Tuesday morning. I am in the car with Taher, as he drives me to a meeting at the British Embassy. I am hoping to cajole them into funding our work in years to come. The British Government is notoriously committed to bilateral funding: funding Governments directly, not giving money to NGOs. But I am notoriously persistent. And it is a fine autumn day, which has a directly positive effect on my spirits.
We pass the Mosque of the King with Two Swords. Beside the mosque, lame and blind men line the road. The mosque is built around the grave of a brave Arab fighter, who, legend has it, fought with two swords, with extraordinary skill such that even when he was decapitated, he kept fighting for another hour or so until he finally expired. So it is that he has two graves: one where his head lies, and this second one, where the rest of him is buried.
Around the mosque there are pigeons, which are retained by a supply of wheat and corn sold by old men. I ask Taher if these pigeons are meant to have any special characteristics.
‘No, they are just pigeons.’
‘No, I mean like the ones at Mazar. You know, the myth says that if a grey pigeon joins the flock, it will turn white in seven days.’
‘No. No. Nothing. Yes, they do. You can see that they don’t crap on the Mosque roof. Everywhere else, but not there.’
I look at Taher, one of my eyebrows raised. He goes on, quite emphatically.
‘… and those ones in Mazar, you can see that it’s true. If you tie a thread to a grey pigeon’s leg, you can see it has gone white seven days later.’
I look at Taher again, and we nod at each other, both agreeing to a truth that we know might well be fiction. He swerves adroitly through the crowds, and a few minutes later we reach the Embassy.
White pigeons at Mazar-i-Sharif.