At the outskirts of Chisht-e Sharif (alt: Chesht)we were stopped at a police checkpoint and told that it was too dangerous to continue. G explained that it would be even more dangerous to turn back because it was nearing nightfall and we needed to get out of sight. So we were escorted to the police barracks in town and a whole new charade started.
The Commandant pretended not to speak English and called for a translator, the same one G had met last year. G then explained who we were, what we were doing and that we had permission from the Ministry to travel and they had approved our visas and route. The Commandant wanted to send us back to Kabul but this was too dangerous to contemplate because the locals in the town had seen us being escorted to the barracks and would have informed the local Talib by now. So the Commandant agreed to phone the Chief of Police in Herat to get his permission for allow us to travel on. In the meantime we were taken to the local chaikana by a secret service officer to await the decision. Hospitality was poor and we were ripped off big time for very bad meal (200 Afghani each).
We then had to return to the barracks because the chaikana wasn’t “secure” and we were told that the police would provide us with a “volunteer” escort to take us to Obey tomorrow but G would have to pay for their fuel costs. They had arranged for us to be met by Obey police and they would take us to a safe area nearer Herat. Fuel would cost 3,500 Afghani (about £50).
They took us to a tiny office and told us to bed down for the night on blankets but it was too small for all of us to lie down. We asked that they find our driver, who had remained in town, so that he could unlock the van and we could get our bags and sleeping mats. So G went into town with the police and they found the driver, who then demanded $20 because G had interrupted his evening with his family. The English speaking Corporal with G was so incensed he slapped the driver twice across the face and threatened to arrest him.
Back at the barracks the police were then turfed out of their dormitory and told to sleep elsewhere so that we could have their bunks. We then watched while tough, fierce looking police removed their bedding, MP3 chargers, ammunition, rifles and machine guns to make room for us. It would have been comical if we weren’t so embarrassed. They then spent nearly 2 hours coming back into the room or looking through the windows to watch us. 6 of them asked to stay so that they could practice their English and we tried to explain that it was 10.30 at night and we were all exhausted – we’d been travelling for 16 hours – but they were too excited. G told us that some of them had enlisted straight from their villages, so they’d never seen westerners before.
Exhaustion got the better of S, so she curled up and went to sleep on the floor but this concerned our hosts as they thought she was ill and wanted to send for a doctor. Just as we’d managed to gently ease them all out of the room so that we could all lie down to sleep, the lights were put on and the local head man and his entourage came in to meet us. So we all got up, greeted him, thanked him for his hospitality and were as charming as we could be under the circumstances. After shooing away the last of the interested faces at the window we managed to get the lights switched off at 11pm, ready for our wake-up call at 4am.
Afghan police officers have very hard beds and dirty toilets and showers. The barracks were only 1 year old but they’ve been wrecked by neglect. The men clearly feel that cleaning is beneath them and as no women are allowed on the premises no one does anything to tidy up. One man replied, when I queried this, “This is Afghanistan. This is how it is. Afghanistan is filthy”.