If at least they could rob you in a civilised way in Usbekistan

Dear friends and family,

Two more months have passed since my first Email from Afghanistan. Many things have happened since. If you do not want to receive this Email, please wire the unsubscription fee or … just… bugger off!

25.12.05 Christmas Day surrounded by around 40 strangers from different humanitarian organizations. All of them came to the basement of our Residence 2, to eat tasty turkey, drink , and replace the non-existent or far away family.

26.12.05 After three hours of sleep, a working day starts with a field trip to Pul-e-Khumri, Kunduz, and Taloqan, in the North-East of Afghanistan. At least that was the plan, until a roadside bomb went off just a few hundred metres in front of us, targeting a military convoy.

http://english.people.com.cn/200505/26/eng20050526_186954.html

Blood was all around. We stopped all of our vehicle movements in order to find out what happened. Then, we all safely return to Mazar. The trip is for another time…


31.12.05 The 40 or so strangers are already a bit less strangers at the New Year’s Eve Party at IOM. We changed the curfew from 22 h to 30 minutes after midnight…. It’s incredible that it’s already 2006.

3.-6.1.06 Finally our trip to Pul-e-Khumri, Kunduz, and Taloqan can take place without problems. In Kunduz, my assistant gives a radio interview in Dari about the prevention of mine accidents. Last year, 200’000 persons received mine risk education from ICRC and ARCS in the North of Afghanistan. Kunduz and Taloqan are heavily mine-infected areas – several former front lines have passed in the area, including the very last frontline between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. Driving in the Landcruiser through the snow-covered mountain road, which looks like Switzerland, is mind-blowing. Especially with my assistant, working for us since 1994, who tells me the story behind every burned-out Soviet tank, every green flag for a dead Mujahedeen fighter, and every hill that was an IDP camp. “Behind there, we assisted 20’000 displaced people a few years ago”, he said as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

Afghan warriors are legendary, but so is Afghan hospitability. In Kunduz, we get again a huge Afghan breakfast at the ARCS Branch. It’s enough food for more than a day, and we have to try of every plate a bit. At the end, the ARCS President says: “You didn’t eat much again”. In Taloquan, it’s time for lunch, and as expected, huge amounts of goat meet, rice, and all kinds of other things are piled up in the ARCS office for us. I struggle with the food. At the end, the ARCS President says: “You didn’t eat much”. Please! In the Kunduz Hotel, it’s below Zero degrees even at night, and they charge 50 US$ for it. We decide to renovate the ARCS guest house and spend our nights there in the future.
 

10.1.06. It’s the Muslim holiday of Eid – no local staff except security guards and radio operators are working. I use the time to fix a small dental problem in Termez, Usbekistan, just 1.5 hours away from Mazar. The border must be about 3 km from the first Afghan to the last Usbek checkpoint, going over a long bridge. My Russian is limited, Usbek friendliness also, but I make it to the other side, am met by the field officer of our office in Termez, and am happy to be somehow in civilization in that former Soviet Republic.

After the dental appointment, the field officer drops me at a restaurant, and we agree to meet again the next morning at the Hotel for transfer back to the border. When I leave the restaurant, an English-speaking employee helps me find a taxi. We walk on the main road, with many people around us, when I see that two strange young men in their early 20ies have followed us from the restaurant. I ask if it was not better to turn back. No sooner than I ask, both of the guys are on my side of the road. They don’t say a word, they just walk next to us. I feel uncomfortable and want to turn around. Without saying a word, one of them smashes his fist in my face. I fall to the snow-covered ground. Faced with the infamous “fight or flee” alternative, I choose flee. But I can not even get properly up, when I am again punched into the eye and the mouth. I am lying on the ground and just wait for the punches to be finished. I was not hit more than five or six times in total, but it was an eternity. The last kick was with the foot in the face. I barely felt a hand in my right pocket, taking away the equivalent of 20 US$ as well as an “Oral B” mouth rinse I got from the dentist. I bleed heavily, not realizing if it’s out of the eye, the nose, or the mouth, that I am bleeding. Instinctively, I check if all teeth are still in. All are in, even if one is loose. A taxi stops and takes me to the Hotel, to which our field officer rushes.

Remark 1: In civilized countries, we rob each other by putting a gun at someone’s front and by saying politely: “Give me money or I kill you”. Why can’t they do it that way in Uzbekistan?

