I walked North out of Herat
towards the ruins of a mosque I had seen on the horizon from the
bus when arriving in town
the day before. Only its four mud brick minarets remained standing
(I've got a picture of it somewhere). Children were playing amongst
the ruins and in a hollow off to one side of the hill on which the
mosque was built was a Bedouin tent. I'd seen these tents before
on the plains of Afghanistan's Western desert. A teenager beckoned
me to follow him and gestured for me to enter the tent. Heck, who'd
pass up an opportunity like that?
The women disappeared as I approached. I
sat down on a blanket on the mud floor as an honoured guest. As
you can see, I was scrutinised with intense interest. Staring is
quite the custom all throughout Central Asia, and why not? Life
is worth a good hard long look and I was certainly a strange sight
- a beardless man. I'm a quiet shy kind of bloke but sometimes you
can get a hundred pair of eyes staring intently at you. Unnerving
at times, but you get used to it.
I was amazed at how light and airy the tent
was. From the outside, its material seemed so dense and black but
in fact it was made with a very loose weave. Look at the way their
cooking stove grows organically out of the mud floor. Isn't it great?
Islam requires its followers to be hospitable
to strangers. This may be a practical necessity of peoples who live
in difficult arid regions but the sentiments are genuine. The gracious
old white-bearded man served me a most welcome cup of refreshing
hot tea, some 'nan' bread, on the floor above, and, as I recall,
some tiny white peppermint sweets.
I smiled and acted the clown for the children
and amused all and sundry by fiddling with my camera. A young man
tried to speak to me using a few words of French. I shrugged. Of
course without the tools for communication, the novelty for both
parties soon wore off leaving awkwardness in its wake. It was time
to say good-bye before things became too spooky.