The Taliban vs. Andre the Giant

Abdur was in the midst of one of his fierce and passionate rants, “Ian, you are from New Zealand. We like New Zealand, it is a good part of Europe. We like Germans too.  We hate American and British people. America is the devil. And we love Hitler.”

So there I sat one fine evening, cross-legged in a small grassy field, in a circle with five members of the Taliban and absolutely ecstatic that I had chosen to introduce myself as Ian from New Zealand.

The evening had begun innocently enough when I left my hotel in search of some food in the northern Pakistani town of Chitral.  It was a cool evening in this mountainous border region and I had barely eaten during the impossibly long two day journey to reach this town.  As I passed one small restaurant, a very pleasant young man, speaking a non-coherent Chitrali-English mix, came running outside, trying to energetically persuade me to enter. Without even waiting for my decision, he quickly escorted me to an empty chair at an otherwise crowded wooden table.

My new eating companions, a group of middle-aged men, barely even looked up from their meals, offering me only a slight nod of acknowledgement   As I watched their long, dark beards collect more food crumbs with each bite, I realized that their supreme focus at this very moment was on devouring their massive plate of meat in world record time.

On the opposite side of the restaurant sat a dozen elderly and chiefly-looking men, sitting on a long raised, wooden platform along with an endless collection of plates full of kebabs, rice, breads and curries.  I caught the eyes of one of these men and before long they were all staring over at me, waving vigorously with their mouths full of food.

As uncommon of a sight as I may have been in this area, I apparently still could not keep their interest for very long, as these men soon returned their attention to the television screen hanging in the corner of the room.  Noticing that every single person in the restaurant was watching the television to some degree, I stretched my neck around the wall next to me to see what was the program of choice in this remote region of the world.

To say that I was surprised, even shocked by what was on the television, would be a vast understatement as I watched a body slam followed by a pile driver.  It was the World Wrestling Federation Royal Rumble from 1990.  My mouth fell open as the headlocks and drop kicks of Hulk Hogan against Mr. Perfect drew more cheers and jeers here in the mountains of Pakistan than from the massive audience actually watching the event from inside the arena in Orlando.  Noticing my justifiable surprise, the elders simply laughed and pointed repeatedly to the screen, yelling out, “Good, good” in their best English.

In utter disbelief I turned away and began silently eating the cold beans, salted spinach and stale bread that had somehow ended up on my table without the involvement of any menu or order-taking.

Hunger satisfied (to an extent), I met some new friends.

During my post-meal tea, one of the elders from the raised platform/WWF fan club area, walked up to my table and sat across from me.  With a narrowing of his thick eyebrows, he asked, “May I talk with you?”

In broken, but reliable English, the man introduced himself as Abdur, a local merchant, businessman and politician.  He seemed a prominent figure in town, greeting everyone that entered the restaurant while sporting a neatly trimmed grey beard, an immaculately clean and pressed shalwar kamiz and a beige turban flawlessly wrapped around his head.

However, for some reason, and despite his genuine friendliness, I chose to rely upon my well-tested travel wits and introduce myself as Ian from New Zealand.  I spent a few minutes engaged in the usual introductory conversation, answering questions about my travels, what I thought of Pakistani women and how much money I earn.

Then suddenly, Abdur stood up and practically demanded that I meet his friends before I left.  Grabbing my arm, he led me through the back door of the restaurant and into a patch of soft green grass surrounded by colorful flowers and dimly lit by three hanging gas lamps.

Five men were sitting together on the ground and Abdur introduced me to each of them.  During these introductions, my eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, allowing me to see that each man was dressed in a black shalwar and turban and that they each had an automatic rifle draped across their lap.  Nonetheless, I reciprocated their warm traditional greetings and took a seat.

Within seconds, Abdur was flooded with questions from his friends regarding my marital status, occupation and whether or not I was armed. Abdur acted as translator as I responded as best and wisely as I could. And based upon their constant laughter and shaking of my hands, everyone seemed quite satisfied with my answers.

