LONDON — It was a flight 32-year-old nurse Nina Pastor will never forget.
Aboard the C-130 British Royal Airforce on Aug. 18, she left Afghanistan, the country that provided her work for the last three years.
Pastor braved the war-torn nation's turbulent past to support her 7-year-old daughter.
In the same flight bound for Dubai were four more Filipinos, all migrant workers, including her own mother, Analee Ocampo and her aunt Anajill Go.
“Hindi po malinaw kung saan kami [dadalhin]. Basta ang goal po ay makapasok kami sa US base. Para po kung may military flights, makakasakay kami,” said Pastor.
(It's not clear where they will bring us. Our goal is to enter a US base. So if there are military flights, we can get on board.)
Although their work accommodation and company base was just a few minutes away from the US Embassy in Kabul, the armored vehicle carrying them before they flew out of Afghanistan was holed up outside for hours.
Pastor described as terrifying their journey to the US embassy in Kabul as some locals attempted to enter the embassy while Talibans were assigned at the base.
Pastor said her aunt, Go, who was then working as HR head dealing with British expats, was instrumental to their escape. They were added to the list of foreign workers employed by a British company, who will be repatriated.
“Nung nasa labas kami ng base, 'di ko po alam ang tumatakbo sa isip ko. Gusto lang po na makauwi. Pinagdadasal ko na lang po na sana walang magpapaputok na sibilyan kasi kung walang magpapaputok, 'di kayo gagalawin ng Taliban,” recounted Pastor, who is currently billeted in Park Inn Hotel, Northampton, waiting for her repatriation flight to Manila.
(When we were outside the base, I don't know what's running through my mind. I just want to go home. I prayed that no one will fire a shot so the Talibans will not interfere.)
When they safely landed in Dubai, they were scheduled for another flight, heading for the United Kingdom. They were later told they had to be processed as part of refugees bound for UK because they were rescued by British forces.
Pastor’s 51-year-old mother was in the same recue flight bound for Dubai and UK. Ocampo has worked in Afghanistan for 11 years and did not experience any untoward incident or violence.
“Ito ang panahon na worst na nangyari sa akin. Within a week, na take-over ang Kabul,” Ocampo said.
(This is the worst thing that happened to me. Within a week, Kabul was overtaken.)
GRATEFUL TO AFGHANISTAN
Despite what happened, the mother and daughter are grateful for the country and the people of Afghanistan.
They said the locals were nice to them. And although the country is landlocked and mountainous, for them, it is picturesque. Most importantly, it opened opportunities for them so they could support their families in the Philippines.
“Una, napatapos ko ang tatlong anak ko. Natulungan ko ang mga kapatid ko. Nasuportahan ko ang mga magulang ko sa mga maintenance na gamot,” said Ocampo, a native of San Fernando, Pampanga.
(First, my 3 children finished their schooling. I was able to help my siblings. I was able to support my parents with their medicines.)
In fact, her daughter, Pastor, was able to graduate and become a nurse because of her work as an admin staff at a hospital in Afghanistan. Later on, Pastor followed Ocampo and worked as a nurse there.
“Nakakalungkot po. Kung wala pong terrorism, Kabul is a very good country. 'Yung weather, 'yung tao, madaling ka-trabaho. Pero parang sa isang iglap lang, wala naman pong 24 hours, na-take over ng Taliban," Pastor lamented.
(It's sad. If there's no terrorism, Kabul is a very good country. The weather and the people are nice. But in just a snap, in less than 24 hours, it was taken over by the Taliban."
Ocampo is going back for good in the Philippines, while Pastor will look for opportunities anywhere else but Afghanistan. As a single mother, Pastor said she had to carry on and work.
As of Aug. 21, the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that a total of 18 Filipinos have been repatriated to the UK and were being assisted by the Philippine Embassy in the UK for their return to Manila.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said Monday that a total of 182 Filipinos have already left Afghanistan, while around 27 others are still there, of whom 17 are requesting for evacuation.