Our local driver, Bopu is taking Rakesh and I to the home of our opium connection. His car is a Soviet Lada, an unreliable heap of junk. It’s engine wouldn’t start this morning. We told him to drive in our Land Rover instead.
We are out of the city and crashing through hedges and small trees in the countryside in no time at all. This part of Afghanistan has a river flowing through it and the land surrounding the river is fertile and the perfect place to grow poppies.
We’re careful not to talk business in front of the driver. It is certain that he’ll report back anything he hears to his masters. Frustratingly I have an idea. The ammo box full of cash is in the boot. I’m wondering if we should use the money to buy some extra opium, I want to discuss this with Rakesh but this isn’t the right venue to do it in.
“Driver, stop at the next place we can get some tea. I want to stretch my legs.” I say.
I mouth to Rakesh, “I want to talk to you.”
The driver stops outside an empty looking hut in the middle of nowhere. He honks his horn and children come running out. We go outside, order some tea from the kids. I call them kids but they are no older than I am really. I’m selling guns, they’re selling tea. We take our teas, “Rakesh, lets walk and talk”, I say.
“What is it?”
“How much money have you got to buy the opium?”
“Two thousand rupees.”
“How much opium will it buy us?”
“It’ll buy us around fifty kilos of opium.”
“And we’ll return how much money when we’ve sold it?”
“We should get a return of twenty to thirty five thousand rupees from the Europeans.”
“How much is the haul from the Iranian border worth again?”
“Are you crazy? I know what you’re going to say. ‘Let’s use it all to buy opium.’”
“Yes, and what’s wrong with that? The way I see it, it’s my money. I can choose how we spend it. If I hadn’t got it we’d have zero.”
“There are a lot of US dollars in the haul, I would guess that it’s worth a hundred thousand rupees.”
“Trust me on this. If we buy hundred thousand rupees worth of opium. We’ll be able to sell it for one million to one and a half million rupees. Can you imagine?”
“That would leave us with two thousand five hundred kilos of the stuff. How will we ever sell that amount?”
“We’ll worry about that when we have it. It’s a good problem to have.”
“Fuck it, you’re only ballsy bastard. You’ve done all right so far. Let’s do it.”
We shake hands.
“Back to the car.”
The valley starts to get dry again, and the terrain rocky. The road goes from bad to worse to non-existent. No wonder the drivers’ Lada was a heap of junk. These conditions would do that to a car.
Our vehicle comes to a halt outside the entrance to a cave. It isn’t a barren cave, there is a canopy and statues. There is also a vibrant orange rug on the floor. Why does a man with so much money live here?
We go inside.
The internal walls are smooth and covered will gold gilded wall paper. There are paintings on the wall, some of them look very old. We go down some stairs into the catacombs. It’s cool in here. Then we go through a grand double door. Into circular room. Arabic calligraphy and geometric patterns cover the walls. In the middle of the room is a pit in the floor filled with cushions. In this pit is an old man wearing white robes and a turban.
“Come sit with me.”
We join him and he introduces himself.
“Hello, I am Jamil Al-Rahman, you are Gokani’s boys?”
Rakesh responds, “That’s right. Thank you for the use of the house in Kandahar it is very nice and your servants are looking after us very well.”
“Why have your brought a child with you?”
“I have my uses”, I say.
“Speak when you’re spoken to, we’re discussing business here.” Rakesh gives me a stern glare, I get the message.
“Sir, don’t be offended by him. He’s a hot head. Sometimes he doesn’t think. He’s from a small village, no manners.”
“What can I do for you today?”
“We want to purchase two thousand five hundred kilos of opium from you?”
“Two thousand five hundred?”
“Sure you haven’t been drinking too much wine?”
He calls over one of his minions and whispers in his ear.
“No way we can get you two thousand five hundred, that’s more than we shift in a year, even two. I’ve sent my man to check the inventory. We might be able to help you with one hundred and twenty. I’ll put you in touch with the other chiefs, they’ll do business with you if I introduce you. Perhaps you can find another hundred from each of them.”
“We’d appreciate that. For this quantity we’d expect there to be a volume discount. What can you offer?”
“I can’t make any promises for the others, I’ll give you a five percent discount.”
“Make it ten percent on your gear. I know you’ll be getting kickbacks from the other guys for every kilo we buy.”
“Seven and a half discount on my gear?”
“Stay here, you can have a swim in our underground pool and relax yourselves. I will invite the other chiefs to dinner tonight and you can make your deals with them.”
“Very kind of you. Thanks.”
