Endless desert gives way to rising sandy coloured mountains, ever increasing in height. Like wrinkles on an aged face, the land puckers up into a mass of hills and valleys. Small green areas, seemingly too small to support human inhabitance carpet the narrow valley bottoms, surrounded by small villages. Precarious roads criss cross the barren landscape, climbing up and over each wrinkle as if searching for something hidden in the folds of the land beyond.
The plane banks heavily to the left and groans on the final approach between steep rugged cliffs. The valley broadens and walled compounds divide the now flat land in a sort of haphazard chequerboard. We touch down with a sold bounce or two and slow down as we pass row upon row of Russian built helicopters, functional on the right, derelict on the left.
Visas stamped, residency cards collected, customs cleared and we are greeted by the friendly MSF driver who drives us back to the compound through streets filled with the colours, sounds and smells of Afghanistan. Children ride hastily to and fro on bikes far too large for their scrawny little frames. All kinds of vehicles clutter the streets, armed police wizz past in green jeeps. A man pulls a makeshift cart loaded with firewood along a deeply rutted road while a heavily overloaded truck transports bricks to a building sight.
I'm struck by the absence of women on the streets, though once I realise this and pay closer attention, I do see a few here and there, one begging on a step, another in full head covers and a couple more just darting into a waiting taxi. The odd helicopter flies overhead amongst the ever present kites, which for me are something I've very much looked forward to seeing. Dotted across the sky as children very skilfully vie to cut other kites down using specially prepared string coated in shards of glass. It may well be my first purchase, and certainly one of many skills to master while I'm here.
After the long overnight trip and through the cloudiness in my head, I realise that this is beginning of yet another exciting adventure...
Ben wrote this when he arrived in Afghanistan, 9th September 2012.