Second stop: Tajikistan

Dear Family and Friends,

Sunday morning I got to talking to a woman from ABC Australia during breakfast and she had just returned from Afghanistan.  I picked her brain about what's what over there and she said we needed all our provisions for the time we expected to be there.  All the food, water, cooking supplies, tents, sleeping bags, everything for the month we expected to be there.  We had some power bars to last us about a week and a half, and nothing else.  I was frantic.

I had two shoots in the morning, one with an Afghan family living here in Dushanbe for 3 years and another was a memorial for Ahmad Masoud, the Northern Alliance military leader killed some 40 days ago.  The memorial was really interesting.  Only men attended it, including Masoud's only son, a 13-year-old with a weary face.  My translator is great.  We found him in the market place.  He's Afghan, 17 years old, and not tainted by the greed, which seems to hang over everyone in contact with the hundreds of journalists.

Tracey, the writer, has been sick since Friday with diarrhea.  He hasn't been super functional except to attend the Masoud thing and use the internet for research at the cafe in our hotel.  Poor guy.  So although we had been scheduled to leave on a Monday convoy to Afghanistan, we decided to hold off for the next convoy Wednesday.  Today is Tuesday and Tracey is still not well and I believe he must have some kind of bad bug so I got him a doctor at the hotel and got a prescription for him of Tetracycline.  And an extra supply for me just in case.

On my way to the pharmacist I negotiated for a vehicle, found a nice man with a Russian Volga who will charge us the going rate of $150 one way for both Tracey and me and all of our gear and provisions.  I hope we fit.  We had originally booked a van for Monday, paid the guy $30 for gas but had to cancel.  I tried to get him for Wednesday but he's gotten greedier and now he wants to pocket the money and ask for another $250.  This is a year's salary in Tajikistan.  A teacher earns $5 a day.  So obviously things have gotten completely out of control.  While I attempted to negotiate with him he was trying to sell me out to another crew from whom he was hoping to get $400.  I told the guys what happened and they told me to start screaming and throw a fit then and there--to convince the driver to accept my offer.  I thought about it, and decided that I wasn't at that point yet. 

In any case, I got the Volga.  So we're set.

Next point of action was to get the new driver on "the list."  The Tajik Foreign Ministry accompanies journalists on convoys to the border to secure their safety and to keep the Russian guards from harassing and requesting too many bribes along the way.  I went there and found out that Wednesday's convoy has been rescheduled for Thursday.  I have been here since October 12 and am nearly going out of my mind with all the waiting and bureaucracy.  I want to make pictures, but until I get to Afghanistan, everything is peripheral.  There are some feature stories we can do, but they are just things to bide the time.  The story is in Afghanistan!!!

OK, so I get the driver on the list.  If we don't have him on the list, they'll harass us the whole way and rumor has it that one group had to turn around back to Dushanbe.

So while I'm at the Foreign Ministry, another journalist says that we now need some letter from the Afghan Embassy permitting us entry into Afghanistan, besides the visa.  So now I get on a new mission, if we need this piece of paper, it's probably a new way for them to ask for more fees.  But if we need it, then I need to secure the papers before Thursday morning.  So I huff and I puff over to the Afghan Embassy some five blocks away and talk to a fellow who says that the letter is to secure the visa--if we have our visas, we're set.  Another rumor put to rest.

Other journalist groups here have fixers who run around doing this entire minutia for them.  For Tracey and me, it's me.  I'm the fixer, the photographer, the provision provider/shopper, the driver coordinator, the everything.  It's so crazy how much bureaucracy is involved in getting to Afghanistan.

There are already hundreds of journalists who have taken this same path over there so it's safe, but our bosses need to know all the logistics before we leave.  And of course, the longer we sit in this hotel the more money we are using that could be necessary in Afghanistan.  Supposedly we can get money from a Visa or MasterCard but mine don't seem to work here.  We have to make it on the money we have.

I have long since forgotten about my lust for a carpet.  Now my mind is just on getting to Afghanistan.  Tracey and I have nixed the idea of buying a tent and sleeping bag.  We have been told that most journalists are staying in ngo compounds (non-governmental organizations) with guards, some are renting rooms from families.  There are wells in the compounds and many have pitched tents in the gardens.  I checked on the tents here at the local sports shop and they are incredibly heavy, same with the sleeping bags.  An NBC engineer who got on Monday's convoy said they have a lot of supplies already in Afghanistan and they are arriving with more.  So probably they'll have spare tents and sleeping bags.  We really don't know what will happen, but we hope we can borrow stuff.  Many who have left simply left their stuff there.  I figure food is the most important.  I am relishing every moment of hot water baths in our hotel in Tajikistan.

Apparently the compounds in Afghanistan where journalists are staying have electricity 15 minutes a day.  Journalists have bought generators there or bought generators in Dushanbe and transported them.  We have all battery-operated gear, which will need to be recharged regularly, we hope to get some access to the power.  We'll find out when we get there.

Well, that's all I know for today.  We think we are leaving Thursday morning.