Abdur announced that it was time to ‘hear a story’ and he began with some strong words: “We love Hitler and we hate the Jews.”  This one sentence pretty much   eliminated any last remaining hope I had that the guns in front of me were used for elk hunting. Within minutes I had been informed that these five men were regular Taliban fighters, having returned only two days prior from fighting in Afghanistan.

Throughout the two hours I spent with these rough yet oddly affable guys, I listened to a variety of angry speeches and declarations.  Abdur and his friends constantly repeated their fondness for Hitler and their hatred for America while seeking my opinion on the matter on several occasions.

I certainly never agreed with them but I didn’t exactly want to get into an argument with them either. And an intelligent conversation was not an option as they would respond to my question of “Why is killing the Jews good?” with “Because the Jews were killed”.

Most of my non-aggressive attempts at gaining a further understanding of their mindset ended in similar vague statements that lacked anything in the vicinity of a sound argument.  None of these uneducated Taliban could tell me why they hated America, only that they did.

It didn’t make them bad people. In fact they were overly kind and gentle, humorous and generous.

Although they did have a weakness for hashish. I swear they passed around at least a dozen of the thickest joints imaginable during my visit.  My initial, polite refusals were met with some harsh words from Abdur, who accused me of rejecting a gift that his friends had so honourably offered.  As his anger increased over this seemingly trivial matter, I decided to play it safe and join in the smoking, a choice that instantly appeased these armed men.

Unfortunately, and despite my most concentrated efforts, the effects of this hallucinogenic inhalant led me to begin losing consciousness.  The light around me began to dwindle and I started hearing only part of what Abdur and his friends were saying – “Hitler”, “Kill”, “Americans”, “Jews”.  When I realized that I could not hold out any longer and that the last sliver of awareness was about to disappear, I remember wishing myself ‘good luck’.

But alas! Never in my life would I have imagined that the sight of five Taliban staring directly into my eyes from only a few feet away, hooting and hollering and pointing their guns in the air, would bring such a large smile of relief to my face.  I was alive and unharmed.  I had no idea how long I had passed out for and frankly I didn’t care, as I was more than satisfied that these men were still treating me as their friend.

Upon my return to consciousness, Abdur had declared, “We are happy you are ok. My friends thought you will not wake up. This is strong hashish. If you keep smoking like us, you will have long and healthy life.”

I nodded in complete heartfelt appreciation of their concern for my well-being and after succumbing to a mounting urge to yawn, heard the words that I needed to hear:  “You are tired my friend,” Abdur spoke while putting his arm around my neck, “It is 1:00am, you must get sleep. A healthy man also needs sleep.”

We all stood up and my new Taliban friends took turns embracing me and shaking my hands.  I thanked them for their hospitality in my best Urdu, sending them into another fit of laughter and endless hand shaking.

Abdur walked with me as we left the other men behind and we headed in the direction of the central market.  It was an eerie walk through an eerie town at an eerie time of night and only a handful of people, wrapped up tightly in their thick mountain blankets, quietly passed us by.  Abdur did not speak a word.  I could not help but wonder if I was being led to a cliff where Abdur would whisper “I knew you were an American Jew the entire time” and shoot me dead.

Instead, and much to my relief yet again, Abdur stopped in front of a small, dimly-lit wooden building, “This is my shop,” he proudly announced, “I must close it and go home now.”  We embraced and shook each other’s hands as I received one final reminder of his global affairs theory, “Remember, America is the devil.”

Before we parted he handed me a bottle from the small refrigerator in his shop, “Here, this is free, for you my friend.” I glanced at the label and with a chuckle turned towards my hotel.  In my hand I held a bottle of Coca-Cola.

46 Responses to The Taliban vs. Andre the Giant

  1. Yonah says:

    Having just come across your site, and have to say you are the most entertaining travel blogger I’ve ever read!

    As an American Jew who wants to someday go to Pakistan, this was both a hilarious and nerve-wracking story! Question: I’ll be in India soon; is it generally easy/safe to cross into Pakistan?

