We kept on hearing gunshots’: my chaotic escape from Kabul’s airport

 

The day the Taliban took over started with a call from my friend in Germany. He told me to get to the airport because there was potentially going to be a German embassy evacuation plane leaving that day. He put my name on their evacuation list because I had worked for German media, and I had been in the process of applying for a visa for the past year.

I didn’t have time to think. It felt like a lifeline for me as a progressive, outspoken journalist with tattoos – basically the antithesis of what the Taliban stands for. I took my laptop and phone and nothing else. I felt scared the minute I left my home – I’d never felt so much pressure.

When I reached the airport, the initial checkpoint was eerie. The police had left, and the military was almost all gone. There was only private airport security checking bags. I didn’t have a visa, so I was scared of being turned away – but I couldn’t turn back.

When I reached the international terminal, I was shocked at what I saw, and I started to feel hopeless. There were thousands of people: women and men with their crying babies, struggling over what to do. They were fearful that the Taliban were coming. All these people, including foreigners, went to the airport not knowing what would happen.


I felt scared the minute I left my home – I’d never felt so much pressure

The people all around me were panicking as they realized there might not be a plane for them. Even if they had tickets, there was uncertainty around whether their flight would take off. They were frightened. So people started to damage the airport – windows and ticket booths. And from there, the situation just continued to get worse. I hid in a corner, even though I was also panicking.

Looking out the window, I watched a whole scene unravel around an aircraft trying to leave for Turkey. People were streaming into the plane, and even hanging from the stairs. The aircraft was over capacity, and people were being pushed off the stairs so the plane could take off. They were screaming so loud that we could hear them from inside the airport. “We want to go, or we will die,” some shouted. I just watched in horror as I waited, pondering my fate.


At around 8.30 or 9 in the evening someone shouted that the Taliban were inside the airport. People started screaming and running outside onto the tarmac. The airport was in utter chaos with nobody to control the situation. I heard firing outside the airport door. I kept thinking that the Taliban had arrived.

Everyone around me was scared and praying for the best. Nobody knew what to do. I called my friend in Germany again, and he said that the Germans would not start evacuations until the next day. This was terrible news, and I knew that I had to figure out what to do next.

I saw American troops leading a small group of people onto the military section of the tarmac. One of the soldiers told a group of foreigners: “This is American soil and the Taliban will not come here.” I started to run after them with crowds of others. We kept on hearing gunshots, which felt so terrifyingly close.

In the next few moments, I felt like time had stopped. All I heard were the Americans saying: “Let’s go!”


I saw a stream of people getting onto a plane, and I followed. It was all I could do at the moment. I was rushed onto the plane, which had hundreds of people on board. There was no room to sit – everyone was standing. People were clutching each other and their children. I couldn’t breathe.

The American pilots were screaming that the plane could not go anywhere because there were too many people onboard. One of them shouted: “Please get out, please get out.” Then, soldiers came and started pulling people out from both the front and back doors. We were in the middle.

It was chaotic, uncomfortable and stressful. People were pushing, and there was no air. The entire scene was so hopeless, sad and scary. I looked at the mothers with newborns around me, and I felt so guilty. I decided to get off so the plane could take off.


But, as I made our way towards the door to get off, I saw American troops circling the plane in Humvees. One of the soldiers told me to stay put, because there were perceived threats. Another 20 minutes passed.

Then suddenly, the Americans told those of us standing around the door to get in the plane. This was the only chance. We rushed into the plane, and they closed the doors.

I couldn’t see out because there were no windows, but in my head, they had started fighting outside. The plane remained on standby for an hour. All these different thoughts went through my head of what could happen next.

And then, without warning, the plane started moving. It started flying. We took off.


It was one of the happiest moments. Everyone was clapping and cheering. There was a feeling of appreciation for the American pilot who took off. There was a general sentiment in the air that we probably would have died if that plane didn’t come. We were that happy.

But the flight was challenging. There were many babies on board, and parents were holding them above their heads to ensure they wouldn’t be stepped on. There was no food, water, or breathing room for hours.

We landed in Qatar in the American military air force airport, and we have been transferred to a military base. When we arrived, I felt several simultaneous emotions – happiness, sadness, confusion, exhaustion and frustration. I have tried to help people who couldn’t speak English to explain their situations and get medicine.

I took a chance to change my life from what could be a very terrible situation. I am just looking forward to the next steps and what will come. I’m sad that I left everything. I’m sad for Afghanistan. But I’m so happy that I’m alive.

Credit by The Guardian


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