9) June 1973 – The most beautiful mosque in the world After doubting looks from Michelle and poisonous remarks from Monika, after Tarik and his Ford Transit are already on their way to his home Jalalabad, the white-dressed pill lady is about to win. She doesn’t let me discuss it with her at all, and

9) June 1973 – The most beautiful mosque in the world

After doubting looks from Michelle and poisonous remarks from Monika, after Tarik and his Ford Transit are already on their way to his home Jalalabad, the white-dressed pill lady is about to win. She doesn’t let me discuss it with her at all, and she keeps me documents. The pill still rests on my vaccination card on her desk. Almost 7,000 kilometres lie behind us. About 1,300 are left until we’ll reach Kabul.

In with the thing and down with it – although it’s not easy for me to have to give in. I would have preferred to have won the duel between “doctor” and me so much… Why is the lady in white grinning like that?

Early afternoon, I am looking forward to reach Herat. Cool drinks, a real bed and the city is said to have one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. The road is good, the traffic quite dense. Several coaches and many trucks, including heavy long-distance trucks with German license plates. We only need about two hours to get to the centre of Herat.

Mosque in Herat – (c) Babak Fakhamzadeh

A real city! After all about 150,000 inhabitants. Something we haven’t seen since we left Tehran. Very quickly we find the Friday Mosque and a hotel in the vicinity. There are rooms available and one of them should even have a balcony with a view to the mosque. In the yard there is a safe parking place for the car. There is no doubt that the man at the reception gives one of the keys to me and the other to the two women. His strict look leaves nothing open; I guess I’ll have to sneak across the corridor at night. Or the two girls?

In the room in which I will (at least officially) spend the night, there is just enough space for a bed with an old, iron bedstead. Next to it is a small table with a washbowl and a stool. The little luggage that I take out of the car easily fits under the bed or table.

Only two minutes walk away, just opposite the mosque, there is a small restaurant with tables in front of the door and a charcoal grill from which it smells deliciously. Just right, because the three of us are hungry and the sunset in front of this Friday Mosque is certainly something special.

Everywhere in the Islamic world there are so called Friday Mosques. Friday is the weekly holiday for all Muslims and the most important day for prayer. The mosques named after this weekday is always the most important and largest mosque of a country or a region. So here in Herat. Already around the year 1200 the foundation stone for this house of prayer was laid. The building was finally finished almost 500 years ago, in the second half of the 15th century. Large parts of the mosque were destroyed in the Anglo-Afghan wars between 1839 and 1919. The reconstruction began in 1945 only. Above all the size of the mosque is certainly impressive but at the same time the rich decoration with the blue semi-precious stone Lapislazuli is as well.

10) June 1973 – Crash after sunset

Herat was like a couple of days of holiday after the long distances. Friendly people, wonderful weather, delicious fruit juices and tasty food for extremely little money. Even the hotel beds were bearable, especially with Monika and Michelle next to me. According to our odometer we have already covered more than 7,000 kilometres from our departure in Berlin. In Tehran we had given our car a service in the authorised VW workshop, the next service we want to have done in Pakistan, or, depending on the distance covered, perhaps even in India. I have to clean the air filter almost every day, the sand and dust on the roads is immense. We are on our way south, heading for Kandahar. It is the longest of the possible routes from Herat to Kabul, but the best developed.

As soon as we are out of the city, we are in the middle of the desert. Wide sand and scree areas, rugged mountains in the flickering distance. Travellers we had met in Herat warned us about the fords. In winter several rivers cross the road. There are no bridges, but the roadway is lowered in the course of the river beds and sometimes full of potholes. “You can’t see that from a distance,” a Swiss guy who was on a Unimog told us, “then you suddenly crash half a meter steeply into the depth and after a few seconds it suddenly goes up again.” He claims to have heard of several broken axles and springs. “And during the night there are several roadblocks where you are checked.”

In the southwest, far away from us, a herd of camels passes by. It looks as if the animals are living wild. Nobody human beings around. The wind sweeps the sand over the road, small dunes have formed at the edge of the roadway. There is hardly any traffic. A few trucks come towards us and every now and then a coach, loaded up the roof with luggage. After almost two hours we reach Adraskan. Shortly before a signpost with: “To Kabul 1.000 km”.

The road is still quite new. A company from Germany built it with German financial aid and on behalf of the Afghan government. In the past, when the route from Herat to Kabul was little more than a wide gravel road, the coaches were said to have been on this route for up to four days. These fords, which we were warned of, really exist and they are treacherous. Driving faster than 20 or 30 km/h wouldn’t be a good idea. We haven’t seen water yet, the rivers seem to exist only in the winter months.

