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Traveling Boy: Jim Friend: Shaking the Hand that Shook Bin Laden's

the author in Kabul, Afghanistan
The author reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.

Shaking the Hand That
Shook Bin Ladenís

A Surprise Chat with Legendary
British War Cameraman, Peter Jouvenal

Story and Photographs by Jim Friend

Written at the Gandamack Lodge
Kabul, Afghanistan - January 20, 2010:

eing able to roll out to Afghanistan on an Army Public Affairs media embed in Eastern Afghanistan was enough of a thrill, but when I got to my hotel Kabul, another pleasant surprise was awaiting me. After leaving Kabul International Airport and rolling through a mightily spooky gauntlet of machine gun wielding, angry looking police and military crews of all nationalities, posted about every 200 yards along the brutally dusty road in armored vehicles, I mercifully reached my hotel, the Gandamack Lodge.

British war cameraman Peter Jouvenal at the Gandamack Lodge in Kabul
Bad to the bone... Mr. Peter Jouvenal.

I knew that this place was founded by the legendary Peter Jouvenal, a British war cameraman who made countless clandestine trips into Afghanistan under Soviet occupation during the 1980’s. In 2001, he famously walked into Kabul with English foreign correspondent John Simpson after the Taliban had apparently vacated it ahead of advancing Northern Alliance forces. Nobody was quite sure. Additionally, as if all that weren’t enough, Jouvenal met and interviewed our favorite ‘ole pal Osama bin Laden in 1997 after being invited to an interview with a couple of other journalists. They were piled into the back of a pick-up truck, forced to wear sunglasses with cardboard coverings, and headed up into the mountains. Bin Laden had a “very limp handshake,” Jouvenal stated in a 2007 CNN interview, and dispensed with any polite greeting formalities in favor of getting right down to the important business of lunatic ranting and raving. A limp handshake... I should have known.

Peter Jouvenal with a German MG34 machine gun
Jouvenal explaining the history of a German machine gun he purchased for $90.

I was very grateful to finally arrive at the Gandamack Lodge. In Dubai, as I was walking down the aisle to my seat in the back of a Safi airliner earlier that morning at 3:15 am, I glanced down to see a passenger reading a newspaper with a glaring front-page headline stating that the Taliban had just launched a several-pronged attack on Kabul, using suicide bombers, car bombs, and raving madmen running roughshod through the streets with machine guns and RPG’s. When I got to my seat, a friendly Arab Kenyan girl sat down next to me and we started talking right away. I asked her about the attacks, and she nervously told me that yes, it was true, there had been a fairly major assault and a number of people had died. She mentioned that she had called the company she was working for and asked them if she should still take the flight. It was almost exactly then that they closed and locked the plane’s doors on all of us, and off we went to Kabul.

Jouvenal explaining the features a Canadian Ross rifle
Elaborating on the over-engineering of the Canadian Ross. He stated he had no idea how this particular gun may have ended up in Afghanistan.

After about 35 hours of travel into a Taliban-infested war zone literally halfway across the world, and just having arrived safely in a hotel fairly close to where all of the previous day’s attacks had taken place, I was ready to call it a day. Yes, I was. On my way to this lovely slumbering end to a very wild day, one of my last jaunts took me through the Lodge’s front entrance. A middle aged westerner was unloading a lot of ancient guns from the hallway wall into metal shipping cases, stuffing them into long sock-like bags before entombing them in their aluminum coffins. It occurred to me that this just might be The Man, whom I did not expect to see. I lingered for a moment around the corner in the hallway, trying to figure out what to do, and just then, by the grace of God, he made a phone call. “Hello, this is Peter Jouvenal,” he said, etc... Excellentness. Pretty much as soon as he was off the phone, I introduced myself. He was completely gracious and began showing me the various guns he was packing away, most of them hailing from the late 1800’s: British Enfield’s, a Canadian Ross, and even a German machine gun which he’d acquired for $90. He told me the history of each type of weapon: How they made their way into Afghanistan given the time period, how their condition spoke of whether or not they were used by the populace as hunting rifles/shotguns after the military had used them, and how some of them contributed to political decisions by opposing sides when introduced to their respective theaters. These guns were all being shipped off to an antique arms dealer in England. I asked about a story I’d read about an elephant gun that he had once acquired in northern Pakistan that was, several years ago, scheduled to go to auction at Christie’s. He told me that the gun ended up selling for $75,000 USD.

a gun rack at the Gandamack Lodge
There are several racks in the hotel just like this one.

