Richard's Afghanistan Experience... Chapter 6

6 Partytime - and the curfew!
A visit to the airline office to talk about tickets and the overall structure was interesting and constructive and used up most of the day. Hindered by lack of a common language, we still managed to put together a complete plan and family tree of staffing levels for the entire project. Ideas included a cafe with full kitchen facilities at the airport, ticket desk, security scanning and many other innovations - ambitious when you consider that the current airport staff was one man at the top of the building with a hand held transceiver! They said that it would take some time but they'd have it drawn up in both languages and show it to me before submitting to General Dostum for approval. I never saw it again...

With everyone’s spirits fairly low, I bought some chicken and meat for a barbecue and packed a flask of iced water, fruit juices, coke, sweetcorn, peas and sauces. I had checked out the best site the day before with Hamid. We found a nice spot close to the city's water filtration plant and we even had electricity!
Ah... chicken in satay sauce

On the way back we got two chickens and marinated them overnight in Satay sauce. We set off at ten next morning and took Hamid, a cook and two guards. We had a working telephone under the trees and I was able to phone the villa for any news about the Sunday Express article. The brick barbecue was started while we wandered along the riverside.

Very fastflowing, it had cut an interesting swathe through the sandstone as it rushed, in a vain attempt, to freshen the endless desert. The kebabs were superb, the chicken tough and the break from our guarded mini-paradise made it all worthwhile. Hamid caught some fish (we were pleased to allow the Afghans to have them all) the guards walked, fully clothed, into the river and washed themselves and their uniforms to make an amusing and well photographed scene.
Then it was back to the minibus and a quick swim before getting ready for a party. We arrived to find a mixture of races and jobs that kept us entertained all evening. There was an attractive Pakistani-looking woman who turned out to be Afghan. That explained why she had wine in an ordinary glass to look like coke! There was a wide array of foods - samosa, salad, chicken and black eyed bean soup, stuffed parathas and much more. In mentioning wine, it is one of the things I missed about England. To find that the host, Mervyn, had five bottles of warm Bulgarian red, was terrific. I indulged myself... and Clare. We had a hat dance (everyone wearing the little skull caps that are all sorts of colours) then collapsed for some more of the red.

In no time the curfew hour had approached. Clare was due to go to England that week so suggested that the two of us carried on until the 4am end of curfew and treat it as a farewell party. It seemed like a good plan at the time. She was drinking the wine like fruit juice until it hit her. One moment she had topped up our glasses, the next she’d disappeared. I eventually set off to find her. Mervyn said she’d gone back to the villa and Issy, the UN head of security, said she had gone back in another car and he’d drop me off if I wanted. There seemed little point in staying so we left.

The drunken stroppy commander

At the first control point we were surrounded by soldiers - and a drunken stroppy commander. This is when Issy found he’d left his security pass at home. Apart from the pleasure of looking down the barrel of an AK47, it was interesting to contemplate whether the commander’s fear of the generals would outweigh his interest in pumping lead. (Click HERE for the heartstopping details). Fear won and after 20 minutes of haranguing we were on our way to the next two road blocks. These we passed without incident and I was relieved to be back at the villa. Waved goodbye to Issy, went in and asked the others whether Clare had gone to bed.

They said they thought she was with me at the party. Groan, worry. Mervyn’s not on the phone. I found Hamid and he organised the only taxi allowed out after curfew - he knew the 'name of the night'. Armed with this we sailed through the controls after he had whispered the password. We arrived at Mervyn’s villa and spent quarter of an hour yelling and banging on his steel gate before we could make anyone hear. Eventually an old man shuffled up and unlocked the doors. I walked in and there was Clare. She smiled a glazed smile and said, 'Have you been out?' My intense relief turned to anger.

Walking back - two hours after curfew...

Rather than spoil the party I left without a word. Hamid grinned at me as we went outside - the car had gone! We had to walk the whole way back - nearly two hours after curfew and through the three controls. Luckily, Hamid knew the password, the commander was sleeping it off and we had some beers to bribe the remaining guards. I thought this was a good moment to end the day and went to bed.

Clare woke me up at about five in the morning, when she got back, to apologise. She only remembered flashes of the night before - one of them being my angry face. She didn’t know why but assumed it was because she ignored the curfew! I let her know about the rest of the evening. It turned out that everyone thought she’d left in one of the cars because she’d gone to a quiet corner of the garden and sat alone for a while absorbing the sounds of night - and the alcohol.

There is a sequel... I learned that 100 metres away from our villa, a man was bayoneted to death by the soldiers - just about the same time as Hamid and I were walking home! It wasn’t dull there...

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