Rakesh and I spend the rest of day exploring the compound. There isn’t much too more too it. The circular room is the show piece. There are some bedrooms and the spa room. I don’t know how to swim and neither does Rakesh so we stay away from that. In one of the bedrooms we find Karim game. This is a game where there is a square board with holes in each of the corners. Each player has a different colour set of chips. Black or red ones. There is a cue piece too. White and made of ivory. we take turns to try and eliminate each other’s pieces by forcing them to fall into one of the corners. The player with the last piece standing wins the game. We play a few games of this. Rakesh beats me every time. Eventually I tire of it. I think about Anjali.
“Rakesh, I have a question. Do you remember those dancing girls?”
“The kathak dancers?”
“When they come next time can I take one to bed with me?”
“After the shit you’ve pulled off here I’m sure you’ll have first choice.”
“I’m going to hold you to that, do you promise?”
“If Gokani doesn’t arrange one for you, I’ll pay for one myself.”
The maid calls us back to the circular room.
A banquet awaits us. Some of this food I recognise, some of it is similar to Iran and there is a lot of meat. We sit down with Jamil. The other chiefs are also with us. There is a musician playing melodies on a sitar behind us. Jamil tells them of our plan to buy two thousand five hundred kilos of opium sends them into a fit of laughter.
“What are you going to do with all of that?”
“Even between all of us we don’t have that supply.”
“We’ll take everything you have. Tell us where to pick it up from and how much you want” I say.
“Does the child speak for you?” one of the chiefs addresses Rakesh.
“He does, and he’s no child.”
They know we’re serious, no more jokes from them, no more mockery of me. Rakesh and I speak to the chiefs alone throughout the night. We manage to source seven hundred kilos plus the one hundred and twenty from Jamil. That’s eight hundred and twenty kilos of opium for twenty thousand rupees. A little higher than we wanted, even including the discount. It’s a start.
We go back to our house in Kandahar at the end of the night with a laundry list of places where we make the pick-ups tomorrow and one hundred and twenty kilos of opium in the boot of our land rover. It’s late and we’re tired. We shift the product into the house under the cover of darkness as quickly as possible. As soon as we’ve finished we fall asleep. There is no sign of Nasir. He’s making the most of his vacation from Iran.
The servants wake me up, it’s morning. There is a tray of hot food. Just as I’d requested they’ve made masala dosa for me. Rakesh has hot theplas. We both have green chilli sauce. We have a lot of driving to do today.
This morning the driver is able to start his Lada so we take both cars. Rakesh follows in the Land Rover and I’m with Bopu. Our convoy isn’t as grand as when we had the tanker but we do have the advantage of speed. I read the list of places to Bopu, he knows them all, regular haunts for him; probably always doing deals. He takes a minute to decide the best way to visit them all then sets off.
We’ve made half of the pick-ups. Paid the local men using a combination of dollars, dinars, afganis and rupees. All currencies are welcome.
It’s bumpy ride in this Lada, but he knows this area like that back of his hand. Anything we need he seems to be able to stop at an innocent looking building and out come the hawkers. I ask him to stop for paan. Within minutes we’re at a paan house. This is turning into a game. I ask him to stop for cigarettes and within seconds we’re able to get some. I don’t even want them. I give the packet to him. I ask to stop because I want a turban. He takes us to a textile mill and gets the owner to fit one for me. I pay and we resume our pick ups.
This game has shown me that he’s not as dimwitted as he looks on glance. I’m not as dimwitted as playing this game makes me look either. We’re in the fertile valley again. I ask him to show me where the poppies are grown. We pull into a field there aren’t any poppies.
“Where are they?”
“It’s not the season for them”, he tells me.
“Where is the farmer who owns this land?”
We walk through the field into a village. There are no roads to it, just small houses and grain silos.
“Are poppies the only thing they grow?”
“Then what’s in those silos?”
“Opium. What else. You are a lot of stupid questions.”
“Rakesh, these silos are full of opium. I think our problems are solved. This village alone must have more opium than we managed to buy from all the chiefs put together.”
“You fucking genius. You were born for this.”
Rakesh knocks on some doors until one of the farmers come out.
“What do you want?”
“I want to buy your opium.”
“It’s not for sale. We keep it as a reserve if the harvest is bad next year. We only sell to the chiefs too, who are you?”
“I’m not from around here, I’m never going to come back here. This is the only chance you’re going to get to sell to me.”
Rakesh isn’t making any progress. I need to deal with this myself.
“Granddad, how much do the chiefs pay you?”
“They pay me around two hundred afghani for a kilo.”
“How much is that in Rupees?”, I ask Rakesh
“About ten.” He looks shocked, “wait, let me check my calculations. Yes definately ten.”
“Granddad, I’ll give you twice that per kilo. If next year’s harvest is bad, stock pile your money in there. It’ll last longer than those seeds.”
“How much do you need?”
“I’ll take everything you have.”
“I have five hundred kilos.”
“Will you take rupees?”
“I’ll take any money.”
