The trip must go on, despite of the incident with money in Bamiyan, which was enough to slow me down and cancelled all of the plans previously made. I was determined to go to explore the unexplored part of Afghanistan, that one if you see the map of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the odd shaped ‘tongue’ of the country on its northeast. That is Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan, which separates Pakistan from Tajikistan, which separated the British emporium from the Russian one.
During my stay in embassy, I have read many books about Afghanistan, from about the women’s life until the travelling in Afghanistan, and those books have burnt my spirit of travelling and exploring Afghanistan again and again.
Wakhan corridor is still a wild area, unexplored, and it’s the off beaten track in off beaten track country of Afghanistan. It’s also sensitive area, bordering Afghanistan with Tajikistan, Pakistan, and the giant China. The area is underdeveloped, completely isolated to outside world in winter (even early summer and end of autumn), and it seemed that it’s locked somewhere in the history, where even the air was the same air filling the other parts of the earth some centuries ago. No electricity there, not even generator and battery. What was electricity for the Mongol nomads living on pasturelands of Central Asia in the 13th century? It is still the same life there in Wakhan, today.
To go to Wakhan, as what I have read from some guides online (especially http://www.juldu.com), a permit is needed, and would be granted from the Chief in Ishkashim, a small town which is the gate to the valley. The permit should be preceeded by obtaining a permission from ATO (Afghan Tourism Organization) in Kabul. Actually it is possible to present in Iskashim directly without any letters from ATO, but then the permit to Wakhan is also uncertain.
I never imagined that obtaining a permit is not an easy task.
Mr Raheel, the receptionist man in the Indonesian embassy is a friendly old man. He is Afghan national, and speaks perfect English also. He helped me by contacting the ATO by phone (luckily I didnt present there on person). The guy answering the phone said that I needed to write an application letter, stating about my purpose of wandering in those areas, and then the letter should be signed by Ministry of Information and Culture.
Ministry of Information and Culture is a horrible name for me. I have been there before, was just trying to ask for brochures and leaflets about Afghanistan, but they asked me to get a letter first from my embassy or ministry of foreign affairs (asking for brochures and I do need a letter ???). This time, Mr Raheel assured me that no letters would be needed. I assured him that it would be better to call first. The man from MIC (now Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism) assured that a letter from embassy was needed.
“But he was just tourist, he was not our staff. His passport is enough,” said Mr Raheel.
“Oh, yes, you are right. OK, so he doesnt need letter from embassy. He just can come here with the letter, oh yes, also stamp from ministry of foreign affair,” said that man.
“No. He is not journalist. Why he needs letter from ministry of foreign affairs? He is a tourist and he possesses a visa. So there is nothing to do with the MFA,” said Mr Raheel.
“OK, you are right, so he just came here with an application letter and go to the tourist department.”
The man who answered the phone was actually a receptionist. He does not know the exact procedure and actually he didnt know either what problem we were talking about. In fact when I arrived there, I had no any business to do with the man answering the phone. The MICT office is a sad building in the city center, just opposite another sad building, Zar Nigar Hotel and Restaurant (I had my sad experiences there ). The check to the building was very strict. I had to turn on my camera to check that was indeed a camera, not a bomb disguised as a camera. In fact, security check in Kabul is common, even primary school students all had to pass body search and bag search when entering the school gate.
The Tourism department is at the 4th floor. The lady secretary, spoke very good English, looked at my application. “No problem, but our deputy minister is not here, he is in university!” she said. I should come back at 2 pm. It was still 11, so I went back to my embassy, took lunch, and went there again at 2 exact.
The lady secretary was not there. There were another men told me that I should return tomorrow morning, as the important man wouldnt come at all today.
So my first day for applying permit was just two vain introductionary visits to the MICT building.
The second day I was more lucky. The process in MICT was very straightforward. The deputy minister is there in his office. Interviewed me for a while, asked what I was doing in Kabul and where I stayed, then he signed my letter, and asked me to go to ATO office near the airport.
There are public buses to go to airport from the Pashtunistan square. It cost 10 Af to go to the airport area. The driver took me to the real airport instead, and it was quite far from the ATO office. The ATO office is another building, with gloomy atmosphere.