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Yonah – The situation changes all the time. You need to get the Pakistani tourist visa which, last I heard, was not available for US citizens at the moment. It changes often though. And the Pakistan Embassy in India usually doesn’t give these visas even when it’s okay to give them. So you might have to go to the Pakistan Embassy in Kathmandu which is more willing to give out tourist visas. Once you have the visa, you can cross at the Wagah border crossing right to Lahore.

  2. Samuel Thomson says:

    Hey Earl!

    Just curious… How was it? Was there anything interesting to see, and would you suggest it? I was thinking about passing through there to get through to Asia, but i am a bit afraid of saying something stupid and getting shot…

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Samuel – It’s an amazingly beautiful part of the world but I don’t recommend traveling there unless you have a lot of travel experience in developing countries. Also, I don’t believe they are issuing tourist visas at the moment unfortunately.

  3. Katie says:

    I read this story about a week ago, and my mind just keeps coming back. It sounds such a surreal, slightly scary and yet wholly bizarre experience.

    Thanks so much for sharing it, Earl!

  4. Pingback: La lutte professionnelle: une portée mondiale (3e partie) | La page à Pageau

  5. Emy says:

    Just curious, I take it they didn’t know the difference between an American and Kiwi accents but did you try to change your accent of assume they didn’t know?

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Emy – There was no need to try and change my accent as they definitely wouldn’t have known the difference. With that said, after so many years outside the US, my accent tends not to be as American as it was before I left.

  6. Pingback: Wandering Earl: Kidnappings, Enrepreneurship, the Taliban and 14 Years on the Road | Love Affair Travel

  7. Pingback: 100 People Doing Extraordinary Things (2012 Edition)

  8. Pingback: Thoughts on Learning and Teaching from the Himalayan Foothills

  9. Pingback: Topless Chicks from FEMEN Will Peach the Olympics – Why This Matters | Travel and Activism | Wanderlusting Travel Site

  10. Matt Horwitz says:

    Hey Earl! Was just introduced to your site by Niall Doherty at Disrupting the Rabblement (if you know him), and man… this story is incredible! Not only is so much going on here, but your writing style is so engaging. I felt like I was reading a Paulo Coelho novel! Thanks for the inspiration and sharing your experiences. Keep up the awesomeness ;)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Matt – I just met up with Niall today actually! I really appreciate your comment and glad you enjoyed reading the tale. There are many days when I read this post a couple of times just to remind myself that it actually happened :)

  11. What an amazing read! You got high with the Taliban. How many times are you going to get that opportunity in your lifetime. Crazy.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Will – Thanks for stopping by the site! And yes, that was definitely a once in a lifetime experience (although I am tempted to return to the region!).

  12. Pingback: Another happy customer writes a blog post | www.kayaksafaris.co.za

  13. ritchan says:

    I actually haven’t met many people like that, but I have met a few. It makes me wonder if they’re just going along with their friends. Actually, I would like to meet a few more people like that during my travels, just to convince myself that they still exist!

  14. Ashley Wilde says:

    Hi Earl! Love reading your blog. I found your Taliban story linked through an article about buying yourself a new camera. You said you wanted to have a camera that could take good videos in case you found yourself in a similar situation. Just want to point out, that if you had tried to video these guys, they probably would have killed you. So, I am quite glad you did not try to photograph these guys. I commend you for conversing with them and trying to understand them on their own terms. That doesn’t mean you sympathize or agree with them. What you do is in the best tradition of people who travel for culture. Cheers!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Ashley – I thought of that too but I’m quite sure they would have let me take photographs and video. There was no way they were going to kill me once I said I was from New Zealand. I’m quite confident about that…okay, fairly confident :)

      Thanks so much for reading!!