Peter invited me to tea, and when we sat down at a table a few minutes later in the dining area, I asked him about a legend I had heard once concerning The Lodge’s previous location. It was reputed that, before Peter acquired the building, Osama bin Laden housed one of his wives there, and would visit from time to time. I had to ask because I actually didn’t believe it. Much to my satisfaction, he confirmed that this was indeed true, and that this wife, his fourth, lived there with their ten-year-old son. He went on to state that the previous Afghan landlord officially-on-the-books had an Egyptian family living upstairs, but that there was a partitioned section of the building on the ground floor with a secret door on the side of the building leading into the lower level apartment. About three months before 9-11, bin Laden skipped town with his wife, owing the landlord three months rent. $150 / month rent times three equals $450. Cheap. The skinny little man is cheap, too.

old machine guns and pistols on display at the Gandamack
The safest hotel in Kabul.

Interestingly, when Peter acquired the building, he stated that he found an old Jihadi video in The Osama Room, which he watched. Much to his surprise, he saw himself in the footage, as it had included clips of the very interview he had conducted with bin Laden just a few years earlier. Peter was also quick to mention that his wife now runs the hotel (in its new location), and says that he just “pops up and meddles” from time to time. I wanted to be brief, as I knew he was busy, so I thanked him for his time and said goodbye. What a nice guy.

Later on in the day, after a brief rest, I decided I wanted to view the damage done by the Taliban bombings from the previous day, so I went to the front desk to inquire about an English speaking taxi. Peter happened to be in the hallway, and when I told him of my plan, he said, “Oh! All of that is fairly close by. You should just walk.” He proceeded to take me over to a map on the wall and told me the safest way to walk there, pointing out the route, emphasizing a particular road. “This street should be safe enough,” he stated, stopped himself quickly, and then added nonchalantly, “...that is, unless they happen to be shooting at each other today.”

Afghan military man and Kabul street scene
The mean streets of Kabul. Taken around the corner from the Taliban suicide attacks that happened Monday.

Now what? The legendary Peter Jouvenal just told me to walk out of the safety of his hotel and stroll over to several bombing sites that multiple Taliban suicide terrorists had attacked just yesterday.... an idea that was absolutely, iron-clad, completely, and beyond-out-of-the-question just a few minutes before. I was scared even to take a taxi with an English-speaking driver down there. Then a small determined thought sprang up in my heart that that Skinny Little Polygamous Cheap-Skate bin Laden wouldn’t get his Limp Little Fingers on me today. No way, sucka.

And you know what? When Peter Jouvenal says, “Hey, take a walk in downtown Kabul today,” you just do it.

About about an hour’s worth of wild walking later, and safely back inside my room at the best hotel in the world, I found out he was exactly right.


Peter Jouvenal poses for a photo with Osama bin Laden in 1997


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"Namibia" Article

Jim,

I spent several school holidays in Windhoek with family friends. Much later I took each of my kids (U.S. born & raised) on separate trips to my native, Cape Town and "Overlanded" through Namibia into the Kaokoveld. I enjoyed your travelogue immensely. Please advise me if you ever publish a collection of your travel experiences. The apple strudel at Helmeringhausen somewhere after Ai Ais was the best ever. Graciously,

Merv Hayman, Sarasota, FL

Hi Merv, thanks for the correspondence, glad you enjoyed the article. It sounds like that country got into your blood, as it has in mine. I'm looking forward to getting back there someday and seeing much more of the place, Namibia has a peculiar allure. Thanks for the complements and I will certainly put you on the list for a travel stories compendium.

Cheers and happy travels!
Jim

stars

"Bullriding in Texas" Article

Hey Jim,

I love your website. It has shown me that all this time my boyfriend was lying to me about who he was. On his Facebook page he was using the picture of "Thomas Bosma"... Btw great story and pictures.

MaKayla, Rapid City

Hi MaKayla, glad we could be of assistance in busting your prevaricating suitor! Thanks for the complements as well.

All the best, Jim

stars

"Canadian Arctic " Article

Hey Jim,

Just wanted to say 'Hello'…love your intro/bio Mr. Boitano, fits the call of excitement/steelo of Mr. Friend. Hope to keep correspondence, and hope all your travels keep you busy but safe, Check my Friend...

Mico Gonz, Seattle, WA

Miiii-coooooooooooooooo!!!

stars

"Jalalabad, Afghanistan" Article

Hello Jim,

Very interesting, I find it very important for me because my BF is there. Hope he is fine...His name is Sgt.Jason Adams...Thank you and God bless...

