September 1973 – To Kabul with obstacles The night was wonderfully relaxed. A cool wind through the fly screens, fresh drinking water in a thermos flask, mighty loud cocks in the area, the surprise of a delicious breakfast and three people who like to be together. It is only seven o’clock and our stomachs growl.
September 1973 – To Kabul with obstacles
The night was wonderfully relaxed. A cool wind through the fly screens, fresh drinking water in a thermos flask, mighty loud cocks in the area, the surprise of a delicious breakfast and three people who like to be together. It is only seven o’clock and our stomachs growl. Downstairs, warm pita bread, sheep’s cheese, fresh tomatoes, green tea and ice-cold pomegranate juice await us.
Half an hour after breakfast we are on our way back to Kabul. We don’t get far. After less than 10 kilometres on the pothole road to the southwest one of our tires gets hit. Strongly it hisses in front on the right and after a few seconds it is flat. It’s hard to believe, but the valve, which is actually firmly anchored in the rim of these tubeless tyres, is completely missing. Torn off by a protruding rock or boulder? Or perhaps cut by someone who doesn’t mean well with us?
After more than 10,000 kilometres on partly adventurous bad roads and paths, after countless potholes, unbearable heat, rides through thorny bushes and mud holes now the first “real” puncture. What am I glad that in Berlin I had decided to buy the expensive Metzeler tyres with the relatively coarse profile instead of the much cheaper tyres from the GDR with the melodious name “Pneumant” or the even cheaper tyres from Czechoslovakia.
We have two spare tyres with us. One of them is located approximately in the middle of the vehicle, under the board on which we sometimes sleep, the other wheel is mounted to the front wall of the vehicle. The flat tyre is quickly changed – but what now? Should we continue with only one spare wheel? The next place where to find a workshop might be in Kunduz. Another 250 kilometres on this “dirt track”. Or should we go back to Fayzabad – and lose a whole day?
Actually, it doesn’t matter. Nobody pushes us. Nevertheless we drive on towards Kabul and want to try to reach Kunduz by daylight. But it comes better than expected. Already in Taloqan there is something like a tyre service on the side of the road. Due to the high stacks of old tires the workshop is hardly to be overlooked. There is a large bathtub to check the wheels for leaks. But how does he get the air pressure on the tires? There is no electricity and therefore probably no compressor.
Quite fast this question is answered to us. But first they repair the tyre. The valve is missing completely and the man doesn’t have a new one here in Taloqan. So he tells us mainly using his hands and feet, that he will pull a tube into the tubeless tire. Provided he finds the right size in his big box with used tubes. The search is quite quickly – crowned with success. With a kind of bicycle air pump he inflates the hose a little to check it for leaks in the water of the bathtub.
Everything wonderful, everything tight. With heavy tyre irons, one side of the tyre is taken from the rim. Then the new old tube is stuffed into the tire and the tyre cover is forced back onto the rim. And then the compressor is used. It actually exists. It stands a bit hidden next to the wooden shack where the workshop is and consists of a diesel engine, which obviously comes from a smaller truck and a compressor, as it is used in trucks and buses for the brake system. Our tyre fills up quickly, the mechanic knocks on it from time to time with his hammer. The moment he thinks the sound of the iron hammer on the rubber tyre is good, he pulls off the air hose. That’s it. There is no measuring instrument for the tire pressure. Quickly the repaired wheel hangs again in front at the car and we can continue. Oh yes, we paid too. It is about five marks in Afghan currency.
A completely quiet but very cool night in Kunduz. The hotel we chose is very simple. We have to wash behind a curtain at the well, the toilet is a bad, stinking, in the backyard without lighting. Anyway, without breakfast we leave shortly before sunrise and are happy about every little stretch of tarmacked road.
The 100 kilometres drive to Pol-E-Chumri, where Michelle certainly has a few memories of the dentist, takes about five hours. A short lunch of lamb liver and onions in flat bread and we are “on the road” again. A little more than 100 kilometres to the Salang tunnel in front of us. We can’t make it to Kabul – but it would be good to get through the tunnel in daylight.
But after only 40 or 50 kilometres, it suddenly ends. It’s mountainous area around us, the road winds its way through the valleys with some steep gradients. And suddenly there are at least 30 cars in front of us. Some drivers try to turn around, others have a picnic at the roadside. At the front there are some soldiers with an old tank blocking the road. Obviously no way to go ahead.
We park our car at the roadside and together with Monika I walk between the cars towards the tank. Our hope: that someone will approach us in a language we can understand and explain to us what is happening here. It works! An old, white-haired man sticks his head out of the window of his car, looks at us from top to bottom. (At first of course focusing Monika.) “Bonjour, vous et français, n’est pas?” ‘Oh man, does it have to be the French? The language I hate?’ I ask myself quietly. But answer politely, “Non, nous sommes allemand”.
My French is bad, Monika’s does not exist at all. Although I took a few years of French at school, I never enjoyed the language and actually learned it reluctantly. I’m all the happier when I realise that the old man obviously doesn’t speak the language any better than I do. With our rudimentary knowledge we quickly understand each other and he explains that there was an accident somewhere in front and the road is completely closed in both directions. “Until further notice”, the soldier told him.
Anyway, we can’t do anything and so we snooze in the car for about three hours. Once an ambulance from Kunduz winds its way through the traffic jam – otherwise nothing happens. It’s nice that it’s pleasantly cool here in the mountains – if only the sun wouldn’t burn so brutally. It is late afternoon when finally movement comes into the car queue. Engines are started and in front the tank drives to the side and clears the way again. Suddenly I feel like I’m on a race track. With howling engines some drivers try to fight for “a top position”. They overtake at all costs hoping that no vehicle will come from the opposite direction. Less than ten minutes later there are only a few trucks behind us.
After half an hour we get a disturbing picture. On the right hand side, down in the valley, in a small river about 20 meters below the road, there is a coach on its roof. Screens are smashed and at the bank of the river more than 20 bodies are lined up. Some are scantily covered with scraps of cloth or blankets, others with cardboard. Some are not covered at all. The crew of the only ambulance tries to help the many injured as best they can. The picture will probably not go out of my head for some time.
It got dark and we arrive at the northern end of the Salang tunnel. I don’t want to go any further – Michelle does and Monika is asleep. There is an argument with the beautiful Englishwoman and I let her feel that I, as the man with the car, have got the upper hand. Later in the evening I am terribly angry with myself. At the restaurant, where we already ate on the way north, we stop again and ask for a place to sleep. The owner shows us a place for our car behind his wooden shack and recommends sleeping on the ground next to the VW minibus. He gives us a few firm blankets. Early in the morning I cautiously rob myself up to Michelle. She allows it and almost simultaneously we both apologise. Monika has a smile on her sleepy face.
The rest of the way to the capital flies by. Always downhill on a much better road than further up in the north.
The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 2 April 2019. It’s title will be “September 1973 – Booming Business for Stamp-Makers”.
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