Baharak – Passport Check, a Birthday Present

The nondescript bazaar town of Baharak

The nondescript bazaar town of Baharak

“Everything is wrong in Afghanistan” – Dr. Momin

Today is my birthday. I become 25 years old already. And with the wish of luck I departed Ishkashim together with Arnoult. We are heading to Baharak, where I can catch the next transport to Faizabad, and Arnoult was going to Shewa.

The shared Falancoach started from Ishkashim at 8. As usual, Afghans have non-understandable concept of time. The driver came to the restaurant and rushed our breakfast as he said that the motor was going to start as soon as possible. It was not before an hour of waiting the motor just started the engine.

There were some other passengers also heading to Faizabad, including a man from Tajikistan who spoke Russian with me. The road to Baharak itself is quite boring after the experience in the Wakhan. But Baharak, after 7 hours of nondescript Falancoach journey, was not anymore a nondescript town. In my previous post when I cam to Baharak from Fraizabad, I wrote that this town was sleepy and just a nondescript bazaar twon. But coming from Ishkashim after 2 weeks in isolated Wakhan valley, Baharak seemed flourished. The palao lunch was superb as I didn’t remember anymore the last time I took such a complete lunch.

I went with the Tajikistan guy to the bandar (bus station) to Faizabad. Actually there were already four of us to go to Faizabad together. As usual the appearance of a foreigner attracted so much attention of the crowd, the people who were lack of business that day. Some driver insisted us to take “dar-bast”, literally “closed door”, means to hire the car for ourselves. It’s not essential as there are always many people going to Faizabad, only 2 hours from Baharak.

It was 2:00, when a driver with black beard so stretched in radial direction that it formed a half ball under his head, turned his heavy head to me after talking with the Tajikistan guy about taking his car.
He asked me, in Farsi, impolitely, “You, from where?”
I replied him, in Farsi, also impolitely, “From there.”
Just like an authoritative man, he screamed, “Passport!”
“I have”
“Show me”
He got agitated. I was also not going to show passport to such a random man, in random situation, surrounded by huge random crowd in a random bazaar.
“Who are you? You police? Show me your card first!” I said to him

Traveling around Baharak with donkey

Traveling around Baharak with donkey

He didn’t have a card. He said he had, and went to take it. He went to police station nearby and came with a man who said he was police. The round bearded man just actually a bored driver looking for business, and now just successfully got an “authorized” man to make his day.

I looked at the police ID card. He didn’t wear uniform and the fact that now he was bearded but the photo was not. It made me difficult to recognize him. The ID card had flag of Afghanistan and the United States of America, but everything, was written in Arabic script, except “Border Police Training”. Anyway, I agreed to show my passport, but in a corner of the bazaar to avoid the twenties of men and boys curiously looking of what happened.

I went to corner, took out my passport from the hidden pocket of my jacket, dangerously stuck together with most of my money. Again, the crowds, those boys, food sellers, passers-by, drivers, etc etc came and saw what happened. It was not the police who rushed them away. It was me who scolded the crowd in Urdu (almost nobody understood, except one or two).

The man with circular beard and the younger one who possessed the army card examined my passport. I didn’t expect that he could read English script as he read my nationality but failed to find where my name was. Then he proceeded to the next pages. The checking was so unprofessional. They looked at my Malaysian entry stamps, Indonesian Immigration stamps, Chinese visa, Indian visa, Nepal visa, and praised, “oh… yes…, 2005… 2005…”, “oh, 2006”, “no, 2005”.

It took already long time and I felt very unsecure when my passport was in the hands of these men and I was surrounded by now thirties of people, thinking I was some kind of criminal. It was me who pointed to them, “This is my Afghan visa!”, pointed the important dates, and grabbed my passport back. I was so angry.

And I got more angry when I found even the Tajikistan guy had left, seemed that he thought I was a man with problems. More angry as I was the only foreigner to be such unprofessionally and pointlessly checked, and now I had to restart waiting for another vehicle to be filled by passengers. And I couldn’t express anymore how angry I became when a hand of a police man in uniform which resemble a security guard, grabbed my hand rudely and said I had to go to the office. Of course I refused. I was just a traveler waiting fro bus and now I became center of interest of bored passers-by and something to do of the policemen who barely understood the contents of a passport.

A guy speaking Urdu said to me to be calm, nothing was special, “koi zabardasti nahi hai.” It was not the passport check which agitated me, but it was the pointless check and rude behavior, and now I missed my vehicle.

Suddenly I found myself sitting in a Volvo together with the police guard (later I found named Qori) with a driver. I thought they agreed to take me to Faizabad with 200 Af price (50 Af more expensive than the Falancoach). In fact they took me to the governor’s house, the commander of all of the police. A tourist waiting for bus needed to meet the governor first? Only in places where not much thing to do that it may happen. Baharak is one.

The commander was sitting, treating his guests, where the police came, bringing me in front of him. Of course in front of him I expressed my disappointment about the attitude of his servants. He looked at my passport and said everything was alright. He asked about my job and I answered I was writer.
“For sure I will write about this.” The guard face looked pale.
“Nothing is special,” said the guy who spoke Urdu.
“Yes, but I lost so much time. And I am also tired”
“But it’s only 30 minutes of time!” claimed the guy in Urdu.
I looked at my watch. “No, it’s 1 hour and 10 minutes.”
The commander smiled, “man fahmidam. I understand”

When I took my leave, the commander gave speech to the police guard about how to treat foreign travelers properly. I took the Volvo to Faizabad and during the way I was still overwhelmed by what happened. Slowly my heartbeat slowed down and later I met dr. Momin Jalali, the Badakhshan provincial health director.

“Why didn’t you introduce my name to them?” asked Dr. Momin when I told him about what happened, inferring that his name might be almighty enough to solve the bureaucratic problems like this in his province.
“Everything is wrong in Afghanistan,” added him.

And it was also his same comment when I told him about the WFP truck convoys which traveled along the way from Pakistan bringing Pakistan milk boxes to the students in Pamir, where supposed the best milk in the world is produced. The boxes were of course pollution in fragile mountain environment. The fuel of the trucks, the cost of the milk, salaries of the drivers, all became meaningless cost due to the wrong strategy. Also when I told him about the abundant poppy fields in his province and drug addicts in Wakhan, he just commented, “Yes, everything is still wrong in Afghanistan.”

About Agustinus Wibowo

Agustinus is an Indonesian travel writer and travel photographer. Agustinus started a “Grand Overland Journey” in 2005 from Beijing and dreamed to reach South Africa totally by land with an optimistic budget of US$2000. His journey has taken him across Himalaya, South Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, and ex-Soviet Central Asian republics. He was stranded and stayed three years in Afghanistan until 2009. He is now a full-time writer and based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Contact: Website | More Posts

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