaars. The tour organizers feel that life in Kandahar is a bit too volatile for their liking. So, we will not spend the night there, but travel west to our first Afghan hotel experience. Once we finish our tours here in Kandahar, we will travel through some very dry country that runs along the northern edge of two deserts ... the Registan and Margow deserts. So-named as Registan ['country of sand'] and Margow ['desert of death']. Well it does sound dry. We will finish off today in the ancient city of Lashkar Gah where we will check in to a beautiful luxury hotel. After touring several historic sites in Lashkar Gah tomorrow morning, we will begin making our way northwest to the even larger city of Herat. Herat lies along the ancient silk trade routes of the Middle East, Central Asia and China. As a city of over 400,000 people, it is the third largest city in Afghanistan. We will spend several days there. And right now, we are on our way to the first market to shop and see what happens at an Afghan bazaar. "Oh this is going to be so much fun." I review my "50 useful phases in Pashto" booklet before I reach our first stop. This might help me speak a little bit of the local language here. ... end of #1 ...