March 2001 – Forbidden dispute over a dead billy goat Sami, the man from the town hall sees the policemen coming and approaches them calmly. The two guys in uniforms call, gesture and point at our camera again and again. Sami smiles at them, speaks a few friendly sounding words to them and both turn
March 2001 – Forbidden dispute over a dead billy goat
Sami, the man from the town hall sees the policemen coming and approaches them calmly. The two guys in uniforms call, gesture and point at our camera again and again. Sami smiles at them, speaks a few friendly sounding words to them and both turn away again, continue walking through the camp. “They thought we were filming people or doing something else forbidden here,” laughs the mayor’s representative, “I explained to them that everything is fine. Nevertheless, they want us to hurry and get out of here within the next quarter of an hour.” What a sympathetic rascal! He knew exactly how to use his power against the police.
After ten minutes we got everything we wanted on videotape and are on the road again. Sami shows us “his” Mazar-E-Sharif. Beautiful old houses, a caravansary, secret places and a tea house where music is played and danced. Now I simply have to ask him how our filming, the cheerfulness of many people and the music and dance are compatible with the laws of the government. The province here in the north is also ruled by the Taliban. “Oh, that’s easy,” the man from the mayor’s office begins, “up here we have always been more liberal than those in the south, especially more liberal than the Pashtoons. Of course we are now a part of Taliban-Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance has finally lost the fights, hardly anyone up here takes the holy warriors really seriously”.
Mustafa, our watchdog, would have to intervene – but he doesn’t let on anything. And then Sami asks me if I know why we were not allowed to drive here from Kabul by car. “No, please tell me.” “It’s quite simple,” he explains, “on the route between Kabul and the north of our country there are still areas that are not controlled by the Taliban. Hundreds of Northern Alliance fighters are reportedly still on the move, especially in pockets around the Salang Pass”. In the evening we are with Sami at his family. An interesting evening with many stories from the deputy mayor.
Sami picks us up at the break of dawn. Shortly after sunrise the Buzkashi championships begin. There is even something like a stadium. Especially for the wild chase on horseback. Buzkashi is a popular sport in northern Afghanistan as well as in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The game is sometimes played by more than 20 players, allegedly there is no limit to the number of participants. At the beginning of the game a dead goat or a stuffed goatskin is placed in the middle of the field. This carcass is to be picked up at a gallop and placed in front of the judge. Everyone plays against everyone else, which makes the fights wild and unpredictable. Everything is allowed to get to the goat. So it’s supposed to be a big event here today – even though this sport has also been expressly banned by the government.
Hopefully it will be a warm day. In March it can still be quite cold up here during the day. At night there was no electricity, the batteries for our camera could not be charged. We still have a few full ones, the others we want to connect to our car charger while driving. But this does not work, the Russian jeep has neither a car socket nor a cigarette lighter. Hopefully the batteries we have left will be lasting…
The Buzkashi field is not a real stadium. It’s more like a big sand court with grass-covered hills around it. These little green bumps are the spectator stands, so to speak. Right next to the field there are military vehicles that have been shot to pieces. Somewhat removed is an overturned tank and the remains of a crashed or shot down fighter plane. One of the “grandstands” seems to be reserved for celebrities. Sami pushes his way through the crowd with Mustafa, Kay and me in tow. There are probably well over a thousand people who have come. You can count the number of women on both hands – and most of them are standing on the “VIP hill”. Two of the ladies, both dressed according to regulations in a burka, brought folding chairs. For me it is confusing: legally required clothing at a completely illegal event. How does it all work? Close to the two camping chairs we set up our camera. Perfect overview of the whole field.
Slowly the sun’s rays begin to spread some warmth. The crowd is quite excited. A Buzkashi championship here in the western foothills of the Himalayas has about the same status as the most important Bundesliga games in Germany. Behind the spectators a multitude of small fires on which tea is cooked and bread is warmed. It only takes a good ten minutes and the game starts. Under loud cheers, the goatskin is put down in the middle of the field. Only a few seconds later, the riders gallop into the ring and start fighting for the goat. The men on the grass tribunes cheer for their favourite. The stuffed goat changes hands every minute. It is fascinating to see how perfectly the horses react to the commands of their riders. Every now and then two of the animals collide without any interruption. One rider is so energetic that he gallops on his horse up one of the spectator hills. Two men are knocked down by the animal, a few dozen roar wild curses. Or is it cries of appreciation for horse and rider? Again and again I see fighters in their colourful, waving clothes hanging on the flank of their raging horse to reach for the goat carcass. One of the riders makes it under the belly of his galloping animal to the other side of the horse. A trick with which he actually catches the embattled goat carcass. Not for long.
With short breaks the Buzkashi riders fight for hours. The goatskin has to be replaced several times because it gets tattered in between. Shortly after midday, the sun has warmed us all up, the winner is determined. In his honour a stately mutton is slaughtered on the spot. In the middle of the field, the animal, killed according to Islamic rules, makes its last twitch in a pool of its own blood. Sami tells me that tradition has it that the winner of the championship gives part of the meat to riders who have secretly supported him.
To remove the fur, the skin on one leg of the sheep is cut so that a kind of straw can be inserted between the fur and the meat. With a lot of lung power the new owner of the animal now blows air under the skin until it gradually separates from the meat. The sheep is now inflated like an oversized fur balloon. A few more skillful cuts on the legs and tail and the fur can be easily pulled over the still warm animal’s head.
The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 4 February 2020. It will be titled “March 2001 – Official Invitation to see the Buddha-Statues” New chapters will follow fortnightly – more than 60 will be published in total. Please scroll further down for subscription.
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. Dieter Herrmann
Translation from German to English with the help of www.deepl.com