8) June 1973 – Waiting at the Iranian-Afghan border. From about nine o’clock the officers are supposed to be on duty again. The night lies ahead of us, it is steaming hot and the two girls cannot sleep outside our car. In our vehicle it is even a little warmer. Sometime in the middle of
8) June 1973 – Waiting at the Iranian-Afghan border.
From about nine o’clock the officers are supposed to be on duty again. The night lies ahead of us, it is steaming hot and the two girls cannot sleep outside our car. In our vehicle it is even a little warmer. Sometime in the middle of the night Michelle wakes me up. She has to pee and the toilet is at the opposite end of the customs yard, 250 meters in the slalom between parked cars and sleeping bodies. Damn, the batteries of the flash light are empty, we wanted to buy new ones in Herat. Michelle grabs a candle. Soft, due to the high air temperature – but at least some light right on the toilet. It is really pitch dark – on the way to the outhouse only a small fire here and there.
A wooden crate. The door hinged with leather straps cannot be locked. Underneath our sneakers a grinding sound, as if one had sprinkled gravel in front of the toilet. I light the candle and hold it at eye level so that Michelle finds the hole in the floor. That’s all it is. A few cockroaches scurry on the stomped earth around us. Everything else can’t be seen in the flickering light. It stinks miserably and it seems as if at least half of the users have not hit the hole. Just hurry back to the car – and don’t put your shoes in the car…
When the sun rises shortly before six, the heat in the car becomes unbearable. For days a firm linen bag with water has been hanging from the outside of the VW bus. Shortly behind Mashhad, at a pump, we had filled it up. This bag is a wonderful invention, several thousand years old. Slowly and continuously the water evaporates outside on the damp linen and keeps the contents cool even at high temperatures. Evaporative cooling.
The border crossing awakens. Truck drivers crawl out of their cabs, passengers from the two coaches try to find a place in the toilet, the first tea is brewed on open fires and petrol stoves. An old Ford Transit with a German license plate is parked in front of us. In any case, it was still there yesterday evening. Now the driver, who must have exchanged sweat pants and T-shirt for traditional Afghan clothes during the night, screws an Afghan number plate to his car.
Wide smile. Teeth, brown as coffee. So the man approaches us wishing a good morning. “Where are you going?” he asks in almost accent-free German. His name is Tarik, he lives in Eckernförde and is on his way to his hometown Jalalabad to visit his parents.
It will be a while before the check-in counters open anyway, and tea is quickly brewed. Tarik has been in Germany for 15 years, owns a pizzeria on the Baltic Sea and pretends to be Italian to his guests (probably quite successfully). “I haven’t seen my father, mother and siblings for more than five years. Now I am really happy!” Just like us, he first has to travel to Herat and then on to Kabul. From there it is only a few hours to Jalalabad.
But which route does he take to Kabul? Three ways lead from the west of the kingdom to the capital. On a direct route it is only about 800 kilometres. From Herat always heading east through the villages Chagcharan and Panjab. It looks quite simple on the map. But already in Tehran, in the Hotel Amir Kabir we were warned to avoid this road. Almost continuously unpaved, extremely mountainous and actually only traversable with powerful off-road vehicles. The two Finns who told us this came straight from Kabul and had a solid Toyota “Land Cruiser” and not a VW microbus with only two driven wheels and “full” 47 hp. Topani and his girlfriend took a good four days for the 820 kilometres from Kabul to Herat.
Tarik, the Italian Afghan from the Baltic Sea, wants to choose the southern route in any case. The northern route via Maymana and Mazar-E-Sharif is quite well developed and almost everything is asphalted in the meantime. Actually, you can cover the 1,200 kilometres in two days. But up there there are always battles between some wild tribes and a number of warlords. I don’t really need that.”
And we, we also take the road through the south of Afghanistan via Laskkar Gah, Kandahar and Ghasni. Allegedly with a solid surface and “almost like a German motorway”, says Tarik. From Herat 1,300 kilometres – and we do not want rush and give ourselves up to four days for the trip.
The sun hammers brutally on my skull. Even the thick mat of hair, almost shoulder long in the meantime, doesn’t help. It’s just before ten and somehow mumbling and movement is going through the groups of waiting people. It begins. The Afghan authorities are ready to “receive” us. Three passports, dark green international vehicle registration, light grey international driving licence, yellow “Carnet de Passage”, three yellow vaccination cards. To be on the safe side a few US dollars in small bills. Quite a lot of paperwork that wants to be dragged around like this.
Tarik is worth gold here at the border. The officials speak Dari with him. That is the name of the Persian language in Afghanistan. In Iran they speak Farsi. The pizza chef turns out to be a ruthless pusher. But somehow all the others here seem to be too. It is pushed, cursed and laughed. Our papers are shifted over worn, splintering office desks, banknotes that I have never seen before change hands. After barely half an hour Tarik and I are out again. Carnet and passports are stamped. “What kind of money did you push over there? I want to know from the guy from Eckernförde. “Oh, that was the clearance fee. Look, here’s the receipt.” Did he also bribe someone? “No”, says Tarik, “that’s not common in Afghanistan and doesn’t fit in with our culture at all”.
We still need one last stamp. From the “Afghan Health Department”. The women have to go with us. Our vaccination cards are thoroughly examined. Not us. A woman in a white coat looks deep into our eyes, checks the temperature of her forehead and our pulse. The lady seems satisfied, but still comes with an unlabelled pill box and picks up three large white tablets. Everyone has to take one of them now, then she promises to stamp our papers and we can drive on.
“Yes, but what is this tablet, what does it do?” I ask the demigodess in white. “Oh, no problem! This is to clean your stomach.” Is her clear and ambiguous answer. Monika already has her tablet down. I don’t want to. Michelle looks at me with her big dark brown eyes. I ask again for the active ingredient, get the same answer. Nah, I’m sorry. I can’t do that to myself. I’m not taking any pill whose effect I can’t even estimate!
Translated with the help of www.DeepL.com/Translator
The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 6 November 2018.
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 diary begins in February 2001, almost exactly seven months before the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and other institutions in the USA. After a long wait, my cameraman and I manage to get a visa for the country ruled by the Taliban. We get it from at the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad/Pakistan.
In about 60 chapters I describe my experiences in the country at the Hindu Kush from 1973 and the fall of the king, throughout the time under the Taliban regime to the time of Western military operations and attempted democratisation.
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