Random PicturesOld Blue | Sunday, March 4th, 2012 | 2 Comments »
I’ve had numerous requests for more pictures, so let’s see what we can do…
For some reason, this version of WordPress only allows three sizes of pictures, and the largest winds up cutting the picture up. Each of these can be downloaded to see much more detail. My camera is a five year old HP Photosmart on its third tour, but it’s got the most effective anti-shake of anything I’ve seen, so I keep using it even though three tours in a grenade pouch has made it cranky and temperamental.
There is a lot of really interesting architecture in Mazaar-e Sharif. Afghans have a strong sense of aesthetics. It may not always jibe with our own… take jingle trucks, for example. But it is a sense of aesthetics, and sometimes the results can be very interesting. Every Afghan city is a kaleidoscope of styles, from traditional mud and straw to metal and glass.
Sometimes I try to juxtaposition the Rockies-like beauty of the Hindu Kush with the accouterments of conflict. There is something stark about mountains in winter which may seem to forbid human access, but there is something even more stark about concertina wire, the only reason for which is to forbid human access. Beauty and the beastly.
It turns out that mud and straw construction is a pretty good construction solution in this country. It’s not something completely foreign to us, when we call it adobe.
Of course, “adobe” sounds so much more quaint than, “mud.” But it’s not uncommon to see technology and tradition mix in unlikely ways. Satellite dishes on traditionally -constructed houses. Afghans on Facebook, Twitter, blogging.
The city of Mazar-e Sharif is a sprawling city. It’s daily patterns are probably more similar to a large city in America around the turn of the 20th century than our patterns of life are today.
The same challenges, the same issues with electricity, services, law enforcement. Except that the extremes are greater now. You can have a dirt lot and a banking center that does direct deposits side by side. From a distance, you can’t tell that this is a city in Central Asia. It just looks like a city.
When we drive through the city, I see daily life unfolding all around us. We are separate. We are in a bubble that travels through the life that goes on all around us. Iron bubbles, steel elephants that make their way through the streets of people leading challenging lives. When I watch movies about, say, gangsters in Chicago or in New York in the heyday of the bootleggers, I think that the everyday people were affected by them in one way, shape or form. The average family just had to hope that they never showed up on the radar screen of someone like Al Capone. Or that they never had to consider borrowing money from a mafioso. Here, it is similar. Organized criminals, politically-motivated insurgents, warlords who know that you can’t spell “warlord” without “war;” all have their impact on the lives of the little guy trying to make a living. The parents, the young men trying to make their mark on the world and feeling the allure of easier money, street cred, a little power and influence.
Our own libraries are full of the cautionary tales from similar times. Our own history shows examples of criminality, or corruption, of political dynasties run amok.
But here, we rumble through these daily human dramas in our metal bubbles, insulated from all knowledge of what these individuals and families are going through. We don’t know what their concerns are and can only guess. We are insulated from them by our blast-resistance. We are kept from them by inches of ballistic laminate viewing material. We are held aloft by massive tires to make room for our blast-deflecting hull shape as we shuttle along our way. We are a momentary distraction in the day of those who are living in these neighborhoods.
We will never know them. And they will never know us. We will never have a conversation. They will never hear me speak my limited Dari. I will never hear their opinions, their concerns; hear their viewpoint.
But we sleep securely at night in our massive camp. Guarded by the snack that smiles back.
PS… I hate the way that this turns out, but the layout is really difficult to manage and I hope you can forgive me for that.