MANILA – When news got out that Taliban fighters had entered capital Kabul, the last government stronghold in Afghanistan, it dawned on Filipina worker Grace Gallora that she had to leave the country.
It was August 14 when their office received an intelligence report that the Taliban had seized nearby Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad.
The next day, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as the hardline Islamists seized Kabul.
"Mga 150 miles pa lang sila malapit sa Kabul noon, nag-prepare na kami na umalis at mag-stay malapit sa airport para kung i-extract kami madali agad makapunta (They were 150 miles away from Kabul and we're already prepared to leave and stay at a nearby hotel so that it will be easier when extraction starts)," Gallora said.
Gallora was working at Hart International, a private security company that provided services to different embassies and establishments in the south-central Asian nation.
As the only human resource personnel, with over 300 employees to handle, she was the last to leave their residence to settle everyone's documents and passports.
On top of this, she had to make sure she destroyed confidential company documents and that no hard copies were left.
"Sobrang nag-alala kami kasi ang bilis ng Taliban na nakaikot doon sa mismong pinag-i-istayan namin so 'yong iba sa US Embassy diniretso at sumakay ng Chinook at Blackhawk helicopters papunta ng Hamid Karzai International Airport (We're really worried because the Taliban was quick to surround the area we were staying at so others were transported to the US Embassy and flown to HKIA via Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters)," she said.
Gallora's group had to travel on board an armored vehicle going to the hotel near the airport. But what was usually a short journey seemed like forever for her.
Gun-wielding Taliban fighters were all over the streets leading to the hotel near the airport and at this point, Gallora felt fear but she prayed that they get to their destination safe.
"Sa daan palang may nakita na akong Taliban na nakasakay sa sasakyan nila-- alam mo na sila kasi sila yung may mahahabang baril at hawak na bandila (We already saw them on the street riding their car-- you'll know it's them because they have these long guns and flag)," she said.
"Noong binabaybay namin 'yong airport may Taliban na, so doon palang alalang-alala na ako, nagdadasal nalang ako na sana makarating akong ligtas sa accommodation na pupuntahan namin. Ito 'yong time na lahat ng tao nagmamadali nang makaalis ng Kabul even Afghan nationals (When we were heading to the airport, the Taliban was there, so I was worried and I just prayed I get to my destination safe. This was the time when everyone was scrambling to leave Kabul even Afghan nationals)," she recounted.
The journey took about two to three hours due to heavy traffic. They stayed at a hotel for a few days until she and her companions were finally able to board a military flight on August 18.
"[N]agdasal nalang ako na kung time ko na time ko na, kumbaga kung finish line ka na kahit anong gawin mo wala ka nang magagawa so nagdasal nalang ako (I was praying hard that time thinking if it's my end then this is it, if that's the finish line then so be it)," Gallora said.
"Ang sinasabi kasi ng mga Afghan locals na nagtatrabaho sa company kapag babae either kukuhanin ka or mari-rape, so doon ako natatakot na baka kunin ako (Our Afghan locals were warning us back then that if you are a woman, it's either the Taliban will take you or rape you, I was really scared about that)," she added.
No commercial flights
Aside from the seemingly long road trip to the airport, it was hard to book commercial flights and had to rely on military planes to evacuate them out of Kabul.
On August 18, Gallora's group was given access to Abbey Gate, the main entrance to the military base at HKIA, where she and other Filipinos boarded a US C-17 plane and a Royal Air Force Flight to Qatar and the United Kingdom.
"Ang pinakamahirap ay 'yung papunta na kami ng airport, naglakad kami tapos ako lang yung nag-iisang babae, pinagmamadali talaga kami kasi 'yung Taliban daw na galing Kandahar ay walang sini-sino kumbaga mas delikado para sa amin (It was hard going to the airport, we had to walk and I was the only female in the group. They're even rushing us to walk faster because the Taliban from Kandahar were said to be more dangerous)," she recalled.
"Bilang babae siyempre natakot ako so ang ginawa ko binalot ko talaga ang buhok ko (I was scared that I wrapped my hair secure)," she added.
Gallora managed to pass through the Taliban checkpoint and together with six other Filipinos, she was flown out of Kabul to Qatar where they are waiting to be repatriated to Manila.
The four-hour flight to Doha was difficult but Gallora said she was thankful that she got out of Afghanistan safe.
"Mga 600 sguro kami noon kasi halos 'di na magalaw 'yong paa mo. Four hours na nakaupo na indian sit tapos pagod at 'di ka mapakali, puyat ka pa nang ilang araw at 'di ka kumain dahil sa kagustuhan na makauwi ng payapa (I think we are around 600 on that plane and for four hours you have to sit crossed-legged. I was also tired because I had no sleep for days and you can't really eat properly because of the situation)," she said.
From their company, Gallora said seven Filipinos, mostly under United Nations contracts, are still stranded in Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad. (PNA)