The Afghan boys took me out tonight, the dark night lit up by the full moon that hit the night before. I borrowed a baggy hoodie and wore loose pants to look a bit more ‘manly’. Parweez and I drove out ot the airport road in his car and Hamid and Shams rode their bikes. The three vehicles played cat and mouse all the way there at speed a bit too fast considering no one was wearing helmets or seat belts. Hamid and his friend goofed off on the bikes– having a blast in the quiet night. We are riding at night for three reasons; to allow me to practice without drawing too much attention, to keep the fact I’m a woman on the down low, and to avoid the worst of Kabul traffic. Keep in mind, this is a country where most Afghans have illegal licenses. Very few actually LEARN to drive. Fifty US dollars and you got yourself a license. Couple that with the lack of any street signs, lanes, or rules, and you’ve got yourself a hell of a demolition derby.
We go out to the long stretch of empty road near the airport with a pedestrian land, and switched up the riders. The lights were turned off on the bikes to keep our profile as low as possible. Hamid took my scarf and wrapped it like a men’s turban, leaving one tail loose to draped across the lower part of my face, leaving just my eyes and nose exposed. He smiles and says, “that’ll work.”
We took out the Super Kabul instead of my bike (the Desert Eagle) as my clutch is very tight and the bike itself is bigger. The Super Kabul is perfect to learn on (and its got a cool name), except for the loose chain that makes every shift sound as thought I’m leaving part of the bike behind me on the road. But its easy to handle.
Hamid jumps on the bike with Shams and they pace beside me, shouting instructions periodically. After a few runs, back and forth, with the other bike pacing beside me and the car riding behind us lighting the way, Hamid took over the second bike and Shams jumps into the car. I follow him and mimic his swerving, downshifting, and practice taking on the numerous speed bumps, and potholed roads. I started to relax, its hard to do something brand new in front of audience. Harder still when you are woman doing something no other women do in front a group of men. There’s a lot to prove!
Twenty minutes later, it was unfortuantely, out of gas. With no gas meters, its a crap shoot as to how much petrol is in the tank. Typically you gently rock the bike back and forth and listen for the slosh. Needless to say, this happens more often than not. Yet you can find a shopkeeper, stall, or tent, with at least one can of petrol and a funnel, with minimal effort. In this case, it took less than two minutes.
Refueled, Hamid decides we’d do a few more runs and then head home. Eventually we stop and he says, “follow me, we’re going home” and I tuck in behind him to follow. I ride home, with no problems, even over the 4×4 demolition road by their house – a dusty dirt ‘road’ strewn with rocks, deep holes and ruts made by the tracks created in the mud every winter, and potholes from rockets and explosions. I can see an upgrade to a dirtbike in my future.
Each night we go out to ride, but leave the car and the Super Kabul at home and upgrade to my Desert Eagle. It shifts much smoother, and thus is actually much easier to drive. Each night I get more confident negotiating the streets and traffic. I try riding with a passenger, Parweez jumping on behind me. I ride with the boys to dinner. I met the crew at the local petrol station, who are all smiles when I pull down my face scarf. They’ve seen me on the back of the bikes before, but a woman driving one is a novelty.
The point of all this being, that the bike provides some freedom and transportation. Both sorely needed here.