He’s my kind of person.
“Rakesh, get the man ten thousand rupees.”
“Granddad, get your neighbours to come to me if they’re interested in selling. I’m buying every list kilo in this dusty fucking village.”
We spend the rest of the day buying up all the opium in the village. The word gets out. All the near by villagers start bringing their opium to us on wooden carts pulled by donkeys. By the end of the day we’ve spent all of the money from the ammo box and all of the float money. The land rover is full to the brim.
The boot is full, the passenger seats are full to the top. We can’t see out of the rearview mirror any more. The front of it is filled with these bags too. There is hardly any space for Rakesh to sit. In the Lada the situation is worse. Myself and the driver are both sitting on a layer of opium bricks.
All the space behind us it full and we’ve still got hundreds kilos to transport. We secure rest onto the roof rack of the land rover. Inside rice bags to stop it being to conspicuous.
The drive home is laborious. The vehicles are moving slowly like elephants and creaking every time we go over a bump. It could all come unstuck at any moment. But we make it back to Kandahar, it’s nightfall and we unload.
This time it takes us over an hour. Nasir is back. He’s asleep and looks worse for wear. Our noise doesn’t wake him.
Tomorrow we’ve got to pick up all the deliveries from the chiefs that we failed to do today.
It seems that JustGiving is doing pretty well, and good on them for not only making sponsoring your friends easy but creating a whole industry:
The charitable bent is, of course, why JustGiving don’t make a hoo-ha about their success. But just how well are they doing? It doesn’t even take a look into the company accounts on Duedil to get an idea. Here are some numbers pulled from justgiving.com:
Number of charities donated to: 13,543 (though JG state 8,000 registered charities currently) Monthly cost to said charities of membership: £15 So that’s somewhere between £120,000 and £200,000 in revenue per month before we’ve looked at donation income.
Now consider the following: Percentage cut from each donation: 5% Donations received up to March 2012: £1,000,000,000 Source and more stats ~£55m in revenue from an Internet start-up, in just over ten years of trading — Tom Cavil
I think this whole industry is ripe for disruption, given some recent developments in both technology and card processing, I have a cunning plan.
An open source, self-hosted giving platform using gocardless as it’s payment provider. With this we can afford to charge just 1% for donation and no monthly fee or setup charge.
The hosting itself can be simplified by having an automatic portal generation facility that a charity can just plug in their gocardless account and their AWS keys/Heroku keys and we’ll spin up a pre-configured application. It’ll only need a micro instance as all personal campaign pages will be precompiled and output onto s3 storage behind cloudfront.
If they want comments, they can drop in their disqus id, if they want a Paypal option, they just drop that in.
When a user wants to run a fundraising campaign all they need to do is visit giving.charity.com (which is running on a micro instance) and set up their fundraising page by providing their copy, pictures goal and event dates. It’ll create a page on fundraising.charity.com/alice-and-bobs-cake-bakeathon/ which is just html files sitting on S3 so it’s massively scaleable. We can provide a basic theme picker that just flips the css, similar to tumblr.
I always thought it was very very important that you printed your own prints; for obvious reasons.
You can look at a picture and say:
It’s always your choice because it’s your picture; and the idea that somebody else takes your picture—they can be the best printer in the world—but not necessarily the best printer of your work."
Albert Watson (photographer)
I always think of this video when I hear designers arguing about whether they should learn to code so they can implement their own designs. I think it’s analogous to what Albert is saying here about creating prints from his pictures.
Romney was correct that a portion of America backs President Obama because they “are dependent upon government” and “believe that they are entitled.”
We even know these dependents’ names: Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers, General Electric boss Jeff Immelt, Pfizer lobbying chief Sally Sussman, Solyndra investor George Kaiser and millionaire lobbyist Tony Podesta, to list a few.In the last few years of bailouts, stimulus, Obamacare and government expansion in general, we have seen median income fall and corporate profits soar.
Industries are consolidating as the big get bigger while the little guys shut down.When government controls more money, those with the best lobbyists pocket most of it. The five largest banks hold a share of U.S. assets 30 percent larger today than in 2006. Also, as Obama has expanded export subsidies, 75 percent of the Export-Import Bank’s loan-guarantee dollars in the past three years have subsidized Boeing sales.
Romney, however, wasn’t talking about corporate welfare queens. He was talking about the 47 percent of the population that pays no federal income tax."
The roads are terrible in Afghanistan, there are no villages just random smatterings of farms. It felt like an eternity driving through these remote places. So far we haven’t seen a single Afghan face apart from the checkpoint on the Afghan side of the border. Thankfully that checkpoint was uneventful and they waved us straight through.
Ever since the incident at the border, Kalpesh, Dahab and Rakesh have been treating me with a lot of respect, like I’m one of them instead of a boy. The additional income from the checkpoint helps too.
