Michael and I arrived safely in Kabul yesterday, but not until we had the most miserable/harrowing flight experience either of us could remember. We were flying on the 20 seat ICRC plane, which is small enough to be very noticeably affected by even marginally inclement weather. There was nothing marginal about the weather yesterday.

As we descended into Kabul over the mountains (roughly the last 20 minutes of the flight, though it seemed like hours), we found ourselves stuck in a giant hail storm that had moved into the area just before we arrived. This meant flying through a seemingly endless, impenetrable bank of clouds while hail that sounded disturbingly like bullets ricocheted off the sides and wings of the plane. This was accompanied by a screaming ninety degree crosswind that buffeted the plane so hard and with such regularity that it felt like we were inside a ping pong ball being batted back and forth by the gods. Most of these movements were very jarring, but at other times they were so smooth that it was hard to tell the plane had completely changed direction until I realized my stomach was floating somewhere a couple hundred feet above, below or to the side of the rest of my body. At some point the altitude alarm started blaring to tell us, presumably, that we were too close to land for our air speed. Thankfully the pilots quickly switched it off so the rest of us could pretend we didn’t hear it in the first place.

I’ve flown on a lot of planes and been through some pretty rough turbulence, but I’ve never been airsick before. Michael said he was the same. Yesterday both of us had paper bags clutched in our fists, ready to lose our breakfasts at any moment. I could feel my face turning white as cold sweat beaded on my brow. Michael couldn’t even film the experience because he was both afraid he’d have his camera ripped out of his hands and smashed by the violence of the plane’s movements and because the thought of looking through a viewfinder was too sickening to even attempt.

By the time we finally emerged from the clouds, we were maybe 100 yards above the runway and the plane was still darting left and right while tilting crazily in the wind as the ground came up to meet us. When the pilots managed to right the ship just in time for a rough-but-safe landing, I put my barf bag down long enough to lead the six passengers in a round of sincere applause. Nobody said a word for the first few minutes until the pilots finally turned around while sharing a relieved smirk and announced, “Whew. Welcome to Kabul, everybody.”

Whew. Welcome to Kabul.