Leonila, Guiguinto, Bulacan, Philippines

stars

Cpt. Disi was at Kutschbach with the guys of 2nd platoon. I was in 4th, we were right up the road at FOB Morales Frazier. I don't think I read anywhere about you being at KB but if you were up there in Kapisa province with us you would have loved it. It was 10x better than Jbad. The air there was so full of smog, and you couldn't really see that far out early in the morning when the sun was rising. But its nice to see someone like you who was out on patrols and documenting all the things we did. Great stories. Keep up the good work...

Kevin Myrick, Calhoun, GA

* * *

Love your writing. Have you read Spike Walker's books by now?

Kerry, Wenatchee, WA

* * *

Nice.

Christian Louboutin, New York City

* * *

I do not believe I've seen this described in such an informative way before. You actually have clarified this for me. Thank you!

Janice Randall, Post Falls, ID

* * *

I like the style you took with this topic. It isn't every day that you just discover a subject so to the point and enlightening.

Charles David, St. Anne, Manitoba

* * *

Hey Jim! LT Singh just checking your site.. looks great… very slow internet here.. will be home in 2 weeks.

Alvin Singh , New York

* * *

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones. You have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up! And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :) .

Arthur Cox, Next to Paris

* * *

Jim. Take it all in, smother your senses with the culture and people. Watch your top notch and have a once in a lifetime experience. Miss you.

Jeff and Andrea, Los Angeles, CA

* * *

Fascinating photos Jim! Singly they are all fodder for short stories; together they really capture an out-of-body trip! Enjoyed mine, thank you! I'm curious what those compounds contain...mostly businesses? residences? Love that the T-Boy card is making it's way around the globe!

Wendy, Los Angeles, CA

* * *

These are outstanding photos. You capture scenes that I've never seen in the "mainstream media." Haunting images that make me think that there is danger around every corner.

Al Burt, Friday Harbor, WA

* * *

Enjoyed your article immensely! Your title is fun and so is learning about bin Laden skipping out without paying the rent - what a loser! It's great you could meet with Mr. Jouvenal, hear the stories and see the guns. Give our highest regards to T.G. Taylor and the other military personnel serving in Afghanistan. Courage to you all!

Steve, Renton, WA

* * *

Jim, I enjoyed this fascinating article. It reminded me of how sublimely surreal life is. Also, I would like to thank you for your courage, and to express gratitude towards your bringing this piece of the world, with its foreign realities, to my doorstep. I look forward to reading more from you.

Sandra, Seattle, WA

* * *

This is outstanding reporting, Jimmy F! Fascinating stuff. You've taken on a dangerous, important assignment in Afghanistan, and we readers appreciate your work with the military and your unique observations. I look forward to your next post. In fact, I'm going to go through the archives to see your entire body of work on TravelingBoy.

Terry, Los Angeles, CA

* * *

I really enjoyed my entry into Kabul with you and the visit with Peter Jouvenal... look forward to more of that adventure.

Brenda, Richland, WA

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Great story, Jim, a story really "as current as yesterday's news." Now there's a real TravelingBoy!

Eric, San Diego, CA

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Jim you have probably revealed more about Bin Laden than anyone...his rage on the world has to be linked to his limp handshake. Be careful over there!

Janet, Caldwell, ID

Thanks Janet! I get the distinct impression that his handshake isn't the end story to all that's limp with bin Laden's physiology!

Jim

* * *

What a fantastic piece. You're a modern-day Hemingway. Your writing is compelling and fascinating. I look forward to much more of this great adventure.

Roger, Puyallup, WA

Wow, Roger, what an awesome set of complements. Thanks a lot. My first journal entry of 2010 was: "The stories will tell themselves. I just need to show up." So far, so good! Thanks again!

Jim

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Jim, first time reading your stuff. Very cool. I hope to read about our units and life in eastern Afghanistan very soon since you will be coming to our area as an embed. BTW, I'm the PAO here in Jalalabad and will be coordinating your visit with CPT Disi.

T.G. Taylor, US Army, Jalalabad, Afghanistan

* * *

Hello T.G.!

I saw your email address included on a couple of correspondences, and I cannot wait to spend some time with you, and even yet more of our honorable fighting forces over there in that bleak neck of the woods in Afghanistan in January, including CPT Disi. This is truly a trip of a lifetime for me, and I'm completely looking forward to absorbing the experiences there and recording the sufferings and sacrifices of so many of those of you who continue to strain and press to make Our Country Great, those of you who daily labor to assist those in other countries whose lives had once withered under the burden of tyrants, and whose hopes can now flicker again with the help of those like yourself. Thanks so much for putting it all out there for us every day. My fervent hope is to honorably document the expenditures of each of your individual lives in the midst of this conflict, those of you who "anonymously" struggle daily to make what We Hold As Good prevail in what, at times, is a dark and wicked world.

