Royal Flush


September 2008     Kabul, Afghanistan

Unfortunately this story takes place in a septic tank, but that is not really what it is about.  And I do not mean to debase this unfortunate dude by making light of his station in life, but I might not last long if I cannot find some dark humor in what goes on around here.

I was eating lunch at the kitchen table, reading a book and hoping the mudman would hurry up and finish cleaning out the septic tank.  According to Shafiq, our head driver/guard/butler, it had not been ever pumped out in the 30 years since this house was built, and that is why we were having problems, and why he was already filling the third tanker truck.  $200 is one month’s pay for most locals, but it seemed a fair price for the task at hand, so I forked it over.

Statistically, only one human can claim to have the worst job in the world, that is, to live in the worst place on Earth, *and* also hold the worst job there.  No joke, I think this was That Guy.  The Australians called him “the honeysucker.”  Briefly described, the poor bastard wore only the daily Afghan pajamas, no gloves or mask, down a ladder deep into the hole under the driveway, and above his waist in the mire.  Shovel, suction, pry, muck about.  Barefoot.  Please take the money.  After he soon dies of hepatitis, this is the guy that deserves the mythological 72 virgins.  No, he actually deserves that payment up front, and his day was about to get worse.

After awhile, Shafiq returned.

Shafiq: “Sir, him, the honeysucker need baksheesh now.”   [Baksheesh means shakedown, bribe, or payment to finish doing something you have already paid for.  It is maddening and constant.]

Me: “What? Why? I just paid him. No way. Tell him to finish the job.”

Shafiq (pointing to his leg): “Sir, but him, the leg.  A problem.”

Me:  “Huh?”

Shafiq, pointing to his leg: “No sir, him.  A leg.”

This was another transparent shakedown.  Was he claiming to have hurt his leg on this job?  Was that my problem or his employer’s?  Wait, he is self-employed, right?  What of his insurance?  Yeah right – where do I think I am? Or does he just mean he needs something?   What?

Me: “What?”

Shafiq: Sir, him sucker has found a leg (gripping his own leg) in the tank.”

Me: ?
Me: ?
Me: ?
Me: ?
Me: “What????”

Shafiq:  “Yes, sir, come see this leg….no, yes, it has a shoe on it.”

I do not know how else to describe what was on the driveway, and there it was.  Me, Shafiq, the septic man and his 8-year-old son, already on the job, and a human leg wearing a shoe, slapped out on the concrete.  How long had it been in the tank?  Six months?  Ten years?  I do not know, call CSI.  More importantly, where was the rest?  How many more bodies and parts down below?  What to do with them?  Really, who do you call and who pays for it?  Anyone?  Now what?

The Mudman wanted the $10 baksheesh to find and fish out the rest of the body or bodies, but then what?  And did we not just pay him a month’s wages for this job?  Was I not being a complete ass over $10 for this revolting task?  Then two separate things became clear:  This dude was not self-employed.  His corrupt scumbastard boss bribed for the contracts and would collect the $200 and pay him maybe $10 for the whole day.  Secondly, what to do with the body parts?  What sort of burial would be appropriate?  Will a local Muslim graveyard accept the remains and at what price?

I lunged for the safe to pay him the $10, and would have shelled out a lot more than requested and still more to do something undetermined with the body.  My boss Marcus appeared and found himself impaled on the horns of this dilemma.  Generally, his response was fuck you and fuck your baksheesh, it is your boss’s job to pay you a living wage and not shake me down for it.  He has been raked over the coals by the local merchants and government officials for a few years now.

On the other hand, he grew up all over the South Pacific, traveling with his Christian missionary parents.  Marcus was all wrapped around the axle about the dead body parts under our house, and fretted about how to get them out and give them a decent burial.   No sense calling the police, because our landlord is at the highest level of government, so the cops fear him and we would be homeless in minutes.  That guy has his very own police force, dual Canadian citizenship, a black diplomatic passport, and lines his fat pockets as an international black-market arms dealer.  Besides, one more anonymous dead guy is laughably trivial in a country where 3,000,000 people were killed and wounded in the recent wars.

Razak, the other driver, put it all to rest.  Razak lives on the city limits, next to the bombed-out hulk of the King’s Palace.  He said, “This is not big problem, sir.  Just only one month ago, the neighbor to me dug out for a wall behind his house.  He found one head (skull), then later, 150 more.  He put this all back.”  This was apparently the the work of local warlords against rival clans.

Marcus shrugged, stared at the ground, threw his arms up, turned and walked away without a word.  No baksheesh.  The pumpout continued, but no more body parts were sought or recovered, the leg went somewhere or back into the hole maybe, and the mud smuggler and his son drove off to scatter their harvest upon the thirsty fields of Afghanistan.  I watched as my amebic dysentery completed its circle of life.

Completely unrelated photos:

Bonus piece:

Recently I asked Shafiq why every house in the cities and the countryside have eight-foot walls of mud or steel all around them.  He said, “So nobody can see our women.”

Ok, but they are completely covered up.

He said “No, once they are home they take off the Burkha, and then the neighbors might see her.”


“Well, sir, if he see her, then he might talk to her.  And if I catch anyone talking to my wife then I must kill him.”

Really?  Are you serious?  Is your penis *that* small?  He defended this argument for as long as I could deal with it.  And this  literate, travelled guy comes off as relatively civilized, and considers himself a devout man of God. We have a lot of work ahead of us here.


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2 Responses to “Royal Flush”

  1. MMG Says:


  2. Tait Says:

    that is some seriously crazy stuff dude. it’s like you’re back in the wild west. stay safe!

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