Why exactly did Afghanistan become the target of one of my trips? Of course, Africa more interesting than Asia (as everyone who visited my photo exhibitions could see), but you can't get hung up on one thing, so, I alternate African countries with Asian ones.
However, there were other reasons. On the eve of trip, I found in Internet the rating of most dangerous countries to visit. Afghanistan is number one, followed by Iraq and Somalia (by the way: I tried to open a visa to Iraq twice — in Kiev and in Amman), this strengthened the choice made. But don’t think that I’m a fan of the hot spots of the planet. Afghanistan is an original country. In a sense, it is a paradise for a photographer. Apart from Egypt (which, despite its geographical location, according to some external signs, I would attribute to Asia, not Africa), this is the most interesting place in Asia. Perhaps even more interesting than India, where there are more tourists than flies. The second reason is an affordable visa, which I received at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Kiev the day after submitting the documents. Although, in principle, I could have had it on the same day: employees pretended to be busy for the sake of assumed importance.
Across the border — on foot Edit
...On an ordinary city minibus, I drove up to the bridge separating two countries — Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. With the remains of a half-eaten Uzbek flatbread in one hand and a plastic bottle of tea in the other (the driver gave me the liquid part of his breakfast), moved towards the border. I didn't have time to take two steps when a private taxi driver drove up to me. "To Afghanistan? — he asked. — Sit down, I'll give you a ride." I should note that the driver's words sounded unusual. I was, by all outward signs, on "Soviet territory", and the fact that somewhere nearby, three hundred meters away, there is a country of Afghanistan, sounded somehow fabulous and unrealizable, as if Afghanistan is a kind of restaurant or cinema. Of course, I refused: "What taxi for beggars?" The driver, having learned that "client" without a penny, offered to give a ride for free. I got into the car, and a hundred meters later, at the gate of border checkpoint, he dropped me off: then — only with a visa. Besides me, there were no thirsty exotics on this day, so customs and border formalities did not take much time.
With a backpack on my back and a passport in my hands, I walked forward, still not believing that in a few minutes I would be in Afghanistan. For the first time in my life, I had to cross the state border on foot. Approaching the bridge, I saw several men in military uniforms. Uzbeks or Afghans? It turned out to be Uzbeks. They asked if I had passed customs. Replied that he had passed and asked a counter question: "Is it true that Russians are being beheaded in Afghanistan?" - "No, what are you... — they replied. — All those who left safely return back." — "With or without heads?" The Uzbeks fell silent for a second, and then laughed for a long time.
On the other side of the bridge, I was met by two Afghans with one machine gun. I showed them the passport cover, and they pointed to the booth where I was supposed to be stamped. There was no customs. Having stamped the "entrance", stepped onto Afghan soil. I was walked on Hairatan, looked at people in exotic clothes and began get used to idea that this not a dream.
...About a week has passed since crossing the border of Afghanistan. I got a little used to the environment, I was no longer surprised that there are paramilitary police posts in Kabul every 50 meters, which may sometimes ask to show documents for verification.
One fine Afghan evening came out of mehmunsarai, where I lived ("an institution" where people eat during the day and sleep at night. — Author's note) to buy something inexpensive for dinner. There was a market around the "hotel" (I as usual lived in a poor area). It got already dark. The police of the nearest post stopped me: the usual formalities. After a standard passport check, the law enforcement officers ordered me to return to my room and go to bed in the language of signs, argumenting their words by saying that the area is restless. In response, I pointed to the clock, which was only seven in the evening, categorically refusing to obey such an absurd demand. Then one of them, stopping a taxi, took me to the police station, which was located nearby. In general, this has happened before, so there were no concerns on my part: in the north of Afghanistan, Russians are friendly.
After passing through the gate with paramilitary guards, I found myself in an office where someone in a military uniform was sitting at a desk. "Who was detained?" — "Shuravi!" Stranger tried to talk to me, but I know as much in Farsi as he does in Russian, that is, no more than ten words, so the conversation did not work out. The crowd of people in uniform who gathered from all corners "for the performance" was also not strong in languages: no one really knew Russian or English, only the word "Shuravi" (translated from Farsi — "Soviet". — Ed.) sounded several times in their conversation. That's all I understood. I was looked at as an alien, perhaps another comparison would be more correct: that's how they look at a harmless cute old man who raped a flock of sheep. Soon a way out was found: a person who spoke good Russian was called by phone. The combat commander who arrived asked me a few questions. And although I answered all the questions truthfully, he could not believe that a foreigner arrived to an unfamiliar distant country alone, so it seemed that I was deceiving or not telling something (apparently, he had not read my articles about African tribes in the "Crimean Time").
