Dr. Abdullah In the Garden

E-mail Steve

September 1,  2004 6:16 p.m.

It was a two-hour helicopter ride from Dushanbe over the mountains to the Panshir Valley, which was controlled by the tiny Northern Alliance. The helicopter set down in a lush green field along a river, with snow-capped mountains rising up on each side, the sky a brilliant blue. Without a word, bearded men in robes and pizza-pie hats began unloading the gear: 27 bright orange and gray hard plastic cases filled with television equipment. The men threw the cases up on their heads or on their backs and slowly, silently carried them over a footbridge across the river, stacking them up in another field. After the roar of the helicopter, now all was silence.

We were taken to a one-story building near the river, the Foreign Ministry guest house. There were thirty journalists living there, sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags, one a French still photographer who had malaria and a large open sore on his lip. He said a year ago translators cost $15 a day, now they cost $100.

They brought out food three times a day: rice, lamb, tomatoes, onions, Pepsi. The shits started.

There was one toilet in the Foreign Ministry guest house, a ceramic hole on the floor of a tiled room with a metal container of water on a stool. I took my first shit at 6:30 am, but after that for much of the day the bathroom was occupied, so I would walk through the yard and shit near the riverbank. It exploded out the next morning. I shat in my sheet; there was a brown-yellow stain on my calf. I took the camera and focused in on the stain on my inside left calf. As I filmed I narrated over the camera microphone, describing how I had shit my bed. Tommy and Alina were laughing.

The three of us set up the camera, the tripod, a satellite phone and a videophone in the garden and started the generator. I gave an Afghan $100 to make sure the generator was always filled with gas. We did four or five live shots a day. We were the only ones with the gear, the only ones able to broadcast a live television picture from inside Afghanistan, so it was enough at first to say anything.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, an eye surgeon who spoke English and was a former aide to Massoud would come by in the evening to drink tea, eat hard candies with soft centers and explain Afghanistan. You drank tea outside in the garden, sitting on white plastic lawn furniture. Abdullah was dark, bearded, good-looking, with a bit of a comb-over, and may have been the only man in
Afghanistan to understand television news.

His leader Massoud had been assassinated right before 9/11, leaving the fractious Northern Alliance leaderless. I put Dr. Abdullah in the garden, in front of the amateur camera and lunchbox videophone. Later in the day at Pentagon press briefings you could hear questions from reporters asking for commentary on the statements of "Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, senior Northern Alliance official."

He came by every evening and the service improved immediately, starting with tea and candy. Dr. Abdullah had one point to make, that all of this, including the Taliban, was Pakistan's creation, that Pakistan could not be trusted.

You could tell Dr. Abdullah loved Massoud, like most of the Alliance. Massoud had been blown up by two Arabs posing as journalists. The theory was, before striking America, Al Qaeda had wanted to decapitate the opposition at home.

Massoud had worn a pizza pie hat. Suddenly everyone in the Panshir valley, including journalists, was wearing a pizza pie hat. Posters of Massoud were plastered everywhere, even across the front windshields of cars. His body was brought by helicopter to a village in the valley for burial. We planned to set up the camera at the site and carry it live.

Harrigan video archive

Dear Mr. Harrigan,

I just got done reading all your writings. I have not laughed, cried or simply shook my head in such a short time, ever. Thank you for your work. We pray for our soldiers, reporters, and innocents each day. 
— Cathy  (Findlay, Ohio)

Dear Steve,

You are, by far, our favorite reporter. You give us, "Just the Facts" as Jack Webb used to say and we appreciate it. We have been worried about your safety several times due to war but on reading your web site (just found it) are now just as worried about the safety of your insides. Why are you eating and drinking some of the things you have mentioned in several blogs? Get checked for parasites. Have your insides checked out completely. The tea with milk? We can assume the milk was clean, refrigerated, pasturized and free of germs that cause Ungulent Fever? Gag!  Please, U.S. MREs may not be the greatest, but they sure are way above what you have been stuffing down. Fasting is much better. Your folks must be very upset.
— P.J. (San Juan Capistrano, CA)


You must feel somewhat at home in Russia. I was not at all surprised to hear you were there.  I was surprised when at first they just wouldn't say it was a terrorist act. I guess Russia has changed but some parts have not, and most likely won't.  
The first time I saw you was in Afghanistan, and you were always crouching, bent over, or ducking. I thought you were short. Go figure! Mom still has you grounded as far as going to Iraq so just be forewarned.
As I read the mail that people send you I hope that the fact so many people really care about you comes as a comfort when you are so far away. If good thoughts can keep you safe, you will be fine.
— Donna (Kansas)

Hi Steve,
I've been an occasional reader of your blogs but just spent the morning reading through your archives.  All I can say is wow.  I admire your staying power.  Some of the guys who were over there in Iraq with a big show during the initial stages of the war almost seem prima donas compared to you.  I need to stress the almost part because it still took a lot of guts to do what they did, its just that you stand out among them.
My favorite so far was about Turbo Golf in Pakistan, with the no name restaurant a close second.  I caddied a bit as a kid and can relate. You're a good man Steve, and represent us (Americans) well.  If you ever get to Tulsa Oklahoma and have time to golf, Inshalla, I'll get you on Southern Hills where the U.S. Open and PGA Championship has been played several times or at the Golf Club of Oklahoma (which is nicer and more fun but not as prestigious).  No ball boys or caddies, but they do have cute beer babes and a ProV1 won't cost as much as in Pakistan!
Keep safe, keep reporting, and good luck to you!
— Joe (Tulsa OK)

Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.