We’ve made it to Kandahar and an opium dealer friend of Gokani’s has arranged a nice house for us to stay in. It contains three full time servants who are ready to cook anything for us and a local driver to take us anywhere we need. Sitting in the living room. We’re at an impasse. This is the point in our journey where we break the news to Nasir that he won’t be coming with us. A touchy subject as we don’t know how he’ll take it. We can’t harm him or the rebels won’t do business with us again. We need to keep things civil. Kalpesh sends Dahab and Rakesh out on an errand to make the atmosphere less confrontational.
“Nasir, we can’t all go to Waziristan our contacts refuse to deal with people they haven’t met. I’m going to have to leave you, Rakesh and Amar here.”
“That wasn’t the deal. I am going to come with you. How do I know we’re getting a fair deal.”
“You are getting a fair deal, we’ve already agreed the number of guns you get in exchange for the tanker. Nothing is going to change.”
“You’re already changing things, we agreed that I would come.”
“Look there is nothing I can do. They told us they don’t want to deal with strangers. If we take you there, not only will this deal not go through, they’ll never deal with us again. If you’re adamant about coming along then we might as well cancel the deal now. You can take the tanker and drive home. But we’ve been through too much shit for this to let it fail.”
“You’re trying to fuck me over aren’t you?”
“Calm down, we’re having to leave our own people behind too. Something has got the Waziris spooked. They don’t want to be shut down by the Pakistani government. They’re under pressure to stop selling arms to groups not approved by Karachi. One of them being the Iranian Revolutionary Army.”
He’s making this up, but it does sound convincing.
“Fine. I’ll wait here. What am I supposed to do in Kandahar? Babysit the boy?”
“We won’t be gone for long, two or three days maximum. Why don’t you explore the brothels and get drunk. It’ll be a nice break from your troubles at home. As for babysitting, he’s not a boy. When you get home with your guns tell your fellow soldiers about his bravery.”
He took the news reasonably well. Nasir is quite gullible I think. I wouldn’t have believed that cock and bull story. His piety has disappeared at the mention of booze and brothels too. Nasir storms out of the room.
“Are you going to go after him?”
Kalpesh says, “no, he agreed to stay. So let’s just let him cool off. He’s probably gone to look for a telephone to let his leaders know what’s happened. The sensible thing for them and him to do now is to let the plan unfold as we want it to, take their guns and try to screw us next time.”
“While we’re gone you and Rakesh should pick up some opium from the dealers. I’ve given Raks some front money.”
Outside the crossing office we come to a halt, Kalpesh keeps the engine running. When I say office I mean small wooden hut.
“Keep your guns out of sight” he says.
The guards in the office wake up and argue for a minute about whose turn it is to go. The short bald one comes out, his shirt is covered in sweat stains, slops of food and dirt run down his chest.
“What do you need?”
“I need to see an export document for that oil.” “Just a second”, Kalpesh takes out a wad of silver notes. They have strange writing on them, and a picture of a man with a suit on the right. In the middle there is a shepard with a ram. He separates about a quarter of the notes and hands them to the guard, “here are our papers.”
He looks puzzled. He puts the notes in his pocket.
“I need to see your papers! I can’t let you through without them.” Kalpesh separates half of his remaining pile and hands that to guard. Once again the guard pockets it.
“Really I can’t open this gate without logging your papers.”
Kalpesh throws the remainder at him, “that’s all we’ve got you greedy slob. We’ve left the papers at depot. It’ll take us days for us to return.
“I don’t care. Turn around and get them.”
“Then give me the money back.”
“Fuck you”, Kalpesh says while pulling his window up.
“This guy is a prick what’s he playing at.”
Kalpesh pulls down the window.
“Okay, you fat shit, we’ll send the land rover back to get the paperwork.”
Turning to me, “I’ve got a plan, their arm barrier is no match for this beast. You go sit in the land rover, tell Rakesh to turn it around and get out of sight. Go with him. I’m going to wait here with Dahab for exactly thirty minutes. Then I’m going to drive straight through that barrier. It will catch them by surprise. They’ll follow in their patrol car, no doubt. That’s where you guys come in. I want you to catch up behind them. I’ll stop the tanker well before the Afghan checkpoint.
You blow them to pieces from behind when they get out of their car to get us.”
“How will we know when to follow?”
“I’ll honk the horn when they start pursuit. You’ll hear it.”
“Why can’t we gun them down now?”
“They’re too well armed and defended in that office. They can tip off their authorities too with their radio. Backup will be no help to them now but could cause problems for our customers in the future.
We need to pull them out into the open. Now’s your chance to prove yourself.”
Kalpesh is one piece of work, a real show-man. I think this is too complicated.
