August 1973 – Here everything goes according to law and order In the corner where the hole in the floor is, someone has diarrhoea. Willem has to choke, but can control himself. I haven’t eaten my rice yet. I want to get out of here! Run away! Escape! – But I am sure, I am

August 1973 – Here everything goes according to law and order

In the corner where the hole in the floor is, someone has diarrhoea. Willem has to choke, but can control himself. I haven’t eaten my rice yet. I want to get out of here! Run away! Escape! – But I am sure, I am not the only one in “our” cell with such thoughts. The men stink, make strange noises, speak foreign languages and I’m sure I didn’t do anything illegal. Do I also smell disgusting? I want to take a shower! The rest of the daylight falls through the murky, dirty windows of this huge prison cell. A few people probably got cigarettes and in several places smoke swells up. Actually I don’t like cigarette smoke at all, but here it is quite welcome. Better the smell of burnt tobacco than the cloacal stench that comes out of the corner with the “toilet” and from under the clothes of some fellow inmates. And with their flatbread they can fuck themselves today. I’m well sated and now that I can’t find a way out in a hurry, I want to sleep.

Some critters must have crawled over me at night. Cockroaches probably, I’ve seen them here before, although the men here in the cell all hunt the brown crawling animals. Even at night you can sometimes hear it when such an animal is crushed with a cracking noise. It doesn’t really work – I can’t sleep. Because of the critters, but also because the fear slowly creeps into my head. What if they keep me here for weeks or months? Are they allowed and able to do that at all? Will the embassy send a lawyer? Is my arrest perhaps just a mistake that will be cleared up tomorrow or the day after tomorrow at the latest? Somehow the thoughts in me seize up and keep me from falling asleep. And of course I miss Monika and Michelle.

“Water-Transport” north of Kabul – Photo: Dieter Herrmann

In the morning, just as light starts falling through the windows, it suddenly gets loud. I have no idea whether I slept or not, I feel bad and sad. Two men in dark uniforms stand in the open door and shout names again. Not mine – not even that of Pierre and Willem. There are many this morning. Surely half of the men will be picked up. Not half an hour passes until the door opens again. Commands I do not understand are yelled. Willem apparently already knows that. “Cleaning day”, he just says, “take everything in your hands that belongs to you”. That’s not much and fits easily under one arm. The remaining prisoners stand close to one of the walls when the man with the hose arrives. It is certainly a prisoner as well who is now squirting the floor with high pressure. Food scraps, crushed cockroaches, paper shreds, ashes, indefinable brown-gray slime, everything is sprayed in the direction of the latrine. The “cleaning man” tries hard not to wet us and he succeeds to a large extent. After a few minutes all the cleaning is over, the floor of course soaking wet. “Don’t worry,” Willem comforts me, “everything will be dry again in an hour. That’s how long we have to stand.”

Tired to death from the night, which was probably mostly awake, I can sleep for two hours in the afternoon. It is a hot day and the water on the floor really evaporated quickly. Also the stench from the corner with the hole has become more bearable. In the evening, as long as there is light, I still read the Grass a little and can sleep quite well afterwards, especially since I got a relatively clean and odourless blanket today. Can one get used to this kind of prison life? Could I even get used to being locked up?

Two more days have passed. Twice I got something to eat from the girls. I didn’t see the two. Both times there was also a little letter. In the first Monika wrote that “outside” everything is going well, that a lot of people are worried about me and that it can only take a few more days. The second letter was from Michelle and it brought tears to my eyes – and I got an erection at the same time. Hopefully nobody here noticed both. In addition to all the loving sentences Michelle wrote at the end that she might have found a way to get me out of here quickly. No further explanation. Heart palpitations in the evening falling asleep.

In the morning I am quite hungry. I’m looking forward to the warm pita bread, and as if there is something to celebrate, there are a handful of olives for everyone today. Actually: no celebration for me, I pass the olives on to Pierre and Willem. I don’t like olives. One hour after this sumptuous breakfast, keys rattle again and the cell door is opened. Three names are called today. An Afghan, Pierre and myself.

The local and the Canadian are led towards the interrogation room by two policemen. I am taken to the guard where my data was recorded after my arrest. Another officer is sitting behind the typewriter. After a few attempts it becomes clear that communication will not work out, he obviously does not speak English. On his table is the form that was completed when I arrived here. He wants me to sign now, his gestures are clear. No, my friend, I do not. There is much more on it now than a few days ago. Who knows what I would confess with my signature?

Younf Students in Kabul – Photo: Dieter Herrmann

He rages and curses, I don’t understand and sign nothing. Again and again he hits the document with his flat hand. What he says doesn’t sound friendly or particularly promising – but maybe I’m completely mistaken. In any case, he is angry, lights a cigarette and suddenly remains silent. Surely three or four minutes pass without either of us saying anything. Then he jerks open his desk drawer, takes out my dark green passport, throws it in my lap and yells: “Go, go, go, go!”. Does he think I should go? Yes, that’s exactly what he means and clearly shows me with his hand movements that I should finally disappear. Carefully, almost groping, I make my way to the door. What is happening behind me? If I were here in an American movie, I would probably be shot on the run. Nothing. No sound in my back. Stepping out of the door with normal speed and sweat on my back and forehead towards the exit. Grass with “Katz und Maus” remain in the cell. Unfortunately also the letters from the girls.

Down the stairs, a few meters over the courtyard towards the street. But there comes the guard-house with the two armed soldiers. Everything just a mean trick? No, completely unharmed I walk past the small booth. The two in it drink tea. Right in front of the door is my old blue VW minibus, behind the windscreen Monika and Michelle. I get tears in my eyes and let myself be held in their arms.
“I would have bribed him with more than 100 Dollars”, Michelle says with a broad laugh. So, so, it looks like I am worth more than a hundred dollars to her.

The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 29 January 2019. It’s title will be “August 1973 – Illegal in Afghanistan“.
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) (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.

Dieter Herrmann

Translation from German to English with the help of

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