I am standing outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs waiting for the young Najibullah to tell the authorities of our plans. He must report in, he says, or they will get rough with him. So I wait. Next to me is a Toyota Tacoma four-door, four-wheel-drive, diesel pickup. Chrome roll bars, chrome bars over the front grill, chrome running boards. In the back bed are three soldiers. The one in the middle is straddling a floor-mounted machine gun with a bore the size of three fingers. The man to his left cradles a medium-sized machine gun with fold-down tripod so that it can be set on the ground or maybe a rock. The other soldier has a Kalashnikov over his shoulder. They're waiting for their commander who has gone inside the building. The sun is out but it's a cold morning, and two of the soldiers are wearing polar gear dropped from American planes as part of the humanitarian aid program -- thick insulated pants, big coats with big hoods, and black leather lace-up combat boots. It would be really cold riding in the back of a pickup and these clothes are perfect for the job, so they're styling. It's cool to sit in the back of a pickup with a machine gun. It's cool to be part of the conquering army on a bright and sunny morning.
I ask the men if I can look inside the cab and they say go ahead, getting out and coming around to watch me. The floors and the seats are covered with Afghan carpets that look like they've just been vacuumed. There's no mud or dirt anywhere, which seems impossible considering that it's been raining for days and there's mud everywhere. On the dash there are red plastic roses, and the front window has little multi-colored cotton balls hanging from its border, and there are little stickers around the cassette player of valentine hearts and the word LOVE written in that 60's psychedelic font. I point to the stickers and look at the soldiers and one of them says, "Taliban."
"Yes," he says and makes a motion with his hand meaning that the whole truck had belonged to the Taliban.
"Kunduz?" I asked, meaning 'Was this truck taken at the surrender of Kunduz?'
"Yes, Kunduz," all nodding their heads.
It's strange that Taliban soldiers had decorated the cab this way, like a gay bordello, and it's stranger still that the Northern Alliance soldiers hadn't changed it.
What does this mean?
It means the Taliban were more cool, more hip, than the Northern Alliance.
I've been cold at night so before going to bed I ask for an extra blanket. I find the young man who sweeps the floors and say, "Blanket?" making the motions like I'm sleeping and pulling a blanket over my head.
"Blanket?" he asks.
"Yeah, blanket," acting like I'm in bed and shivering.
"Okay, blanket," he says and goes directly to a room just across the hall from mine and pounds on the door. The young man who answers also works in the hotel, also sweeping the floors. My guy tells him that I need his blanket, so hand it over, since I'm a paying guest and all. But the other guy says no way, Jose, it's cold out tonight. My guy says, listen, you've got to give him your blanket, if you get cold you can go sleep with your friend downstairs. This makes the other guy mad and he grabs my guy at the shoulders and they start wrestling, pushing each other in and out of the room, yelling, knocking stuff over while I'm saying, "I don't want his blanket, stop, listen, there must be another blanket in this hotel somewhere." They stop wrestling and just yell at each other for a few minutes, and then they're not yelling at all but talking quietly, and then they're hugging each other in the doorway and holding hands.
"Blanket?" I say, rather perturbed.
No, they both shake their heads, no.
To the Fortress...