3 The Long Good
AFTER our palace adventure, it was back on the
long and unwinding road to Mazar. A short rest then a Foreign Office reception.
Our minibus was late and we walked red-faced past the silent diners to our
table. There were many foreign diplomats at the very formal affair. We had only
been there a few minutes when they left. We had to stand up and form an aisle as
they moved majestically away. That was the end of the dinner so we had to leave
too - hungry! The reason for the reception dinner was as a prelude to the parade
next day - the fourth anniversary of the foundation of the Islamic State of
North Afghanistan. We had to be out of the villa at 7.20 to be at our brightly
decorated grandstand - right next to General Dostumís. First there was Dostumís
speech that lasted more than half an hour. He followed this by medal
presentations to various generals. The crowds on the pavements were kept in
check by soldiers occasionally beating them on the heads with large sticks.
Nobody seemed to mind - including the recipients.
People were sitting
anywhere they could find - balconies, halfway up lamp posts and precariously
perched on the edges of rooftops. Then the parade started. We were sitting in
strong sunlight for six hours! Cold juices appeared now and again but it was
still pretty gruelling.
Maybe a hundred tanks trundled by, each group
with a giant colour portrait of Dostum mounted on the lead tank. Many of them
were blowing clouds of oily smoke into the crowd and the band. Sounding like a
second rate village Boys Brigade, the band played and played and played. When
they paused for a breather the big, fat base drummer carried on non stop. He
kept up a beat for five hours solid and only broke off for a minute when he was
drowned out by a passing marching band. Then it was straight into the booming
base beat for the rest of the show.
After the tanks came armoured cars,
lorry loads of troops, anti aircraft gun carriages and finally two enormous
launchers with rocket missiles. Then it was endless marching troops. We thought
these were coming to an end but they were followed by the cavalry. Spectacular
bearded Afghans with guns and cartridge belts wrapped round them, they looked
much more impressive than any spaghetti Western film produced. Once
again we thought it was nearing the end. Wrong. The civil procession started!
Every form of industry and commerce was represented with floats or handcarts. We
began to think that the people were passing the Dostum rostrum, making a quick
change of clothing and joining the back of the procession again! It didnít seem
possible that there could be so many people in one city. At random intervals
during the march, a string of MIGs would roar over at extremely low level, then
a whole fleet of helicopter gunships - some of them dropping leaflets. Then it
was time for the civil leaders, University and medical college students, sports
club members and schoolchildren to march by. Each sports group stopped in front
of the main stand and demonstrated their skills. There was a pathetic float for
Balkh Airlines with a wobbly polystyrene version of the 1-11; very embarrassing.
There appeared to be a great number of karate, boxing and bodybuilding clubs.
Each group gave a spirited display. One boxer took on two others and they were
doing it for real. He took a blow to the jaw and I heard his teeth rattle - from
30 yards! He swayed to his feet, bowed to the General, got into line and they
marched on. Finally it was all over; even though it was such a long day, it had
been a fascinating spectacle.
"I'll raise you
Straight back to the villa and a
meeting for Sheila and I with General Razm. Sheila was pushing for the security
aspect of searching passengers and baggage. He was willing to follow American
aviation law. He promised me a four wheel drive air conditioned crew bus with a
key for Tom and I, full use of his airline presidentís office in his absence and
full assistance from staff at the airline office in anything related to the
operation. None of this actually happened...
A couple of quiet days gave
a chance to study each otherís skills at cards - it felt like Vegas big time
with comments like: "Iíll go with your ten thousand and raise you 20,000."
Playing in Afghanis meant we were raising by about 80p! I still managed to lose
a lot... The women bought bleach, scrubbed every inch of the pool and helped the
servants repaint it. We had chlorine and acid brought from Malta and waited
impatiently for the four days to pass while it filled. To me the result was
bliss; a little sunbathing, a relaxing swim and a long, cool drink with a vodka
kick was perfect. One very long day livened
up with a volley ball party at the IAM (International Aid Mission) then a crazy
game of spoof in which Tom won a suitcase full of Afghanis - $180. The picture
shows the mood, winner, Tom, is on the left, then Sheila, Carmin and
May day. I went shopping with Clare and Jill. We bought coffee
mugs, earrings (not for me) suit material, came back to spaghetti Bolognaise and
drank and laughed until 6.30 in the morning. At this stage, the crew were
starting to get bored and edgy. The aircraft was grounded while waiting for an
APU to arrive from England. This is a gas turbine engine that starts the main
jet engines. Most airports have ground start facilities but Mazar doesnít have a
telephone, radio or even a screwdriver, so there was zero chance of us getting
moving without an English replacement. Tom and Ray did their best to trace the
faults and gradually found so many things wrong they had to give up. All this
delay caused the airline to be something of a laughing stock.
people are not normally happy unless they're flying. They were unable to accept
the fact they were having a highly paid holiday. In a place where there was
little to spend their money, savings were even greater. Only four of us really
adapted. Tom was happy looking after the pool interspersed with aircraft
maintenance at the airport, Jill made friends all over town plus clandestine
meetings with Solih, while Clare and I swam, talked and made each other frozen
fruit juice drinks. Sometimes Sheila would sunbathe but her conversation was
usually about how great it was in Siberia!
Carmin and James were an item.
We saw little of them except at meal times. James is a good chef and with Carmin
as his helper he used the primitive kitchen and showed the cook that joints
could be roasted whole instead of being chopped up and mixed with rice. The
Afghans had never seen roast potatoes before.
day, Clare, a guard and I went to the bazaar and had lots of fun trying on
Cossack hats, fancy waistcoats and other crazy (for England) clothing. Clare had
a shock. Happily trying on the various hats, she suddenly realised that she was
the centre of attraction for about twenty Afghans of all ages. Red faced she
fled with me following on laughing.
On the way back we stopped to see why
there was a large throng of chortling Afghans. It was a magic act. In the dust
and dirt, with very few props, a ragged Afghan was producing streamers, razor
blades and ping pong balls from his mouth, cracking jokes, I think, and using
shy members of the crowd as Ďvolunteersí. His grand finale was getting a little
boy to squat and strain like a chicken. The magician produced an egg from the
surprised boyís trousers! The simplicity of the unabashed pleasure from the
Afghan audience was something to behold and remember.
at the villa we were told by the cook that he was going to produce something
special. Nobody went to the UN guest house and we trooped into the dining room.
He had faithfully copied everything James and Carmin had shown him. The only
flaw was heíd done all the things in one go! We were treated to shepherds pie,
spaghetti bolognaise, roast lamb, vegetables, roast, boiled and chipped potatoes
plus the usual Afghan goat and rice. It was certainly special...
villa was an oasis of bygone luxury. Thousands of pounds worth of carpets were
draped over the sofas as casual throwover covers. Apple and sour cherry trees
nestle in the rose garden, dilapidated but still pretty, a conservatory
gathering years of dust, a huge old generator that hadnít worked for ten years
and our pool - no circulation pump so we overflowed it and watered the roses at
the same time. Water was used so freely it seemed like sacrilege that right
outside the villa, children with yokes were queuing to get buckets of water from
a stand pipe.
Our large television was fed from two satellite dishes We
were able to pick up a strong reception from BBC World and Star Plus channels.
It felt quite odd watching the San Merino Grand Prix live, while sitting on a
carpet in a lounge in the middle of a desert town 4000 miles from
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