Afghanistan 1976

A servant brought the form to me, sweating slightly after the walk from the gatehouse. ‘Sir, there’s a bearded stranger and his sister, waiting to see the Ambassador’. The form was attached to a letter which asked that His Excellency welcome his friend’s children when they reached Kabul. I sighed. I left the comfort of the air-conditioned office in the great white house which the British Embassy had occupied for many decades now. It nestled in a garden, the green lawn was the envy of every other Embassy in Kabul.


‘Good morning. I’m the Head of Chancery at the Embassy,’ I said. They were polite and they had made an effort to look respectable, though the jeans, cheesecloth shirt, sandals and the boy’s beard were the standard uniform of the thousands of other young people on the so-called Hippy Trail, the overland route from Europe to India. My staff spent much of their days dealing with them: in trouble with the police, drugged silly, run out of money, stolen passports.

I was polite too. I asked them what schools they had been to, whether they needed any help. I said I was sure their parents hoped they were behaving themselves, and was sorry I couldn’t help them as the Ambassador was not presently in residence. I sat there silently; it took a while for them to get the message. They stood up and, as a driver was about to go into town I offered them a lift in a jeep with CD plates. They accepted. I had to hope the driver didn’t mention the party, the ‘whoopee’ we were having that evening while the Ambassador was away. Camel-racing, bingo, roulette, piles of roasted meat, lots of booze. The lawns would be full of people having fun; but we didn’t want the bearded types there, whether they had been to the right schools or not.