MarySmith’sPlace – Back in the saddle! Afghanistan Adventures #45

I discovered some more slides, handed them over at the print shop – they say at least three weeks! Photos included this week, while relevant to the post are taken on different times.

three horses

Lal-sar-Jangal – early winter 1989

It was time for the trip to Waras which I was anticipating with trepidation. Not only would my equestrian skills be sorely challenged by two days on horseback – each way – but, so too would my conversational abilities. Although my Dari had improved, my vocabulary was very much women orientated. I wondered how far lines such as “Does the back pain come just before your monthly bleeding?”, “Does your bleeding come regularly?” or, “Is there any smell or itching?” would take me.

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Ibrahim’s brother, Hassan, arrived to accompany us on the journey and early one morning we assembled outside the clinic. All the staff, several patients plus curious onlookers gathered to watch our departure. My horse was a pretty little thing, brown with a white star on her forehead. Outwardly displaying a degree of confidence, inwardly belied by the nervous churning of my stomach, I mounted, waited for Ibrahim to adjust the stirrups, mount his own horse and give the signal, “Y’Allah”, to be off.

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He and Hassan trotted off. I stayed put. It was acutely embarrassing, in front of so many people, all much too polite to laugh, but who must have found the situation hilarious. On previous occasions, the horse had at least started out. After much kicking of my heels and frantic tugging on the reins, I had to suffer the ignominy of being led by Haboly for the first fifty yards, until the horse finally accepted that she was part of the expedition.

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Probably 1994 with son, David and ‘his’ horse

Despite having reluctantly agreed to carry me, there was no way that she was going to put herself out any more than was strictly necessary, and I could not coax even a gentle trot out of her. Resorting to the method used on our way to Haboly’s village, Ibrahim rode in front with Hassan close behind me, occasionally giving my horse a flick with his whip. After about an hour of this Hassan decided enough was enough, and that if he did not teach me something about riding, it was going to take us a week to reach Waras.

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He connected with horses like a horse whisperer!

His method was simple and direct. Riding up alongside me he handed me his whip with the command, ‘Bezi – Beat!’ Reluctantly I took the whip and, feeling acutely self-conscious, attempted to do as ordered but only succeeded in striking the saddle bag behind me. My second attempt connected with the horse’s rump. This so astonished her, she was galvanized into charging forward in a fast trot for all of a hundred yards. As she began to recover from this surprise action on the part of her soft-touch rider and slow down again, Hassan was right beside me yelling in my ear, ‘Bezi!’ There were a few more fits and starts but, at last, she understood, and accepted, that her novice rider actually meant business. She settled down into a steady trot. Flushed with success, I grinned my thanks to Hassan and patted the horse’s neck at which her ears pricked quizzically. I began to feel quite fond of her.

Ibrahim and Hassan sat loosely in their saddles, completely relaxed.  I felt like a sack of potatoes lumping around in the saddle, and with every step my spine connected with the wall of my stomach. Progress may have become speedier, but it was excruciatingly uncomfortable. When, after two hours of trotting, Ibrahim suggested a stop for tea I was extremely grateful. Dismounting gingerly, I winced as my cramped muscles protested, but the tea and boiled eggs revived me and when Ibrahim said, ‘We must go.’  I remounted, eager to continue. It was nerve-racking when everyone else in the chaikhana came out to watch how the foreigner rode a horse. To my relief she responded instantly to the dog calling sound, which means “gee up”, and trotted off beautifully. I loved her. I decided to call her Zeba, meaning beautiful.

We were to break our journey at Ibrahim’s uncle’s home in Kirman and Hassan rode ahead to alert the family to expect guests for the night. I watched enviously as his horse galloped over the flat grassland on which we were riding, wondering if I would ever attain such confidence and proficiency on a horse. Ibrahim rode alongside and showed me how to gather the reins in my left hand, Afghan style, my right arm, holding the whip, hanging straight down by my side. I felt that at least I was beginning to look the part.

