We leave the immigration area and drive the bus over to Customs, which is surrounded by a huge wall. "Let's go in," I say. "If we must," says Andy, and everyone follows me into the big hall, in which there is almost nothing besides a rusty table and a few old chairs. Our steps echo off the walls as we approach the table, where I say, "Salam" to the officer, who nods. I hand him the carnet de passage, and he takes it to some other office at the far end of the hall, returning a little while later with his chief, a giant of a man, almost two meters tall, wearing dark sunglasses and dangling handcuffs out one of his pockets. I remember him from previous visits. He beckons us over, and we follow him to his office door. There he raises his sunglasses and after studying us intensely, he asks, "Do you folks smoke hashish?"
"No, sir!" says Klaus.
"What's hashish?" asks Andy.
The two women shake their heads, clear their throats and stare at the floor. He looks at them sternly and says, “Right. Please wait out here on the bench." Then he opens the door and goes inside, pushing me ahead of him. As soon as the door is closed behind us he laughs out loud, "What kind of people are these?"
"They do smoke dope," I say, "but they respect you, and your uniform, enough to say they don't."
"Take a seat," he says, "and tell me all about your journey."
I start to talk but suddenly he interrupts me and says, "I hope you brought some rolling papers…"
"Of course!" I say and take them out. Pakistan is a country of heavy smokers, but rolling papers aren't generally available - they force tobacco out of cigarettes, mix it with hashish, and reload the empty cigarette. Then they take out the cotton filter and replace it with a piece of rolled cardboard from the cigarette carton. "Why don't you roll one for us now?" says the chief, placing a huge piece of finest Afghani hash on the table. "Okay," I say, "I'll do it, but only if you stamp my documents."
Instead, he picks up his telephone and orders tea for my friends and us. We drink and smoke, and then drink and smoke some more. Many joints later, the documents are stamped, but his signature is still lacking. "Don't worry," he says, "roll another one - we'll get to it. Here, have some cookies with your Chai."
He pulls out a shabby box of cookies and puts it in front of me. I prepare myself. He opens the box and it’s crawling with ants, as I expected. He takes a cookie and calmly taps it on the table until it is ant-free, as I've seen him do before, then dips it in the hot tea. I do the same, out of politeness. As we light the next joint, he finally signs my document.
"How many ashtrays do you have on your bus?" he asks.
"Ashtrays?" I ask.
"Yes, ashtrays!" he says. "I have to list something that you're carrying through the country, and it might as well be ashtrays!" and so he writes, "Five ashtrays, one tape deck, ten music cassettes, and one water tank." No one is going to come out and check the bus. The chief asks if I'll stay until tomorrow night.
"Sorry, but I want to leave early tomorrow for Quetta," I say.
"You're going to get stoned in Quetta, is that it?" he asks.
"Of course," I say, "one can't get hashish around here…"
"Not true!" he says, opening a drawer and taking out a big, 35-40 gram ball of hashish, which he puts in my hand. "Welcome to Pakistan!" he says with a big smile. Laughing heartily, he escorts me to the door. With a big smile, I give him the rest of my rolling papers, and he gives me a slap on the back. I go out to my bewildered passengers.
"You look totally stoned, man!" says Klaus.
"Well, I had to negotiate pretty hard to clear these documents," I say. "Now let's get on the bus and get out of here." Once onboard, Andy starts preparing dinner, while Klaus and I sit at the table. I ask him if he wants to smoke a joint.
"Of course," he says, "have you got any?" I pull out the black ball, and his eyes go wide.
"Where…that…but…the chief?!" he stammers.
"I told you, the negotiations were tough!" I say.
Susan has come over, and says, "That's not possible! The customs officer gave you this?!"
I explain that the reason these officers are working here, at a miserable border post in the burning desert, is they got in trouble for something and have been sent here as punishment - they're Customs' "bad boys" and they make the time pass by smoking their asses off.
"Would you volunteer to work here?" I ask rhetorically.
It makes sense to them. Klaus has the joint rolled, and we light it. It's premium hashish from Mazaar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan, which shares a 2,400-kilometer border with Pakistan.