On our otherwise uneventful drive back to Kabul from Jalalabad we were stopped by the police at the Kabul city checkpoint. We had passed a number of checkpoints on the way, but this was the only one that stopped us. We had to pull over. A portly, unfriendly looking policeman opened the van door and stared at me in a menacing way, or perhaps it was just his "I-Mean-Business" look which can be similar to a "Menacing Look" but should have important subtle differences if you are a well trained actor which I doubted he was. I stared back in my "slightly-bored-can-I-help-you?" look but, being a trained actor, I colored it with just a hint of submission as that tends to move things along positively with these brutes.
He barked to our guide, AZ, that he wanted to see our passports, which we happily supplied. Then he started asking to look through our bags. "There, that bag, and that bag! What is there?" "It's fruit! You can see it is fruit!" AZ barked back. I didn't understand what he was saying exactly, but clearly there was no love and respect. When confronted by busy-body authority, many Afghans turn belligerent. I never understood why, as it usually leads to more delays and chest-thumping.
Now the policeman wants to look at our pile of luggage stacked in the back of the van. Knowing that our workshop bag is topmost (excellent!) I have Joanna hand me the little portfolio we have containing photos of our work, for just such an occasion. AZ later told me that on our way to the back of the van the policeman was asking him, "Why are you working with these Americans? They make films that disrespect our religion! Are you helping them make films?!" AZ said, "No! They are not making films, they are good people, what's wrong with you?"
I'm not sure what he expected to find when he opened the first duffel bag; maybe he thought it would be film equipment, porn magazines, and fuel to burn the Holy Book, or maybe just a cache of weapons. He sure wasn't expecting what he did find, which was three pair of stilts and juggling equipment. His look of menace became one of confusion. I helpfully showed him the pictures of us on our stilts in costumes, with the crowds of happy children, and our workshops with the Afghan actors. "See?!" AZ was saying, "They are our teachers! They are good people, they are helping us!" ("You stupid cow", he added -- not with words but with inflection. AZ is a trained actor, after all).
There was more talk between them, and the cop softened, as they usually do after seeing the portfolio and the pictures of happy children. He actually shook my hand and casually embraced AZ. I don't think he was totally convinced of our innocence, but he let us go without further delay.