Afghanistan Part-1: The Journey There | The Navages' Travel Journal |

Afghanistan – Part 1: The Journey There


Handan and I made our preparations to leave Turkey and travel to Afghanistan. We didn’t need much – just a suitcase each. We were heading into a war zone and would be living on the outskirts of a military base, so there wasn’t much room for creature comforts beyond a few changes of clothing and some personal items. Heading into a war zone. I was still trying to make sense of that. Most rational beings not under direct orders from their government would make every attempt to head away from a war zone. My mind spun with a thousand probabilities. Compared to me, Handan was serene. This move wasn’t as big a deal to her. Afghanistan is relatively close to Turkey, separated only by Iran. Turks and Afghans, though quite different in their affairs now, share a Central Asian ancestry. And this war, ever-present in the minds of Americans who had been force-fed anti-terror propaganda for the past ten years, just wasn’t a part of the social consciousness in Turkey like it was in America. I tamped down my fears, grabbed a suitcase in one hand and Handan’s hand in the other and headed out of Izmir and into the unknown.

From Izmir, we flew to Istanbul and secured lodging for the night very close to the airport. The next day would be a doozy. From Istanbul, early the next morning, we flew to Turkey’s capitol, Ankara, where we needed to sign employment contracts for our new company. Contracts signed, we turned right around and headed back to the airport to catch a flight back to Istanbul. In Istanbul we had a brief layover, and then we flew to Dubai. We landed in Dubai at 2:30 am. Our flight to Afghanistan wouldn’t leave until 8:00 am, so we had some time to kill.

Afghanistan Part-1: The Journey There | The Navages' Travel Journal |

Dubai International Airport is a marvel. Shiny and new with shops and bars open 24 hours, it is a traveler’s dream. We had a 5 1/2 hour layover, so I thanked my lucky stars that an airport in a Muslim country not only served booze, but that I could order that booze at any hour should the need arise. The need arose. Here is my first photo of our Afghanistan journey: a frosty Guinness served by an Indian barkeep in an “Irish” pub in Dubai International Airport. The time was 4:30 am, September 5, 2010.

Afghanistan Part-1: The Journey There | The Navages' Travel Journal |

We would be flying on a private charter directly into Camp Bastion. This was a British base connected to Camp Leatherneck, an American base. The airstrip was in Bastion, and since we were going to be part of the effort to build new aprons and hangars off of the runway, we would be living in Camp Bastion. There was only one flight per day from Dubai to Bastion, departing at 8:00 am. There was a special corner of the airport reserved for these risky regional flights – most of them private charters. They flew to various bases in Afghanistan, Iraq and any other dusty place America had set up shop. There were also flights to Tehran (Iran), Accra (Ghana), Kabul, Mosul (Iraq), Sana’a (Yemen), Djibouti, Beirut (Lebanon), et cetera. This part of the airport was far-removed from the gates serving glamorous destinations. It was down an escalator and cordoned off from the rest of the airport. Where the gates upstairs may have been filled with well-heeled local men in clean white dish-dashas, wives in black abayas (adorned with layers of gold jewelry) and Westerners in business suits or other fashionable garb, the gates downstairs were filled with men, and only men (except for Handan), dressed in rumpled robes and reeking of sweat and stale smoke. The Westerners were generally dressed in one of two ways:

  1. The Commando – this rough-and-tumble chap has seen a few too many war movies and just possibly has seen some action himself, either in the military or as a mercenary (or both!). He favors cargo pants in khaki (he’ll call them “tactical pants”) and his boots are breathable and khaki to perform well in the desert sand and to match his tactical pants. Up top, he’ll generally cover his wild patch of chest hair with a tight-fitting black or olive drab t-shirt, or perhaps a stone-colored long-sleeved button-down shirt festooned with pockets and buttons and flappy things on the sleeves (they’re tactical, you know). Perched on his head will be a baseball cap (khaki) emblazoned with the logo of some ammunition manufacturer or perhaps his mercenary group. Bonus points for no hat and a shiny bald pate. He is ready for action and can’t wait to get back to the ‘Stan to start kicking some ass!
  2. The Engineer – this poor sot has a wife and two kids waiting for him back in Nebraska. He has a big mortgage, but he has his eye on that lake house his kids have been yapping for. His background is construction, not military, and he’s only here for the money. He needs to pay off that mortgage, send his kids to a decent school, put a down payment on that lake house and buy his wife a new Honda Odyssey. He puts on a brave face along with his Caterpillar work boots. He’s a denim man, preferably pressed Wrangler jeans, but Levis will do in a pinch. Just don’t show him a pair of Lee – he is a man after all. He favors polo shirts up top in burgundy or sometimes basic white. He always tucks in the tails to show off the braided leather belt cinched around his middle. Bonus points for a custom belt buckle. He is here for his family, not for himself. He knows that after another year, maybe two, he can finally say goodbye to this stinking line and its hellish destination and return home to his picket fence and jet-ski.

