Friends in High Places April 2002

The Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain ranges converge in a region that also forms the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s a good place to disappear and is, these days, mentioned as a possible hiding place for Talibans on the run. A few years ago my daughter, Mary and I passed through on the way to Chinese Turkistan. We were riding in a minibus, that was really a converted van, jammed with Pashtun locals, which lurched along the track cut into the side of a rugged mountain. Chanted verses from the Koran blared from stereo and echoed off the sides of the sheer cliff. The few women on the bus were accompanied by men and were fully covered by the traditional burka. Mary was not quite ready for the burka and opted instead for scarves that she had collected on a previous journey in eastern Turkey. We skidded around a sharp corner and the van suddenly stopped! In the middle of the road stood a few gentlemen armed to the teeth. Hmmm, I thought.

They looked inside the van and walked away accompanied by our driver. In a few minutes one fellow returned and motioned to Mary and I get off the bus and follow him. This was an invitation not to be refused and so we followed him along a short path and came to a tent. We were motioned to enter and inside was a group of guys that Central casting could never have assembled. I am sure that they were every bit as tough as they looked. We were asked to sign a book and then, to my astonishment one guy asked if we would please take a photograph together with them!

We did, and to this day it’s one of my favorites. Last week as I returned from the Frankfurt Music Fair, where I was interviewed by the security staff at the Frankfurt Airport. As the agent rifled through my passport she stopped dead on one page. Hmmm, Pakistan,” she said, “Do you like Pakistan?” “Of course,” I answered. Did you meet anyone from Pakistan on this trip?” “Yes,” I answered, “we import drums (bodhrans) from Pakistan.” “Did anyone from Pakistan help you pack your bags?” And so the questions went. Finally I passed, or so I thought, and went through immigration. I was about to step on the plane when I was pulled aside. The computer, it seemed, had selected me for a “random” check and so off we went to a nice little room for a wonderful random search! Hmmm…

Richard Keldsen
San Francisco
April 2002