Bamiyan – Being Penniless in Afghanistan :(

No money! How can I survive here?

No money! How can I survive here?

I was so excited to continue my way from Bamiyan. Everything in my mind was about the blue crystal water of the Band-e-Amir, and the adventure that I would have to experience in interior Bamiyan province. I was so excited, until this incident, which evaporated all of my dreams, happened.

Yesterday, just before sleeping, I counted my money. My money was put together with my passport, wrapped in an envelope, placed in the zipped pocket on my left chest of my jacket. It was always wrapped properly, and always my habit to count the money every day or every other day. That night, at about 7 pm, with Ayatullah, the Muslim teacher who has religious program in Radio Bamiyan watching me. Actually there were about 5 people living in this room, in the same office where Akbar Danish from the NGO worked. I was a guest, with Ayatullah and other two Hazara guys, plus the servant boy.

I was listening to nice dangdut song from my MP3 when trying to pluck out my money from the envelope and to count it. First my passport jumped out. Then I was waiting for the Afghani banknotes to come out. To my surprise, nothing came out after the passport. I looked at the envelope. It was only an empty white envelope.

My money was all gone!!!

There were 12 pieces of 1,000 Afghani banknotes plus a piece of a hundred dollar bucks. This was all my budget for the Afghanistan trip, and now the cute banknotes were not in their place anymore. Ayatullah asked me what happened, and without my further questioned, he suddenly pointed that it should be those Tajiki deminers who stole it. I didnt like his way of pointing others without any proof.

I was shocked. I still couldnt believe what happened to me. Being penniless overnight. My heart beat very fast, and I was trying to be calm. I remembered the last time I counted my money was two days before, so it should be between these two days someone has stolen the money.

I rushed to the de-miner camp. It was very small possibility that the de-miners took it. My money and passport was kept deep in jacket, inside envelope. The passport was still there, which mean the thieve should have enough time to zip open the pocket, take the envelope, take out the money, closed the envelope with my passport in it, put it back in the pocket, and zipped close the pocket. I was always with the de-miners during the day, with my full consciousness, with my jacket always on, and I never noticed (I never got drunk, so my notice should be trustable) anybody doing the acts during my interviews with those de-miners.

I went to the camp anyway. Wais, and other team member listened to me carefully. I was in very deep emotion. They also tried to collect money so that I could go to Kabul, if I do really need to. I didnt want to take anything from them. They offered me dinner, but I didnt have any mood after the sudden shock. As I didnt know anything else to do at this moment, I went away.

It was almost dark. And the distance to go back to Akbar’s house is about 2 kms more. I was stopped by an old watchman with Kalashnikov. There is curfew in Bamiyan after dark. And he asked me this and that. I was in a mood that thousands of words flowed suddenly from my mouth, telling all of the pain of being penniless just in a second, and he just amazed with the long English speech I brought to him.

It was dark after crossing the bridge. I didnt see anything but path on the road. I had small torchlight, but I missed so many turns. I was lost. Lost in deep darkness of night, between high sandstone hills and rows of trees. I couldnt find the way back to my place. I was frustrated. I kept moving forward but it seemed that I was very close to the giant sandstone hill already. The sudden giant dark item in front was indeed a horror, especially when your heart was filled by other fear already. It was cold, it was getting unbearable. I felt my cheek was wet, I didnt know it was cold sweat or plain tears. I tried to take all possible paths, but it seemed that I got further and further to strange places.

I decided to go back to my original path. But it was difficult, and I couldnt find anyway. Here and there looked the same, under the darkness. I couldnt see time, and I didnt know how many hours I spent until I found the bridge where I crossed from the first time.

The small Buddha of Bamiyan

The small Buddha of Bamiyan

Now I realized I had taken wrong path since here, since the very beginning. Instead of taking the central path, I took the rightenmost path. And I went much further into the mountains.

Now the road was much easier, and about 10 minutes I reached the NGO place. It was already dark, the generator was turned down. Qurban, the servant boy, opened the gate and let me in. I went to my matress, hopelessly.

Ayatullah, turned on his torch. He, with all of his prejudice, said that it was the Tajikis, the Tajiks were that bad, the two of them should put me in between and took the money without my conciousness.
Ayatullah spoke Urdu.
“How did u know that? You even didnt know the Tajikis,” I objected, in Urdu.
I just felt how that this man, who always click the tazbih all second he had in his life, can teach religious love when he himself was filled by the racist prejudices like this.

Ayatullah, as me, was not the inhabitant of the house. He was also a guest. I think he rent a space there. So were the other three men, except the servant boy. But the way Ayatullah spoke as he was sure that there was none of them commited the crime, and he was sure that the Tajikis, due to the fact that they were not Hazaras, were the bad people.

