Friday, February 5, 2010


The year was 1964. Lyndon Johnson was President, I was 18, in the US Air Force, the economy was in pretty good shape, the Cold War was in full swing, the war in Vietnam was gearing up, we were entering "The Age of Aquarius", and Pakistan and India went to war shortly thereafter. Quite a time in history! I had just received orders to go to an isolated tour of duty in Peshawar, West Pakistan, for 15 months. Having never heard of this strange place before, I looked it up on a map and it became very apparent why they called it an isolated tour of duty! I didn’t realize how very isolated it was until I actually got there though.

Without great detail, I made the best of the time I had to spend there. I went out, saw the few sights that were available, met some locals, did a bit of traveling around, and tried my best to cope with the situation at hand. There were so many GI’s that were worse off than I when it came to assignments.

I frequented the downtown area and made friends with some local shopkeepers who always made me feel welcome by serving their beverage of choice – freshly brewed green tea. (Muslim country - no alcohol!) Wow! I drank lots of green tea the 15 months I spent there. I, in turn, would always bring chewing gum and candy for the kids, and share my package of cigarettes. They were Muslim and knew I was a Christian. It didn’t matter much, we considered each other friends. Not everyone was that friendly however, and I faced my share of "Yankee Go Home", and verbal/intellectual confrontations with English speaking college students, especially over the war that was raging in Viet Nam. I managed to get through all that, but never changed anyone’s mind, but then again, never tried to.

I often visited the local markets and purchased fruits with skins on that were safe to eat, such as bananas or oranges. I enjoyed the activities and the sounds and smells of the markets, especially the spice market. I got to know some of the vendors and they would flash a big smile when they saw me (probably because I always offered them a cigarette). Most of the time, I was the only American in the market and I’m sure I stuck out like a sore thumb! There was absolutely no way to be inconspicuous when everyone looked and dressed differently than you, and I didn’t wear a turban or speak Urdu.

I traveled around as much and as often as I could (wanderlust), and saw the Khyber Pass several times, visited some archeological sites, the NW Frontier area including the mountainous areas where Usama Bin Laden is now reported to be hiding in, and some of the big cities throughout the country. It wasn’t exactly a tourists’ delight, but it was something different to do.

Peshawar, Swat Valley, and the Northwest Frontier of West Pakistan have been in the news many times of late. Sadly, it’s all been bad news though. Very recently, in a crowded market in Peshawar, a suicide bomber managed to kill a couple hundred and wound and maim as many more. The markets I visited have been there for hundreds of years, and I am certain that at one time or another I was probably in the market that was bombed. The terrible thing is that while most vendors are male, the majority of all shoppers are women and children.

The suicide bombers are Muslim and their victims are Muslim. Do car bombers ever take into consideration their intended targets and realize that there are innocent women and children in their midst? I don’t think it matters as these fanatics kill and maim in the name of their God. One has to wonder what type of God sanctions the killing and maiming of innocents? I just don’t understand. Unfortunately, it is incidents like this, performed by a group of fanatic radicals, that turn people against all Muslims. I know some Muslims and can attest that not all Muslims are fanatics and not all Muslims are bad. You find the same type of fanaticism in all religions, but not to the extent the radical Muslims take it to.

I feel sad when I hear about car bombs and suicide bombers blowing up markets and crowded streets, especially knowing that I have been to these places and met some very nice, kind, gentle, friendly people. I wonder if any of the children I used to give candy and gum to were present in any of those streets or market places. I must equally wonder if they were the victim or possibly the perpetrator. I just do not understand the rationale of any religion that sanctions the slaughter of innocents in the name of God.

I think it would be great if we could all just be tolerant of one another and live, and let live. I don’t believe in war in the name of God (Jihad) and am intolerant of true hatred in any of its ugly forms. And, again, I will probably never understand the justification of killing and maiming innocents under any circumstance, especially in the name of God. Call me naïve, but I have never been able to figure it out and come up with a satisfactory explanation.

I’ve posted some fotos, but please bear in mind that they are 45 years old and were taken with a small Kodak camera with no special features and generally speaking, are of poor quality. I had lots more, but they were lost years ago in a basement flood. One of the fotos I’ve posted actually won “honorable mention” in a foto contest! Guess which one!

Some old fotos to check out:
A younger and thinner Merida Mikey in the NW Frontier:

The bus and tour guide that broght me there:

Some views from inside the Khyber Pass:

The guy on the left is named Sadiq. He was my personal bodyguard. I always wondered though if push came to shove, where he would stand. In any event, he was a friendly and enjoyable character. The guy on the right is a Pakistani Government official of sorts, who was working at a checkpoint in the Khyber Pass. He really enjoyed having his picture taken with his holstered pistol, and was willing to pose!

A friend had a shop that sold (primarily) oriental rugs in whcih I had absolutely no interest in at that time! (Younger, thinner, dumber!) However, in a secret room behind one of the walls where the rugs were displayed on shelves, the wall magiclly opened and you entered a room filled with Ghandaran artifacts (1st to 5th century AD), primarily from the Swat valley region in NW Pakistan. These, I liked!

I've often thought that I would like to go back to Peshawar for a visit, but it is impossible to do at the present time, given the volatile situation there coupled with the fact that most Americans are number one on everyone's hit list. How did it come to this? I hope it can change some day.

(A note of thanks to my friend Linda D. for scanning these old fotos for me!)


  1. This is a FANTASTIC post, Mike! Thanks so much for sharing. Love the flashback. The holy war is something I believe none of us really understand and is quite terrifying.

  2. Hey Mike, really appreciate these insights on life in Merida. As someone considering moving to Merida, I'd love to learn about the various neighbourhoods/areas of the city, and in particular those that an expat might want to live in. Any chance you might want to comment on that? If so, I'd be all many others probably would also!!! Many thanks!