  15. Pingback: Amid The Ruins Of War In Bosnia & Herzegovina | Wandering Earl

  16. Pingback: Traveling Around Iraq With Wandering Earl | foXnoMad

  17. Pingback: Meet the Nomads: Earl Baron | flipnomad.com

  18. Deniz says:

    Hi Earl,
    I’m new to your site and I have to say, you have some amazing stories and you tell them so well! You also seem to have a knack for thinking on your feet–such a good skill to have! :))

    • Earl says:

      Hey Deniz – Thank you for commenting and I appreciate the kind words! And I think that when anyone spends a significant amount of time in foreign lands and out of their comfort zone, they are forced to develop that quick-thinking skill. Sadly, it seems to go away whenever I’m visiting family and friends at home as it often takes me 2 hours just to decide what to eat for lunch :)

  19. This is insane! But I’d love to have the same experience, for the same reasons. Personal experience is always the best teacher!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Matt – Not a day goes by that I don’t think of this experience and to be honest, it is still difficult for me to believe that it happened! But it did and I credit this one evening for changing my life in ways that all of my other travel experiences combined couldn’t achieve. Let me know when you’re ready to visit Chitral and I’d love to join you!

  20. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Taliban vs. Andre the Giant | Wandering Earl -- Topsy.com

  21. Aaron says:

    That is one hell of a story Earl! You should write a book…seriously! Glad you were able to keep your wits about yourself!

    You didn’t run into any of these fellows again while you were in town, did you?

    • Earl says:

      Thank you for the comment Aaron! I ran into the main guy (who spoke a little English) the next day but not the actual fighters themselves. Although in the next town I went to, every wall of every restaurant and shop was covered in Osama bin Laden posters. But nobody bothered me at all and everyone was quite friendly.

      Perhaps I will talk about it some more if I ever get around to finishing a book!

  22. Rajdeep says:

    Why is the picture at the top of Sikh men sitting at the Golden Temple coupled with this post? I hope you’re not suggesting something.

    • Earl says:

      Hello Rajdeep – Thank you for the comment. Although I would encourage you to take some time to read through my site before making such a statement. Had you done so, you would have quickly learned what kind of traveler I am. And the photo of the Sikh men at the Golden Temple is part of my rotating image header and each time a post/page is loaded, a different image will be displayed, so it is not ‘coupled with this post’. :)

      The reason I have such a photo on my header is due to my love of India, a country where I have spent over 2 years!

      • Rajdeep says:

        XD i realized that AFTER i posted that comment XD;; and then I couldn’t delete it! now I feel stupid, i’m quite new to your site hahaha

        ok..off to go slink away under a table..

  23. kandyce says:

    e- i’ve definitely had my fair share of crazy adventures (including a 450 person surprise engagement party in south india), but nothing beats tea with the taliban. :)

  24. This is a good one I missed from before. Someone just tweeted it and I’m glad I clicked over to read it.

    I dunno how I would have felt with getting high around them. Harder to keep your wits and not mention you’re from the US when you’re on the good stuff. Glad you didn’t die this time either, though! :-D

    • Earl says:

      Hey James – Well, I definitely didn’t plan on participating in such activities with them, but they wouldn’t let me refuse :) And yes, it was very hard to stay aware and to remember what information I had given them. Luckily, they weren’t really trying to investigate me and just wanted to spend some time hanging out with me (as odd as that sounds)!

  25. kandyce says:

    this. is. nuts.

    i’d be lying if i didn’t simultaneously admit that i am incredibly jealous of your travels.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Kandyce – Haha…well, you could always attempt some of these adventures yourself :) Although I would not exactly recommend attempting the Taliban encounter as I have a feeling that situation had the potential to turn into a most unfortunate experience!

  26. Tariq says:

    WOW, great story. Excellent descriptions of scenes, I was feeling it. You just need few more scenes and you can make a good short movie out of it. Awesome

    • Earl says:

      Thanks for the comment Tariq! There are actually plenty of more scenes that I left out from the two days after and perhaps one day when I have some free time I’ll think about turning it in to a movie. It was quite a surreal experience but one of the most eye-opening of my life.

  27. Margo says:

    this story is awesome!

  28. Pingback: The Perfect Camera For A Nomad? | Wandering Earl

  29. Pingback: Should Travel Warnings Stop Us From Traveling? | Wandering Earl

  30. Brian Wadman says:

    Wow!… This is the best story so far – Absurd and True

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>