From the

It’s strange how your perception of danger and your fear can hobble you.  I had dinner in New Delhi with a woman who works for the United Nations in Kabul and she said she wasn’t allowed to walk anywhere in the city.  When I arrived in Kabul the airport seemed deserted; my ride didn’t show and I had to walk into the eerie stillness of a black night to find a taxi and I thought I’d be kidnapped for sure.  There are plenty of stories.  Only months ago the five star Serena hotel was attacked, gunmen running amok spraying bullets.  Around the corner from my hotel two Americans working for DHL were gunned down.  A month before, I heard, a German had been kidnapped from the market.  Every government building is lined with blast walls and razor wire.  Roads are blocked off; sandbagged machine gun positions are everywhere.  I walked through town my first morning for two hours like a chicken among wolves, darting across streets, never pausing, keeping my back to walls, a knife taped to my arm, always looking for exit routes.

“You shouldn’t have been out that long,” Khalid, my Afghan guide, said the next morning.  And my own hotel confirmed the worst – three layers of steel doors, gunmen at each and high walls.  “And never just flag down a taxi.  The driver might have bad friends, and call them.”

All the security, all the tales, made me shiver, and they keep too many Westerners in a perpetual state of fear and locked away.  To read the detailed security briefs was to never venture outside at all.

But your perceptions change quickly.  In Afghan clothes I turned invisible.  I traveled to Mazar and back overland.  Back in Kabul I changed hotels, to one less expensive, less Western, less secure but more secure, because it was less obvious.  I started wandering and walking for hours.

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About this author

  • Carl Hoffman

    Carl Hoffman is traveling for The Lunatic Express, to be published by Broadway Books in 2009. He is a contributing editor at Na…

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