Thanks so much, man. Great to hear from you... See you soon!

Jim

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Sad to say, this is the first time I've read one of your articles Jim. What have I been missing!? Thanks for the funny, informative, and just plain awesome read! Take care and have a great Turkey day!

Jeff, Pasco, WA

* * *

Jim, I just loving reading your blogs. As I've dreamt about going to Costa Rica for at least 20 years, this was a very insightful and fun read for me. You always make me laugh.

Deborah - Burbank, CA

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Wow, what a HILARIOUS guy!!!!! I really really enjoyed the article. The Village Artist is my 'uncle Boyd" as I call him. He is closing his shop next year. That made my day and thank you for letting me know of this on the world's BEST travel information source.

Sandy - Sitka, Alaska

* * *

Hi Sandy!

Comments like those that you wrote make all the hassles and travails of writing resoundingly worthwhile, thank you! I am so sorry to hear that Boyd is closing his shop! The Alaskan State legislature should immediately intervene to make his shop an Alaskan cultural heritage site of some variety (not kidding). Meanwhile, from the sound of the conversation Boyd and I had, it's the federal government that's confused and harassed the poor guy with inconsistent and random applications of federal law to the point where it's probably not worth it anymore. I hope that's not the case, but I wouldn't be surprised. Whatever the reason, I am really sorry to hear that he's closing shop. I'm privileged to have seen it... once in a lifetime. Thanks again for reading and thanks a lot for your comments!

Jim

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Hi Jim,

Now I know what you were doing on the Alaska cruise when I wasn't around. Besides playing cribbage. I'm glad that you, a younger, more slender and fit person, also saw the value in cruising. I didn't come back with a tan, but I did lose 3 pounds while sleeping every night and eating every meal but one. Jade and I are looking forward to three weeks exploring Mediterranean ports in May. We put down our deposit for it on our last night on board and have starting our training. Sleeping in the same wonderful bed every night makes such a break-neck pace completely possible for a grandma like me. I'm looking forward to reading your Afghanistan piece WHEN you have returned.

Janice - Seattle

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Hi Janice!

Yes that was a blast! I would do all of that again any day of the week. Have fun on your Mediterranean cruise, that sounds like great fun!

Jim

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Love your expeditions. Keep writing.

Karen Cummings - Yakima, WA

* * *

Jim can't tell you how much I am enjoying your writing. One other commenter mentioned you are living the life we all dream of, ain't that the truth. As far as looking for a place to live that will challenge you to be able to make a real living and supplying a steady flow of women looking for the bbd (bigger better deal) then you should try the Yakima Valley here in Washington State (inside joke). Look forward to reading more from you.

Huston Turcott (hooter) - Yakima, WA

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Awesome!!! I love Japan!

Maja - Chur, Switzerland

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Jimmy my love,

I totally thought you were kidding when you told me you went bullriding. OH MY GOSH you actually did it. (SIGH) Am I going to have to smack you around a bit?? heheheheee Seriously, come see us!

Leah, Richland, WA

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Jim,

Rock on Friend! Living it up... inspiring us all to do the same!

Celeste, Seattle


Jim,

Are you for real? You're living the life many people only dream about. You're obviously not yet married. What wife would allow her husband to do all the crazy things you do? This Virginia skydiving adventure is probably the scariest yet. Your writing style helps bring the exhilaration out. Great photos too. Loved the caption about you striking that "gangsta rap" pose. Come to think of it, why do we do that in front of the camera?

Thanks also for the tips. $250 for a few minutes with nothing between you and mother earth is a bit costly but I guess if you have a death wish, this is definitely the way to go.

You mentioned that 25 people a year lose their lives doing this. With my luck I will be among that number if and when I decide to do this.

Enjoyed it very much. Can't wait for your next adventure.

Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA

Jeem!

Found ur Glacier trek (I will Destroy You Glacier Peak) to be serious kick ass. To be honest, I’m such a lightweight, I’ve never been more than a day tripper. When u really get out there on one of those long solo treks, and the water runs short … can u drink from local streams? I’ve heard that pollution is so bad that even places untouched by man are now off-limits.

VitoZee

* * *

Howdy VitoZee,

Great to hear from you and thanks for the complement and question. That is a seriously cool name, by the way: VitoZee. Just from the phonetics of it, I get the impression that you might be a very friendly and mild-mannered hitman working out of North Jersey. Really cool.

As for your drinking water from streams question, there are a lot of answers for it. The simple answer is that, no, you can almost never implicitly trust stream water sources, unless they are flowing straight out of the ground (via an aquafer or spring) bubbling up right there in front of you. That's your best bet, but you rarely see that in the wild unless you're looking for it, and even so, I have actually gotten sick from drinking spring water straight from the source at Panther Springs on Mount Shasta. You never know what you're going to get drinking untreated water from the wilds.

