Meeting with @Baaba879
Feeling comfortable to start moving around with the perfect guide in Mazar.
The first week in Aamo hotel.
One week had passed since I arrived in Mazar. I already talked to several people and understood it would be cheaper and safer to stay, rather than travelling around the country.
During an afternoon walk, trying to get further and further from the hotel, I crossed a street and recognized a man on his bicycle waving at me. It was the man selling cardamom milk near my hotel in the morning, and we were quite far from it. We both said hello again to each other. Even if Mazar-i Sharif is the 4th largest city in the country, being recognized in the streets felt a bit like being in a small town. It also meant that if anybody would have anything against me, they would probably know I was there.
One morning some guys in Aamo hotel invited me to have breakfast with them in their room. They had the TV on, playing Bollywood music videos. I looked closer at the old cathode-ray tube screen, and noticed that women had their bellybutton and knees blurred. It was really surprising to me, I had never thought that Bollywood clips could be censured further than what is acceptable in India.
Aamo hotel was OK for few days, but I could not stay any longer. It was in a really busy part of the city, which attracted a lot of beggars. Little girls would run towards me and hold my clothes as I was going out of the hotel. One evening I was coming down from the rooftop smoking spot, and ended up face to face with a beggar who had sneaked into the hotel, and was eating a watermelon from the garbage. We scared each other and I made signs with my hands saying it was OK. After I got back in my room I heard him getting beat up and chased by the hotel guys. From my window I saw him getting back to his spot in front of the mosque. He was probably suffering from dementia, speaking alone all night along on the sidewalk.
I felt I had to protect myself from the tragic scenes of the city centre, and have a minimum of comfort in my room since I could not spend all day in the streets. Even @baaba879 was wandering what I was doing in this hotel.
I know he is a mystery for many, but only he can disclose his identity, so you won’t see pictures of him, unfortunately. I had contacted him prior to the trip, and I don’t think I was the first one to tell him that I was coming to Mazar. He naturally told me to let him know when I would get there. So I did.
He came to pick me up to the hotel and we went to eat some kababs. He told me he knew a lot of people around, and that he liked to take trip all over the country to get some seeds. He proposed to go to Badakshan, but I explained I didn’t have much money. What I could see in day trips from Mazar was already more than enough for me. I was also more interested in going back to the same place several times or meeting the same people several times rather than seeing new places and people all the time. Then we went to a chillum house in Mazar, and after smoking we both got more relaxed. He was not very comfortable in English, much more in Dari, but he still had to translate me because people were very curious. Most of the guys in the chillum house were surprised to see a foreigner, smoking and liking hashish just as they do. Baaba was not surprised, and he seemed very aware of what was going on in the western cannabis community. More interesting to me, he was also one of the first Afghan I met who didn’t complained about being in Afghanistan. Many complained, understandably, about a difficult economic situation, the limitation in business or education, the security issue, and more generally about the feeling of being doomed. But Baaba was “oh, yes there they grow this kind of weed, there this kind of melons, and in this village they do some unique kind of shoes.” He would also be on the look out for some special dog breeds (they have really impressive dogs in Afghanistan). You could feel that there was tons of things he could complain about, but that he was also really seeing the beauty under the ambiant misery.
So we smoked on the chillum with Wakil malang, in this chillum-house with pink walls. You had to know where it was, from a street corner, you had to go through and empty lot, and there it was, in a small house. The hash was good, and Wakil malang was happy to show all his chillum tricks! I didn’t take my camera the first time because more than pictures, I wanted to take some hits on the chillum! I would later come back several time and take some picture that you can see the photo book “Afghanistan, Fortress of Cannabis.”
Moving to a new hotel
A couchsurfer helped me to find a better hotel. He was a very interesting person, into poetry and journalism, and speaking good English, but I think he deemed my interest in hashish too silly, and I never heard about him again. I was able to bargain a good price for a month-stay in the new hotel for a big room with private bathroom. There was hot water, electricity, a weak wifi, and I could make my chai in the hotel’s kitchen. The kitchen was the “save room” protected with a bullet-proof door.
Upgrading to a better hotel was a good decision. It was in a quiet street a bit outside the busy centre around the mosque compound. The staff was friendly and it was secure. The smoking spot was also on the roof, just next to the hotel’s messy kitchen. It took me some time to explain that I wanted to do my own tea for breakfast. Afghans usually drink green tea with cardamom, so when I bought milk, black tea and spices to make Indian chai, they told me that they call it doodh pati, and that it is usually for children!
So I was settled, ready to explore further than the limit of Mazar. There were mountains that I could see from the rooftop and where I wanted to venture into, but the first goal was to go to Balkh, only 15 miles way!