Bamiyan Buddha Afghan Commemerative Stamps

When I was a kid, I collected stamps. So when I came across this little gem, I had to pick it up. These stamps are from the time before the Soviet invasion. The time of King Zahir Shah. The last King of Afghanistan. They’re a link to a time when Afghanistan was at peace with itself. When it’s peoples were mostly just neighbors to one another. Before bin Laden and Mullah Omar. A time before sucide bombers and taliban and ruined cities and foreign occupations. This was a time when Afghans looked on their Western visitors as merely strange figures on whom they visited warm hospitality. It was a time when visitors were considered guests and were treated as such. ‘The pushtoon code meant something and the mehmet was indeed a welcomed and honoured guest whether they were Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or Jew. Westerners weren’t peace keepers. We weren’t soldiers or policemen or civlian contractors for America or ISAF or NATO soldiers. Westerners were merely visitors with strange behaviors. Strangers who seemed to have an even stranger affinity for opium and hashish. Merchants from the West in search of carpets and tapestries, emeralds and rubies and lapis to sell in their homelands.

Back then, the hippy trail ran through Iran to Herat and on to Kabul. Lone travelers came and left unmolested. The Mustafa Hotel in Kabul gave some respite and a chance to shake off the dust of the road. It still stands and the occasional brave traveler stops there for a night or two until he moves on into Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal and India. I have read that some of the hippy communities still exist in Goa. I’m sure that there are others. Guys who dropped out of the West and traveled to Asia in search of peace or freedom or a final escape.

Afghanistan actually knew peace back in those days. Before the communists came and ruined everything. The King was attempting to make reforms. Give women rights. Construct a constitution. Educate his people and move them into the 20th Century.

What might have been.

So this is a “peace” of that time. A memento as the Afghans like to say. A small reminder that Afghanistan was not always as it finds itself now.

Interesting PDF on the Bamian Buddha Destruction

Driving in Afghanistans Capital City — Kabul

A few days before I left Kabul in September 2006, I decided to take one last tour of the city. Kabul has to be experienced to be believed. One must live there. Awaken there. Sleep there. Breath in it’s polluted, dusty air. Hear the sounds of it’s loud cacophonous symphony of madness. As foreign a city as a Westerner will ever experience, it’s a smaller, more chaotic version of Cairo, Egypt. Traffic makes no sense. Mass transit is a hazard to your health. Millie Buses will run out in front of anything and the black smoke that blows from the exhaust will both blind and asphyxiate you. People are always out in traffic. Yellow Taxi’s will run you off the road. UN convoys or Embassy Convoys drive as if they own not only the roads but the city as well. Plus, you have the bonus sensation of never knowing when an IED or suicide bomber might decide to make it your lucky day. Blue Burqas everywhere. Beggers and other street people standing in the middle of the road. Kids with “lucky smoke cans.” Armed guards are everywhere. Stopping traffic so that their boss may safely exit and enter traffic. The security forces of Embassy officials will shoot at you if you come too close. General Dostum and other Afghani officials security will run you off the road. Afghani police at various junctures will attempt to stop you and extort monies from you. I’ve seen Afghani being pulled out of their vehicles by local police. Trash dumps surrounded by goats and children at random junctures throughout the city. There is no rhyme and certainly no reason to the city. The only certainty is that you will be confronted with chaos, corruption and poverty at every instant. The only other constant is Islam. For good or bad, Islam reigns supreme with it’s burqas, muezzins, mullahs and mosques.

This city and it’s peoples are still in recovery from the past 30 years of war and catastrophe.

Kabul is madness. Pandemonium. “Pure pandalirium!” as Jeff Foxworthy might say.

Even so, I’ve always been a bit stir crazy and can’t stay confined to a safe house, hotel or base camp for too long without losing my sanity.

Kabul has it’s charms. I can’t count the times that a traffic cop has asked me to pull over and have tea with him. People smile at you on the streets if you venture out enough. Babur’s Gardens. Wazir Akhbar Khan District. The Serena and Intercontinental Hotels. Chicken Street must be experienced to be believed.

Ror–the cat who replaced me–had asked me to take him on a ride to show him around Kabul. Best places to shop. Places of interest such as Massoud Circle, Kabul International Airport, a couple of good restaurants…and other places that might be “fun” to hang out. The way to Camp Eggers and the US Embassy Compound.

