The New Civil Service- page 3 | People & Places | Smithsonian
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The New Civil Service

An excerpt from Rory Stewart's "The Places in Between"

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"These men are from the Security Service," said Yuzufi.

I nodded. I noticed that Yuzufi had clasped his hands together and that his hands, like mine, were trembling slightly.

"I will translate to make sure you understand what they are asking," continued Yuzufi. "Tell them your intentions. Exactly as you told me."

I looked into the eyes of the man on my left. "I am planning to walk across Afghanistan. From Herat to Kabul. On foot." I was not breathing deeply enough to complete my phrases. I was surprised they didn't interrupt. "I am following in the footsteps of Babur, the first emperor of Mughal India. I want to get away from the roads. Journalists, aid workers, and tourists mostly travel by car, but I-"

"There are no tourists," said the man in the stiff jacket, who had not yet spoken. "You are the first tourist in Afghanistan. It is mid-winter-there are three meters of snow on the high passes, there are wolves, and this is a war. You will die, I can guarantee. Do you want to die?"

"Thank you very much for your advice. I note those three points." I guessed from his tone that such advice was intended as an order. "But I have spoken to the Cabinet," I said, misrepresenting a brief meeting with the young secretary to the Minister of Social Welfare. "I must do this journey."

"Do it in a year's time," said the man in the black suit.

He had taken from Yuzufi the tattered evidence of my walk across South Asia and was examining it: the clipping from the newspaper in western Nepal, "Mr. Stewart is a pilgrim for peace"; the letter from the Conservator, Second Circle, Forestry Department, Himachal Pradesh, India, "Mr. Stewart, a Scot, is interested in the environment"; from a District Officer in the Punjab and a Secretary of the Interior in a Himalayan state and a Chief Engineer of the Pakistan Department of Irrigation requesting "All Executive Engineers (XENs) on the Lower Bari Doab to assist Mr. Stewart, who will be undertaking a journey on foot to research the history of the canal system."

"I have explained this," I added, "to His Excellency the Emir's son, the Minister of Social Welfare, when he also gave me a letter of introduction."

"From His Excellency Mir Wais?"

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