Love to Learn, Learn to Love.

Lesson #38: Trip to the East — Afganistan [10/23/2013]

Carte Afg

Please consult yesterday’s JuicyLesson for background on this and future ones on this particular theme.

What can we say about Afghanistan? From its western border with Iran right through to it’s eastern frontier with Pakistan, it appeared to be fairly empty, mostly sandy desert. When we arrived, one of the first things we learnt was to stop at every gas station on the approximately eight hundred mile trip between Herat in the west to Kabul in the East because failing to fill up our van at every possible opportunity would result in our running out of petrol with its concomitant problems. By the way, there was only one main road which ran the distance from Herat through Kandahar and then straight on to the nation’s capital, Kabul, but it was paved unlike a good part of the “path” through Iran had been.

We planned to rid ourselves of the van in Kabul and until that happened, I had decided not to change out of my western clothes consisting of jeans, t-shirts, a sweatshirt as well as a beautiful denim jacket with a Phoenix on the back, the latter designed by Neil, an English friend Donna and I had met while living first in Brighton and then in Hove.

First of all, Afghanistan had not one but two checkpoints at its entry point from Iran. The first involved a simple railway-like crossing consisting of two poles laying across the road. The second “border” crossing was more like what one would have expected, and was located a few hundred yards down the road from the first. Upon arrival at the first checkpoint, we were met by a guard wearing what looked to be a World War II uniform of some sort and carrying on his shoulder a rifle which looked like it came from a time even before that. We were greeted by his smiling countenance and the first thing he wanted was an answer to the question “Hashish mister?” Even though the British couple we had picked up hitch hiking in Iran tried to discourage me from making the purchase suggesting that we were probably going to get ripped off, which we were, I bought what looked like a half ounce of Afghani hash for around two bucks. Even at twice the price it would have been a lot cheaper than the $30 that a piece that size would have cost in England, and even more, considerably more, back home in Montreal.

Turns out it was a rip-off, in a manner of speaking, in terms of both price and quality but still turned out to be amazing hash, best I’d ever smoked to that point in my career as a dope fiend. As we moved further into the country, the hash got cheaper and better, so cheap as a matter of fact that when pieces fell on the floor, we just left them where they lay, rather than going down on our hands and knees and looking for them as we would have done in the west.

After buying hash, we mentioned to this border guard that we had stuff to sell, including a van and a tape recorder, and he politely asked if he could come in and look over what we had for sale. Didn’t buy anything but the whole scene was surreal.

Then we got to the real border, with the first woman authority figure we had seen since leaving England. After assuring us that we could legally sell our van in her country and cursorily checking us out – we hadn’t thought about the hash we were carrying as being potentially dangerous until after the fact – we were off.

Herat was the first city we came too. Beautiful place. Our first experience of women covered up from head to toe, with Burkha, Niqab, the whole bit. Then on to Kandahar, where we saw shit in the streets for the first time. I puked. It was much dirtier there than it was in either Herat or Kabul. I remember one stall in particular. It was being tended by a guy wearing a turban with a long tail which he would use when people passed to get rid of the flies which were so numerous that they actually hid whatever the guy had for sale. Swish went the turban tail and lo and behold! Pomegranates.

Then we moved on to Kabul. All we saw along the entire journey between the Iran-Afghanistan frontier and the Afghani capital, Kabul, was sand, lots and lots of sand, the odd gas station and rest stop, and groups of nomadic bedouins riding through the desert on camels. One time, after dark, we had stopped for the night in close proximity to a group of bedouins who were sitting around smoking a huge hookah. The coughing was extremely loud and long following every pull on the water pipe, but each old eastern-clothed man managed to stop coughing when his turn at the pipe came up again. By the way real Afghan smells just like shit which is where this name for hash comes from, I guess, as in “Got any shit, man?

We spent a month in Kabul, taking close to two weeks to sell our van. We got $500 USD for it which we converted right then and there to Indian rupees, thirteen to the dollar compared to the ten per dollar which we would have gotten had we waited to change our money on the black market in India, seven per dollar in Indian banks. As a matter of fact, upon leaving Pakistan for India we rolled up our rupees and placed them into those cardboard tampax tubes in order to smuggle them into the country. India wants dollars and therefore it was not legal to take rupees into the country. They wanted the dollars for rupees exchanges to take place inside India’s borders rather than outside them as we had done. Getting them into Pakistan didn’t prove as problematic for some reason. It was also illegal at that time to export rupees and to discourage this practice, Indian rupees were legal tender only in India and nowhere else.

At the same border we were asked if we had any hash with us and just to see what would happen, I blurted out a quick yes. When this Indian border person then asked how much we had on us, I answered truthfully. “About three-and-half grams. Would you like to see it?” “No” was her response, adding something to the effect that if we did produce it, the soldiers around there might shoot us. Probably a joke.

Since I have already started to discuss what had happened at the border between Pakistan and India, I feel the need to mention one more detail here. Pakistan and India were not getting along very well in 1971. As a matter of fact, while we were in India a war broke out between West Pakistan as Pakistan was referred to then, and East Pakistan. This relatively short civil war ended with East Pakistan becoming independent from the western segment of that country and assuming its new name, Bangladesh, while West Pakistan simply dropped the word “West” from its name. India was involved in the civil war and in its efforts to hurt West Pakistan, it assisted Bangladesh. So the assistance extended by India to Bangladesh at that time was in large part a function of the enmity which existed between mostly Moslem Pakistan and mostly Hindu India.

Anyway as a result of the hostile feelings existing between West Pakistan and India in 1971, hostility which was to lead to India’s involvement in the aforementioned Pakistani civil war, it was impossible to go directly from Pakistan to India by any means of land transport, train, bus or car and therefore we were forced to go on foot. We had taken a bus to the border with India from the Pakistani city of Lahore and upon arriving to within 500 metres of the border, we disembarked from the bus and proceeded to walk through a kind of no man’s land, the first half of which was lined on both sides by Pakistani army men while the second half was also lined with soldiers, Indians this time though. When the Indian customs agent said that if we showed her our hash the soldiers might shoot us, those were the soldiers to which she was referring.

Like I said, we spent a month in Kabul and would have stayed longer had we not required a visa to do that. Bureaucracies in the East move very slowly. We had to go to three different government offices to sell a freaking tape recorder, for Christ sake.

This is turning into a longer piece than I had originally intended due to the fact that I have a propensity to go off on tangents. Due to this, I’ll have to leave the rest of the Afghanistan story for another day.


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