IMG_0789“Are you laughing at me?”

I can’t yet place Afghan’s distinct ethnicities (Uzbeks, Tajiks, Pashtuns, Turkmen) but the three middle-aged men sitting cross-legged over dinner look like country boys.

I take Sami out to dinner at Herat Restaurant. We sit across from these gents, eating on a carpet, a wonderful dinner of fresh vegetables, yogurt, two side dishes, with a rice and meat entree. Total bill, including drinks, under ten bucks.

Sami fixes me up with the proper use of my red kaffiya, and the right tilt to my pakol hat, bought at Mohammed’s carpet shop.

I approach the men. The instigator on the right says, “Your hat. We’re admiring your hat. That’s from Nuristani, our province.”

“That’s Massoud’s hat,” says the older fellow in the middle.

“The Greeks wore that, Alexander the Great came through our province,” boasts the smiling fellow on the left.

We talk briefly, then I wave goodbye, suggesting to them, “Maybe I’m the reincarnation of Alexander the Great. Ever think of that?”

They don’t respond.

We walk around the neighborhood. The Herat is on a street lined with food shops, men barbecuing (there are no women selling food), touting their menus, bullshitting out front. It’s like Fisherman’s Wharf, with more lamb than crab, no ocean in this landlocked country and much lower prices.

We pop into a mall and Sami asks if I need anything, and I realize, yes, I need shampoo. I have been discarding excess clothes, toiletries, books steadily to lighten my backpack load. But my guest house does not provide shampoo and my experiment with water-only showering has run its course. “”Take this,” insists Sami. “Smooth and silky.” Pantene, fine. Then, I see Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, cheaper, promising “No More Tears.”

We depart with Salams early. My stomach distress subsided after last night’s 8pm bedtime, so i hope for another long rest. Instead, I stay up till 1am because I can’t sop reading about Massoud.


Two days before the diabolical al-Qeada attack on the United States, Osama bin Laden did a favor for the Taliban, ingratiating himself further with his hosts. Two al-Qaeda operatives posing as journalists frantically pleaded for an interview with Ahmed Shah Massoud before their deadline on September 10, 2001. A bomb was hidden in their camera and Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir, was mortally wounded.

“He would have been very hard for the warlords to intimidate,” said Sebastian Junger, author of “Fire,” to CNN.

“If they [al Qaeda leaders] were hiding under a rock, he would have found them,” says Zieba Shorish-Shamley, founder of the Women’s Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan. “He was that type of person. He would have found bin Laden.”

If you ever thought, too bad Afghans don’t have their own Mandela or Ghandi or King to free their people, to preach reconciliation, tolerance and peace, well, they did. Oh, he was not Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms. Author Paul Fitzgerald called him a “charming killer,” he had commanders under him who committed wanton violence, he was not perfect. Nor were Nelson, Mohandas or Martin. But his story is gripping and he was the real deal.


They like hats here. Hats signify style, region, tribal affinity, history. The guys at the Herat connected my hat to province/ heroes/ history. I am wearing a pakol, which I bought because it’s hard to find a hat that fits my huge size 64 head, and because it looked like the Kangol I have at home.

Massoud’s iconic image avec chapeau was made famous by French photographers during the 80’s revolt against Soviet occupation.

Hellenistic coins from Italy to India revealed pakol-like hats on Macedonians.

IMG_0802Some Nuristanis claim to be descendants of Alexander’s Macedonian troops. Nuristanis have lighter complexion and hair. Travel writer and adventurer Wilfred Thesiger took photographs during his 1956 trip showing the pakol’s popularity in the region. Here is my favorite passage from a great read on the pakol on  the Afghan Analysts Network site by Fabrizio Foschini:

“Massud wearing the pakol looked like a cross between Bob Marley and Bob Dylan. I realised this as a teenager, and the impression remains with me. While making his way from Chitral to Panjshir in late 1978, the future ‘Lion of Panjshir’ stopped for a while in Nuristan, joining the local mujahedin there. It was most likely then that he and his Panjshiris got themselves some fine pakols. Some pictures from that time show a young Massud still pakol-less, but already surrounded by mujahedin wearing the hat.”

I love mine. it’s warm, and I’m learning to tilt it, as Foschini calls it, “sulle ventitré” (eleven o’clock).  My first test of my pakol and Afghan scarf was on Chicken Street. First walk down the street, moins chapeau, every shopkeeper calls out to me in English. This time, four of five said, “As-Salaam-Alaikum.” I’m wearing it for the rest of my trip.


Brazilian political writer Pepe Escobar (thanks, Liz Sanderson) calls Massoud “as iconic as Che Guevara: the romantic ideal of the intellectual warrior. He looks like a beat generation poet…hat always cocked to the side, and a Sartrean existential twinkle in his eyes.”

The great Sebastian Junger posits in Vanity Fair that “his Northern Alliance coalition became the U.S.’s most important weapon against the Taliban in a war that combined 19th-century slaughter and 21st-century technology. As alliance soldiers marched on Kabul—with a massed-infantry assault amid the deadly shadows of B-52 bombers—the author saw Massoud’s legacy revealed, in the Afghans’ hatred of foreigners fighting for the Taliban, in their readiness to die for freedom, and even, poignantly, in one man’s act of mercy.”

My journey to the “War: The Afterparty” project started with Stephen Kinzer‘s telling of the story of Jacobo Arbenz. I was transfixed by Rodrigo Diaz’ stories of Omar Trujillo while in Panama. I want to write more of Massoud.

Last night, I walked around Kabul a bit and saw Massoud’s image everywhere. On cars. On billboards. In shops. While being shooed away from the guarded entrance of the Lycée Esteqlal, where Massoud was schooled.  I’m told to limit my picture taking on the streets, so I missed lot of great shots, but I have posted a few on this blog. While walking past a mosque, Robert Frost came to me. I took some license with the words.

Stopping by the Mosque on a Friday Evening
(with apologies to Robert Frost)

Which mosque this is I think I know.
Don’t think that I am welcome, though;
They all can see me stopping here
To watch the place fill up with folks.

My bourgeois sense must think it queer
To stop without a friend near here
Between the tank and frozen stares
Most dang’rous evening of the year.

I give myself a little shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound I hear
The muezzin, all souls awake.

The mosque is lovely, big and steep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.