AFGHANISTAN – 1974 … part two!

KABUL! A city with a population of roughly three million people, an economical and cultural center, located at an altitude of 3,500 feet (1,800 meters) and wedged in a narrow valley between the Kabul River and the Hindukush Mountains. It is over 3,000 years old, it’s population is multicultural and multi-ethnic, reflecting the diversity of Afghanistan and nearby regions, with Tajiks, Pashtuns, Hazaras, Uzbeks and others. Kabul is in the process of being rebuilt following decades of wars and destruction.

We had finally reached the capital after a dusty and seemingly never ending ride of around 14 hours, were tired, dusty and overdue to have a hot shower – in these regions often a luxury! Thank God we had earlier met met Ulla, a ethnologist (and still today a dear friend!) from Freiburg who was teaching German at the Goethe Institut at a city-quarter called Shar-i-Nau. She was genereous enough to invite us to stay there for the time we would spend in Kabul and needless to say, we most happily accepted this offer. It would not have been too difficult to find a place to stay but the problem was that the reasonable places were only questionably clean .. and the really clean ones – too expensive. So Ulla’s offer was like a blessing in disguise and we most gratefully moved in.

I clearly recall my first strolls in Kabul … it felt as if I had just fallen onto another planet! The streets were only partially paved – if at all (you can imagine how they looked once it rained) – and the shops .. well, I guess best to describe would be to say they were souk-like, like a long-stretched bazar with men sitting on the floor, inside or in front, either working on merchandize they later tried to sell or chatting with other men. The atmosphere was layed back – no apparent sign of rush or hectic. In particular I remember two street names – “Green Street” and “Chicken Street“! Both were bustling centers of business, men working, boys of all ages either working as well or playing … and more or less veiled women doing their shopping. I absolutely loved the atmosphere.

After several days – we had decided to cook a bigger meal at the institute – I took off to go to the vegetable and meat-souk to shop. I wore jeans and a T-shirt, had long hair and no clear idea whatsoever how my appearance would be perceived. I had learned the names of a number of vegetables as well as numbers in Farsi Dari (the local language) and armed with this newly aquired knowledge, I left the house.

The place was easy to find, no problem at all. While busy bargaining, people happily and generously corrected my mistakes. My attempts to pronounce the local words were met with satisfaction and smiles – people felt I respected them for what and who they were and that broke the ice after a few moments already. I had a wonderful time, no fear or even hostility – just friendly, wonderful folks.

After the vegetables I went to buy a chunk of meat – mutton of course – and when the guy had cut it off, it slipped out of his hand and fell on the ground. As if nothing had happened, he quietly picked it up, shook the dirt and dust off … and wrapped it for me in newspaper. I didn’t say a word but back at the institute, rest assured I made very sure, it was washed properly and fried for a sufficient amount of time in order to kill whatever might have been in or on there …

As Europeans one had to be a bit on the careful side with food and water. As long as the food was cooked or fried – no problem at all. I ate everything and never had any trouble – the food was different but nonetheless delicious … but with water there was a problem as it was not clean. We mostly drank chaj (tea) or Coca Cola and used boiled water even to clean vegetables.

I should have mentioned at the very beginning of the “Afghanistan series” that while preparing for it, I got vaccinations against typhus (pills), cholera, yellow fever and tablets against malaria which had to be taken throughout the trip, twice per week.

Next time I’ll tell you about the most adventurous trip from Kabul to the west, into the wild area of the Hindukush Mountains and the ghost I saw (I am serious!) on top of the ruins of the “Red city” … in the middle of nowhere!


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