“There are only two of them, it could be easier than you think.”
“If you’ve got a plan, let me hear it.”
“Give me your pistol, if I’ve got two pistols I can akimbo them. They won’t suspect that from me and they’ll be on the floor before they know it.”
“Dahab what do you think of this? The boy’s grown some balls since we first met him.”
“I say we let him try.”
He hands over his pistol.
“Try to keep them hidden, but take of the safety and make sure they’re loaded”, he advises before I climb past Dahab and hop out of the cab.
“We can’t follow you or it’ll raise suspicions.”
Approaching the door, my pistols are tucked into the waist of my trousers. My shirt is untucked and hides them. I can feel the barrels digging into my body. I’m painfully aware that the safety is off and they could blow my arse off at any time.
The guards have been watching me through the large pane of glass that dominates the side of their checkpoint. I hope I’m walking properly, not giving anything away . I’m going to kill two men here. I reassure myself with the thought that if I wasn’t doing this we’d have killed them anyway. And if I wasn’t here someone else would be in my place. So this is inevitable. This is how the end of their lives was written. Their women and children will cry. They would have cried at the funeral ten years ago or ten years from now. It makes no difference.
I knock on the door, the fat bald one calls me in. The other one is trying to sleep, he’s got a newspaper covering his head.
“What do you want? Why haven’t you left yet?”
“Can I use your toilet, I’m really desperate and it will be a while before we get back to any town?”
He starts to tell me where it is. I’m not listening. My right hand is behind my back, resting on the grip. I move my left one behind me too. It crosses with my right hand and grabs hold of the other pistol. I wrap my fingers around the grip tight, leaving my index fingers free to pull the trigger as soon as the gun is out of my waist band. It’s all reflexes now. The guns are lose, both of my arms are in front of me. I can’t aim both at the same time, I don’t want to take chances so before he’s realised what’s happened I’ve sent a hot slug through the fat ones chest. He’s still moving. So I fire another one into his forehead.
The one who was trying to sleep is frantically trying to escape from under his newspaper. I aim both pistols at him and wait until I can see his eyes. And as soon as I do. I let lose with both pistols. I don’t stop until I’m out of ammo. I can’t see his eyes anymore. I can’t see his face anymore.
The blood is still trickling out of their bodies. I should leave. I need to do something first. The fat bold man is lying there, I turn him on his side so I can access his pocket. Nothing. I turn him on the other side. Nothing. I check the drawer of the desk. Jackpot. There is not only the notes that Kalpesh gave him but piles and piles more. Some of these are funny green notes. There are so many I don’t have a way to carry them. I spot a metal case, for ammo. I empty it all out then fill it up with the cash. Feeling slightly sick, I sit on the box. I can’t stop myself from vomiting. I’m sick all over the patterns on the rug. The room is a mess of blood and vomit. I gather my strength, pick up the box and return to the tanker. My heart is thumping.
“Drive! Go go go”, I shout at the tanker. I also motion at the car to get their engine started. I go to the arm barrier and unhook it so the counterweight lifts it open. I wait here, the tanker slows to a crawl and Dahab pulls me in. I push him the box and then he lifts me up and puts me into the middle.
I open the ammo box.
“Dahab, what’s that contents of the box worth?”
He starts counting the notes.
“Amar, what happened?” asks Kalpesh.
“Problem solved and a nice little bonus for us.”
“Did they give you any trouble?”
“No, like shooting fish in a barrel. They suspected nothing. They had no idea.”
“Amar, you’ve recovered all of the bribe money, and then some.”
“That’s good, how much is some extra?”
“About fifty times what we bribed him with. They were sitting on US Dollars, Afghani money, Iranian money and Rupees. There’s probably more here than the money we’ll make from the guns”, says Dahab, “I was wondering why you brought the kid along Kalpesh. Now I understand.”
“Everyone has to start somewhere. This boy is a fast learner. He’ll be the boss of all of us one day.”
Sitting in the house waiting; we see the flickering of a candle as the door slowly creaks open. Then a loud whisper. A voice calls out.
“Is anybody there?”
Instinctively my hand reaches for my pistol, from the sound of holsters being unbuttoned I know that everyone else thinks the same thing.
“I’m from the revolutionary army. I’m your friend. I bring food and water.”
“What is the code word?” Kalpesh says.
“The code word is Khomeini.”
“Okay, we’re dropping our arms”, says Kalpesh, who turns to us and whispers, “everyone put your guns away. We are with friends.”
I put my pistol back in the holster, close the flap and button it shut. I can hear the sound of buttons clicking shut all around me.
“Come in, so we can see you.”
The voice’s footsteps get closer.
“I am Nasir, officer of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.”
“You’re taking us to the tanker?” say Kalpesh.
“Yes that’s right, and then I’m coming to collect the guns with you.”
