FROM THE AIR Quetta was light brown, defined by neatly cut black shadows jutting off block-like buildings. When the plane touched down, the afternoon was cool and clean; and I was on my way inside: Quetta would be our jumping-off point for Kandahar. Six weeks after arriving, I was finally going into Afghanistan. I was accompanying two men from a German-Afghan medical aid group called Afghanistan-Nothilfe on an inspection trip to three clinics inside southwestern Afghanistan. Saeed Fazlolah Wahidi and Dr. Oliver Hakenberg of Nothilfe sat beside me as we drove from the airport to their branch hospital.
Back in March I had called Wahidi, a friend of the brother of the bootless mujahid of Mt. St. Helens. His well-composed face was set on a comfortable middle-sized body that looked averse to strenuous forms of living. The “Saeed” labelled him as special: he was considered to be a descendant of Mohammed. From the Mumtaz Hotel we were soon plunging through the traffic on GT Road in a little Suzuki four-by-four. It was a warm sunny day and it felt good to be moving. I told him I wanted to see the war. He said they were going inside soon and I should come with them, and that sounded very good. I was wearing the Afghan beret I'd bought, a pahkohl, a wool hat flat on top with a roll around the side, the kind that looks like it came from the age of Erasmus. Wahidi showed me how to wear it, crunched down in front, popped up in back, not just square on top of the head.
Wahidi's hospital, what used to be a large villa, was located at the edge of University Town. The Germans showed me around. Why the Germans? After all, it was a cooperative venture with both German and Afghan doctors under the overall direction of an Afghan, Dr. Yar. Was it, behind the careful, liberal facade of silence and disclaimers, ultimately a German hospital?
The layout was simple. Fifty or sixty narrow beds, a simple metal frame, thin mattress and two sheets. Surgery was in what used to be the villa's