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Never thought I’d be so comfortable on horseback!

The family had gathered outside to meet us. As soon as we were led inside Ibrahim’s aunt pounced on me and proceeded to massage my aching legs until the muscles relaxed and the pain melted away. Bliss. Later we played cards until dinner was served. Ibrahim never travelled anywhere without a pack of cards in his pocket. On this occasion he offered to teach me a new game but every time I thought I had grasped the rules, he seemed to change them.  By the time dinner arrived, I owed him forty five chickens.

I slept little that night, devoured alive by an army of fleas sharing my blanket. In the morning Ibrahim caught me scratching furiously at my ankles and asked, ‘Fleas?’

Not wishing to offend anyone by saying their bedding was flea infested I muttered, ‘Perhaps I got them from the horse.’

Ibrahim was shocked by such a suggestion, ‘Oh, no, the horses don’t have fleas. They must have been in the blanket.’ When his uncle appeared and was told about the fleas he apologised for my disturbed night, but otherwise seemed to take the philosophical attitude that flea infested bedding was just one of those things in life with which we must cope. I escaped outside to find some privacy in which to enjoy a good scratch at the bites in less accessible parts of by body.

38 thoughts on “MarySmith’sPlace – Back in the saddle! Afghanistan Adventures #45

  1. Having 6 dogs, sometimes the flea infestation in the yard is so great a few manage to hop a short ride to the human. After the first few minutes, I’m up and fetching flea powder or spray. I know how miserable that can be for a few minutes — you are very strong to endure hours of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Unfortunately I hadn’t thought to take flea powder along with me. Luckily, I did have stuff to help stop the itch. The fact Ibrahim was so shocked when I suggested it might be from the horse amused me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The hosts were doing their best. You were so kind to not want to blame their provisions. Fleas are a horrible, horrible, thing to deal with. Years ago a friend came over with their dog and left unwelcome visitors. I had to bug bomb the whole house. Yikes.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I once fell asleep cuddling the ambulance station’s pet cat. The next day I woke up covered in bites. Fearing something sinister, and not for a moment considering fleas, I went to see my GP. When he grinned and said “Flea bites”, I was so embarrassed!
    You did well with the horse, Mary. I’m impressed.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That made me laugh, Pete. Yes, over the years I became a lot more confident on horseback – but never as much as David. He used to go out with his ‘brother’ Sultan on the horse. One day Ibrahim said to Sultan (in my hearing) that he saw them and thought maybe he should go a bit more slowly when he had David. Sultan said he hadn’t seen Ibrahim, who replied, ‘Exactly my point, you were galloping too fast to see anyone!’ He survived.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Another wonderful episode.
    I LOVE your extensive vocabulary of “Does the back pain come just before your monthly bleeding?”, “Does your bleeding come regularly?” or, “Is there any smell or itching?”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Barb, glad you enjoyed. Those were vital questions! Jon and I had totally different sets of vocabulary. I could talk about women’s problems, the reproductive system and gossip about who was seeing who, when they shouldn’t – he could talk logistics. I also knew the word for spy. Unfortunately, Jon didn’t and when he was kidnapped there was a great deal of confusion and incomprehension between him and his kidnappers. They kept accusing him of being a spy and he kept trying to tell them he didn’t know what they were saying!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Mary, once again you have taken us along. I am grateful to have this glimpse of another culture. Reading your stories makes me think that perhaps I should write down some of the things that happened in Vietnam? I was only there a month but was not a true tourist. I was traveling with a colleague who was originally from Da Nang. We stayed with her aunt when we were not on the road and saw things that few tourists get to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lea, and yes, you should write about your time in Vietnam. I’d be really interested. I visited once but only for two weeks and was very much a tourist so would love to read more about what goes on ‘behind the scenes’. I’m sure lots more people would, too, especially now the world has seen Vietnam’s amazing response to Covid-19.


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