So, off we went. Our vehicle was nondescript. Nothing out of the ordinary. I kept it dirty on purpose because Afghani vehicles are universally dust covered. Kabul is a dusty city. The only clean vehicles are Coalition, UN or US owned. I didn’t want to stand out in that manner. Become a target for a bicycle borne IED. Not my idea of a good day. Additionally, I try to drive exactly like the Afghanis. They drive wildly. No rhyme or reason. No real traffic laws. There aren’t any traffic signal lights or signs. The only traffic control are the cops in the circles and they are universally ignored.

It’s always an adventure on the road in the capital city.

I took Ror to see Chicken Street where you can buy every and anything from real and forged Greek coins to Chinese Rugs being sold as Persian Rugs to sapphires, rubies and emeralds to actual (illegal) Persian Rugs. It’s a great place to find a bargain. But because of the influx of foreigners the bargains are becoming more and more difficult to come by these days.

We swing by the U.S. Embassy, ISAF HQ and Camp Eggers…Massoud Circle….Kabul Airport and various other places such as Wazir Akhbar Khan District with it’s underground drinking establishments and the beautiful (and some not so beautiful) “waitresses” of the Chinese “Restaurants.” Then we get lost. I make a turn into a part of Kabul in which I had never ventured. We wound up lost for about a 1/2 hour. Eventually, I get my bearings and we cruise back to Camp Phoenix.

Later, when I return to Afghanistan with MPRI, I will stay in the Safi-Landmark hotel. This just happens to be in the area in which Ror and I were lost that day.

Jalalabad Road

This is Jalalabad Road. As the name implies, it’s the primary road from Kabul to Jalalabad. When I first arrived in the capital, it was not terribly dangerous in the explosive sense. It was and still is a dangerous place to drive from the perspective that Afghans are horrendous drivers. One need not be licensed to drive. One need only be able to afford a vehicle. But you didn’t have to look over your shoulder for suicide bombers. I think there were 5 or 6 hits in 2006. These days, the road gets hit 2 or 3 times in a month and Kabul will get hit a couple more times. Most of it aimed at Afghan forces. Mainly the ANP. By hit, of course, I’m talking about IEDs, VBIED, even bike born IEDs. Yes, these idiots will strap a bomb on their back, jump on a bike and aim themselves at an armoured vehicle.

The road is always in bad shape. When I was in the Capital three months ago, it was not much more than two mud tracks. Now they’ve paved it nicely. It may last a while in it’s new and improved incarnation. I suppose that depends on how many IEDs explode on it.

As you cruise down Jalalabad Road heading away from Kabul, you’ll pass most of the Major Afghan Military installations. It’s equivalent to Arlington, VA or Route 50 where you have 8th and I, the Pentagon, Fort Meyer, Arlington National Cemetery, the Hoffman Building and a whole host of other important US Military installations and buildings.

This video was taken back in August of 2006. I was preparing to leave Afghanistan to take a position in Kuwait. I was getting stir crazy so I decided to take my replacement on a tour of the local area. I took him to a Ciano Supermarket. Those guys had booze at that time. You had to ask for it and you had to be a non-National. You could get all the Jack Daniels you wanted but no Maker’s Mark. There are also a few places down in Wazir Akhbar Khan where you could get a drink or two at that time as well–Paradise, The Silk Road, Crazy 8s, 999 and a few others. You could pretty much get anything you want in the Wazir Akhbar Khan District. You can even spend the night with a little rented company if that’s your thing.

Alas, this is no more. All of the Cianas were shut down. There was a huge crack down on all of the underground funhouses. Some have been re-opened. But they aren’t near as entertaining as they used to be. You used to be able to go out and dance the night away. Now, it’s rare to find one of these places with enough patrons to make an impression.

Also, because of all of the recent bombings, US Forces Command and many of the Companies that hire for work over here have put Kabul, and by extension, all of these places off limits. NATO still frequents them as do many employees from your smaller companies in Kabul. Kabul is not quite the quiet backwater that it once was. At least once a week, you hear of some incident in the capital city. Suicide bombings, local nut jobs, IEDs. They say some of these cats are passing through Iran from Iraq to get here to spread their special brand of hell. You hear rumors. Never know what is complete truth and what is mere chaff in the wind.

It’s always exciting here. Enjoy the vid.

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That’s me driving and a billboard of the tea that is a daily part of every Afghani’s life. Imagine the injustice of putting her in a burqa.