Have Dead Goat, Will Travel

Kabul, Afghanistan - 30 / 12 / 01

So on the eve of New Year’s Eve, the house sits in contemplation on how long our stores of alcohol will hold out in the New Year.  The outgoing producer has reassured me that his replacement will be properly supplied, but I have taken measures with rival networks to make sure that I, personally, am properly covered.  Besides the overhanging fear of a “dry” house, the situation has been pleasant.

Four days ago, I ventured out of the compound for the first time.  I was told by the correspondent that I was going out with, that we were going down to the bazaar to pick up blankets, a good precursor to dealing with the locals, then travel to south Kabul to look at the destruction.  We went to the market, and I was quickly greeted by the stares of astonishment of people who had never seen a Westerner before.  Everywhere we walked, we were followed by hordes of people from stall to stall, children saying over and over again, “How are you?  How are you?”.  The correspondent procured 20 blankets and we soon left for the southern portions of Kabul.  Once arriving in the dilapidated neighborhoods of south Kabul, we stopped at a “residence” of a family, squatting at a formerly exquisite home, leveled by war.  The reporter started handing out blankets to the family and soon a horde of people gathered around, pleading for the remaining blankets.  The situation began to degrade rather quickly as the group of people began to grow to over one hundred.  We took refuge in the vehicle, while the mass of people slammed their hands on the windows and rocked the SUV back and forth.  We continued to hand out blankets in an attempt to appease some of the people; one blanket was handed to a particularly desperate looking widow.  As she embraced the blanket, it was snatched from her grasp by a swarthy man who took off running.  Taking this as our cue, we decided to leave the volatile situation, and the driver took off after the “bad” man with the blanket.  We arrived at the man’s shop and the driver and our interpretor jumped out of the SUV and began to “rough up” the blanket thief.  They reacquired the blanket and we left the area, an end to a somewhat uneventful day.

The following day, I went out with my fellow engineer to procure a generator.  We left with our electrical engineer, Nazir, and the head of the household, Ahmed Shah, to a generator shop in town.  The owner of the shop tried to sell us a generator for twelve thousand dollars US, which we quickly turned down, since a person could buy three vehicles for that money. The owner led us to a man in another part of town that had a generator he was willing to sell.  We met the man at his shop, and then followed him to his home to see his merchandise. The generator physically was in a sorry state of disrepair. We were informed the sabotage was performed on purpose.  Had it been in prime condition, the Taliban would have taken it, so parts of the generator were disassembled and hidden in different areas, while the tires were slashed.  Ahmed Shah and Nazir haggled over the price with our host, tea and shortbread was brought out for us to enjoy.  We succeeded in acquiring the generator at a cheaper price than we bargained for and went back home to the compound.

Two days ago, I had the chance to witness Afghanistan’s national sport, buz kashie.  Buz kashie is a game that was brought to the area by the Mongols, and is played on horseback by two teams.  The object of the game is two get a goat carcass into a circle and to prevent your opponent from doing the same, the head of the goat is given to the MVP of the match.  Originally the game was played with the bodies of enemies, such as the British, which is sometimes hard to stomach when a limb of the carcass is seen flying through the air.  Being a member of the media, I was allowed down to the center of the field to get a nice view of the action, something not commonly allowed, which will be explained soon.  Buz kashie doesn’t really have any set boundaries, and it wasn’t a foreign sight to see a player take off after a heckler through the crowd, on horseback.  While in the center of the field, I began to realize why there are no people allowed on the field.  Horses were constantly coming at us at full gallop.  Making matters worse, was the fact that people from the crowd started coming down to the field to see the foreigners, creating a very chaotic scene.  Not only did I have to deal with the onslaught of horses, but also the push of the crowd, trying to runaway from the horses as well as guards with whips and guns.  I left the match with just a few bruises from a slight trampling, but for the most part it was a pretty non-eventful day.

Awaiting New Year’s here, we are all watching the Indian / Pakistan conflict intensely.  Some people from the house have already left for Islamabad, Pakistan to cover the action.  I quietly hope that if anything happens, that it will occur after I’m back in the States, its hard enough to get a flight out of Kabul, I can only imagine how hard it would be if Islamabad was wiped of the face of the planet.  Anyway, I hope everyone has a happy and peaceful New Year.

- Mike Brandenburg