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A horse-riding fail in downtown Herat

At 10.30 this morning I went out to get my horse. The owner of the hotel, Josef, took me there. He is a rough gypsylooking man with a beard (like all the Afghanis) and wears pantaloon type trousers and a tunic as well as a turban-like scarf around his head. After walking down some dusty streets we entered the stables through an arch near the Afghani (not the ‘tourist’) market. How strangely primitive it is – mud walls and straw – all in the open air. We passed little open workshops where men were dyeing bundles of wool – rough sheep’s wool in big pots – and we stepped over puddles. I asked for a quiet horse and was given a large brown one, rather too big for my liking. I am not used to riding and have only ridden a horse once in my life! I insisted on paying although Josef wanted to pay for me but I feel that I am taking enough from him, and anyway, I am not giving anything in return!

I hired the horse for one hour although I did not keep it that long. The horse was brought out for me and Josef helped me up onto it. From the one riding lesson I had had years ago I could not remember how to make the horse walk and stop. I believe the poor horse sensed I was nervous. It walked so very slowly that I thought it must be very old, and I bore with it, shaking the reins a bit sometimes to encourage it to go faster. Then suddenly I discovered it wasn’t so very old after all – it started to charge off down the street at top speed. I was terrified out of my wits and screamed! All the people looked at me and some little boys were laughing. One had thrown a bucket of cold water at its back legs. I pulled the reins and the horse slowed down. Some more boys brought along another bucket of cold water and I shouted at them just as they were going to throw it, but when I wasn’t looking, a boy with a donkey hit my horse on the back with a stick. Again it charged off down the street and I felt very saddle sore!!

I had ridden the horse all around the courtyard of the large mosque and market place. In the grounds, sheep and goats were grazing. When we came back around near to the horse’s stables again, the horse started to run once more to get back into them and I held on for dear life! The stable owners led it out again for me, but after that, the horse was so nervous – it sensed I was – that after ten minutes I brought it back, greatly relieved to tread on solid ground again, though my legs were shaking like jelly.

Some shop owners then invited me into their shops to drink tea (of course with the intention that they might persuade me to buy some of their goods) and I accepted. In one shop I tried on a long, embroidered Afghani dress. There was a curtained off area in the corner. The owner of the shop peeped around the curtain just as I was undressing and he saw me in my bra! Afterwards he offered me a dress free (but I was afraid that there would be another form of payment expected afterwards!) One of the shop owners asked me if I had an Afghani friend – meaning Josef. Probably the news had got around the whole town that he was entertaining me in his hotel.

Today, later, when Josef came to find me and walk with me, he wanted to buy me a dress and was very offended when I refused it. I feel I am using him to take me around as it is. He tries to kiss me, but really I don’t like him touching me. He is not so unattractive, but I am not attracted to him – he is so rough looking. Perhaps it is his habits. He spits on the ground a lot!

I think I should not always be trying to ‘get what I can’ out of people as I do when I am abroad and meet the locals! I thought it would be nice to be taken around Herat but really I would much rather go around by myself!

Extracted from Rosamund’s travel diaries, now in print. Buy it at Matador or Amazon.

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