I settled into the plane seat that would carry me to Dubai for my connecting flight to Kabul. She came right after me. She used a disinfectant spray on her chair and armrests before cleaning the TV screen in the seat back in front of her. She then snapped a surgical mask around her nose and mouth. For the six hours that were to come, she would watch only Audrey Hepburn films, one after another. I wondered then about her sanitized and make believe life. The world was so messy, after all.
He stood in front of me in line as we boarded the plane to Kabul. We all looked a bit rumpled, a bit weary -- our shoulders weighed down by our heavy overcoats, our pockets and bags bulging with briefing materials. But not he. He wore an ivory velvet suit and matching leather shoes. He carried no coat, only a slim briefcase in one hand. His eyes were inscrutable. I asked myself then if he knew -- if he had any idea -- where we were going.
After the plane touched down in Kabul, we stood up. Then one by one, the women -- me included -- began to cover our heads, wrapping our shawls or tying our scarves, until most of our hair was out of sight. I never liked this part; I would never get used to it. But that's the way it was and the way it would be.
Leaving the aircraft, a cold and uncompromising gust of air pushed me back. As I looked at the horizon, I knew that in the city beyond, there was barbed wire and machine guns. And that a grey choking dust was inescapable. But I also knew that somewhere in Kabul there was light and beauty and music. And as I handed my passport to the man behind the hard plastic screen, that was the city I hoped to find.