December 31, 2001

# 004

HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO FIND ANYTHING in a dark cave in Tora-Bora, Afghanistan? Neither I did before. Touching the ground, I found dust, stones and bones before I could feel the flashlight back in my hand. Fortunately it was not broken and I had light again. But I had to hurry if I wanted to take pictures of the things I found in the cave. Or do you think I am crazy of leaving that place with my pockets full of old little statues, my arms fashioned with bracelets, a crown on my head (no, I am not sure there was a crown in one of those bags) and an old book under my arm? Oh! Yes, the book... lets get back to the book.

It had been very carefully wrapped inside the box, with some kind of cotton stuff mixed with hair (camel's? kashmir?). The cover was made of wood, covered with reddish-brown leather. It was embossed with a double cross in a circle, which was inside a square. Leather thongs fastened the leather to the wood by what seemed to be large nails. The leather was all cracked, but still in one piece and in much better shape than the soldiers belt. Leather artifacts manufacturers should see that. Well, there was a little part of it missing near the bottom corner on the back cover. Perhaps somebody did that when he tried to take off the code bar label. Ok, sorry, just kidding. :)

Hold by the leather covered wood, where dozens of pages of parchment in much better shape than the skeleton. At least they were not falling apart. I said dozens, but I believe there were more than one hundred pages there, some with little holes that appeared to be there before anything was written, because the writer had carefully avoided them. In some places the parchment had been repaired, but it also seemed that had happened before it was written. Don't ask me what the parchment was made of, because I am not an archeologist. It seemed like a kind of cloth, thin and resistant. It was written in Arabic characters and it seemed readable, if you give a discount for obscure expressions that probably made sense when it was written.

I had two digital cameras and good lens for close-up, so I started taking pictures of the pages, one by one, without reading them right in the spot. I had to save time and when I finished it, I realized I had been there enough time to worry about what the soldiers would ask. So the last thing I thought -- some kind of panic took me -- was to look into the bags with the art objects. For some strange reason, before leaving I put the book back in the box and the soldier's skull back the better I could where had been his neck. Perhaps in the deep of my soul I felt sorry for that guy (you would too... he could have been your grand-grandparent's friend!) and wanted to be sure he had a decent burial. If I could not bury him, I would push a big rock to the cave's entrance.

To get out was as blindfold experience as getting in. I saw the stone I wanted, pushed it against the cave's entrance -- it seemed to be made for it! -- and took the GPS from my bag to record my position when an Afghan tribesman appeared. Them other five jumped right in front of me with those old guns pointed at my chest. They uttered words I could not understand (must be some local dialect) and then pushed me to what seemed to be my final fate. Would they shot me? I didn't believe, because the American soldier should be close. We had not walked much when I had another surprise.