Our bubbly tour guide Mubin never runs out of jokes, and many of his sentences start with:  Let me tell you a story!  He never runs out of stories either.  He is really trying to make up for four days worth of something that should have been Bamiyan and Bande-a-Amir, the two most famous and worthwhile sites in all of Afghanistan.  It is really heart-breaking that we not only lose one but both due to troubles on the road.

If I understand all this right, then there are two roads to Bamiyan.  One of them, for years, has been under Taliban control and cannot be used.  The other has been fine up until recently, when the Taliban decided to use a bridge at the bottom of two hills – a very fine bottleneck in the road – as a trap.  They stop cars in search of government officials and foreigners.  A government worker had his throat slit and an entire family was murdered there recently.  I get it!  We can’t go.  What put the ice on the cake is that this morning the news came through to Mubin and the ALT office that active battles were unfolding on that road between government troops and Taliban fighters.  It was just the final confirmation after the decision had already been made, that it was out of the question to travel in that direction.

What to do instead?  Full of enthusiasm, Mubin promised us a great picnic on a mountain overlooking an area where he had recently purchased land and is planning to build a house for himself, his wife and his five children; away from the dust of Kabul, away from the barbed wire.  The land out there cost him $50,000 and to build the house another $150,000.  According to Islamic Law (Sharia), you don’t borrow money, but save and pay in cash.  He worked hard for this over the last 15 years, in tandem with some of his brothers who purchased land next to him.  He proudly pointed to the brown lots in the desert outlining where the school would be and the mosque, the park and the shopping center.  In his imagination it was all there already and it was going to be beautiful.   I am sure it will be.

We had a good time on the hill if you forget for the moment that I expected to be on the road to Bamiyan.  For the picnic we purchased some goat cheese and the biggest loaf of bread I have ever seen in my entire life.  The bread was as long and almost as wide as the entire back row of our 4-wheeled vehicle!  Of course, even up there on the mountain, the Kalashnikov came along.  Picnic with a Kalashnikov; I don’t do that every day.  We were at 2000 meter altitude and I could feel it, climbing up there.  The air is getting thin.  But the temperature has been perfect; much milder than in Uzbekistan.

From there, we took the road we would have taken to Bamiyan to Charikar, a small village.  We roamed the bazaar and people were incredibly friendly, inviting us for tea into their stalls.  We declined, but delivered big smiles of appreciation left and right. One of the men mocked me by pointing to a bearded guy telling me that he was with the Taliban.  To their amusement, I played his game and pretended to run away in fear.  We all had a good laugh. It is really hard to imagine how 25 kilometers further, there are people who would slit my throat or press for ransom if they could get hold of me and here, I can joke around with people who would love to invite me for tea instead.

Further down the road, at Jabul Seraj, was a river with some restaurants where we were going to have fish.  But the condition of the fish was so questionable that we went on to another restaurant to have the standard rice-raisin-lamb dish instead.  Hundreds of trucks had backed up along the road as traffic towards Mazar-e-Sharif is regulated at times to only allow trucks to go in one direction or another, but not both.  Some of the trucks looked like they had been camping out for days.   Many of them clearly had come from Pakistan – sporting the bright and  colorful decoration so typical for Pakistani trucks.  As we were eating, some of the traffic began to flow and soon there was madness on the road with everyone scrambling to get through.  And so we went back on a little side-road until the truck madness was behind us.

I am trying really hard to find something unique and educational in this day, worth the huge sums of money I spend for every hour in this country and I have to look high and low.  Perhaps, it is the surprising realization that Afghanistan has moved in consumption prices for many goods (especially housing and services), to world market prices while income has lagged behind for most.  There is a growing but still small number of entrepreneurs who are making money hand over fist with the influx of army, aid workers, and the currency that follows them.  Will this last?  Will the economy here collapse just like the rest of world once these people are gone and these conditions change?   I am grateful that through Mubin, we have a window into some of these realities.  I hope that he will find the paradise of which he so often talks in his gated suburban community out near the mountains.

Through the traffic delays, we got back late.  It was almost 8 PM – two hours behind our imposed curfew.  As every night, I sit down with my computer and work through the images and the events of the day.  I can’t quite get Bamiyan out of my mind.  All would be well if we could avoid the road.  If there were just an airport!  Perhaps, some day.

Good night.

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  1. We have a next door neighbor who makes bread almost every day and shares it with us. It’s like living next to Zingerman’s. Wait till he sees what you had at your picnic. What a picnic, indeed, that you will surely remember. Our friends bring casseroles instead of guns. You may have to return some day to see if Mubin’s paradise comes to be. Hope springs eternal.

  2. Ok…call me nuts or obsessed or whatever, but if you painted that huge loaf of bread blue…well, do you see what I see? Yes, a blue burqa!!! Coincidence, I am sure. Hmmmm?
    It is a shame about Bamiyan, but you are so doggone resourceful, Elisabeth, that I am sure you will make something out of the disappointment.
    What is your itinerary?