ISTANBUL — It’s time for me to get to the airport and finally return to the loving embrace of America. One brief Kabul story before I go.
At Salerno I met Tony Davis, a correspondent for the Jane’s family of publications who’s been coming to Afghanistan for as long as I’ve been alive. As a freelancer in the early 80s he arrived in Peshawar and spent over three weeks traversing ridiculous terrain in order to meet Ahmed Shah Massoud in the Panjshir. He pointed to the mountain ridge north of Salerno and reminisced about being with Jalaleddin Haqqani in 1992 (I think) on the ridge during the siege of Khost. He was drinking at the Gandamack in Kabul "when there were tank battles literally down the street." He woke up at 4 a.m. to queue for one of two telexes in the capitol when the Soviet-puppet regime fell. Immediately I wanted to be his kid sidekick.
Luck would have it that we were staying at the same hotel in Kabul, so we hopped an insane late-night Chinook that stopped at every FOB from Salerno to Bagram — it was 4 a.m. when our midnight flight got in — and then unrolled our sleeping bags on the hallway floor of the media cabin (the actual rooms being occupied) before splitting a cab to Kabul the next morning. Tony took me to the Gandamack, a British-run hotel/pub that serves as the principal port in the Kabul storm for Western journalists. It’s very British: not only do the walls feature memorabilia of Brit naval battles, it has one of those obnoxious 101-chat-up-lines posters you’d find in London tipple-halls. It was comforting, though, and not obnoxious. Beside us, New Zealand soldiers and U.N. functionaries and NGO contractors laughed and ogled the few women who stopped by.
The Gandamack also has a pitch-perfect sense of humor. Accompanying our drinks was not one but two plays of "Golden Brown" by the Stranglers. "Golden Brown," of course, is about heroin. Playing in Afghanistan, poppy capitol of the world! Whatever, I thought it was hilarious. Clearly, time to come home.