Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Like riding a bicycle

It's as though I never left. When we landed at Kabul 'International' Airport, my mind immediately rewound back to the first time I flew into Kabul in 1994 or 5 (when we first moved to Islamabad it was too dangerous to fly in - mostly because the old Soviet Antonovs that Ariana Airlines flew were, well, Soviet. But also because the mujahideen - the very ones we had backed to push the Soviets out, had turned their guns on each other and all of Kabul felt like you were waiting for a rocket to land on your head as you dashed around town. it felt like being on a dart board. The airport in those days was strewn with the carcasses of old aging aircraft - most of them split in half from bombing raids or missing wings. Today when we arrived it looked like we were passing by the National Air and Space museum as we taxiied to stop. A bunch of brand spanking new commercial planes and helicopters - the Coalition likes to talk about the Afghan air force but so far they are not really a force to be reckoned with, but they do have some fancy toys - even if they are repainted Soviet choppers.

The airport was remarkably well organized and had none of the tension or chaos that Baghdad's airport had in the bad days at the beginning of the surge, when you were greeted by your AKE personal security detail and handed a flak jacket and kevlar helmet and told to duck all the way to the bureau. Those were harrowing rides. We were met today by the same AKE folks but other than being told to cover my hair, which I did under protest, it was a very peaceful ride. Kabul was bustling. It's Ramadan and the bread, or naan was hanging from the outdoor stalls, in anticipation of breaking the Iftar when the sun set. Well dressed girls were hustling down the streets with brand new school backpacks on - the clearest sign yet that this is not the Taliban era.

We got to our house in Wazir Akbar Khan, the same neighborhood where Greg and I spent our honeymoon in 1994 at the AP house. It is the same neighborhood where the Kite Runner was set - and it too hadn't changed. Still a lot of sand bags in the windows, and armed guards with AK-47's. But those Afghan guards had a surreal quality about them. Instead of the old shalwar kameez that they wore in the past, the ones employed at this Western compound were wearing black suits and ties, as if heading to a wedding. It was a bit laughable, but I greeted them with a grand 'Asalaam Alaikham!' It's so good to be back, I must say. This really is the best medicine.

Before leaving for Kabul, I cleaned out my purse. Here's what I found. A lot of remnants and souvenirs from the last year: a near empty bottle of hand sanitizer (for when my white blood cell counts were too low). Neopsporin on a handy keychain bought for my by Anamarija Muvrin when she came to save the day after my mastectomy. (Yes, Anamarija, I wore my compression sleeve on the flight over so that I wouldn't get lymphedema - which can cause your arm to swell up like a ballon on the side where they took out my lymph nodes - so far, so good - touch wood.) I'll never forget when I asked my oncologist Claudine Isaacs if it was ok for me to go to Kabul at my 3 month check-up - she looked at me as though I were crazy and said, "Do you WANT to go? Because I can give you a note saying it isn't, if you want." She could tell that was not what I wanted, so here I am.

What else was in my purse?

The top from the Veuve Clicquot champagne that Geralyn Lucas ("Why I Wore Lipstick to my Mastectomy") made me drink to celebrate the end of this hellish year last time I saw her in NY. There was the guardian angel sent to me by my mom's high school friend, Anne Mellinger. A card for Blair Watson, my physical therapist at Georgetown Hospital, who trained me to lift my arms above my head again after surgery. There was the pink wristband that says: "Alert! Lymphedema - no blood test, blood pressure, no iv or injections in this arm." Well, I won't be wearing that to my interview with General Caldwell tonight and I probably should have been wearing it when I went for my first 3 month check-up because in all of the excitement - seeing old friends and telling everyone how good I now feel, I let the phlebotimist take blood from the arm where I had my surgery - a big no-no that can spark lymphedema. Fortunately, I dodged a bullet at that time. At the bottom of my purse, more residue from the year. An UnderArmour cap sent to me from a friend with the NFL for when my head was bald to protect me from drafts (not into the NFL but from cool breezes in my old house.) There were a few horoscopes that I had torn out of the Washington Post - all good. A St. Albans parish nametag and a stone - the bronzate stone that my dear friend Kerry Arroyo sent from Paris. It was the stone that the fortune teller had given her when I threw a baby shower for her and my god daughter Anais in Jerusalem before Anais was born. The Bronzate stone given to Kerry had a note from the fortune teller that read: "gives strength, enhances decision-making, aids in perseverance, reaching one's goal, and strengthens lower back." My lower back is strong - thanks to Joshua and Luke.

So there you have it. I have jsut unpacked in my tidy, military style room in the Fox house. I brought my own food, though I am in the land of green tea and whole grains. I brought almond butter and oatmeal and walnuts and agave nectar, along with a few bags of green tea from the Anti-Angiogenesis Foundation and, of course, my Chia seeds.

I called the girls last night before I went to bed in Dubai. I caught them just as they were returning home from the first day of school 4th grade for Annalise, 3rd for Amelia. Exciting stuff. They were breathless in their excitement. I was sorry to miss it but knew they were fine. Annalise had told me as I said a long farewell (teary) to Luke before getting in the cab to leave - she said, "Pull the band-aid off, Mom. Don't be a band-aid soaker." Meaning don't take so long to say goodbye to the little guy. Pull the band-aid off quickly and the pain will end before you and he know it.

Well, I've pulled the band-aid off, Annalise. I am back at work and tomorrow I sit down with General Petraeus to begin writing (and living) a new chapter.