“Great, come and sit, we’ll eat. How far is the destination?”
“It’ll take us an hour and a half.”
“We should begin our journey at midnight so that we can pick up the cargo and be at the border post with Afghanistan well before morning.”
“I agree. Let’s go outside and build a small fire so we can have tea and warm up our food.” Nasir says.
The food is strange, the spices are unfamiliar. The water tastes like a rose. The tea has a bunch of sweet furry leaves in it. The bread is incredible. The rest of it contains meat which me and Kalpesh avoid. Dahab and Rakesh don’t care. They eat anything. They are worse than the beasts they’re eating.
The is a paste made out of chickpeas which tastes like a curry at home but the texture and the oils are totally different.
“What is this Nasir?”
“It’s called hummus, we eat it with bread. Very tasty. Do you like it?”
“I love it. So tasty. Kalpesh can we get this in Dubai?”
“Yes, it is available, but we only have servants that make us Indian food. This is good but when you’re at home you want to eat home food. If you want it we’ll arrange for someone to make it for you.” Dahab makes us stops us chatting. “Get a move on boys. Let’s get this over with, we don’t know what problems we’ll run into on the way so lets give ourselves plenty of time to play with.”
This is typical of Dahab. He’s from Sudan, and is preoccupied by time. We take things as they come but he checks his watch and get’s annoyed if you don’t meet him on time or keep him waiting.
“I’m ready”, I say.
“Me too”, says Rakesh.
“Let me finish my tea and we’ll go”, says Kalpesh.
“I’m not here for a pleasure trip, ready when you all are”, says Nasir.
Since the house is abandoned we chuck our plates in the corner and head out.
The Land Rover is full now, and we’re squeezed in more than before. The conversation is rife. We’re all having a lot of fun talking to Nasir about his country. He tells us why he is taking part in the rebellion. The Shah of Iran is trying to modernise the country. He has banned everyone from wearing traditional clothing and now people must wear western outfits and a cap with a short rim. The Shah is also encouraging women to discard the Hijab.
Why he’s against this I find hard to understand.
“Nasir, that doesn’t sound too bad”, I say.
“They are even forcing mosques to use chairs.”
“What an evil man”, Rakesh says sarcastically.
“Shut up both of you”, says Kalpesh. Not wanting to offend our customer.
As we drive past a sign for Abdeah, Nazir tells us we’re close and starts micromanaging the route to avoid government patrols. It takes longer but we end up at a warehouse. It is fully operational from the looks of it, with new trucks parked and being loaded so they can whizz around the peninsula in the morning.
We’re met by a man who looks at our car menacingly then lifts his rifle. Nasir who’s sitting beside me dashes out of the door. Rifleman recognises Nasir and lowers his weapon.
Nasir talks to Rifleman who then motions us to follow them. They both get into a beat up old car. We go around the warehouse to a shorter building, but wider. It looks a lot like a plane hangar. In reality it’s full of broken down lorries and oil tankers. Well except for one. What a genius idea. To hide the oil tanker they stole in plain sight.
We unload the down payment into potato sacks provided by Rifleman and Nasir. The potatos are left behind our Land Rover. The guns aren’t even checked. Rakesh was right, they know we can be trusted and the only reason they’re sending Nasir along is to cut us out.
“Time to split up. Rakesh you drive the land rover, take Nasir with you. Dahab, the boy and me will drive the tanker. You’re going to lead the way. Nasir will direct you back towards Esfahan. At the main road into town, when we get to the outskirts we’ll take the road to Nain then follow it south all the way to Bam. It’ll be four to five hours drive. We’ll stop for rest and refreshments near Bam before trying to cross the border. We can’t stop for long, I want to be out of here before nine tomorrow morning.”
Dahab lifts me up until I climb into the cab. Had a bit of trouble reaching the first step. I’m in the middle. The vehicle isn’t in great shape but it’ll do. The gear stick doesn’t have a handle, just a bare metal rod sticking out of the driving column.
“This isn’t very comfortable”, I say, “wish I was in the Land Rover.”
“I put you here with me because if we encounter any problems I need you to deal with them”, says Kalpesh while pointing at my holster.”
Rakesh starts his engine. We wave goodbye to Rifleman, who turns his attention to moving the potato sacks somewhere more discreet. We start our engine and there is a great roar as it comes into life. Your seats are vibrating violently. It calms down as the engine is put into gear and we start moving forward.
We slowly make our way out of the compound. The gate is opened for us without any questions and we’re on the road.
The hours pass and the towns pass by, first we skirt around the suburbs of Esfahan and take the road towards Nain. The terrain changes from rocky to scrub land with some plants dotted around back to sand dunes. Then to a town called Sajzi followed by just a long straight road cutting a line through the desert.
