With the fall of Afghanistan, I am reflecting my travel experience there as a 23-year-old backpacker on the “hippie trail” from Istanbul to Kathmandu. Yesterday and today, it is a poor yet powerful land that foreign powers misunderstand and insist on devaluing.
Stay away from me while exploring Herat, a leading city in western Afghanistan, in this 1978 journal entry.
Sunday, July 30, 1978: Herat
A dream woke me up at 7:30 and by 8:15 I gave up trying to fall asleep. At the restaurant I ate two fried eggs, yogurt and a pot of black tea. After cleaning my camera lens, Jin and I set off to see Herat.
First, we had two businesses – exchange money and get a bus ticket The bank was really something. It took me about an hour to change the $ 100, but it was interesting to sit back and watch the Afghan banking process. I saw the suitcases of scattered Afghans, the tribesmen bringing five or six dollar 100 bills (I’m afraid to imagine where they got them), a uniformed guard with enough bayonets for five or six bank robbers and a rag-tag building and atmosphere. I have received 3,758 Afghans. At first the man gave me 3,000. I said “more” and he gave me 800. “More” and I got 50 more afghani, and then I wanted and got the last 8 afghani.
Afterwards, Jin and I rode a bus to the highly recommended Qaderi bus company for Kabul. The 800-kilometer journey costs only $ 5 or 200 afghanis. Hopefully, we will get our seats and there will be no fuss.
We were free to roam. I had a fanta, put on a zoom lens, and went into action on the colorful flower horse-drawn taxi, the busy craftsman, the fruit stand, and the dusty dream side street. Everyone who came out of the travel poster seemed straightforward. Strong strong eyes on the back of the skin weather-beaten face. Beards flying in poetic air, long and wavy, and snake-like turbans securely wrapped around their heads. The older women carried the babies completely covered in bag-like attire and surprisingly called for a photo. I shot almost the whole roll and luckily I should have had some great shots.
We moved away from the main center and chatted about the activities in the dusty residential area. People are very proud and no one deserves to be photographed. Everyone was gesturing to come to us, except those who were too proud to acknowledge us. I didn’t really know how people would accept us as weird, short-skinned, pale-skinned, weak-bellied, Phoenician people who would gossip in their world, take pictures and buy trash and bring it home and tell everyone how cheap it was. . I couldn’t help but feel that our curious tourists have grown old to these tough, proud people who work so hard and live so simply.
There were countless moments and scenes that flashed through my mind forever, a picture of Afghanistan. We worked to quench an average thirst and shared a watermelon in the shade before we moved on.
Exhausted, we returned to our beautiful hotel, ate a plate of potatoes, a bowl of soup and some tea, got up for a shower and a short snooze. We’re living really well for a change now. I made that $ 100 cash and it feels great to just spend the money when you want and don’t worry.
Now we are back in the sun. The afternoon temperature was still cooking and every once in a while we would keep our heads wet under a faucet. After mailing our postcards, we checked out the rows of cloth weavers. Hardworking men worked tirelessly on these primitive looms. The witness is quite interesting. Then, forming a wide circle, we came to the big mosque, checked it out, and found ourselves in the vicinity of very hard-selling shops.
A pseudo-friend took me by the hand and led me to his shop, and before I knew it, I was wearing the locals’ great white baggy pants and shirt and turban, and bargaining like crazy. I am determined to make him work from 500 to my maximum of 152 afghani. I almost made it, but I was surprised when he let me go empty handed, a little sorry too. I want those cool, baggy, low-profile clothes and maybe, if I can swallow my pride, I’ll be back tomorrow and take them.
Like running a Gauntlet, we made our way back to our hotel to enter the store and make our way out. I tried and failed to get a beautiful mink skin cheaply. I offered 200 afghanis for an exciting Afghan Fox hat and finished buying it and I proudly reduced a man from 400 afghanis to 40 afghanis for three small beautiful embroidered pouches. I didn’t buy any souvenirs to talk about on the two-month trip – now I’m afraid I’ve opened the floodgate.
Back at the hotel, Jean pulled out the hashish she had bought and I decided that this would be the time and place where I would lose my “marijuana virginity”. I’ve never smoked a cigarette and smoking has always stopped me, so to speak, because it’s always a matter of social pressure and I never feel comfortable doing it because everyone at a party was doing it and I was the only one. The “square” is one. This kind of pressure and the normal view around pot smoking strengthened my resolve to stay away from evil weeds. But this was different.
In Afghanistan, hashish is an integral part of culture. It is as innocent as wine with dinner in America. If I ever had this high experience, it wouldn’t be in a dark dorm room in UW with a bunch of people I don’t respect. I can’t feel good about it.
Jean and I talked about marijuana and hash on the bus for about three hours after leaving Istanbul. I decided that if I felt better about the whole situation, I would like to smoke some hash in Afghanistan. Okay, I’m here in Herat, I love it, and I love this city. We’ve got authentic hashish worth about half the price of 40 afghanis ($ 1). It was so smooth that it had to be cut with a knife.
Up in the room, Jean mixes it with some tobacco and piles the product into a fun old straight wooden pipe that we picked up. He pulled one – immediately commented, “Good thing”. I don’t know what to expect and sucking in the hope of not getting a mouth full of ashes. I don’t like smoke, but other than that, there was nothing disgusting about it. It didn’t even smell like marijuana. The only problem is nothing happened. I’ve smoked enough, but Virgin Run is generally unproductive. Anyway, at least I didn’t go down without explaining myself first.
We went out for a walk. Going from store to store is very natural. Mixing with people, sniffing at shops, and just poking. This space is small, but it doesn’t really matter because no road is ever the same if you go through it a second or third time.
We sat outside our restaurant for dinner since tonight was a special wedding in the big room. We had a plate of lots of different vegetables, each with lots of meat washed by tea for $ 1.50.
Upstairs we smoked a little more and took a cold bath. This time I felt a little change. Some colors and objects were more tangy. There was a lively edge to things that I didn’t realize was an option. I was very relaxed and the light fixture on our roof looked like a big candle breathing in and out. But I still wasn’t really high.
The big wedding started downstairs, and the bride’s father proudly shook my hand and greeted Jin and me, and we sat next to a small Afghan band, listening to exciting music and watching the women dance. Everyone was quite formal, men in one room, women in another, and the decorated car was waiting outside.
Now we walk at night. Chariots burning torches through the darkness, people carrying lanterns, shopkeepers and work boys sitting around soup and bread, many Afghans were tall or rising there, it was cold and, as always, the wind was weeping. The night was a great experience and we wandered around.
After a small watermelon, one more time to check out the wedding, making a cold shower and a nice wet bed with our sheets, we commented on what a good day was today and went to bed waiting for tomorrow and wrapped in wet sheets. .
(This is the journal entry # 2 of a five-volume series. Stay tuned for another episode tomorrow, as I’m 23 years old entering deeper into Herat.)