Most of the time the pollution you'll be dealing with out in the wilderness is not man-made, it usually comes from bacteria and parasites that inhabit the bodies of wilderness animals. For example, on this Glacier Peak trip, I drank from a stream I was confident was trustworthy. In the immediate vicinity were living quite a few marmots. A number of days after I got home I fell ill, and had to wonder if I hadn't picked up something from the water I drank, as there was not much of any other explanation for my symptoms. I knew a trip to the doctor would probably result in them sending me back home with a plastic cup that was required to be filled with my own poo, which would need to be delivered back to the lab steaming hot so they could figure out exactly what kind of bacteria or parasite they were dealing with. (Not a joke, remember Panther Springs?) After this diagnosis, I would then have to go back to the doctor and get a prescription, but by then, my body would have probably fought off the tiny invaders completely on its own. Not worth the trouble, and all of this would certainly = Jim minus $280. So I suffered it out, and whatever happened to be bothering me left my system in about 7 days or so. Yuck. No fun.

Anyway, I don't recommend drinking straight from the streams of the wild, but in a pinch, I do it everytime, unless I see a bear or a moose straight upstream from me pooping in the river, which has only happened about ten times. (Or zero times.) Anyway, sometimes I get sick, sometimes I don't. If I'm exhausted and thirsty, to heck with it, I'm drinking it.

All this notwithstanding, or withstanding, or notwithoutstanding, whatever, they just recently invented the coolest thing in the world though, so you might want to check it out. Previously, for treating your water in the wild, you'd always have to put a pellet of iodine or a congregate of other evil ingredients into your jug of stream water and let it sit there for an hour before you drink it while the chemical cocktail thoroughly treats your water. That is ridonkulous because when you're hiking and thirsty, you aren't going to wait a full hour for that pill to dissolve and work properly, you are going to guzzle. Anyway, they just invented this magic wand of sorts that you can find at any decent backpacking or outdoors store. You turn it on and dip it in your stream filled water jug, and the ultraviolet light it produces irradiates everything to death on the spot, after about 30 seconds or so. Kind of like my pinky finger, which I keep forgetting to treat my stream water with, because I'm always so dang thirsty.

Jim

Keep it comin' Jim. Sounds awesome.

Matt Langley, Duvall, WA

Hey Jim,

Enjoyed your Victoria article. It was an intersting slant on a city that is generally just promoted as a destination for tea rooms, gardens and double-decker buses. Now let's get serious ... are the Canadian women there really that attractive, good-natured and open-minded? Maybe I won't get married either and just move up there. It sure sounds refreshing after having to deal with the smugness of all those LA starlets, trying to make it in Hollywood.

Gary, Santa Monica

* * *

Gary,

Thanks so much for the communique. I can honestly tell you that there was little exagerration involved in my description of the girls there in Victoria. God, in his infinite wisdom, has thankfully granted American mankind a few other places than the great old U.S. of A. to relieve our hearts of the burden of the eternally-self-absorbed, career-tracked, Bill-Gates-as-a-husband seeking beastly variety of female. I know, after living here in the States forever (especially in Seattle), how it is. I was recently researching a trip to Columbia, and heard the same news implicitly spoken about the women there, they are apparently of the same caliber of those that live in British Columbia. I invite you, before relocating, to take a trip up to Victoria, to see for yourself. I'll never forget it.

And my brotha', if you think you have it bad in the Los Angeles area (I lived there for six years), try Seattle (where I have lived for the last laborious three). Seattle seems to be crammed with nothing other than Ice Princesses, who live their lives completely within the confines of darkened cerebral domains, mental attentions locked firmly onto the goal of marrying the next Bill Gates, hoping to live in one of those big houses smooshed up against Lake Washington, hearts available only to the ultimate goal, the dream of all dreams ... being on Oprah someday...absorbing the jealous attentions of the millions of suburbanite women watching, all hoping to sit right there across from Ms. Winfrey someday, too, while regaling her with the tales of the good life, closets full of the savvy and smarmy garb purloined at Nordstrom's, their husband a virtual "Prince Charming," their family-owned barnacle encrusted yacht anchored firmly in some northern fjord. Oprah smiles back approvingly amidst a cacophony of applause, screen fades to commercials, all conduits nourishing The Beast.

You're my kind of guy, Gary. Hang in there, amigo. I look forward to meeting your smokin' hot wife someday.

Jim

Stay tuned.


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