Sunday, June 11, 2006


Notice!: to read the full story, have a look at my book “Vagabonding in the Axis of Evil – By thumb in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan”. Clic here to learn more. Order a book and keep me on the road!

So I hit the road towards Bamian, town that became sadly famous in 2001 when the Taliban destroyed the biggest Buda statues in the world. Morgan had given me Justin’s telephone number. Justin was another North American who worked as volunteer in agriculture related projects. I was carrying two letters for him, which had arrived five months before from Taiwan and U.S to Herat but in the absence of a credible post service to Bamian had got stacked there.

While my parents and uncles expected me to become a successful lawyer, I had dreamt of becoming a postman. Now, in Afghanistan, I was not going to let the chance go. I designed my own stamps though. They showed a white thumbing hand framed by a yellow square and said: “By Thumb mail”.

Having a mission also attenuated the fact that I was 4 days away from Bamian. The start was slow. I walked to Pozelek village and sat by the road side to smoke my pipe. I started singing alone to a Fito Paez song: ” I like to be by the roadside, smoking as everything passes by...” And three black cows and their shepherd boy marched into scene. Then a man in a motorcycle carrying a rifle. Then I remembered that the commander had warned me of some warring tribes between Chagcharan and Lal. So I skipped lines and sang “...the breeze of Death dwells around as an assassin angel.” But something that day made me tremble with happiness. Or I was sitting in a bad position.

The Kamaz truck that finally put me in motion crossed the rivers by just driving in and sticking the wheels to a diagonal direction so as to correct the pulling force of the stream. The lights of the truck, barely over the water level as the eyes of a hippopotamus. I made it to Dowlat Yar by dusk. Somebody interrupted the village’s teacher in mid-prayer to tell him there was an American in town. Azis was an educated man from Kabul who not only hosted me but also gave me a history class in good English.

I had asked why half of the houses were destroyed. It followed that, during the Russian occupation, people in the Southern riverside were educated and received support from the Russian authorities. People on the “other side” received, instead, support and bribes from US and Pakistan. The deal: they should destroy their southern neighbors. The schools were special targets –regrets Azis- since somehow the people from the other side –and millions across Afghanistan- had been brainwashed to believe that studying implied abandoning Islam. This shows in a microcosmic level, how irresponsible Western intervention in Afghan affairs let a fertile ground for the upcoming Taliban.

Another interesting point about Dowlat Yar is its bazaar. ¨Why are there so many closed shops? ¨ I asked. ¨Well, opium harvest time hasn’t arrived yet. In a couple of months all those closed shops will be open, full of opium, and smugglers from Helmand and Kandahar will come here to buy, beginning the slow smuggling chain towards Europe, where the street price for a kilo of heroin can reach U$S 50,000..¨ With such figures there is simply no way Police officials couldn’t be involved. I instantly thought of Bolivia, but as a South American I know that coca growing has been a part Andean culture for centuries, while opium was introduced by the English from British India in the 19th century.

History lesson almost made me forget that I had started my trip exactly a year ago, when I hitched a sailboat from Ireland to Scotland. There was no point to celebrate: the closest to lust that could be found in the bazaar would have been a pack of strawberry biscuits. Better to keep accepting Azis ever flowing tea. ¨When do you think you will go back? - He asks me. Sometimes I think of home. But then I open my world map, the same that has always hanged from my room’s wall, the same where I had started to plan all this trip, and I realize that Greenland, Kirgizstan or he Falkland Islands are there waiting to be explored, and I feel that kind of tickle in the stomach that only recedes when I knock off kilometers.

Another truck, slow and big as a Galapagos turtle, forwards me to Kirmun village. There I was told by locals that the Shatu Pass was blocked by snow, and that the only way to cross the mountains on to Yakawlang was a secondary pass trough Sadbarg village, a road that didn’t even came up in my map.

I soon found myself crossing bridgeless rivers in a valley that got increasingly landlocked by snowcapped granite towers. In the first village a swarm of kids splashed out their houses to receive me so violently that a man started to keep them at distance using his extended lunghi (turban) as a lash. There is something strange in the kid’s faces: their eyes are too fine. Maybe I hit shortcut and ended up in Mongolia? No. Welcome to Hazarajat, the territory of the Hazara people, descendents of the destructive legions of Genghis Khan, and therefore regarded the last element in the Afghan ethnic ranking. When the Taliban rose to power, in a delayed and senseless revenge, they took a thousand Hazaras to Kabul, slaughtered them and piled their corpse in the parks.

I crossed that valley of the Hazarajat almost on foot, carrying both of Justin’s letters, and sharing some of the way with two teachers whose motorcycle had run short of gasoline. No vehicle used the road in the whole day. When in 1954 British explorer Wilfred Thesiger did his trip to the Hazarajat, he found them rather inhospitable. Even if in no way I can complain about their hospitality, I don’t want to thoughtlessly follow the stream of travelers that in any developing country, no matter what they find, they say the people there is just gorgeous. In one or two guesthouses I entered, people just started to pronounce the word “dollar” every five seconds. I understand the first time they meet somebody from the “other world” that is slowly trying to set their standard. For a while I had the impression that the loudspeakers in the minarets could start screaming ¨Dollar Akbar¨ (The dollar is great) instead of ¨Allah Akbar¨ (God is great) and nobody would have noticed.

That said, in Nodros and Denikoch I was hosted and fed by locals, but they lacked the joyful tone of their Tajik or Pashto neighbors’ hospitality. Their features were strong and proud, and any im promptu group of villagers in a tea house appealed to me as a chieftains meeting. My memory clings to the image of those orphans of history.

After a short visit to Bande Amir, Afghanistan’s only lake, I finally arrived to Bamian. It was after 9 pm, time when every Afghan city becomes deserted. At the question of ¨where can I find a telephone? ¨ (I needed to phone Justin) the local police whisper to each other in the dark. ¨Maybe the Neo Zealanders have one¨. They board me in their jeep and speed towards the New Zealand led PRT base. The light rays of the jeep made the sign visible: ¨Kiwi Base¨ It looks like the sign of a beach, not a military base. Let me say in the first place that I found the idea of knocking the door of the PRT to ask for a telephone absolutely ridiculous. But how charming can the consequences of ridiculous acts be! So I let them do. The bearded policeman bumped vainly the plastic disc in the center of the wheel: the horn didn’t work. So he started screaming in Dari. The young kiwi soldier that was in the nightshift clearly didn’t have a clue of Dari, and was growing dangerously nervous. He advanced toward the Afghan police finger-in-trigger. So I stepped in scene and talked in English to the guy. The kiwi soldier was that happy that he congratulated me on speaking English! But, of course, no public phone available in the base.

On the way back the Afghan policemen started to sing enthusiastically inside the jeep. In the climax of the chorus, the jeep ended up against some trees. The wheels, traction less in a water channel. I thanked them for their professional help and walked away. Not that they noticed my departure: they were too busy kicking each other. I would call Justin the following morning. Though neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night would keep this postman from the swift completion of his appointed rounds, he could use some rest .

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