I met the director of ATO. I gave him my letter which was signed by the Deputy Minister. Instead of getting the permit, I was interrogated.
“How many people of you going there?” “I am going alone.”
“You have your own car?” “No.”
“You need interpreter?” “No, I speak Farsi”
“Do you need guide?” “No, I dont have money to hire one.”
“So how can we help you?” “I just need permit to go to Wakhan”
“You dont need jeep, you dont need interpreter, you dont need guide. I really don’t know how to help you.”
“You give me a letter please which enable me to contact the man in charge in Iskhashim to give me permit.”
“Man, you know, Iskashim is very far. How can we contact them? I really dont know how to help you.”
Actually he does know what he was supposed to do, and what he was doing now. He tried to insist me that with their jeep, interpreter, and guide, which I was not interested. Than he assured me that they wont recommend me to go there as life there is too difficult, no facility, too dangerous, bla bla bla. And again and again he said, “I dont know how to help you.”
“Just give me a letter”
“Letter is enough? Just letter from us?” the implicit part of this question was “No jeep? No interpreter? No guide?”
“Yes, it’s enough”
Then, he wrote a memo and gave it to a lady servant. The lady brought the memo to another office, and she let me wait.
This office is also the place where people extend visas. I met many Nepalis coming here. They came to Afghanistan as tourists, then they found job, changed to work visa, and extend the visa here. I was also mistakenly seen as a Nepali. The Nepalis coming here mostly have Mongoloid face as they were Ghurung or Tamang, from the hill areas of the country.
It was very long to wait. In fact, the guys in typing room were busy of chatting each other rather than typing my application permit. I went there to the office. They were excited to chat. A guy tried to approach me, to meet him to Chinese girls, as he want to do ‘something’. For sure , it’s for ‘jigjig’. I told him that there were many Chinese girls in Chinese restaurant. He said that as an Afghan he couldnt get there alone, that’s why he needed me. Last time his best Indian friend took him to a place with many Chinese girls, and he fucked two of them. He assured me he had money. I showed no interest.
“Allah tobah Allah tobah. This is haram,” I said to him, expected him to stop begging like that.
“No, you dont do anything. I will do, I will do. You just there to eat, I will pay you.”
I examined him, and after certifying that he was talking with me only for his own benefit, I refused him by changing the topic.
I thought that I could get the permit after the long waiting. But it was not. The permit has to be signed by the Deputy Minister, so the director of ATO would bring the permit back to MICT office, and I should come back again the day after to pick the signed permit.
And it was today, the third day since my first visit to MICT, after three trips to MICT and two trips to ATO, I successfully get the permit.
Talking about Indonesia, I felt lucky I stayed in embassy and I could watch Indonesian TV. I even could watch some foreign stations with the embassy’s satelite dish. Today, accidentaly, I came across a Korean TV, Arirang, showing a program of travelling in Jakarta. It didnt show the high rise buildings of Jakarta, of course, as it would be boring for Korean audience. In fact it showed ‘interesting’ street life of Jakarta, like old banknote seller on the street, or the colourful street food from rujak manis, nasi goreng, es campur, bakso, etc. It seemed that the Korean presenter was disgusted to taste the food himself, but the program showed how Indonesians delightfully enjoy the food that for Koreans can be considered ‘dirty’. The most unbelievable part of the program was when they interviewed some guys waiting on the road side.
“What are you doing?”
“We are waiting for traffic jam”
They were waiting for traffic jam as it’s the time for them to work. Traffic jams are so common in Jakarta, and it was the time for harvesting money also. This young boys have a plastic bag each, and when the oil tanks pass, it’s the time for them to work. They will open the knop of the tank, and while the oil truck moves slowly because of the traffic jam, they will run beside the vehicle, let the oil flow to their plastic bag. This is daytime oil stealing, in such bright and busy road, and even the truckdriver himself didnt complain. The guys then will collect the oil and sell it.
Has life in Jakarta turned that difficult? Has oil price changed people’s mentality? Even daylight theft like this can be held without any worry in front of the eyes of many people, and even in front of camera of a foreign TV.