Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Passion & Sport in Afghanistan

Karga Lake is as close to a “Lovers Point” as Afghans know, about seven miles outside of the capital Kabul. The now infamous “Vice & Virtue Police” of the Taliban may be a thing of the past, however puritan standards do still remain. Any young couples that wish to drive to the lake are stopped at one of the checkpoints manned by the Police and they are asked if they are married. Failure to verify often means that their parents are called and irate fathers mete out the consequences.

The other reason why the lake is so popular with young men is that there is a restaurant there that sells alcohol, and every young man is seen walking around with a coke can that has had added to it the evil and taboo alcohol. Whilst expensive random breath testing kits are way beyond the budget of the Police here. They have come up with their own version of testing for alcohol. Young men leaving the lake are randomly stopped by the Police on the checkpoints as they leave and have to breath on the Police. The elite nasal senses of these vanguards of virtue can immediately smell alcohol and for a few dollars the young men can excuse themselves from their lack of moral willpower.

We had been up at the lake for a shoot, talking to people about how they perceived life and issues and Kabul. A reputed warlord, who according to a diplomat here is best described as “a hard drinking human rights abuser”, owns the lake and area below the dam wall here lies one of the gems of Kabul.

The “Kabul Golf Course”, 9 holes (18 if you go around twice) opened in the late sixties closed twice for the minor matter of a Soviet Invasion and then during the years of the Taliban, who deemed golf not to be a decreed sport sanctioned by Sharia law.

We drove into the course and found the clubhouse, and the Golf Pro Mr. Afraid Abdul who has been the driving force of maintaining the tradition of golf in what can only be described as the most un golf course in the world. Jailed and beaten by the Russians, jailed and tortured by the Taliban Mr. Afzai Abdul is passionate about golf.

But before we even played a hole there are some facts about this golf course that make it unique in the world. There is not blade of grass anywhere, the greens are well not green in fact but compacted sand and oil mixed together. There is a water hazard somewhere, but there is no water, but if your ball lands in the water hazard you must take a drop shot. If you wish you may bring your own piece of Astroturf and use it for every shot. If you have any concerns about possible landmines on the course, rest assured it is safe, as it has been used for training of de mining teams over the years and completely swept.

There is one set of clubs available and a limited number of golf balls so caddies come in two’s, one to carry the set of clubs and one to run ahead and chase the ball.

Correspondent Dana Lewis confidently drove the first fairway, I was second to tee off and hit the best shot of my life with a wood straight down the fair”dirt”. Maryam Sepehri our Producer looked the epitome of golfing fashion with her Ugh boots,

But knows how to play this silly sport better than the rest of us. Tom our Security Advisor had never played a stroke of golf in his life and upon his first tee shot was dancing like a kid who had won the Willy Wonka Golden Ticket, whilst Akbar our local fixer was just glad to hit the ball.

Golf articles tend to enhance the beauty of any course, but few words are needed to relay the picturesque non-beauty of the Kabul Golf Course. It is an experience that few golfers in the world will ever get to play a round here. And bragging rights go far in a game where you chase a small white ball and ruin a pleasant walk in the late afternoon light of Kabul.

We all made it to the green, sand and oil swept with a rag and for anyone who wants an insight into the speed of the greens, be aggressive as the ball sinks and leaves a deep rut as it inches towards the cup.

Some day’s you do get to experience fun on the road in war zones, and for a couple of hours we lost ourselves in a pastime that no one associates with conflict.

For the record Dana, Maryam and myself double bogeyed, Tom forgot that you had to count and would not tell us his score and Akbar never knew about scoring.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

sounds like the passion in Afghanistan is only outdone by the crappy golf course. I don't know which would be worse over there...making love or playing golf but neither is very inspiring. I think I'd get out of that country, Mr. James.You guys got a real winner of an assignment this time...didn't you.