Shortly behind Adraskan it goes uphill. A mountain range lies ahead of us and it would be great if we had a little more power than from the 47 hp boxer engine in our rear. In sharp curves the road winds its way up the mountain. According to our map we should reach a height of 2,000 metres. But according to this map it’s almost 500 kilometres to Kandahar – and we’ve been on the road a good three hours since we left Herat. That won’t work, getting a comfortable hotel bed in Kandahar – unless we drive through the night.

After another two hours we reach Farah. A tiny nest with an impressive fortress. Yellow-brown mud houses duck down into the equally coloured landscape. It is early afternoon and too hot to work outdoors. The main road is deserted. If the guide is right, the construction of the citadel goes back to Alexander the Great. The walls, which lie slightly above the city, could already be about 2,300 years old. A bright red Coca-Cola sign shines just below the old fortress and the three of us are hungry as a bear.

It really is a small restaurant. In front of the door, still barely in the shade, there is a metal box with slightly glowing charcoal. Inside, dainty tin pots. They have the shape of a small bottle gourd. A yellow-brown liquid bubbles softly in it. A few wooden stools stand around a roughly hewn table and an almost toothless woman with a thick, hairy wart on her nose comes from inside.

I have no idea if she is laughing at us, the mouth in its slightly distorted form could be good for any facial expression. Amazing that it is a woman. So far we have only seen men working in hotels and restaurants. In front of her mouth she makes the internationally used sign for “drinking” and a minute later we see the two ordered Coke bottles and a Fanta. Shortly afterwards everyone gets a tin bowl, a spoon and a pestle that looks as if it was from a mortar.

The small tin pots in the glow box are shaken a little and with the help of a bent pair of pliers she places one of the pots for each of us on the table. Hence the countless burns on the tabletop. Michelle and Monika look just as helpless as I feel. Apparently the lady recognises this as well. Now she looks a bit like smiling. With the tongs she takes Monika’s pot and pours the liquid out of it into the tin bowl. Now we see what was hidden under the soup: pieces of potato, carrot, a few peas and some cubes of meat. The pestle is now used to puree the contents from the pot, which is still burning hot. And then: alternately a spoon of hot soup and a spoon of meat/vegetable puree into the mouth and some freshly baked flat bread. Delicious! At the end we pay 75 Afghanis, that’s three marks (€ 1.55). Half of it is for Cola and Fanta.

I am tired. Monika doesn’t want to drive. Michelle now sits behind the wheel. We were dawdling a lot while eating and the sun is already low. Kandahar is, if it remains so mountainous and sandy, still at least eight hours away. We progress much slower than we had hoped and calculated.

Only half an hour later we reach the first road block. A tree trunk lies on the right hand half of the road. Michelle curves around the obstacle, a few meters further a chain crosses the roadway. A few dark figures stand on the side of the road. One of them carries a Kalashnikov over his shoulder. They want us to follow them. A little offside there is a tent and in front of it something like a camping table. A thick book on it and a man sitting in front of it, saying the words “Write! Name”. The page has many columns, inscribed with a font not readable for me and in between some words in English. Name, home country, date of birth, purpose of travel, license plate, where from and where to. They want to know everything. And at the end we have to pay. “Tax please”, says the man. The travel guide had warned us that such “tollbooths” should be frequent, but apparently only in the evening and at night. On the receipt, which we actually get, it says that we have paid 20 Afghanis. About 1.10 Mark (€ 0.55). Easy – and the receipt looks really official.

It gets dark and I am still tired. Michelle, on the other hand, seems completely fit and is obviously happy to be allowed to drive. And it goes well, although we are driving on the wrong side of the road from her point of view and the gear shift lever is also on the wrong side. If I now lie down for an hour or two and then drive again, we might make it to Kandahar after all and don’t have to spend the night on the side of the road. Off to the back. Ten minutes later I sleep soundly.

When I wake up again, it is pitch dark and I have the feeling to fly. Then we land crashing and it becomes clear to me that I am not dreaming. The car stands still. On all four wheels. Monika, on the front right seat, holds her head, Michelle sits trembling behind the steering wheel.

Translated with the help of www.DeepL.com/Translator

The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 20 November 2018. It’s title will be “Jun3 1973 – The Workshop on the River”.
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.

Dieter Herrmann

Translation from German to English with the help of www.deepl.com

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