March 2001 – Arrival in Mullah Omar’s home-town Grilled goat meat for everyone. In the courtyard, under two kerosene lamps and a torch, two men are standing at the barbecue. A tin box, certainly two metres long and only 20 centimetres wide, charcoal is glowing in it. Above there are 30, 40 or more iron
March 2001 – Arrival in Mullah Omar’s home-town
Grilled goat meat for everyone. In the courtyard, under two kerosene lamps and a torch, two men are standing at the barbecue. A tin box, certainly two metres long and only 20 centimetres wide, charcoal is glowing in it. Above there are 30, 40 or more iron skewers with pieces of meat, hardly bigger than the cube from a dice game. One of the guys seems to be the grill master. He turns the skewers on the embers, one by one. When he has finished, he starts again at the other end of the barbecue. The other man sits next to three tin bowls and puts the lumps on the pointed iron bars. Two pieces of meat, one piece of fat, two pieces of meat, one piece of liver, two pieces of meat… Twenty of those pieces fit on the spit. Then the bell rings. Well, it’s not a real gong. It’s just a short end of a T-beam that the grill master hits with a hammer.
The hotel guests come from all sides and, as far as I can see in the dim light of the lanterns, there are quite a lot of them. Most of them seem to already know the procedure and soon a queue forms. Exclusively men and probably all with growling stomachs. From a large, round tin tray everyone takes a flat bread. The grill master puts three skewers on the bread, in a bowl there are onion rings and a herb, probably coriander. Water is available from a large jug a few metres from the grill.
Of course there is no cutlery. I don’t need it. Just tear off a piece of bread. With it I take one or two chunks of meat off the spit, put some herbs and onions into my bread, press it and roll it up a bit. The meat juice is absorbed into the bread and it is really delicious. But: how can I be satisfied after such a day with a flat bread and the few pieces of meat? But the “problem” is solved immediately. Others are just queuing for the second time. So there is more. Our stomachs are taken care of.
The night was short when Mustafa woke me up at half past five. I must have slept soundly, I can’t even remember a dream. We’re in a hurry. It is still 350 kilometres to Kandahar, our destination. A quick glass of tea and then we’re off. Mustafa has brought bread and sheep’s cheese for all of us, so we can have breakfast while on the road. The road itself is a bit better now, but crossing the rivers and the dried up river creeks remains problematic. Not a single bridge is passable anymore. They look as if they were not destroyed by bombs or grenades, but as if they had been expertly blown up from below. Deep ruts have formed in the fords due to the trucks. This is a serious problem for cars like our Toyota. Where it is particularly difficult, young people are standing by. For cash they approach in groups of ten and push and drag the cars through the shallow riverbeds.
On the whole stretch to Kandahar we pass only five checkpoints. Only one of the “Taliban policemen” wants to look into the car. Ali had hidden the music cassette well and in time. We had a cruel experience at the last checkpoint before Kandahar. We have been waiting only a few minutes. Our official document could be read and was accepted. A few meters away a car driver was beaten up with a thin stick. Mustafa picks up a few chunks of the roar. The man apparently had an old Indian fashion magazine with pictures of sparely dressed women in his car. I wonder what the policemen are doing with the confiscated newspaper now – and where the magazine will probably spend the night…
Kandahar lies ahead of us and absolutely nothing reminds me of my visit here almost 30 years ago. Today, Afghanistan’s second largest city seems dull and dusty to me. In the meantime it has become something like the “secret capital” of Afghanistan. Kandahar has certainly become the centre of the Taliban movement. Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban and currently, as Emir, also head of state of Afghanistan, was born in a village only a few kilometres northwest of here.
There are countless legends surrounding this mullah. There is only little evidence. Place and year of birth (1960) are secured. It is also known that he lost an eye in the fight against the communist government during the occupation by the Soviet army. In the middle of 1994, he is said to have founded the Taliban movement with around 30 like-minded people. This foundation was followed by large-scale recruitment of young boys and men in Pakistani Koran schools and refugee camps. Within a few months, a well-armed fundamentalist militia is said to have been set up. From Kandahar, Mullah Omar led the fight against the divided government. In September 1996, Kabul was taken and the state “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” was proclaimed.
It is late and long dark when we reach Kandahar. Ali seems to know his way around a bit and after a good quarter of an hour we have found the hotel where rooms should be reserved for us. A soup for dinner in a small restaurant nearby and then into our two double rooms. Tomorrow morning, right after breakfast, I want to go to the house of “Doctors without Borders” to discuss when and where we can shoot with the two Germans who work here.
The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 17 March 2020. It will be titled “March 2001 – Measles and the escape through the desert” 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!)