People tend to have more things to say when they are angry or disappointed. And today I do the same. I regret I didn’t tell you earlier how I was impressed by hospitality of Kabul taxi drivers, who usually refuse to receive money from a foreign guest (only lip service mostly, but anyway it makes me happy), but now I have to tell a scary experience with a Kabul driver.
I was invited by a friend to a dinner in Wazir Akbar Khan area, the rich part of Kabul where many embassies, foreign organizations, and expatriate housings are located. I usually don’t stay until late night, but yesterday we talked until completely forgetting about the time.
At the end, an AFP French reporter friend of mine realized that it was already 10:30, and we had to leave. She offered me to walk together to the main road, from where I can find taxi to go home and she went back to her house on foot.
We walked together to the direction of the main road. Usually, at this inconvenient time of the day, taxis are hard to find. But God-knows-why, we found two taxis offering for ride even before we reached the roundabout.
I said good-bye to my friend, and then started bargaining for the taxi.
“Eighty Afghani, OK? To the Ministry of Interior.”
He said no problem. But then he went first to discuss with a driver friend, before starting to his car.
“Come,” he asked me to get in.
“You will take me? Eighty Afghani?”
I was actually surprised, because 80 Af is considered too cheap to take a taxi at late midnight like this. He even didn’t bargain and just agreed the price at the first shout.
He started the machine, and drove toward Shar-e-Nao, the new city part of Kabul.
“So, who was that? A girl, right?” he asked me about my journalist friend.
“Not a girl. A woman,” I corrected.
“Ooo… did you f*ck her?”
It is not surprising to hear an Afghan man talking like this about a foreign woman. I didn’t want to continue this topic. “She is like my mother, so don’t talk like that, please.”
He kept driving. The road was totally dark and no other vehicles passing.
“Will you give me visa?”
“I am not an embassy, how can I give you visa?”
“You cannot arrange from your country?”
“I am sorry, but our country visa is very difficult here.”
It still sounded a friendly conversation, right? Three seconds after, he started another topic.
“Give me twenty dollars!”
“I don’t have that much of money right now.”
He rubbed my legs, around the pocket where I put my wallet in.
“No, you have. Give me money.”
“Oh, come on, brother, I am a Muslim,” I said, “and we are friends.”
“Paisa bede. Give me money!” he started an irritated tone.
“No, brother, I don’t have.”
“You have, what is this?” he looked directly into my eyes when rubbing my leg. He is young, fit, slightly bearded, and dressed in white or grey shalwar qameez.
He started to drive to wrong direction. I also started to panic. Kabul roads are completely empty. Nobody, and only one or two unfortunate vehicles are passing. I am now with a completely unfriendly stranger in his car. My life is in at his mercy.
Will I be kidnapped? The roads changed to be unrecognizable in my eyes, partly due to the darkness, partly due to the emptiness, and another part due to my fear.
I started to read Islamic holy sentence, read some prayers. The guy became more irritated.
“OK. OK. Stop it. I know you are Muslim. I will be also Muslim after you give the money. Paisa bede!” He raised his tone.
I was now prepared for the worst. The thing I was worrying most was that the hard driver where I kept all of my documents is inside my jacket. I could give up money, but not this valuable hard drive.
“OK. I will give you money, but take me to my home first,” I begged him, half crying.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I promise.”
He turned back his car. From Forushgah area we went back again to the ministry of education. This was a right direction.
In front of Hotel Mustafa, about 200 meter from my place, he stopped his car.
“Move forward, please. My house is over there.”
I knew once I arrived near the ministry of interior, I would be safe. This place is heavily guarded day-long, and police were everywhere.
“No. First, give me money.”
I was not daring now even to take out my wallet. I put my body next to the car door. Further, further, away from him who still kept his left hand palm on my leg. I tried to find the door opener. He realized what I was trying to do, but before he controlled the situation, I already jumped out and ran.
Alas, from other direction, two cars were passing. I was almost hit, but I kept running, without looking back even a glance. I shouted, screamed, ran, at the middle of empty Kabul night. Running on slippery snow in a cold midnight might not be an ideal physical exercise, but I had no other choice.
A ministry police, who saw me running and shouting, stopped me.
“Chi gab ast? What happened?”
I told him the story. But it was hard. I was still panic. It was even difficult to move my lips in this weather.
“Na tars. Na tars. Don’t be afraid. Trust me. I am police. I show you my card,” he held my hand and walked together toward my office. He then arranged some other police to escort me home.
I was safe. The minute I arrived at my office, my heart still beat extremely fast.
But ten minutes later, it turned back to be laughter, when a friend said, “See! You even didn’t pay for taxi ride. In fact it was you who robbed him and not the other way round.”
This irony was indeed the best way of dissolving my trauma.