I was in Dubai City, the Islamic center of debauchery, where according to accepted Arabic custom, the restrictions of Islam are happily suspended.  Nobody seems to know why Dubai enjoys this special status beyond the fact that it makes for a great tourist spot, but it is as it is and I was there.

In truth, I was trying to leave.

I wanted to get to the airport.  I knew my airline and flight number but not which terminal the aircraft departed from and that was the problem.  The bus driver standing in front of the bus I was trying to board wanted to know if I was going to Terminal 1, Terminal 2, or Terminal 3.  It all seemed like a freakish version of “The Price is Right” but rather than going home with a lifetime supply of Rice-a-Roni, if I lost at this game, I’d be trapped in Muslim sin for the next week or so.

Sensing my predicament, a half dozen Arabs rushed to my aide and asked me about my final destination.  In part, they were curious as to why I was leaving when I still had money in my pocket and in part, they were hoping that before I left, some of that money would end up in their pockets instead.

“Where you fly to?” the most outspoken of them asked.

“Afghanistan” I answered.

If there was a pin to drop, you would have heard it.

About half of the Arabs took a step away from me.  The others just looked at me with dead eyes.

Movies strive to get that tense moment, right before the big fight scene.  That tension, like a rubber band being pulled to its limit, ready to snap.

It was one of those moments.

“Afghanistan?” the leader asked again.

I tried to travel backwards in time, hoping that somehow, through sheer will, I could accomplish the impossible and use a Quantum Leap to hurl myself into the past so I could suddenly appear and clamp my time-traveling hand over my real-time mouth and not say what fate had already decided I would say, — but alas it was not to be.

I’m not sure what made me think that I could more easily explain why I could suddenly materialize a copy of myself and then make it vanish again but it seemed less of a problem than explaining to a bunch of Arabs why I was going to Afghanistan.

An Indian tapped me on the shoulder and led me away.

He was well-mannered, dressed in a nice suit, and seemed a full evolutionary step above Abu from the Simpsons.  He introduced himself as Jan-something and said he came from a place with lots of elephants, Balu the Bear, and some character named Cousin Louie.

“Saying that you are going to Afghanistan is a dangerous thing to say” he warned me.

I was thankful for his help, even though I’d already figured that much out on my own.

“These boys”, he continued, “they don’t understand.  They like Americans but not those who go to Afghanistan”.

“I flew in on United”

Ok, I admit it was a stupid response but at least it didn’t make things any worse.

“Why are you going to Afghanistan?”

I told him I was an engineering adviser and explained that since the war was ‘winding  down’, they were looking for people to help build the country back up.

In other words, I lied.

Now, I’m not one who lies by nature.  I’m firmly opposed to it and despise rationalizations as to why lying is ever acceptable, but I’ve also got to believe that God uses some common sense when he figures out if your lie is worthy of damnation or something that might get a pass.  I’d like to think this was one of those pass lies because all of the Arabs suddenly seemed a lot less hostile.

They walked away, leaving me in the care of the driver and Jan the Indian.

The driver ushered me on the bus before my stupidity created another scene.  He started the engine and drove off, even though there were only three of us.

As we departed, I considered the deeper impact of my lie, fearing it would land me on a mound of glowing coals next to the likes of Osama bin Ladin and Hanoi Jane Fonda.  The only solace I could find in this scenario was that it was likely that Bin Ladin and I would gang up against Jane.

As we traveled, Jan encouraged me to visit India, saying that the south has monuments and the north has scenery and all the people are happy and healthy and not at all offended by Americans who go to Afghanistan, no matter their reasoning.

“Have you been there before?” he inquired a bit unexpectedly.

“”I’ve been to Kabul and Herat” I said, hoping that some honesty would help remove the stains on my karma that my engineering claim had recently planted.

“And you didn’t have any trouble?”

Jan raised his eyebrow, his question both curious and challenging.

In Iraq, I defined ‘trouble’ as getting jolted by the shockwave of a truck bomb, being shot at by snipers, and having our compound rocketed three times a day.  My previous Afghan experiences had led to an armed standoff with the Taliban, a guy with really bad aim who shot at me from several blocks away, and one particular event that was a bit hard to classify.

I was riding in an up-armored SUV with a captain I didn’t like, working a job I didn’t like, supporting a mission I didn’t like.  It was the classic wrong-person at the wrong-place and the wrong-time scenario.

We stopped in front of a large mosque in Kabul because the captain I didn’t like was also an idiot.

He tried to get a picture of the mosque and while he was fidgeting with a camera that was too complex for an idiot captain to use, about 400 Afghans came out and surrounded our vehicle.  Most carried knives worthy of a Crocodile Dundee film, except for those who had pistols, and they were only broken up by a few who held AK-47s.

Realizing that we might have stumbled into a bit of danger, we locked the doors.

Some of the knife holders banged on the SUV and pushed on its sides.  It started rocking back and forth.

I asked our interpreter where we were.  She rattled off some name that sounded a bit like some land that had once plotted to overthrow Conan the Barbarian.

“What does that mean in English?”

“Its the Taliban Mosque” she answered.

“Wait,” I said, suddenly blissfully ignorant of the shouting and sea-sawing of the vehicle.  “Are you saying its a Taliban mosque or THE Taliban mosque?”

“Its like their headquarters.”

I glanced back out the windows.  There were more AK-47s and if a crowd could get “ugly”, this one did.

I turned to the idiot captain and gave him idiot-proof instructions.

Get up the Hell out of here!”

He said he couldn’t as there were people in front of us.  Just then, the Taliban started trying to force open the doors.

Through idiot communications, everyone agreed that we should ease the vehicle forward, slowly enough so that everyone had a chance to get out of the way but quickly enough that it was clear we were pushing onward.  For reasons that to this day I still don’t understand, 400 Taliban let four moronic Americans slowly drive away.

As we got clear, our interpreter explained that we’d just left the “peaceful” Taliban, which is why the Afghan government let them keep their mosque in downtown Kabul, but I was unable to reconcile an angry mob with Ak-47s with any concept of peace.

This was foremost on my mind while Jan the Indian asked me if I’d had any troubles during my previous visits.

“No trouble at all” I lied and prepared to spend the rest of eternity smouldering next to Jane.

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