Afghanistan: before the Taliban, before the Soviets, there were hashish-seeking hippie tourists.
Dope and diarrhea were the two main topics of conversation during my brief sojourn in Afghanistan back in 1976-77. The first everybody wanted, the second everybody had.
Back in the day, before anyone had even heard of this place and before the shitstorm that was just over the horizon in the form of the Russian Army had arrived, only two types of people were nuts enough to come here: hippies looking for druggie heaven on four cents a day and intrepid travelers seeking the edges of the map previously marked "Here Be Dragons."
Legend had it that Assassins took their name from their habit of smoking hashish before embarking on deadly assignments. Sounds like a load of rubbish to me. After a couple of hits of Afghani hash they would be hard pressed to get off the floor, let alone out the door to kill someone.
On a blustery November night we arrived in Herat, Afghanistan, after driving all night from Iran. As the bus screeched to a stop on the dusty main street, we were swarmed by locals eager to sell us fist-sized blocks of hash for pennies. Worth a fortune back home, but tricky to get out of the country. One enterprising customs agent did offer to mail me some in a government pouch if I wanted to go into business with him.
Customs agents weren't guys to mess with – I heard a story about a trio of Westerners who paid for a batch with counterfeit bills. Two of them woke up with slit throats. They left the third guy screaming. Nasty business.
Still, hordes of terminally irresponsible Westerners did their best to stay stoned during most of their waking hours. One popular way to start off the day was to crumble hash or even opium into your morning porridge. Some tried to pass it off as a holy sacrament and praised Shiva, Shankar or whatever god was convenient as they stoked a chillum, the local brand of hash pipe. Most of the time they mixed the hash with tobacco to keep it burning, so smoking was tough on the lungs.
The saddest part was that every encounter with a local seemed to be an offer to sell me drugs. I wondered what kind of impression Westerners had on the populace; this seemed to be the only kind of Western visitor they were exposed to. Truth be told, drugs weren't a real moral issue with the Afghanis, so not the worst you could do.
Spent the winter months in a flophouse in Kabul that cost a dollar a day when the owners were coherent enough to ask for it. Smoke from opium and hash pipes filled the air while the locals played grab ass in the back room.
A topic seldom discussed is how prevalent homosexual activity is in that part of the world, but it's probably more like prison sex than a lifestyle choice. With women completely off-limits before marriage, there’s little other alternative. Seems to be accepted as long as it's discreet.
In spite of all this seeming depravity, our host, Abdul, went into a rage one night when he heard of some Westerners skinny dipping in a nearby lake. His righteous indignation knew no bounds, and I had no doubt that for the offenders, death by stoning would have been justified.
Diarrhea was a fact of life. I remember fat Tony crying out from the bog one night that he was “pissing out his arse.” One well-meaning Frenchman gave me some dirt to eat, explaining that my body had to acclimate to its new surroundings.
Toilets were more often than not a large hole in the ground behind the building or an outhouse with a fenced pen around it where animals were raised on human excrement. Try squatting over a hole with a hungry animal snapping away inches from your nether regions, and you'll have something to write home about.
In spite of all that, Afghanistan – as it once was – left an indelible mark on my soul and memories to last a lifetime.