Finally we reach Nain, here we stop get out of the vehicles and get together for tea. Kalpesh and Dahab swap driving duties. Rakesh asks if Nasir minds driving the Land Rover, he doesn’t. The convoy has fresh drivers and we set off again, taking a right turn. It’s a long way to Bam from here. I make a mental note of the towns we pass: Ardkan, Meybod, Hassanabad, Yazd, Anar, Rafsanjan, Bagheyn and Kerman.
Kerman is a large city and we stop again, some of the men need to relieve themselves. We also refuel the tanker and the car here. Kalpesh gets talking to the owner of the fuel stop.
Kalpesh asks him, “what’s the best way to Afghanistan? I’m planning to go through Bam. Is that a good idea?” “That depends on where you’re going. If you want to go to Qom, then you’re going the right way.” “We want to go to Kandahar.” “You can save some time by going up Sirch road. Continue towards Bam for ten minutes after you leave here then follow the sign of Sirch, it’s a left turn. This road will take you through the mountains. There is nothing between here and Afghanistan except a few small towns near the border.”
“So it’s not a busy crossing?”
“Most the time it’s not even manned.”
He explains the new route to everybody, Nasir agrees that this will be a quieter crossing. Which is good because have not made great time so far. It’s likely that we’ll get to the border later than first planned.
Dahab thinks the roads will be too bad and it’s too remote. If something happens to the vehicles then there will be no help at hand. Kalpesh says it’s decided so Dahab doesn’t push the matter.
Since we’re not going to Bam, we stock up on snacks and water. No chance to rest. Kalpesh tells Rakesh to stop when we get to the border town Zahak.
Soon we reach Sirch at the foot of the mountain. It is not desert, but a fertile green land. With food and plants growing everywhere. I haven’t seen anything like this since I was in India.
Beyond Sirch, the majestic mountains sit, looking impregnable, we follow the road as it snakes around the foot of the mountains until there’s a valley where the road darts through. On the other side we’re looking at the desert again. The sand is darker here, the colour is more gray. There is nothing to look at, no sensory input. Dahab is struggling to concentrate too. He turns on the radio and fiddles the dial until he finds a station. It’s playing Farsi music, he keeps turning, he gets Arabic hyms, he keeps turning. It’s a Pakistani radio station, the news is on.
“How can we hear a Pakistani station here?”, I ask. Dahab replies noticing that Kalpesh is a sleep, “Do you know where we are?”
“We’re in Iran. Near the Afghan border.”
“Do you know what country is in between Afghanistan and India?”
“Yes, and we’re very close to the Pakistan border now. If we had continued to Bam, then we’d only be an hour away.”
I think about this, it does make sense. I got on a boat to Dubai, then we took a ferry over the Gulf of Oman, from Dubai to Bandar-e-Abbas to get to Iran. Part of me thinks of running away from all this when we get to Kandahar. I think I’d be able to find my way home from there if it’s so close to India. The thought crosses my mind only for a moment. It’s the twilight before dawn. As it gets brighter we can see a town in the distance.
“Is that Zahak?” I ask.
“Let me check the map,” he flicks through the pages, “no, it’s too soon for that. I think that Zabol, we’re not stopping there. We’ll just go around the outside. That’s the capital of this region, far too likely to run into police there.” says Kalpesh.
We reach Zahak eventually. An uneventful place, consisting of two main roads and a handful of houses. This is the hardest part of the journey. Get through here and we’ll be safe. On the side of the road blue house with an open patio. There is a man in traditional clothing sitting there baking bread. Our stomachs can’t resist, we stop and buy some hot flat breads and butter for breakfast. This gives the drivers a chance to switch seats again. Kalpesh takes the wheel of our tanker. It would be nice to have a break and enjoy our food but we don’t stay, we eat breakfast in our vehicles.
Just minutes away from the border now.
Kalpesh flashes the headlights at the Land Rover ahead of us and stops. They stop a couple of hundred meters in front of us.
“Amar, run over to them. Tell them to go to the border alone and figure out how many guards there are.”
I run up to Rakesh on the driver’s side of the land rover and tell him what to do. He releases the hand-break and drives off slowly. I run back to the tanker. In the light I make out the colour of the cab section for the first time. It’s a dark red, like dry blood. With a thick layer of dust covering it.
Kalpesh switches off the radio. There is tension in the air.
“What are you worried about?”
“Everything. If the government has found out we’re going across here then there might be a unit of soldiers waiting for us. That’s why I sent Rakesh up ahead on his on. It’s less conspicuous, that and Nasir is with him. Just incase it’s an ambush on the rebels part.”
“I can their headlights coming back.” I say.
“No ambush then.”
They pull up beside us and Rakesh and Kalpesh talk loudly to each other out of the window.