They seized my camera during the search, after this put me in a car and took me somewhere. Upon arrival at a military-looking institution, the bearded commander talked for a long time with someone from the authorities. During the conversation, they asked me standard questions: about the visa, the purpose of the visit, etc., but I repeated that I came alone and don't know anyone here.
Apparently, they didn't believe. I was taken somewhere again in the same car. Along the way, I tried to shame the bearded man: "It's a shame, I'm a tourist, I came to your country as a guest, and you..."
"Private room" in... prison Edit
Soon the car drove into the gates of another institution, similar in appearance to the previous one. We went into the office of official (as it turned out later, it was the head of the prison). The bearded man who delivered me said something to the beardless one, but when a few minutes later I found myself in one of the cells at the basement of this building, it came as a surprise to me: certainly did not expect this from northern Afghans.
In the cell, designed for six, besides me, there was another "colleague" — an old man from the locals. He treated the conclusion calmly, as if he was born here, and even tried to talk to me about something with a smile. But I wasn't up to talking. I lay down on the bunk and went into myself. It seemed that the warden or the bearded man was about to come in and say: "We were joking, you can go..." Soon the warden really came to... take the old man to the toilet. After that, the procedure was performed in relation to me. I was lying on the bunk and looking at the ceiling. After a while the" boss" showed up again. He moved two convicts from the next cell to the old man, thus giving me a "separate room".
Put up with the fate of a prisoner, and also knowing that it was impossible to bring a camera to such a place, I tried to remember what I saw so that I could describe later. So, the cell I was in was a room of about one and a half by three meters, in which there were only two-tiered bunks. Rather, it was not a prison, but a bullpen. The floor is decorated with light tiles, the walls are painted white. On the bunks, welded from a metal corner, there were new mattresses and pillows of dark blue color, without underwear, and warm wool blankets. By the way, afghanish hotels look much worse: they are dirtier, and clients sleep on the floor. I mean cheap mehmunsarais intended for locals, in one of which I lived. At the top, under the ceiling — a barred window, about 20 by 20 cm, through which I saw a sunbeam the next morning. The similar window, but without bars — on the door. The only thing that was unusual for me was and a little scary: the door handle was missing from the inside, and the switch was outside, so, as I understood, the light would be on all night in the cell.
Falling asleep, thought that until the end of the visa — more than twenty days, I am not late for the plane, because there is no return ticket, therefore, there is nothing to worry about. The only problem is that I will have to pay for a room in mehmunsarai, where my things are located: a little expensive — five bucks — for a "storage room".
"After checking the contents of the photo camera, release the detainee" Edit
I was about go to bed when the warden reappeared. He brought a cut-off plastic bottle, explaining by signs that it was "parasha".
...The watchman woke me up in the morning. Through the window in the cell door, he handed me a piece of stale bread and tea. Before that, I didn't know what a prison balanda . "Apparently, this is what she is," mused, finishing what had brought. For lunch, the same old guard brought me a small plate of rice and a glass of tea. And in between meals, I was called upstairs for questioning (or conversation). After conferring in their own language, the newly arrived authorities sent the detainee back to the cell. "This is already worse," I thought, lying on the bottom shelf of the bunk and looking at nothing.
..At four o'clock in the afternoon, I was again invited for questioning. The final decision of the "court" was as follows: "After checking the contents of the seized camera, release the detainee," since the visa is in order and there are no violations of the law.
I was put in a car and taken to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where a certain person had to carry out the above check. The responsible person was not there. The watch on my hand showed five o'clock. Two hours later, he appeared; after checking they returned the confiscated items to me and released me safely. One of the employees of the institution gave me a ride to the hotel in a government car. At seven in the evening I was already sitting on the floor in my room, because there was never furniture in it. Exactly 24 hours have passed since the arrest.
…Two days later, not far from mehmunsarai in the Kote-Sangi district, I met a bearded commander who delivered me to the "dungeon". "Is everything okay?" — he asked. "Yes," — I replied. "Are you really alone here and no one is helping you?" — the interlocutor asked another question. "Only he," replied, raising his index finger to the sky. The bearded man, thinking, fell silent.
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