Under serious condition of being bancrupt, I didnt have mood to argue about this.

For my suspicion, it was the servant boy who had the biggest access to my jacket. He cleaned the room when I went to bathroom in early morning, and my jacket was there. And he was alone. This happened for one morning. The other morning, I took the other jacket and left my jacket with passport and money inside the bag. That was other my stupidity.

But this stupidity also root from our culture of hospitality. When we are treated as guest, we should believe our hosts. I believe that the house was my safest place, so I was so careless. But I was mistaken.

I slept hardly that night. But I was not alone. I know that Qurban, didnt sleep well also. I heard his breath was not in order.

Smile! The world is still smiling.

Smile! The world is still smiling.

In the morning Ayatullah and other friends were trying to make fun of me, trying to make those stupid ‘jigjig’ jokes again. I was fed up. I didnt say that Ayatullah was the thieves, but I also didnt say that the Tajik men were. Ayatullah, that old man with white beard and turban, tried to push all of the possibility to those Tajiks he even never seen. When I said it was not them, the other man was angry, “So do you think we are bad men? Ayatullah is bad? Me is bad? He is bad? He is bad?” he pointed all men in that room.

Unlike the deminers, Ayatullah didnt offer me any help for the transport to go back to Kabul. It cost 300 Af. Ayatullah said I had much money in my pocket, I had more than a hundred dollars there (how he knew was another question). I didnt. I only had 10 dollars and I had to survive to Kabul with this money, and survive for some days. And I didnt know how could I survive. My Indonesian friend whom I was staying with was not there in Kabul as he had meeting in Singapore. And with 10 dollars, I didnt know how could I get accommodation in expensive place like Kabul.

I was fed up, really fed up with those laughs on me. I left the house immediately, still keeping my politeness not to point on their nose one by one, not to show any suspiciousness that I had, at least they were my host keeping me for some days. And I should be thankful for that.

I went to the bazaar. At 7 there were many cars leaving for Kabul. Most asked 400 Af. And nobody wanted to give me down. But a car driver, after listening my story, symphatized, allowed me to board with 300 Af. Later on I found everybody was indeed paying 300 Af. So where those 400 Af ticket price from? Is that because I was foreigner? I didnt care to think that. At this time, I just wanted to go to my embassy, my last hope, as soon as possible.

As I believe, people with bad aura may bring bad luck to the environment. I had bad aura that day, I had lost all of my financial ability. And I brought bad luck to all other passengers of the vehicle. It was smoothly running until an hour after departing (8 am), after it sank in a pond caused by a farmer who changed the irrigation line to the main road to keep his field fertile. Then all passengers had to board off. The driver wanted to repair the machine, but he didnt have anything to open the machine.

We waited for some minutes until another car passing, so that the driver might borrow repairing equipment. He borrowed. He discharged the front seats, and looked at the machine. The machine was full of water. The water had to be pulled out, the machine had to be dried out under the sun.

Two farmer boys were sitting on the big stone on the green grass, watching all these ‘outsiders’ working hard with unmoveable car. It was until two hours of repairing, then the driver decided that the car was ready. He put back the motor, tried it and it worked, squinched all of the seats back, and we were ready to move.

It was 10. The car was not moving. A passenger jumped down, and saw that the black oil leaking from the bottom of the car body. The motor was completely broken. It was no hope.

The place was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by hills, and of course, as everybody expected, no mobile signal. The road was unpaved, enough to ensure that all cars passing this way would have to go to repair center. This place is about 20 km away from Bamiyan, and it was an hour of distance in this kind of road. And this broken car, there was no other hope but to replace the motor. But from where? This is not city that you can buy machine from shops.

One passenger, a doctor from Kabul, proposed that he would go with any car from other direction heading to Bamiyan, and he would rent a car from the village to pick all of us. But even the cars coming from other direction was so scarce. In last two hours I saw only three.

But we were lucky not until 10 minutes, a car was passing. When the doctor tried to negotiate, another car was about to pass also. He lost concentration. It seemed that both cars were reluctant to take him, so when he saw the second car, the first car moved away, and the second car simply didnt stop for him.

There was a wedding in Bamiyan that there were some cars, full of women, passing. Of course these cars wont take our male fellow doctor. Until the fifth car, we had hope that we would reach Kabul. It was 10:30 already. At least he needed one hour to go to Bamiyan, and another an hour to come to this spot.

It was boring time of waiting. I almost finished a novel while waiting. And the new car with new driver, a fat Hazara man in shalwar kameez, was coming at 1 pm. So we started our journey again.

