Monday, 15 September 2008
"I want to eat your liver."
Jason Elliot is emerging as one of the world’s great travel writers with a style somewhere between Robert Byron and Peter Fleming. His works include An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan (1999) and Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran (2006).
Jason stayed with me twice during his journey in Afghanistan late in 1995 and again in early 1996 when he was writing An Unexpected Light. I was flattered when the book came out, as the first words in his book are, ‘ Dear Ropate’ which is the name he calls me. It is Maori for Robert.
In 1998 he flew from London to Almaty to be at Naila’s and my wedding, but was deported on the return flight as he didn’t have a visa. He came back a month later with a visa and we travelled in Kazakhstan for ten days together. It was winter, and as we drove and walked in the mountains, it frequently was snowing. I remember walking with Jason to a mountain pass in the Tienshan mountains at 4000 plus metres, and eating salami with Russian bread and washing it down with a bottle of red wine, as huge snowflakes swirled around our heads.
I phoned Jason last night. He was in London. We phone about once a year and share our comings and goings.
I joked with Jason about a beautiful Kazakh lady who had fallen in love with him when he visited us in Kazakhstan. I said “you left her broken hearted and she is still in love with you.” I told Jason that her name in Kazakh means love. Jason, fresh out of Persia (Iran) replied, “In Persia when you love someone deeply, you say, I want to eat your liver.”
We spoke about his first An unexpected light which his publishers are about to republish as a classic.
Jason went to Afghanistan in the 1980s at the age of 19 to live with the Afghan resistance, or mujahideen.
Here he looks back on the chaos of combat and reflects on how a patriotic cause became embroiled in foreign ideology.
I had arrived at a mujahideen headquarters at a tiny little ravine on our route towards Kabul from the Pakistani border.
One of the men had been injured after stepping on a landmine. The commander gave me a shawl the injured man had been wearing and told me I could wash it. It was soaked in his blood but I just saw a dirty shawl. I put it in the river, pushed the fabric down and saw the water turn red.
It was a defining moment - I realised this was the blood of a real man and he was dying at that moment on the donkey at the end of the path.
From those simple beginnings as a young adventurer at 19, Jason Elliot has blossomed into a seasoned travel writer, possibly the best in the world. I value his friendship.