2012
06.06

SYNOPSIS:  THE DREADED TRANSIT BACK TO KABUL.  ABOUT ICE CREAM AND FOOD, BRIBES AND CARS.

I had braced myself for hell again and that was good so – since traffic lacked any animal herds today and for several stretches the race-driven Afghan drivers held back, a whole hour was shaved off the hellish part and the ride felt almost manageable; but only in comparison to day 28.  Not once did we have to back up – amazing!  But don’t get me wrong.  Knowing what I know, I would never again agree to this trip unless the tunnel is fixed.  There are flights after all…

The lack of any new material today will allow me to catch up on a few odds and ends I have been observing and thinking about.

TRAFFIC AND CARS: 

The streets of Kabul (and the rest of the country) are almost a history book of the 20th Century struggles for power in Afghanistan.  There are the occasional Moskvitch cars which are still bumping along the road.  They are robust.  We had them in East Germany and just recently I had seen them again in Uzbekistan.  Only in a once Soviet-occupied country will you find them; and here they were – testimony to the 1970’s and 80’s.

What baffled me completely was when I first realized that most drivers sit behind the wheel on the left side of the car as I am used to, but then there are others who sit on the right side of the car like in Pakistan or India.  But they do drive on the right side of the road…  How is that possible?  These cars speak of the ambitions Pakistan once had.  As part of their expansion policy lots of cars must have made it into Afghanistan.  I am sure they would have liked to turn around the driving direction as well, but that obviously did not happen.  These cars are grandfathered in now.

When you look at the many UN vehicles or other NGO cars, you will find almost only Japanese models – this is an observation Neil made – while all the police and military vehicles you see are Fords, or American-made.  Both types are huge 4WD, often armored and equipped with antennas which allow for coded messaging.  Why are UN vehicles armored?!  It speaks volumes of the situation in this country.

And on a side-note:  Only in Mazar-e-Sharif did I see functioning traffic lights.  Everywhere else in the country they are either lacking or look like they at best worked 30 years ago.  Nobody seems interested in fixing them either.  Here and there you see traffic police in their yellow vests trying to do their best to keep the flow of cars going.  It becomes really ridiculous when one of these big police vehicles tries to go through and via loudspeaker yells at people to keep moving.  Where to?  When you are boxed in between four cars all trying to turn somewhere, to ask people to keep moving is a futile order.

FOOD AND ICE CREAM:

I am very surprised that I have not gotten any stomach problems yet.  Knock on wood!  In 16 days on the tour I swear that we had oily rice with raisins, mutton and shaved carrots 12 if not 13 days for lunch, which is the big meal of the day in this part of the world; but we also had it for dinner more than once.  One notable exception was the fabulous buffet we had at the hotel in Herat.  The other was more recently when Mubin had picked up some triangles made out of dough stuffed with beans and then deep fried.  We dipped them into a spicy tomato sauce and that was delicious.  But… Mubin got sick from it; the rest of us did not.  And the other night, Mubin and I went out for dinner – for many days I had replaced dinner with a trip to the ice-cream store (rice once a day is really more than enough) – and we had something else:  spicy spinach and a “vegetable” dish with beans, potato-cubes, and some peas mixed together.  If you are a pure vegetarian (or god forbid a vegan), you can forget it!  Even the so-called vegetarian dishes will have come in contact with greasy, oily fats or worse.  In all fairness, Mubin assured me that the Afghan cuisine women provide inside the home is a lot more varied.  I am not sure if it is a lot healthier though.

And speaking of ice cream:  Nowhere else in the world I have seen the way of making ice cream like in Afghanistan.  A scoop of cooked milk is combined with sugar and flavoring such as rose water, vanilla, or mango, and put into a round metal container sitting in a bath of ice.  The ice maker now manually has to twist and turn the bucket to solidify the liquid into ice cream.  It happens slowly at the top edges of the liquid and with a wooden spoon you hasten the process by mixing the solidified top with the still liquid bottom.  The more you put into the bucket, the longer the process takes.  Therefore, the ice-maker carefully calculates the amount needed and you are almost always guaranteed to get freshly made ice cream.  Many of the ice-cream makers also take pride to scoop out the cream in interesting shapes.  Like nice slim towers, or even cup-shapes with handles.  I had to try this to see how hard it is.  It’s not that bad if you do it for a few minutes.  But I could already see myself with unbearable back pain if I only had to do this for one single day.  What happens here is that 10-13 year old boys will start to help out in their father’s shop.  And then they are on a career path from which there is little escape…

BRIBES:

Perhaps, the most surprising little tidbit I learned from Mubin is how many bribes they have to pay!  In his company, they employ several guards, always one or two on shift at the compound and a third one available to go out with clients.  They support at least four licenses for machine guns and other weapons and the men bearing the arms 24/7.  Each Kalashnikov costs them $2500 in bribes per year (!).  And the price has just gone up to $3000 this year.  Unbelievable.  No wonder hiring this (or a similar) company is so expensive here.  The overhead costs are boggling the mind.  I wonder who is lining their pockets with this.

On the other hand, Mubin told me how corrupt the police used to be just a few years ago.  They would stop you, confiscate your bike and then force you to “buy” it back from them, just to give an example.  On the contrary, when we hiked up along the citadel rim, the guards at the police station invited us for tea.  Mubin proudly pointed out the positive development in that area.

Another day passed with “nothing”, well with a 12 hour bumpy tour on the road.  So it goes.

Good night.

 

5 comments so far

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  1. I love reading some of the comments along with your blog. It sure pays to carry a sense of humor in your pocket when you travel. I am amazed that your system can tolerate all of the food and thank goodness for ice cream.

  2. I think I could get through the greasy rice with mutton, but that greasy fish with garlic might be my undoing!!! How about for you??

  3. Hi there, I’m not surprised that your digestion is toughening up – just don’t get too casual about it, there is probably still a germ/parasite out there with your name on it. I remember trying some sardines in Macao…………………….no, come to think of it, best forgotten.

    If you’d like to enjoy some greenery then some of the British Holiday posts are on my blog, in fact it’s raining heavily here in Wimbledon as I speak. And the Tennis starts in a couple of weeks. Deep joy.

  4. Oh, yes, let me tell you about trying eveyone’s faucet to see if it is a Buddhist or Muslim faucet. Now my friends are absolutely sure I have gone over the edge!!!

  5. I can’t stop thinking about the oily rice and shaved carrots!!! Sounds like some kind of beauty treatment gone terribly wrong!!
    Glad your trip back was not as bad as the one going…no herds of animals or backing up through the tunnel…must have seemed idylic. lol
    One more week…wow that whole thing went so fast. Seems like just yesterday we were being introduced to the woman in Uzbekistan with coiled snakes on her blouse…the unforgettable Ludmilla at the Yurt camp.