Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Circa 1387

On the plane flying from Dubai to Kabul, an an American contractor told me "it's 1387 in Afghanistan".
"What," I said?
"The Muslim year is 1387, and when you get there, you won't be surprised"

It turns out the Muslim year is 1429, (the Persian year, which is what Afghanistan actually uses, is 1387) and in some places the 15th century is indeed not that far off. One of the things that I find most striking is how easily people here are completely isolated from the passage of time. An example:

We're staying just off the Kabul-Jalalabad highway (the main road), about 3km from Jalalabad, the second largest city in the country. Jalalbad is reasonably modern, with cars, some electricity and cellular service. About 1km behind us is the Kabul river. At this time of year it's about 50m across and not particularly energetic.

Directly across the river from us is a village of Kuchi nomads, who have been ironically settled on the bank of the river for about 17 years. The only bridge over the river is in Jbad, about 3k away, and in 17 years the only method they have devised to cross the river is this:
I suppose I shouldn't try to determine causation, as maybe their lack of reasonable river-crossing apparatus is the result of a small desire to cross the river with any frequency, but in any case jumping on one of these inner-tube rafts is like boarding a time machine into the world of subsistence farming, quiet living and age old values.
The communal prayer mat looks over twisting irrigated fields of winter wheat, tilled by wool-clad men with wooden wheeled wheelbarrows. The village water is hauled from a single well with a bucket on a rope, and the women are entirely hidden from sight, save for the girls curiously peeking over the ridge as we paddled away.
Despite the existence of a school almost directly across the river in the village of Bagrami, none of the Kuchi children have had any education. Behind the village, we investigated network of caves that have been used by nomads and fighters of various sorts for centuries...

The rest of the photos tell the story better than I can.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

I once read a great comment in a Vanity Fair article about China's jeopardized water system, "Modernity isn't a time, but a place." Seems to apply where you are too.