Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Short Happy War in Afghanistan: additions & corrections

Karen, the glamourpuss of Mt. Holyoke, in our Karmann Ghia, in Germany as an attendent fills our tank for our drive to India in 1969 (click photos to enlarge)
Karen, co-driver, my then wife and whose idea this jaunt around the world was, has dug up some rare photos of the our short happy war in Afghanistan in 1969. Along with some additions and corrections.   (Click on the link if you missed that Friday Sept. 10 blog)

When the Afghan men came charging down the dune, waving their rifles and shouting at us that we had broken their gate, Karen pulled out her handy Guide to 13 Asian Languages. She'd bought the little book in London, thinking it would be useful as we drove across Asia.  First published in something like 1912, it had phrases like, "if the sepoys do not clean their muskets I will have them flogged."  She skipped that one and found, after flipping the pages, Pashtun for hello.  They had no idea what she was trying to say.  Who knows, it may have saved our lives.

As we drove on from Herat to Kandahar to Kabul on the two lane blacktop built by Russia and the US, we felt as if we were intruders in another time.  The little car was happy to run at 65 but the landscape was so large and so bare of any growing thing it felt is if were moving with the speed of a shadow behind a mountain. Nothing got any closer.  Nothing fell further behind.   From time to time we stopped for caravans that looked as if they could have belonged to Marco Polo. We were, after all, on the old silk route.  It may be that the highway was the safe route where they would be safe from bandits. There was no question when we saw them ambling head on that they owned the road.  We pulled over and stopped.  Never, they say in Afghanistan, argue with a camel.  To which I would add, or the Afghan on top of the camel's hump.

The men wore their fortunes in elaborate silver jewelry.  The women wore scowls for us, as if we were an embarrassment to the landscape.
Somewhere between Kandahar and Kabul, The Russians, to show off they were as hip as the Yanks, built a roadside motel complete with a big neon sign and a swimming pool out back.  No one told them that you need to filter the water of a swimming pool or it will eventually turn into a slimy bowl of green jello.  Later we met a hippy who had swum in the stuff six months before and he was still sick.

Our plan had been to camp out.  Which we did in a poppy field behind The Blue Mosque.  But we gave that up when we realized luxury hotels cost a couple of dollars.  And we really gave it up in Northern India when Karen got out of the car (we were hopelessly lost at the time, and nothing but scrub brush in every direction) and squatted down a decent distance from the road for a quiet pee.  About five feet away from her a cobra rose from the bushes, head flaring, tongue flickering, intensely interested in this new and tasty, bare bottom creature on his turf.

Karen rose with dignity, walked slowly back to the car, and the snake sank down below the horizon of bushes.

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