Since we would be flying directly into a military base, we would not be needing visa stamps on our passports. This meant that we would not be able travel off the base, except by military or charter plane, and then only to another base or out of the country. The flight was surreal. We sat in our seats on a rickety old DC-10 as we crossed the Persian Gulf, flew over Iran and into Afghan airspace. When we neared the base in southern Afghanistan, the plane went into a steep and rapid descent towards the runway. This was done to spend as little time as possible in the danger zone where the plane would be vulnerable to attack from shoulder-fired missiles. We landed at Bastion airfield, and a US Marine boarded the flight to explain the ins and outs and dos and don’ts of the base. Each passenger gave their name to the soldier and showed identification. The soldier found the name on the clipboard she carried and discharged the man from the plane to a queue on the apron. Except for me. She couldn’t find me on her list. Handan was already off the plane ahead of me, but I was instructed to wait in the front seat until all the other men had deplaned. This was one of those moments in life where you know you haven’t done anything wrong, but you’re terrified nonetheless. Why wasn’t my name on the damn list? And what did it mean? Would I be whisked off base on the next flight? What would Handan do? When the last man was off the plane, the soldier turned her attention to me. Again, she asked for my name, so she could search for it once more. I offered to help. I glanced down the clipboard, and to my relief, I discovered the error. My full name is Gregory Conrad Navage, but somehow I had been listed as Conrad, Gregory on the list. This wouldn’t be the last time my name was mangled in Afghanistan and in other countries. It seems that when officials encountered more names than space allowed, they usually just tossed “Navage” to the garbage heap and carried on with “Gregory” and “Conrad,” figuring, “meh, it’s close enough.” Still, it took a bit of convincing and a few radioed messages back to HQ before they were comfortable that I belonged there. I stepped off the plane and descended the stairs under the searing Afghan sun.

Afghanistan Part-1: The Journey There | The Navages' Travel Journal |


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  1. I love the story!! I am very happy for true love. I met my soul mate 47 years ago and I love him more today then 47 years ago. I will pray for you two while you are there. Good luck!!! I love the stuff you have made together.

      1. I just finished reading the journey you and Handan have taken – amazing! I’m blown away by your new Craft Room! Never go to Norcross! I’m an Atlanta girl – grew up in SW Atl and East Point, graduated from North Clayton High in College Park. We moved to Riverdale, then Fayetteville. I built a home in Peachtree City complete with a basement Art Studio for my kilns and ceramic molds. My brother built me a giant work table (big enough for students!) So big and So heavy, I could not get it out! I worked in Marietta, making that hour trek around 285 W every day!
        I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog and the lessons. I’ve crafted my whole life and I paint. I haven’t been very productive the last few years – medical issues. But I’m starting to look at IKEA cabinets with an eye on turning half of my grandkids’ guest room into MY Creative Room!
        I need space for crafting besides my 120 yr old dining table! I need to paint, do collages and giftwrap! I need one place for all my oil paints, acrylic & craft paints and cans of brushes. I’ve got jars of watercolor pencils, markers & calligraphy pens. I have a box of neat stuff perfect for crafting including a jar of buttons.
        And when the grandkids come to visit, I need the oil paints and inks locked up high! I’d like to fold the table down flat in front so that they have room to pull out the trundle bed from the daybed.
        You had some Great ideas – thank you for sharing!
        Are you happy with the IKEA cabinets? I’ve been really disappointed with Wayfair desks & tables (bought for my grandkids’ playroom – not durable at all). Would love to hear your honest feedback on any youve bought.
        You have a Great Wall of windows – so much light! My target room is same way with South & West exposures. It’s the best view in the house – just not much space when they’re here.
        Next time you’re in Atlanta, go to The Varsity & order a “yellow steak with grass, a side of grease and a Frosted O.” Nipsy Russell was once our carhop when I was young. My Dad graduated from Georgia Tech (played football his first year, 1951) and proposed to my Mom (Miss East Point Fire Prevention) at The Varsity. Besides the Panos & Paul restaurants, I miss The Varsity most of all!

        1. Hi Leslie, I’m so happy you read our adventures! WQw, you’ve really been around the area! We’re still just scratching the surface, but we really love it here. Though Handan’s a Turk and I’m from up North, we both feel like the South is where we fit in and where we belong. This is the best place we’ve lived since Vietnam! As for the IKEA stuff – you can’t beat it for the money. Though I’m not a fan of their stores and I detest building the furniture, I have nothing but good things to say about the quality. In our old house, we bought a pretty expensive desk for Baris’s room makeover from Wayfair or something similar. Spent an entire day building it. Two years later, it literally fell to pieces trying to move it from his room into the moving POD. Ended up throwing the whole expensive mess in the dump. As I type this, I’m sitting at a desk bought from one of the Wayfair-ish places. Took TWO days to build. I’m already have problems with the drawers. And it cost double what anything at IKEA would have cost. So, yeah, despite my misgivings about the store, I wholeheartedly recommend their products!
          We’ve driven by the Varsity many times – I guess we’ll have to stop in some time! We love Georgia Tech! It was Baris’s first choice, but unfortunately, they didn’t accept him. But that won’t stop him! He wants that school, and he’ll likely look to transfer there in a couple of years. There is no better school in the country for civil engineering! Congrats to your dad! Is he an engineer? Handan is a civil engineer, and Baris is hoping to follow in her footsteps.

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