“There is a small border post there, two guards. They’re asleep and there is an arm barrier across the road.”
“Wooden or steel?”
“That’s good to know. I don’t think they’re going to remain asleep when this beast pulls up next to them.”
“Very true. What’s the plan?”
“We’ll try a bribe.”
“We’ll play it by ear. They can’t be wealthy guards in a rural outpost like this. Can’t see them not accepting.”
The tanker roars into life and Kalpesh starts the engine. We take the lead and the Land Rover follows.
We’re sitting in a Land Rover, going over the dunes towards Iran, our plan is to cross the border where it is unprotected and that means avoiding roads. On the other side we can rejoin the road and rendezvous with the rebels in the south.
In the car there is Kalpesh who is driving, Dahab who is sitting in the front and Rakesh who is in the back with me.
Kalpesh goes over the plan once again, “We’re going to be meeting the rebels close to the site where their storing the road tanker. It’s a industrial area seventy kilometers south of Esfahan. We have fifteen AK47s in the Land Rover, from our personal armoury, which we’ll hand over as a down payment. We’ve agreed that one of the rebels can join us while we arrange for the rest of the guns to reach them. They wanted three of them to come with us, but that’s totally unacceptable. Even one is an annoyance. We’ll drop him off in Kandahar. He won’t be coming to Wazir. He spook the gun dealers if we turn up with some rag tag Farsi who they’ve never met.”
“Won’t he have a problem being left behind in Kandahar?”, I ask.
“I know perfectly well why they’re sending him with us, it’s not that they don’t trust us. They want to cut us out of future deals and go to the gun suppliers themselves”, says Rakesh.
“Why don’t they just drive into Waziristan themselves, what’s stopping them from going direct?”
Kalpesh answers, “They won’t get a good exchange for the oil. Because they’re unknown, the best gun dealers won’t speak to them and they’ll get stuffed with shoddy merchandise. For what? A few more guns then what we’ll give them? They’re not fools, they need to worry about not raising suspicion and stockpiling resources. The gun smuggling they can leave to us.”
“Kalpesh, get back to the plan. You mention of Kandahar, it’s safe to say that we’re not going to smuggle the oil out via sea?” asks Dahab
“No, we couldn’t arrange a boat in time, and even if we did, it’s not a viable deal once we factor in the costs of bribes at Karachi’s port.”
“We are going to time our border crossing so that there is a skeleton crew at the border post. The plan hinges on them not suspecting that the rebels are trying to get the oil out of Iran. Then the border guards won’t have been informed. We’ll play the rest by ear. If we need to bribe, we’ll do that.”
“So what happens once we’re in Afghanistan?” says Rakesh.
“Kalpesh smiles. We’ll drive to Kandahar as you know. Then you’ll stay behind with the rebel and the jeep. Me, Dahab and Amar will ride that truck into Waziristan, meet with our regular dealer, there we will take enough guns to satisfy the rebels and replenish our armoury. We can leave the rest on account for when we next need them or the rebels want to buy them. Then we’ll return to Kandahar. While we’re in town we’re going to pick up fifty kilograms of opium. For smuggling into Europe and North Africa.”
“Why don’t we smuggle the opium into India?” I ask. “There are other cartels who take it straight into India from Pakistan. It’s too complicated for us to get the Opium and then try to ship it into Mumbai. The only drug we supply into Mumbai is Ketamine and that comes to us from Italy. This is partly why we like the opium trade. The Italians buy the opium and give us the ketamine. We sell the ketamine to India for a hundred times the price we could have sold the opium.
Any excess opium we have is sold around other European countries, they turn it into a drug called Heroin. It’s not too popular here but jazz musicians tend to like it and it isn’t illegal in some of those countries.
It’s late afternoon as we reach the Esfahan outskirts. There is lodging arranged for us here. It’s a run down house. Looks to be abandoned, and only recently re-opened. The well is dry. There is no food. It stands amongst some farm buildings. A grain silo, a barn, a abattoir.
“We can’t have luxury everywhere we go”, says Kalpesh as he surveys the scene, “don’t fret about water or food. One of the rebels will be meeting us later tonight so he can show us the way to the tanker, he’ll bring with him all we need. Get some rest everyone. We won’t be sleeping again until we reach Afghanistan. Keep your guns close, but hidden. We need to be prepared for this going wrong, or the intelligence services thwarting our plan. At the same time we don’t want to cause alarm with the locals.”
We all go inside the house. I check my pistol. Kalpesh it gave to me when I finally succeeded in hitting those three clay pots wearing a blindfold. Since then we’ve done a lot more training, with AK47s, running and shooting, shooting moving targets, drive-by shooting. We even played a game involving shotguns and clay pigeons. I don’t like bragging but I was even better than Kalpesh at it after a while.