As the United States sets up to ramp down their activities in Afghanistan it is time to write stories about the country that folks might find interesting. First up (admittedly low hanging fruit) is the myth of Afghan hash. It had a reputation for being good but where reputation originated is hard to determine. Stories of hash cultivation and usage in the era go back centuries. But most Afghan hash is #39 (not good).
It is not hard to find hash in Afghanistan, in fact you can go up to any street vendor and procure a Talli (lamb tongue) for $10.00. But the international community was generally less than impressed.
Turns out most Afghans cannot grow dope worth a damn. Separating male from female plants in not the norm, they refuse to stop throwing water on it as the flowers mature, they have no idea what trichomes are or how to look at them to determine the optimal time for harvesting. They end up roughing the plants up with leather gloves weeks before they should touching the damn things and their hash sucks.
How do I know this? Sea story time.
There I was, There I was … escorting a Japanese agricultural expert as she inspected a barn the people of Japan had donated to the women in the village of Uzbeck Uzbeck. This was in 2006 and Uzbeck Uzbeck is in Balkh province near the city of Mazar-i Sharif. I knew something was wrong when we pulled into the village because there was a small group of men and women in a heated argument which is most unusual.
What had happened was the men of the village had taken custody of half the barn to dry a monster harvest of weed. The women, knowing exactly how Tani-San (our Ag expert who is all of 4’10’ and slight of build) would react, had turned their cows loose in the dope fields where they had gone to town and were now acting most strange.
Once we understood what was happening Tani -san took her charges aside and started to wear them out. One of the elders took me aside and explained they did not know I was coming and could I wait in this storage room as they set up a tea to host me. I sat down in the room and noticed the body a young teen-age girl was laid out on a door sitting on saw horses. I’ve seen plenty of bodies in my days and knew the girl had been placed there so the women could prepare her body for burial that night. I have no idea what caused her early demise, it was clearly not trauma, and my hosts never said a word about it. Death is part of life in Afghanistan and waiting to bury a loved one routine.
The village elders came for me 15 minutes latter and we went to a slightly raised wooden deck with a wood frame surrounding it and sage bushes forming a wall on one end. There were a dozen little boys in the creek next to the deck and they threw water on the sage bushes as we sat and drank tea. It was August, over 100 degrees, and the slight breeze running through the sage brush was luxurious.
I was not proficient with languages back then (never got that good with Pashto) and was doing my best to figure out what the heck everybody was talking about when an Afghan in western clothes walked up and , after exchanging greeting with the elders, said “what’s up man”?
Turned out the guy had spent years living in Amsterdam and knew a thing or two about growing weed. He told me he came back after the Taliban fell to stare his knowledge with his fellow Afghans. After Tani-san and the women had gone to eat lunch we went into the barn and he took out a 30x magnifying glass and showed me the trichomes on the weed buds and explained why this crop should have been harvested a week early (thanks to our visit apparently).
Years later in Jalalabad I would repeatedly hear of guys having hash from Bahlk province so I am guessing the European bud farmer had some success, or maybe it has always been that way, who knows?
What I know is the deeper you dig into perceived conventional knowledge the more you learn to suspect convenient narratives. Afghanistan is a complex place full of the unexpected….but the hash production sector needs some work.