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


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

Afghanistan is within the headlines but once more — swiftly, and with nearly no resistance, taken over by Taliban overlords, who envision a medieval-style caliphate. To somebody of my technology, 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 the whole Nineteen Eighties, Afghanistan hobbled the USSR. And now — after spending twenty years, almost a trillion {dollars}, and hundreds 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 Ought to Joe Biden have withdrawn American troops so rapidly?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 preserve discovering ourselves on this similar place.

One factor is obvious: The repeated failures of mighty nations to drive our will on the Afghan individuals is a mirrored image of our ethnocentrism…our incapacity to grasp what motivates them. And utilizing Afghanistan to attain political factors with the American citizens ignores the horrifying human value of the instability that has wracked the lives of on a regular basis Afghans for generations.

In my case, that tragedy is even tougher to look at 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 reminiscences 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 carried out 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 medication, and gazing at dusty glass shows telling tales of European, Aussie, and American backpackers that have been caught with medication 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 test 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 street in Afghanistan, heading for Herat in our packed minibus, the motive force stopped, pulled out a knife that sparkled within the sizzling solar, and mentioned, “Your tickets simply grew to become dearer.” 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 resort’s rooftop watching torchlit chariots charging by means of the evening. Day by 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 primary sq., and eating places had menus with costs actually marked down, and a observe: “Because of Soviet liberation.”

Our bus experience throughout Afghanistan adopted what will need to have been the one paved street throughout the nation (a international support venture). The terrain appeared 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 lads would go to the left facet of the street, and the ladies would collect on the precise facet of the street. Tenting out their large black robes, they might squat en masse.

Truck stops appeared designed to offer 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 will need to have one city heart to be dominated from — a form of city necessity in a land that didn’t actually know what to do with a metropolis. I eyed individuals in uniform who appeared like, till right now, they’d solely ever worn a tribal gown.

As I sat consuming at a backpackers’ cafeteria, a person appeared at my desk. He mentioned, “Might I be a part of you?” I mentioned, “You have already got.” He requested, “Are you an American?” I mentioned, “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 individuals eat with a spoon and fork such as you. A 3rd of the individuals eat with chopsticks. And a 3rd of the individuals 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 the whole 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, unusually, like coming residence. 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 below 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 tough 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 individuals in Pakistan and India.

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

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