Negotiating our way to Afghanistan

Ken and John,

More people came in last night from Khoja Bahauddin, Masood's town, which is some 1 1/2 hours from the Tajik border where many journalists are staying and where the aid organizations are also located.  It's not on the map because it was created four years ago when Masood was pushed north by the Taliban.

This town is where we anticipate to work out of.

News is that the Monday convoy, which we were supposed to be on, was held up at the border overnight by Russian guards.  They left at 10 am and arrived in Khoja at 10 am the following day.  They slept on the ground or whatever.

Rumor is that they wanted more paperwork or bribes, and another rumor is that there was fighting on the Afghan side and they wanted the journalist convoy to wait.  Can't get a sure answer on it.  The response on this end from the Afghan Embassy is to tell all journalists to get a letter from the Embassy stating your mission along with a number of xerox copies of passport, visa, accreditation card, etc.

Another piece of news is that the first group of journalists has gotten stuck on the pass to Panjshir, the way south to Kabul.  They satellite phoned for help but they are in the middle of a 3-4 day drive and there seems to be little resources to get them out.  It has iced over and there will be no traveling now until spring.

In Khoja Bahauddin we should be 1 or 3 hours away from the front lines-- there are varied reports.  It's a drive plus an hour on a horse through a river.  Supposedly the Northern Alliance cannot make a move because they have inferior weaponry so they are simply waiting for the U.S. to bomb the Taliban there.  There is some firing back and forth but it's just a show.  They are too far from each other.

The Northern Alliance got a hold of a bunch of rations dropped by the U.S. and have kept most of it and pawned the rest at the market where journalists can find American peanut butter and other items the Afghans have no clue what to do with.  They eat rice and beans most of the time.

The Foreign Ministry in Khoja Bahauddin was Masood's place before he was killed.  NBC is camped on his property.  Many others have simply pitched tents in the "garden."  Word is that they are serving free rice three times a day for the journalists.  I will pick up some hard cheese and salami for the first week or so and then we'll go to canned meats and fish after that. 

I have decided to hire a second car for the ride to the border because we simply have too much baggage now that we are loaded down with water and other supplies.  I found a freelance shooter last night from Time and Newsweek who will ride in the second car to offset the cost.  He doesn't have too much stuff--yet.

We are anticipating to pay $100 a day for a driver and another $100 a day for a translator.  Tracey and I did get more money in Uzbekistan and recently the hotel here is permitting us to get money from our credit cards.  Although mine didn't release any money in Tashkent, I tried $100 yesterday here and it did go through, although with many fees.  It's good to know it's accessible though because before this journalists were having to travel back to Tashkent to get money--a major pain in the rear since there are no flights between Dushanbe and Tashkent and the route is quite circuitous.

I am thrilled that I think I have convinced a fellow from Bloomberg to part with his sleeping bag after he leaves in some four days.  It's fancy, small and very very light.  The ones at the local sport shop weigh a ton.  It might be naive on our part, but Tracey and I have decided to not get the local one, use our mega winter clothing at night, to get us through the first night or so.  NBC did offer us stuff, anticipating that they would have excess gear.

Apparently we must buy a generator.  There is little electricity there and with all our equipment needing recharging, we won't be able to rely on kindness.  Apparently journalists are feeling frustrated by the amount of equipment breaking down due to the sand and are getting quite ornery about whatever is working.  I tried to scam a beautiful red small generator off an Austrian fellow who's returning to Moscow soon but he was too fearful of the repercussions with Russian customs.  It was quite a lovely one, however.

For your comfort, some 1300 or more journalists have gotten accredited in Dushanbe on their way to Afghanistan and no one has gotten hurt. So things are rough but not terribly dangerous it seems.  There's more danger to our equipment and personal health than anthing.

Hmmmm, Tracey just informed me that the BBC has reported that the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan has been closed as of late last night.  That hasn't been confirmed yet.  But the more delays, the more chance of us not getting in.  Phew....I'm sure hoping it isn't true.

Cheryl