If nothing was not happened, we were supposed to arrive in Kabul at 2 or 3. But at 4 pm, we just arrived in a chaikhana, which was exactly in between Kabul and Bamiyan, still 50% of distance to go. I was too poor, I couldnt not afford any food. In fact, I didnt eat at all since last 24 hours. Nor drinking. I only ordered tea, 7 Af. 7 Af now seemed very expensive to me with such thin wallet. God had punished me. I used to say, “man bi pul hastam, man bi pul hastam” (I am penniless, I am penniless) to get cheaper price everywhere in this expensive country of Afghanistan. Saying bad foresight makes bad things closer, and now I was really “bi pul” (penniless).

All other passengers took pity on me, a foreign tourist who is now the poorest. One Hazara man even gave me his spare palao (rice) which he didnt finish. I never took spare food from strangers. But now I didnt have any choice. I hadnt eaten for a day a night, and there was still 4 hours of gruelling journey to bear. I ate. It was tasteless. But the friendly smile in my weakest time supported me to keep eating, something which other people regarded as ‘rubbish’.

I arrived in Kabul almost dark. Another man paid for my bus (3 Af) to go from Kote Sangi to city center. But in fact the bus didnt go to city center, I still had to walk long way in the darkening day. When I reached my embassy, there were nobody inside.

I had a friend in embassy, Mr Maulana. We were online friend. Until recently I just found that he was among the most important diplomats in the embassy. I was looking for him that night, as I didnt know anywhere else to go, nor anybody else to ask help from. In fact, all Indonesian staff in the embassy was outing for dinner. The Afghan staff took pity on me and let me in (according to the security rule I should wait outside), gave me an Indonesian dinner, let me to wash my face, and then waiting.

Mr Maulana and other diplomats came soon after that. They had two guests from ministry of foreign affairs from jakarta. Maulana was so friendly, and the friendliness of other Indonesians in embassy made me feel at home.

And indeed, I made the Indonesian embassy as my home that night. I was given a sofa in luxurious room to sleep. I had a roommate, an Indonesian staff who spent 4 years in Pakistan and we had so much to discuss about our experience in the country. I was lent many books about Afghanistan that Maulana purchased (he likes to buy books but barely has time to read). I was allowed to watch TV with Indonesian channel SCTV in it, I felt happy listening to those artist gossip shows and that quite boring criminality TV program. I was happy that Maulana had the newest VCD of Peter Pan, the famous Indonesian music group. I ate Indonesian food, I speak my dialects, and I stay in a fully decorated Indonesian room. I was penniless, but I felt very safe under my embassy custody.

For sometime, I forgot about my future. About what to do without any money to spend.

About Agustinus Wibowo

Agustinus is an Indonesian travel writer and travel photographer. Agustinus started a “Grand Overland Journey” in 2005 from Beijing and dreamed to reach South Africa totally by land with an optimistic budget of US$2000. His journey has taken him across Himalaya, South Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, and ex-Soviet Central Asian republics. He was stranded and stayed three years in Afghanistan until 2009. He is now a full-time writer and based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Contact: Website | More Posts

6 Comments on Bamiyan – Being Penniless in Afghanistan :(

  1. hmm….very interesting….untung semua berakhir dengan baiiikk

  2. It must have been really dreadful to be in other countries almost without no money at all. I think it was really good of you not taking the money from the deminers. Hope this sort of stuff will never happen again. Take good care and be more careful lah!


    PS. apa orang di sana interested juga sama Piala Dunia?

  3. Dear friend,
    Apa kabarnya sekarang? Sudah bbrp hari tidak kedengeran post-nya.
    Anyway turut bersedih atas musibahnya, and untung sekarang sudah aman.

    Tapi, seperti kata pepatah, everything happens for a reason, so I hope everything would turn out to be better for you.

    Warm regards,

  4. hi friends,

    my problem is not finished yet. Even though some friends have given me donation to survive my days, at least in Afghanistan, at this moment I still face a big financial problem. Hopefully I can pass this ‘test’ very well and keep continuing my journey and share my experience here.

    BTW, I hv got a plan to go to Kandahar in near future. so hopefully might share some new other stories here.


  5. Adam Alexander Smith // June 29, 2006 at 05:10 // Reply

    Oh the joys of travelling, aye. Sorry to hear of your situation. Hospitality from all directions tends to make us drop our guard. You’ve very lucky you have that Indonesian Embassy to take you in like parents. Very lucky indeed. It is a rare thing for an Embassy to act in such a way. Carefull down in Kandahar. It ain’t the safest of spots right now.

  6. Hi Gus, I am sorry to hear your lost. In the end of the day, your own country is the savior. I bet you felt a big relieve the moment you can step into the embassy compound. :) Travel safe my friend.

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