I first met the storyteller, Rashid, in an old teahouse in Kabul. We spent weeks together dodging checkpoints, moving like shades around the countryside, avoiding the new fighting phenomenon, the Taliban. In the south, we had seen hunger and desperation and I, one of the few woman photographers in the area, filmed some of the worst poverty I had witnessed during the war. The country was devastated by tribal fighting. I could almost understand why these gentle people looked at the turbaned men for answers to their despair. My photographs captured their loss.
Rashid was my guide, my translator, my advisor, and mentor, and on at least one occasion in the war-torn lands of the southeast, had probably saved my life. He was an enigma, what the Victorians would have called a wily old gentleman, a remnant of The Great Game. He spoke fluent English but never explained how. I was glad to have Rashid as my friend.
Finally, we retreated, filthy, exhausted, and burned out to the relative safety of the hotel in Kabul. It possessed a faded green door and a long corridor leading to rickety stairs and rooms that never locked. We kept our cameras, film, and possessions close to our persons in battered rucksacks that came with us everywhere we went. During the weeks that followed our return to Kabul, we would all meet again in the hotel’s teahouse. Rashid told us stories of his family and exploits he had seen in other wars. He introduced us to the lands of mountains and rivers north of Kabul where old tribes lived, and to tales of invaders forever dropping into this remote corner of the world.
‘You mark my word,’ he said, fixing me with flashing eyes. ‘There are bad times coming again. You soon will be leaving this place.’