INGULFED

(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

Archive for kabul

Cool off the Press: Breakfast with the Taliban

For the original, from the Daily Outlook Afghanistan in Kabul: click here.

One Saturday in June, traffic was light on the road from Kabul to the town of Bamyan, nestled deep in a high valley lined with sandstone cliffs 240 kilometers to the northwest. But for all the paving efforts that have made it among the smoothest in the country, this route from the Afghan capital through the 10,000-foot-high Shibar pass is less than perfect. One week earlier, head of Bamiyan’s provincial council Jawad Zahak had been targeted and dragged from his convoy by the Taliban. Four days ago, they told me in the car, he was beheaded. Hussein pointed: “Right… wait — there.”

I had found a tour company online and guessed an email address from a mush of pixels. Success came in the confirmation of a car that would deliver me from outside the dead-bolted orange gates of my hotel in Kabul to their lodge in Bamiyan. At six a.m., I was late. The hubcap-less white sedan drew a stark contrast to the polished and armored SUVs that take westerners to get mango milkshakes. And there were four men inside. Open the mind’s floodgates: this seems infinitely more kidnappy.
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A Berry, Good Trip

100th Post!

(*not including all the photo ones)


The road to Kunduz, the last city stronghold of the Taliban, before they fell in 2001.

Afghanistan: Epilogue

After four hours on our way back from Bamiyan, we took a detour at a car wash/berry stand for a detour into the heavenly Panjshir valley. We had just passed a convoy of military trucks and emerged from the dirty, windy roads of Taliban territory onto smooth highway. Gull, my guide and the founder of the new Rah-e-Abrisham tour agency, looked infinitely happier. We waited while two boys meticulously sprayed and scrubbed the car back to white, and looked out at the road ahead: the road to Panjshir was safe, controlled only in parts by mafias — those who dealt in drugs, not people — and most of them could be bribed.

The berries were outside the town of Charikar, and we ordered them from the mechanic by claiming a woven dish of many thousands of white, pink, and purple fruits that resembled mini raspberries, and popping them into our mouths with scientific precision. The darker berries were the sweetest, sometimes too much so. The whitest were tart, and the pink and multi-colored could be anywhere in the middle. Gull and Ali Akbar, our fearless driver, were experts. Flitting across the surface with their fingertips, they avoided the mushiest and would put together a cocktail of two or three berries of different colors to toss back in the cup of their palm. Only I ever put four together or had one alone. After half an hour, in the pile wider than a large New York pizza, we had made respectable damage and returned the basket to its roadside table, where it waited under the shade for the next hungry travelers.

There is a checkpoint somewhere along the silver Panjshir river. The jagged walls of the gorge shoot up almost vertically, and a guard waved from a booth chiseled into the rock face for me to display my passport. There are small towns along the road, or by the wrong turns we took, but most of this detour is uneventful. For brief moments, with early afternoon light just right, wide open fields are golden with grain. But the big pay-off comes suddenly, right around one final turn…


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Firsthands On — مباشر من كابول

Afghanistan: Part One

The dispatcher at the taxi stand was confused; I was a paradox. “But… you’re wearing Pakistani clothes!” And yet, I had the Urdu skills of a wooden chair. At the airport, my looks earned me little but… was it discrimination? The metal detector security guard merely grunted and poked, assuming a man in my dress would be unable to understand words in any language. I thanked him in an Arabic unaccented by any South Asian phonology… American maybe… maybe French. Eyes widened.

Deep down, I think the entire week’s travels were underwritten by a mantra burning under my tongue at all times: Stereotype this, fuckers! To Pakistanis in Abu Dhabi, I was at first fellow Pashtun but soon an idiosyncratic western tourist; to Arabs I was a laborer… with an American passport; sitting in the airport terminal, I was at first look a resource to Afghans searching with questions in Pashto for their gate, but soon just Lebanese, for that was what I told them. To me, Afghanistan was half war-zone, half news imagery, half quotes and impressions, observations and assertions disconnected from their footnotes. The other half was blank. When I landed in Kabul in Afghan shalwar kamees and Pashtun sandals, I joined the files of other men in the same clothes, in similar chappal, with comparable skin tone — I wanted to be blank, too.


Sharp brown mountains and splashes of greenery flowed toward the capital as the plane landed. A small group in western clothes with boxes of gear mixed with the passengers in hats, vests, colors boisterously disembarking. Military planes roosted along the runway; a pair of helicopters kicked up dust. Commercial budget airlines are all parked mixed up together like parents’ cars out on a suburban street, waiting for kids at a bar mitzvah.

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