Remark 2: Being beaten in the face is one of those things that you see ten thousand times happening in a movie, but that you never think would happen to you. So how does it actually feel? Surprisingly maybe, at 10 below zero centigrade, you don’t feel anything. Let’s be honest, it’s a bit humiliating if you just wait for the other to stop. But it was over in less than a minute, and in the first moments, it was just something out of this planet, something unbelievable. However, the physical pain started, when I was in the hotel room.

The F.O. rushes me to the hospital, where four ex-Soviet doctors with white hats like cooks receive me. “No problem, we keep you here only one or two days”. That was a good one. Give me another one. I turn to my F.O. and tell him that he should ensure sterility in whatever they do, just in case I fade into unconsciousness. I feel a needle in my a… The doctors clean the wounds around my right eye. The nose is not broken, they say.

Then, four police officers in leather jackets rush in and start to take my formalities and wanted me to tell them the story. I told them to go back to the restaurant and ask the owner for the two guys. I remember that they also had been at the restaurant before. Off the KGB-types went.

At 1 a.m., I am back in the hotel, the police calls. Two persons arrested. I need to identify them. At the police station, they rush me into a first room and tell me not to say anything inside that room, just to look at the guy. It was clearly the one, who beat me up. I recognized him from his face, his golden teeth, his “Lucky Strike” sign on the jacket. The second type took me more time to identify, but finally I was also sure that he was in the team, although I was not sure if he beat me.

Yes that’s me, in the morning after.

11.1.06. The night at the hotel was short (the plan is to go to the Capital City Tashkent for treatment) – at 7 a.m. the police call me again to the police station, for a cross fire interrogation (or however that is called), which was videotaped. They denied having done anything to me, and they didn’t know where the blood on the shirt came from… At the end, the investigating judge says: “Can you confirm that all your statements are true and have been taped with a Panasonic video camera?” – “I swear to God and Panasonic that everything I said is true”. I am just ready for the nine-hour drive to Tashkent, when the police tell me to go to the “governmental medical expert”. OK, I am beyond being tired. Since I looked into the mirror in the morning, I realized that a few tooth had quite some corners missing. I looked somehow like Frankenstein with my black-blue eye and my broken tooth.

And that’s one of the culprits, easily recognizable by (my) blood on the Lucky Strike jacket. Photo taken from mobile phone during the Panasonic-video-camera filmed interrogation at an Usbek police station.

Then, we drive for nine hours throughout Usbekistan to Tashkent, over a 3’000 m mountain. Very beautiful landscape, in as far as I saw it. The snow started to hurt the eyes. On top of the mountain, the F.O. forces me to eat something. “I can’t eat. My teeth are broken”. I get some soup and see that I am in good hands. My spirits start to go up. To the hell with it, I am alive. At 10 p.m., still on the road, I am way beyond being tired. I am just up in space with my Ipod competing for the Russian music the F.O. plays through the sound system. At 10.30 p.m., he says: “We are in Tashkent”. I look out of the window: Wide open landscape. “That’s not how I imagined your 3 million Capital”. It’s Tashkent Province, he explains. At 11 p.m., we arrive at a quite nice Hotel.

12.1.06 Appointments with dentist and eye doctor are planned, but the F.O. doesn’t show up at the hotel. He slept too long, being tired himself, and the the car had the Diesel frozen. In the restaurant at breakfast, nobody wants to sit nearby Frankenstein. I recognize a guy from Mazar. He looks unbelieving at me, clearly thinking that I committed some kind of crime. Dentist fixes the most important corners. Eye doctor: Eye will be 99% ok, but a CT wouldn’t be a bad idea. In the afternoon, flight back to Termez.

13.1.06 Back to the safety of Northern Afghanistan. All the officials at the border already know the story – formalities are very easy this time.

Oh gosh, it’s almost two months later now. This Email will be without end. So let’s keep it short: I am fine now again, went to Geneva for a course, medical treatment, as well as the burial of my grandmother, temperatures are slowly starting to rise here in the North, the snow has melted. More bombs have exploded, some others have not exploded. We discovered an unidentified object in front of our office – it turned out to be garbage, through empirical investigation of the Afghan National Police.

Stay in touch !

Cheers,
Marcel

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