August 1973 – Illegal in Afghanistan Out again, free again and with the girls again. This is a real feeling of happiness. In the restaurant “Herat”, between Sulh Road and Butcher Street we have a festive dinner. Actually it’s a bit above our price range, but I think that my hundred-dollar-freedom has to be celebrated
August 1973 – Illegal in Afghanistan
Out again, free again and with the girls again. This is a real feeling of happiness. In the restaurant “Herat”, between Sulh Road and Butcher Street we have a festive dinner. Actually it’s a bit above our price range, but I think that my hundred-dollar-freedom has to be celebrated appropriately. We can’t sit here indoors. They won’t allow us. Inside the restaurant there is a large room for men only and a smaller one, which is officially for families, but where mostly the women, sometimes with children, sit. Outside in the garden, however, “mixed groups” are allowed. There are wooden huts with open side walls. Some offer space for up to ten people, others are smaller. In these huts people sit on the floor, around a carpet. Food is served on this carpet. Between the cabins there are simple wooden tables with chairs. After jail time with sitting, eating, sleeping on the floor, I want to sit at one of the tables. The restaurant is well frequented, but it seems that there are more waiters than guests. They are carefully scurrying around the customers and trying to read their wishes from their eyes. The man who is responsible for us is standing at the table, only seconds after we have sat down. Of course, once again he has no eyes left for me. Meanwhile I know that. Always when in public with Monika and Michelle, I am mostly overlooked, despite my height of 1.94 meters.There is something like a menu, but most of the guests here tell the waiter what they want to eat and it is prepared to order. However, the offer is limited to the typical Afghan dishes from the charcoal grill and various salads. When it comes to food, the three of us usually agree as much as we do about the other things spicing up our life. So we order classic Afghan kebab with flat bread (Naan), the “salad of the house” and a big glass of Shomleh for everyone. The drink already comes after a few minutes. It is a mixture of water and yoghurt, with some salt and fresh mint leaves. Ice cold and thirst quenching on hot days. The salad is applied. A large bowl with chopped cucumbers, many onion rings, diced tomatoes, grated carrots, coriander and mint. No oil but lots of lemon juice. Everyone eats directly from the big bowl in the middle of the table. Finally the meat. Five lamb skewers for each of us, served with fresh bread. The skewers dripping with fat and meat juice come on a large flat piece of naan, which has soaked itself with a wonderful meat taste. Michelle tells us that she lived only vegetarian for two years, but now couldn’t imagine how she survived at all.
Later in the garden of our hotel we have to celebrate my freedom a little and afterwards in our room as well.
In the morning, at late breakfast with fresh bread, sheep’s cheese, strawberry milk and green tea, two policemen suddenly come into the yard for breakfast. Completely frightened, I want to jump up and hide somewhere. It must have come out that I left prison after bribing an official. Michelle holds me by the arm, looks at me coldly and firmly and tells me to stay calm. She’s probably right, I can’t escape here anyway. The men in her blue uniform go into the house, my heart is in my mouth. After a few minutes the two of them, each with a glass of tea in his hand, return to the courtyard. Together with them is the owner of the Green Hotel. Now he will immediately point at me. That’s the man who came out of prison yesterday,’ he’ll say.
But nothing of the sort happens. He asks all the guests to pay attention in his English, which is easy to understand. “For a few days now our country is no longer a kingdom, but a republic,” he says, “so all visas issued by a Royal Afghan Embassy are now invalid”. With the help of the hotel owner, the policemen explain that old visas are no longer recognised even on departure. “Everyone who wants to stay here and everyone who wants to leave [sic] has to apply for a new visa at the Passport Office. All those who still have the old visa in their passports are now illegally in the country.” Immediately the officials are bombarded with questions. When that has to be done, where the office would be, what it would cost, how long it would take and so on. A few questions are answered, the two policemen are obviously not well informed. Not a surprise after only a few dasy working in a “new-born” republic.
Since we still want to stay in Afghanistan for at least one or two weeks, we are taking it slowly. Right now, in the next few days, it should be quite chaotic at the passport office. Hundreds of travellers from all over the world will be waiting for new visas – at an authority that in “normal times” is already completely overstrained. And with passports the officers there have probably never seen before.
Together with Monika and Michelle I decide to travel to the northeast of the country for a week or two. To the province of Badakhshan, at the very north-east of Afghanistan, on the border to China and the Tajik Soviet Republic. Afterwards, back in Kabul again, we can still take care of the new visas.
The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 29 January 2019. It’s title will be “August 1973 – A Journey into the Past“.
New chapters will follow fortnightly – more than 60 will be published in total.
Dieter Herrmann, the author of this Afghanistan diary, lives in Australia, reports from there for German television stations and is editor-in-chief of the only German-language newspaper in Australia.
He is known as a media trainer for radio and television stations all over the world as well as media trainer for senior managers, officers and pilots.
To get in touch with the author and for further information on media training by Dieter and his crew please use the “contact”-button or send an email to dieter(at)australia-news.de (please replace the (at) with the @-sign!)
My first trip to Afghanistan started in the early summer of 1973. Since then I have been to the country at the Hindu Kush more than 100 times and in total have spent several years in Afghanistan. I got to know all political systems from the kingdom up to the today’s Islamic Republic.
In about 60 chapters, based on diaries and memories, I describe my experiences in the country, which has not come to a rest since 1973.
Among many other experiences, I was arrested and imprisoned twice during this time, had to live temporarily in the bunker of the Turkish embassy and had an amazing interview with Mullah Muttawakil, the personal spokesman for Taliban leader Mullah Omar and later Taliban Foreign Minister.
I describe my personal feelings and doubts as well as political and human events, movements in the population and developments in the country.
Nothing about this manuscript has been invented or added – however, to avoid endangering anyone, I left out some of my experiences. I changed some names to protect friends and informants.
Whether the last chapter will ever be finished is questionable. I was supposed to be back in Kabul in 2018, but the security situation is so bad that my clients are unlikely to get me into the country. “German media trainer murdered by Taliban” would be a catastrophic headline for everyone involved.
Translation from German to English with the help of www.deepl.com