Lima recently shared a post about living in Kabul in the late 1990’s and some of the interactions we had with the regime that was in power at the time. I thought I would share one more similar story from the same time period.
One day Mom, my younger sister and I had just finished taking Farsi lessons at the office of the NGO that my parents were working for. We stepped out of the compound and began walking down the alley towards the main road, looking for a taxi to take us home. Just as we were about to turn onto the main street, a white Toyota Corolla passed us, and then suddenly reversed to block our path. The car was full of government officials, recognisable by their huge black turbans and long beards. The man in the passenger side of the vehicle began to angrily mutter “Jasoos, jasoos!” which means “spy, spy!” Mom and my sister quickly turned and walked the other way, pulling their headscarves over their faces.
I had previously experienced several similar encounters. Once I had even had officials swerve their vehicle straight at me as if they were going to hit me, and then stop to ask me questions before explaining that they had “only been joking.” I had never been called a spy before, but based on previous experiences I calculated that showing fear was probably the worst thing I could do. As the male representative of our family, I stepped forward to speak to the men.
I greeted them respectfully, and as I did so, a man in the back seat rolled down his window and called out in English: “Excuse me mister, do you work for an intelligence agency?” I tried not to laugh as I answered that I did not. “My name is Sher Ali, this is Maulvi Sahib in the front, and that is Driver Sahib. Can I ask you some questions?” “Sure,” I replied. He continued with the typical barrage of questions that I had often been asked before. “What are you doing here? What are you doing in Afghanistan? You are in school? Where do you go to school? Where is your father? What does your father do?” I answered each question as well as I could.
Meanwhile, Maulvi Sahib began to get impatient. He could not understand a word that we were saying, but I think he was getting the picture that I was not a spy. And he apparently had other more important appointments to attend to. But before they left, I could not resist a question of my own. “Excuse me, Sher Ali,” I said. “Where did you learn such excellent English?” Sher Ali looked embarrassed, answering modestly: “It is not really very good,” he replied. “Oh but it is!” I insisted. “You speak very good English.” As the men drove away, I noticed that Sher Ali was beaming. A little flattery never hurts.