When You Run Around Afghanistan Alone And in Shirtsleeves While All Around You Your Fellow Americans Are Barricaded, Bunkered, And Bulletproof-Vested Up, This is What You Can Experience

(but it helps and hurts if your wife has just been killed by cancer and you're eagerly recklessly willing to jump, skid, race down mountains which may be infested with land mines and wade into bazaars where you might not belong)


   

I spent a month in Afghanistan. These are impressions because I am incapable of writing a narrative. I couldn't understand what was happening. The blend of ISAF, contractors, rural, urban, ethnic, religious, very very cold to very very hot after 10 minutes of travel, tricked out donkey carts and satellite phones, vicious kids and earnest kids running the street, the poppy flower image screensaver on my borrowed laptop, men riding motorcycles on the highway with bare feet, rows of shipping containers that people are using as stores, The enemy, the enemy, the enemy talk. There's not one dominant tableau, there are scores of things going on here simultaneously, independently, clashing, contradicting. I felt like I was bombarded with images constantly. I felt like I was in a rushing film. It was the most exhilarating positive experience in my life. I'm very glad I went. Though of course I was destroyed when I got back. It's always like that.

Finally, I went there in 2006. When you read this in 2010 or beyond it won't be timely. But it might be useful. It might be interesting. That is something worthwhile I've sort of decided. It is better, I'm sure, than sticking all these notes and experiences in a box and having them unread. I'm slow but maybe it doesn't matter.

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Just spent six days squeezed painfully into the back space of a four-wheel drive SUV going from Kabul to the northern city of Faisalabad and back.


Caught in a massive horrendous blizzard, almost zero visibility (remnants of buses, vehicles crashed over sides of cliffs); picking up a freezing passenger from a crashed car; picking up two young highway policemen who say they're all living in freezing wet outposts with just blankets trying to get back to their village -- nobody has any gloves, cold weather gear. I gave them gear.

Hundreds of Russian Kamaz trucks passing, trying to pass. In the previous days there was a torrential downpour, what wasn't even really a road is now completely washed away, flooded. But it's Afghanistan so of course we're going to pass it anyway. We seek refuge in this old grim-looking notorious accident plagued Russian Salang tunnel system.



Went through the hospital in Faisalabad - - broken windows, patients in tents outside, a staff member guarding a staircase with a long window cleaner squeegee, raising it up and down to allow people to pass.

Operating room: metal table, blood on the floor, the air smells thick with I don't know what. Child with head wound getting his dressing changed, man in hospital bed, his head wrapped up, the rock that smashed into his skull on top of the cabinet next to his bed, the doctor showing me a cell phone picture he took of the fresh wound, kind of barking at the patient, then announcing to me the man is not going to survive. The doctor is in some sort of Travolta-like suit from Fever but he might be heroic - - running dilapidated hospital, all supplies locked away, abandoned, broken.

There is an acute need for female staff doctors; there are none now. We go into one room and a shocked, sleeping woman jumped up, maybe nurse or aide, no burqa (almost everybody else over about age 10 wears one), flies buzzing around above her headscarf. Into the woman's ward we go and there are all of a sudden twenty or so women uncovered; smiling, friendly and chatty from their beds - - this is the first time I've really heard or seen or felt the presence of women in this country. When they are sick it's somehow allowed.

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