6 October 2014. I am looking at a pack that is not as tightly or comprehensively loaded as it could be , and at two smaller bags which I hope will withstand the rigours of yak travel for a month. Those two bags look deflated as well. I run the checklist again and, despite my misgivings figure I have everything packed which I need. And all that I can get my hands on in Kabul. Surely there should be more? Tomorrow I head to Nepal with a view to climb Ama Dablam. It’s no big deal for the hard core climbing folks but I remind myself that only 26 months ago I was in Nepal looking at those inspiring Himalayan peaks and thinking I should climb one of them. Or as many of them as I could. So I came back from that trip and without letting on (least it was something I did not have the stomach for) spent a weekend hanging off some ropes on a basic climbing course in the Blue Mountains. A couple of alpine courses in New Zealand followed along with some more rock work in New South Wales and I now figure I have enough rudimentary knowledge to have a go at this. There may well be more intermediate climbs to get the hang of this sport but when I saw this mountain was an opportunity to mix training with actually hitting serious summit of 23,000’ or so I thought “Why not?” Now I am sitting here looking at those bags the night before I am due to fly out and thinking “Why?”
A tropical sort of storm mugged its way over the city today, boiling up in the west and crackling its enthusiasm just as I was getting ready to leave the house. One of those storms that toys with you with a smack of rain here, a dollop of water there and you are never too sure if you should run for cover or just wander through it at your leisure. By the time I was leaving the car park it was firing hail the size of peas so I allowed myself to be talked onto a decrepit bus. It kept me out of the worst of it but of course the bus shuttle here is run by a broad faced cheeky grin and black currant eyes who drops me outside the baggage scan but who wont immediately release my bags to me.
‘I’m a poor man, a very poor man.’
He grins at me, head cocked to one side from under his shawl, white peas from heaven bouncing off his black head.
‘I’m not carrying any cash.’
“But I’m a very poor man.’
I turn my pockets inside out. The passengers bank up behind us. “I have no cash’ I repeat. It’s true. I carry none.
He is resolute and maintains his cheeky charm. Then I remember a stash of cash in the bottom of my day back. It’s a mix of odd currencies and I hope there might be some Afghanistan Afs. I rummage around, all the while the hail gaining in intensity. I step back into the bus. He waits as the peas turn into marbles and pick up speed. He spots a 10 Afs notes and shakes his head. To my alarm I see there is a US twenty dollar note in there. I don’t want him to see that. He spots the Thai Baht and shakes his head. He sadly shakes his head at the Emirates dirhams. Then he spots a 20Afs note. He seems pleased at 30 Afs (about fifty cents) and my bags and I are allowed into the lashing hail and the bus empties behind me.
The fun isn’t over yet however, for my cart is snatched by a well dressed young man who escorts my bags all the way through to the check in . The expected nonsense starts again when my boarding pass is issued. Knowing I am reduced to Thai Baht, UAE dirhams, some Australian coin and one USD20 note makes the inevitable argument easier.
‘I am kind (yes you are) and I have helped you (yes you have – though I needed that help like a needed assistance with my knife and fork).
‘Tasher kor. Thank you, you have been very kind.’ I move on. He adopts the posture of a leech.
‘I have done my job, now I am due a tip.’ (Far too many Americans have preceded me here).
I put my arm around his shoulders. ‘You might be due a tip’ I tell him “But you should have asked me first. I have no cash.’
‘But my tip? I am due my tip.’
“I carry no cash. But you did a great job.’ I pat his shoulder but the look on his face tells me he is not assured. I pat it again and say “I appreciated your help. Tasher Kor. Happy Eid. Goodbye.’
I walk to the stairs to immigration and he wheels away in his smart shoes and sharp jacket to find another foreigner on which to prey. I wish him luck as he vanishes into the wall of white ice. I turn and enter the channel marked Diplomats only. No one ever objects.
6 October 2014
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