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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Journal / Kabul / 10 Sept. to 13 Sept 1974

10 September Tuesday Kabul

I have been very busy last night and this morning, covering great mileage ... between my bed and the toilet. I expected to get sick in India but have not. But the moment I leave, I become ill. In Kathmandu it was a fever, now it is my stomach. I may have had some bad food or water, or the nervousness of yesterday's 4 hour wait in the Delhi airport for a cancellation, or maybe it was a bug. Whatever, everything came out both ends of my body after hours of painful cramps. Lomotil, bless it, has helped, but I still cannot look a piece of spicy meat in the eye without queasiness.

We ventured out to the airline office and to inquire about tours. Tonight we met 2 girl teachers from Montreal who have spent a year in Europe, now are in Asia for a year. They had spent a month in Iran and loved it. One was engaged to an Iranian, had paratyphoid, whose symptoms sound suspiciously like what I've got.

Bijou is having a hard time with me. She can't stand the sight of vomit and can't help much. It is preventing her own enjoyment because I am sick and can't eat and don't feel like wandering too far away from the head.

Our room is comfortable with modern head, but we wake up at 5 am to prayer call from the minaret. At 6 am the vendor under our window blares the radio until 10-11 p.m..

11 September Wednesday Kabul to Jalalabad to Haddar to Kabul

Finally feeling human we engaged a car along with "Vladimir," a Czech psychiatrist living in New York and went to Jalalabad and Haddar near the Pakistani border.

The ride started through the “suburbs” of Kabul where nomads sleep in tents while sheep and goats graze. There were small villages with mud brick walls and donkeys at the well wheel. Other walls were vacant and ageless, made of the material of the rocky hills and mountains. We went through the rugged pass on the road which was built by Germans. We stopped to view a gorge in which the Kabul River trickled below steep high mountains. We wound through the mountain, barren of green until suddenly we saw a lush valley between the mountains and green rice and corn fields and a deep blue lake—a German built dam. The scenery continued like that—rugged mountains and desert and then a dam—a Russian one then an American one.

Jalalabad is a small town and near it is Haddar, a walled town, outside of which are digs which reveal a Buddhist monastery 2000 years old, containing sculptures of definite Greek influence. Buddha sits in robes while Greek Gods and Roman senators listen in their togas and uniforms. All of this amazing history was buried in the sand of the centuries until uncovered in 1923. Only recently was it open to the public.

We dined in Jalalabad, parking on the dusty unpaved street, which looks like a cowboy movie town set. Wood store fronts, donkeys and few cars. Men carrying rifles. We ate in a dining hall at a long table. We ordered a big pot of chai; the others ordered various local dishes to eat; my stomach is still gurgling, so I stuck to chai and bread. When the chai came, along with spoons for everyone and the steaming plates of rice, vegetables, meats cubes and red sauce, Vladimir, our medical expert and exuberant raconteur, filled an extra glass with chai and dumped the spoons into the glass to sterilize the eating utensils.

When the food came, the spoons were distributed and diners, including Bijou, ate ravenously. Meanwhile, I crunched the stone-ground bread and glanced at the glass where the spoons had been. The tea in the glass was now black. I dipped in a spoon and when I removed it, it looked like it had been dipped in silver polish: clean up to the hot water level but black above.

I pointed this out to Bijou, who thought it an interesting phenomenon and continued to dip her spoon into the rice dish. I looked around the restaurant, noticing a waiter clear a table by scraping a plate of food into a barrel, dipping the plate and shaking off the excess water, then go into the kitchen and immediately come out with the plate filled for another table of diners.

12 September Thursday Kabul

The heat continues to be intense and dry. We spent the day shopping for a coat for Bijou. Afghani sheep and lamb skin and fur, which is hip back in LA. Bijou must have tried on 100 before finding one with the right combination of style, fit and comfort—bargaining made the price about $26. Now she only has to shlep it to Europe. The bargaining and shopping is fun for me ... for a while. But my patience runs dry quickly with the heat. Bijou then bought a hat and when the boy tried to short change us by 1 Afghani, I nearly blew my stack. I sulked most of the afternoon, angry at human nature which cheats, grovels and begs so pitifully.

In the evening our spirits were lifted. We met a couple: a French woman and her Indian husband and son who were in transit to Paris. He spoke 4 Indian languages, French and English. We went with them to the nearby cinema which showed an Indian film.

Our Indian friend translated the dialogue into French for his wife, who whispered it in French to Bijou who whispered it in English to me. After about 10 minutes, I decided it was unnecessary.

It was about a peasant boy who is kidnaped when his father is murdered by a land grabbing lord. He becomes a bandit and pursues a girl and revenge. The film was full of fights, chases, comedy and musical scenes in which the main characters break into operatic song and dance. The stars are zoftig Sophia Loren types, the male stars all round faced. It was marvelous old style movie entertainment

The audience was more entertaining. The men carried long rifles. The women wore their chadris from head to toe and sat apart from the men. The men hooted and cheered the action loudly. The women made that eerie tongue waggling noise that Arab women make. We spent the movie looking around, expecting the men to shoot their rifles at the screen.

13 September Friday Kabul

We went to the Kabul museum this morning. It is supposed to be the one of the world’s unique collections, ethnographically and archeologically speaking. Whatever that means it is probably true. It contains chards of Afghanistan’s checkered past— from all the empires that have attacked, sacked, colonized, converted, passed through or near.

The country itself is a mixture of races—Persian, Pakistani, Indian, Mongol. Rugged mountain tribes and isolated village cultures that have reluctantly succumbed to statehood only in the past century. Everywhere are evidences that these are still rugged, independent primitive people not far removed from the recent tradition of banditry, thievery, and tribal wars (as late as 1929 the “civil war” raged and for months, a bandit usurper controlled the capitol.

In the streets most of which are rock and dust roads, mules and donkeys carry people to market, many parade in unlikely costumes of Pushtan baggy pants and shirts, suit jackets, plastic shoes and distinctive turbans. Women are rarely seen—most wear Islamic chadri (marriages are still arranged here). Rifles are sold in many stores and many carry well used ones. Nomads with shaggy sheep and goats camp close to the town which is surrounded by dry mountains on which mud houses spring from the rock.

In other cliffs in the country, caves dug eons ago are still used by whole tribes. Russians, Americans, Germans have had a hand in aid and China and India look at the maps and see mountain land in military strategy. Pakistan is an uneasy carping neighbor. After seeing the Buddhist, Persian, Greek, Roman, Macedonian, Bactrian and Indian influence in the museum, it is not hard to imagine the far off future with displays of coke bottles and crumbling photos of Chairman Mao.

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