June 10, 2009

Escape from Kygyzstan

The morning I was to cross from Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan, a suicide bomber had detonated himself near the border and killed a police officer. In short, the border was closed for business. It was difficult to get accurate reports of exactly what happened, but one thing was for sure, my visa was to expire in two days and I needed to leave Kyrgyzstan, one way or another. A traveler who had arrived at the guesthouse after barely making it through the border immediately following the event gave me the name and number of an Egyptian taxi driver who she said might be able to help. I called him. Yes, the border was officially closed, but for the bargain basement price of $12 bucks, Aziz said he could get me through to the Uzbek side. “How?” I asked. There were some fuzzy responses to that. “Would it be legal?” Another fuzzy response.
Faced with the option of getting smuggled over the border with tanks and bombers waiting on the other side, or booking myself a flight and passing over the chaos at 35,000 feet, I reluctantly chose the latter. I had made an exciting border run into Kyrgyzstan and here was my chance to make an exciting border smuggle out, but as I began to face the fact that I was neither a journalist nor a guerilla fighter and was actually just a silly little tourist with family and friends back home who claim to care for me, it really didn’t make much sense to risk things for a potentially fabulous story to tell later. So I promptly booked myself a ticket on Kyrgyzstan Airways with a connection on Uzbekistan Airways.
Kyrgyzstan Airways? Uzbekistan Airways? With these options I really didn’t know which was more dangerous: getting smuggled into an Uzbek insurgent hotbed by an Egyptian taxi driver or traveling across the country on a local air carrier.

She’s come a long way, baby.

For many years before, and especially right after my Mother passed away, I was petrified of flying. It was a fear that on some occasions kept me grounded, firmly rooted in my “safety zone”, while at other times, when I had to fly, I became that nervous, shifty, anxious person you didn’t want to be seated next to. It seemed to be a fear of having no ground immediately beneath me: a feeling I experienced when I was in a plane and a feeling I had walking through daily life without my Mother.
Booking myself a one-way ticket to Cairo over one year ago was my first protest against this fear (and many others). Until then I had let it run unhindered upon my psyche; I remained in reactionary mode instead of proactively dismantling this negative of which, ultimately, I had full control. There are many fears in which we have no control: the fear of war, the fear of not enough food, the consequential fears after a brutal or painful event in our life. But this was a fear I had created out of smelly, recycled plane air and it was possible, with a conscious shift in attitude, a submission of control and, perhaps an in-flight glass of wine, to choose to overcome it. Yes, to simply choose differently. I had never considered my happiness or my reactions to things to be a choice, but as I boarded Kyrgyzstan Airways Flight 92, a small seat relic from 1940 which had it’s maintenance budget cut after WWII, I realized how much I was starting to live by this philosophy.
As the scent of burnt wires filled the antiquated, non-ventilated interior and the cabin temperature suspiciously became aligned with the air outside, I calmly laid back in my broken chair, opened my book and chose to thoroughly enjoy the precariousness of my situation.

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