No, I did not get to see the citadel of Herat from up-close. And no, I did not visit the famous candy shops. That, plus the fact that I did not get to roll at the “Rolling Saint” just about leave enough reasons for me to visit this great city again.
The only thing that came close to dampening my spirits about the whole experience was the treatment at both airports, in Herat and in Kabul. Somehow on this day ISAF soldiers from the Italian contingent in Herat had decided it was time to pay a visit to the airport and review routine security procedures with their Afghan counterparts. This mostly involved tall and rugged-looking Sicilians (don’t know for certain, but almost all rough and tough Italians on screen are from there) in shades and dour faces -because remember, the great Pavrotti passed away on Thursday- standing around with hands on their hips at the airport, while the Afghan police and security folks took the inanity of their useless security procedures to new heights.
This involved the following in the case of the poor chap immediately in front of me: opening a giant suitcase, spreading the contents out on a table, thumbing through each piece of wardrobe, unzipping the side-pocket of the suitcase, taking out a little bag, opening it, taking out a small notebook, and shaking the notebook – probably expecting a little sachet of heroin to fall out. Of course none did – that stuff usually goes untouched and undetected, and through much more previliged channels. Once we were through with this, the bags would be put through the electronic screening machine. And in the intervening 10 minutes, the rest of us -including the bored Italians- stared at the whole spectacle thinking “Come on! That is a bit excessive even for bearded people named Muhammad Ali at JFK.”
I will spare you similar details about Kabul airport, but suffice to say that I got further affirmation of the mentality that seems to prevail among all civil servants, government employees, and officers of the law here: “Just because you can make life harder for others -especially if they are Afghan- you should. Treat them as first-rate suspects and frustrate the hell out of them. Make them hate you. Because, by the authority vested in your uniform by the law and the government, you can do it.”
Moral of the story: do not under any circumstances get separated from your minister or ambassador or assorted other government dignitary or Khareji while travelling by air in Afghanistan, or there will be a sudden and steep drop in the quality of service and a disappointing loss of preferential treatment.
(*This post will leave no doubts that I’ve got “blogger’s mood swing,” but whatever…)