Thursday, June 13, 2024

Reflections from a “Journey of a Lifetime” (Actually) in 1978 – Rick Steves’ Journey Weblog


Whereas I do know in any other case, I typically discover myself questioning if the title “Afghanistan” comes from some historical phrase for “tragedy.”

Afghanistan is within the headlines but once more — swiftly, and with virtually no resistance, taken over by Taliban overlords, who envision a medieval-style caliphate. To somebody of my era, this weekend’s occasions really feel like déjà vu from a lifetime of watching that troubled nook of the world. First, in a decade of warfare that spanned almost your complete Eighties, Afghanistan hobbled the USSR. And now — after spending twenty years, almost a trillion {dollars}, and 1000’s of American lives — the USA is studying the identical lesson: This feisty land is reluctant to be dominated.

It’s straightforward to level fingers: Ought to George W. Bush have invaded the nation in 2001? Ought to Donald Trump have made a cope with the Taliban in early 2020? Ought to Joe Biden have withdrawn American troops so rapidly? However finally, no one has the solutions…which is precisely why we maintain discovering ourselves on this identical place.

One factor is evident: The repeated failures of mighty nations to pressure our will on the Afghan folks is a mirrored image of our ethnocentrism…our incapability to know what motivates them. And utilizing Afghanistan to attain political factors with the American voters ignores the horrifying human price of the instability that has wracked the lives of on a regular basis Afghans for generations.

In my case, that tragedy is even more durable to watch as a result of I’ve been so moved by people-to-people contacts I’ve loved in Afghanistan. Watching the information unfold, I discover myself swimming by means of recollections of my journey there in 1978, as a 23-year-old, on the “Hippie Path” from Istanbul to Kathmandu. It was the journey of a lifetime — one which merely couldn’t be finished now. Every border crossing was a drama, and each relaxation cease was a lifelong reminiscence.

On the Iran-Afghanistan border — surrounded by deserted VW vans that had been picked aside by guards searching for medicine, and gazing at dusty glass shows telling tales of European, Aussie, and American backpackers that have been caught with medicine and doing time in Afghan jails — we stored our packs on our laps (so nobody may plant something unlawful in them) and awaited the physician to examine our vaccinations. My journey accomplice, Gene, wanted a shot, and I nonetheless bear in mind the boring needle bending because it struggled to interrupt his pores and skin.

As soon as on the highway in Afghanistan, heading for Herat in our packed minibus, the driving force stopped, pulled out a knife that sparkled within the sizzling solar, and stated, “Your tickets simply turned costlier.” An Indian traveler calmed the righteous uproar from us Individuals, and all of us paid the welcome-to-Afghanistan complement.

In Herat, the city and cultural heart of western Afghanistan, we stood on our lodge’s rooftop watching torchlit chariots charging by means of the night time. Every single day was an odyssey — not of sightseeing points of interest as such, however merely wandering by means of markets and gardens and random neighborhoods. This was shortly after a communist coup backed by the USSR. A Soviet tank was parked on the principle sq., and eating places had menus with costs actually marked down, and a be aware: “Because of Soviet liberation.”

Our bus journey throughout Afghanistan adopted what should have been the one paved highway throughout the nation (a international assist venture). The terrain regarded like an arid wasteland. I bear in mind the monotony of a roadside damaged by cemeteries, dusty forests of higgledy-piggledy tombstones within the desert. Even with 50 passengers, bathroom breaks lasted just some minutes: The bus would cease in the course of nowhere, the boys would go to the left facet of the highway, and the ladies would collect on the correct facet of the highway. Tenting out their large black robes, they’d squat en masse.

Truck stops appeared designed to provide the bus driver an opportunity to smoke cannabis. At one, I bear in mind a circle of males sitting on their haunches and passing round no matter they have been smoking as all of them watched a goat being skinned.

Kabul was the one actual metropolis within the nation. It appeared prefer it existed solely as a result of a county should have one city heart to be dominated from — a type of city necessity in a land that didn’t actually know what to do with a metropolis. I eyed folks in uniform who regarded like, till at the moment, they’d solely ever worn a tribal gown.

As I sat consuming at a backpackers’ cafeteria, a person appeared at my desk. He stated, “Could I be a part of you?” I stated, “You have already got.” He requested, “Are you an American?” I stated, “Sure.”

After which he went right into a well-worn spiel: “I’m a professor right here in Afghanistan. And I need you to know that on this world, a 3rd of the folks eat with a spoon and fork such as you. A 3rd of the folks eat with chopsticks. And a 3rd of the folks eat with their fingers. And we’re all civilized simply the identical.”

This encounter turned out to be some of the impactful in my life — like your complete remainder of my go to to Afghanistan, it walloped my ethnocentricity and rearranged my cultural furnishings.

A spotlight of any overland journey to India was leaving Afghanistan by crossing the fabled Khyber Move. We have been scared little Westerners, sitting on the bus, baggage dutifully on our laps, understanding that we have been almost to India — which would appear, surprisingly, like coming dwelling. Our bus ticket got here with a “safety complement” to ensure protected passage. This price was paid to the autonomous tribes who “dominated” the area between the capital metropolis and its border with Pakistan. Rolling beneath their stony fortresses, with wind-tattered flags (that had nothing to do with Afghanistan) and bearded sentries toting classic rifles, I used to be more than pleased to have paid that little further price.

Popping out of the cruel and arid mountains of Afghanistan, a wide-open and humid plain opened up. The stoniness of Iran and Afghanistan was behind us. And forward stretched a billion folks in Pakistan and India.

With this put up, I’m kicking off a seven-day collection that includes pictures from my journey and excerpts from my 1978 journal by means of Afghanistan. (I wrote this essay from fuzzy recollections; upcoming entries have been diligently written every night time, recounting that day’s adventures on this fascinating land.) Keep tuned, and let’s maintain the Afghan folks in our ideas and prayers.

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