By Stephen E. Yocum
In 1974, from out of Kabul,
The bouncing open back of
An old flat bed truck,
Eating dust and Diesel fumes,
Two alone we journeyed.
A round the world exploration
Of adventure and discovery.
Of lands and cultures,
people never before encountered.
Naive Ecotourists, before there
Was such a thing, called by a silly name.
The land there about, dry and dusty,
Sparse vegetations, Inhospitable to all,
Featureless and drab beyond comprehension.
Harsh lands breed harsh unforgiving people,
Matching their dire extreme surroundings.
This being one of those places.
I was on an adventure,
More so than she with me,
A rocky marriage at best,
Stressed further by months of travel.
I seeking the raw, the real,
She wanting first class comforts,
Like the “Good Life as seen on TV”.
A rough open flatbed truck, eating dust,
Not even close to fitting that description.
We were going to a small distant town,
Where I might see a game as old,
As that culture, of those Afghan plains,
A game, no truly more of a passion,
A long held national obsession,
Not so much played,
As combated, a war on horseback,
Brutal, ****** and thrilling.
Under noonday sun, yet chill of weather,
An hour out, four mounted horsemen
Appeared over a low hillock horizon,
Their horses in gallop, snorting, prancing,
High stepping, bounding, on a mission,
Kicking up a cloud of yellow/red dust,
The riders making straight for us.
These were the days before the AK-47,
Before the Russian invasion of ‘97.
The tribal Afghan men back then toted old,
Long Barreled, flint lock looking weapons
Often adorned with ribbon or paint,
Looking at first glance merely ornamental,
Not quite dismissing their lethal intent.
I had seen a sheep shot by one of
These old rifles, the entry spot was
The size of an American Half Dollar,
The exit hole the size of a tennis ball exploded.
As they approached, at my direction,
She withdrew further back towards the
Cab of the truck, beside a wooden crate.
I still sat, legs dangling over the tailgate,
One hand holding onto the wood slatted
Vertical, side rail of the bed.
The other hand on the hilt of my 8 inch Buck Knife.
That given the impending situation, would have
Done me as much good as my ******* into the face,
Of a very strong hurricane wind,
Doing me and us more harm than good.
All the while, still watching the horsemen,
As they rapidly approached ever closer.
Ignoring our dust, they reined in less than
Fifteen feet from our rear bumper,
(If there had indeed been a bumper.)
Horses wild eyes rolling, saliva snorting
From their mouths and nostrils,
Lather of sweat coating sleek bodies.
Looking more akin to fierce Dragons than Equines.
Their dusty riders looked like mounted warriors,
Escaped from out of a Hollywood movie,
Full bearded, hard men, with Scars on their faces,
Their serious dust laden red eyes burning like fire.
Jaws firm set, faces otherwise devoid of expression.
Dressed in traditional head to toe garb,
A style unchanged in hundreds of years,
Large curved Knives in wide leather belts,
Two, sporting hefty British holstered revolvers.
All four with long rifles in one hand,
Horse reins in the other.
Just like that, there we all were face to face,
I could not avoid their eyes, locking mine on
The bigger man near the center,
Hiding as best I could, my concern, no my fear,
With a neutral expression, neither smile nor sneer,
That might give me away. Yet the hair on the back
Of my neck did tingle, throat too dry and constricted
To speak should it even be required.
The bigger man into whose eyes I stared,
As if I had issued some challenged invitation,
With but a single practiced move of his,
Right arm and hand,
(Horse reins held in the other),
Quickly shouldered his menacing weapon,
And sighted down its long barrel, right at my head.
Perhaps it was only a few seconds,
Yet it seemed an eternity,
That gun’s bore looked immense,
Like the gapping open mouth,
Of some great ballistic cannon.
For a moment I ceased breathing.
It felt as if my heart stopped beating.
I could not but sit there waiting,
There was no escaping.
That throw back to a fiftieth century man,
Held the power, of Life or sudden death,
In his hand, my life on the tip of his trigger finger,
He and I both instantly understood this.
It was clear in that one moment,
That to him, this was nothing new,
Or even of the slightest importance.
A thing to which he was plainly indifferent.
Down that bore, was a place in which lurked,
A lethal bullet with my name written upon it,
I felt trapped, like screaming, but remained silent,
Eyes open, and then why I will never know,
Still looking at him I narrowed my eyes and smiled.
As perhaps a reply on the man’s harsh face,
There appeared an ever so slightest grin.
Then he hefted his weapon back down under,
His arm and silently smiled and laughed,
In my direction.
I could not help but notice that one of his
Upper front teeth was of bright gold, while the
One next to the gold, was completely missing.
He nodded just once his head, to me a message,
All said with no words actually spoken,
I could have killed you,
Taken your woman.
Out here no one would know,
No one would have cared,
Not even the truck driver.
You are in my homeland,
I control it and you,
Today I choose not to **** you,
Tomorrow I might feel different.”
Then he and his unsmiling companions,
****** their straining unyielding horses,
to their left, galloping away in an obscuring
cloud, of yellow and reddish dust billowing.
While adrenaline turned my arms and
Legs to jelly, and shortly thereafter,
My stomach to sudden fits of
When in a few years I first heard,
That the Russians had invaded
That harsh unforgiving land,
I told a friend,
“Those fool Russians,
Have grabbed a fearsome,
Tiger by the tail, and that beast
Might just devourer them,
And not the other way around.”
It came to pass, I was not far off,
In my knowledgeable easy prediction.
The lesson I learned that day?
No matter who you think you are,
Or where you might come from,
What Nations impressive seal,
That your Passport reveals,
When you travel far and wide,
Trespass in another man’s back yard,
You best beware, of all the possibilities.
Upon our return trip the next day,
We took a bus of public conveyance,
Imagining perhaps there would be,
More safety in a convergence of numbers.
Over the centuries many invaders
Have attempted to subdue the wild
Land of the Afghans’ and nearly all failed.
A land and a people offering absolutely,
No forgiveness, not even to themselves.
Rudyard Kipling wrote of the British Empires brief
Excursions into that land, offering some sage advice;
“When you’re wounded and left on the Afghanistan’s
Plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to
Your God like a soldier.”
All present and would be conquers take note,
This remains Wise advice. No one truly conquers there,
They just visit and bleed and then eventually go away,
Tails tucked between their knees. If indeed they still
I have not collected many regrets, however as too that
Day in 1974, on the back of that battered old truck on
The plains of Afghanistan, I have one.
Minutes before those four threatening Horsemen
Appeared, I had capped and return my Nikon F camera
to its dust and water proof cover, when the incident
occurred, that bag and my camera were at the time,
snugly strapped to my back.