I felt a bit bad on my bus ride to Peshawar. I was on a luxury class bus and the only foreigner onboard yet the hostess lady after explaining the rules of the bus in Urdu then started in English. She had terrible English but was trying really hard and after 2 mins had got her first sentence out and went for sentence number two. I was going to tell her not to bother as I understood enough but thought this might hurt her confidence in speaking my language at another time, so I smiled and listened hard while she was explaining. It took a while but all I can say is her English was so much better than my Urdu, she did a great job.
As we drove into Peshawar I thought we were driving into the depths of hell. There was so much pollution about that the sky was a cloud of exhaust fumes, it really was filthy but how can you judge when so many places don’t have the luxuries we have. I have to live with this for a few days, they have to live with this for life. I’ll just have to blow my nose each night and try to sell the tissue back to Shell to be re-used at a gas station at a later date I thought.
I got a rickshaw taxi to my hostel in town and the larger than life and very anti American owner, let’s call him Mohammed, sent me to my room and asked what excursions he could arrange for me while I was there. I mentioned me desire to go to Dara Town, a tribal village 40mins south that make illegal weapons and smuggle them across the border to Al Qaeda and rebels in Afghanistan. This tour was stopped by the Pakistan government after September 11 and I assumed it was just the government being careful and over cautious.
It wasn’t until I had paid a hefty fee($30) to Mohammed and headed off on my trip to Dara Town that I had realised it wasn’t the government stopping us going, it was the village itself saying we support Bin Laden and we don’t want white people here. Mohammed had not made this clear and told me he had friends there and all is well and we will have a fun day shooting guns and seeing people make them by hand. He told me to dress in whatever I wanted and be at reception at 8am.
When I arrived he immediately questioned my attire and said I would need to get changed as I stood out too much. A few minutes later I was wearing a white Muslim style robe and a Muslim hat that are so popular there and off we went
We stopped first in Dara City, a few kilometres from the village, and met with Mohammed ‘s friend. His friend said he was the police chief in the city of 6 shops but he looked like the local hash dealer to me. His police desk was in front of a wall of guns and filled with cigarettes and set of scales on top. Mohammed bought a block of hash and offered me a smoke which I declined, I was heading to no-man’s land and wanted a clear head. I had asked that if the police can’t go into the village then what happens if someone gets killed, the response, well they die! As easy as that, they die. I pushed the issue a bit and he followed up with the repercussions of killing someone. If the dead persons family deem the killing wrong then they kill the killer, if his family deem that wrong then they kill back in revenge and it keeps going until someone says ‘Oh it’s ok, he deserved to die, he should not have done that’
Maybe I should have been a little concerned by his time, heading into a no man’s land where death is a small issue in day to day life, but I was still excited by being off the tourist trail and seeing something uniquely different ‘what’s the worst that can happen’ I thought.
As we drove towards the village I was told that the main entrance was being guarded by police to stop tourists going through so we would need to go the back way into town. A little worry was setting in here, especially with Mohammed now high on hash, and it got worse when the driver swung on the wheel of the car and I was told to get on the floor as the back entrance was being guarded and they didn’t want the police to see me or we would all be in trouble.
I got back up to my seat when told it was ok and realised we were now inside the barbed wire fence that separated the village from the normal law and order of the outside world. Enjoying the scenery and getting excited for a day in the village was overcome by Mohammed telling me to read a book quickly, I didn’t have a book and told him so, he gave me his newspaper and reading glasses to put on and told me to cover my face as too many people were looking into the car and seeing me and that was not good, we could have problems.
My lack of brown underwear was looking like it could have been a bad idea at this moment and intensified when we got out of the car and within seconds 6 locals had pounced on us. Not physically but verbally for now, one man and Mohammed were now having a shouting match and pointing at me. I knew this was not good but tried to bluff my way though by smiling through gritted teeth and pretending everything was normal. The shouting match lasted 5mins before Mohammed told me to go with him. I smiled and said goodbye to the locals but they looked at me in disgust and seemed like they were ready to spit in my face.
We entered a house and took a photo of a guy squatted on the ground making AK-47 parts using just a file and a vice. As soon as the photos were taken we left the house and headed back for the car while being watched by the local contingent. Mohammed said as soon as we got inside the car
‘OK we are going now, you can take as many photos as you want from inside the car but we are not getting out again’
‘What do you mean we are leaving? You said we could stay all day’ I replied .
Without any hesitation he responded very bluntly and directly to me
‘ You see that man over there’
‘Yes your friend you were talking to’
‘No he is not my friend, he wants to kill you!!’
Now my ears pricked up and I realised that at this exact moment I was in one of those experiences that end so badly for so many stupid tourists that you here about on the news.
‘WHAT’ what do you mean he wants to kill me, you said it was safe for me to come here’
‘It is safe don’t worry you are with me, but if you had come just you and the driver then, sorry, I don’t think you would be going home tonight’
The story went on and the man he had argued with had told him that he was a bad Muslim for bringing an American to their home, he explained that I was Australian and wanted to see their country and the man had none of it. He told Mohammed that it would be better for him and safer for me if I left immediately. If we did not leave now then they would make it so I would not capable of leaving.
At the end of his rant I asked if now was probably not a good time to ask for a photo with an AK-47? He said we would have to go back to the police chief’s house and do it there. I was content with this and still didn’t realise how much danger I was in, I still don’t to this day to be honest. As we started to drive off two AK-47’s opened up full automatic fire near to our car, I had seen black hawk down the night before and knew that unless you hear whistling of bullets, or car windows smashing, then the bullets are not near to you and realised that they were probably just testing their weapons, ready to sell.
This gunfire lasted the full 5mins it took us to drive out of town and back to his friends shop. The chief looked a little shocked that we were back so soon and he and the owner proceeded to have a long debate about what feckers they are in the town and that they should all be blown up. I interrupted their rant and asked about my photos with some guns, the Chief sent an 8 year old boy off and he came back 5mins later with an AK-47 and some pistols for me to wear. While taking the photos I was constantly shown that the guns were loaded and the safety was off.
The chief even offered to take me to Afghanistan to deliver some guns with him.
‘No Passports, No Visas just me and you and two days on horse.’
I mentioned that it could also involve bandits and me dead in the desert to never return, he insisted it was safe but I decided the best thing was to continue back to Lahore and keep carpet shopping with the old American guy who always walked 10 metres in front of me as he thought we would get lynched because I was showing knees and elbows! You meet all sorts wandering I guess.
I later sent the photos of me with the guns off as postcards to friends and family with the quote on the back ‘Al Qaeda’s latest recruit’. Lucky I’m not writing this post from Guantanamo bay I guess.