The power is off in the hotel as well as the entire city of Mazar, but I have a head lamp and a box of wooden matches. The head lamp I brought with me, but the match box is from Latvia, and I can't remember how it came to me. Maybe by way of the Moscow-based Boston Globe reporter on the fifth floor. They are fine wooden matches, "Avion," with a picture of an old airplane. The box is also made of wood, and sturdy. It seems very exotic and very much out of place.
There is no power in this hotel and there is no running water in this hotel, and I've been waiting for an hour for a simple dinner to be brought to my room -- a 4x8 foot space with a bed and nothing else. The bed is a steel-mesh hammock with a thin cotton mattress, two dirty sheets, and one blanket. There are better rooms in the hotel, large rooms with windows and kerosene heaters, but I'm trying to save money and this one costs only ten dollars a night while the others go for $35. I don't mind the darkness, and I don't mind the bed, but without running water the communal toilets are filling up and the stink is hard to ignore. No self-respecting foreign correspondent would stand for this, but there are no other hotels in town.
I'm hungry. There is a restaurant in town, but even those who've been there don't know where it is. The sound man with the French TV crew said, "You take a taxi and say you want to go to the restaurant. It's around here somewhere, and it's a real restaurant, with tables and table cloths and enough light so you can see what you are eating. Not bad." But it's night now, and nobody goes out at night. Nobody. The hotel doors are locked and the dogs control the streets.
An hour ago I asked the ten-year old boy who works here if there was a way I could order something to eat. He speaks English pretty well, sometimes with an attitude if he doesn't like you, but we get along fine because I tip him 10,000 Afghanis whenever he does something for me.
"Yes," he snaps, "what do you want?"
"Do you have dinner?"
"Dinner?" like he'd never heard the word.
"Yes, dinner, like kabob. Do you have kabob?
"Rice and bread."
"Do you have anything else?"
"Is there anything else they can make in the kitchen besides rice and bread and tea?"
"Okay then. Can you bring it to my room?"
"Yes, yes," and he went off into the darkness and he has not come back. But there are many hungry people in this town, and I roll another cigarette and light it with my exotic matches and listen to the last prayer of the day being sung over a loudspeaker at the mosque.
To the Ministry...