Friday, July 16, 2010

Places In Between

I have not been completely frivolous in my reading since being put on disability due to my cancer and the need for surgery and treatment. One of the motre interesting boks I've read was Rory Stewart's "The Places in Between." It records his walk from Herat in western Afghanistan across various snow-covered mountains -- starting in January 2002, no less, just after the Taliban was thrown out -- to Kabul, a trek that took him 36 days, all on foot. There was no electricity along the route he traveled, but various valleys controlled by different tribes. These places were generally isolated from the rest of the country. In some valleys the ousting of the Taliban made a difference in who controlled the local region, and in some valleys it made no difference.

Stewart took money with him so he could buy food if it was for sale in a marketplace in some of the villages he visited, but for the most part he depended on the ancient Muslim custom of hospitality to strangers (the fact that he was British rather than American and spoke some local dialects probably helped). He had some rough patches - youngsters threw rocks at him and at the mastiff dog he adopted along the way more than once, and some people with Kalashnikovs started out rather hostile -- but he made it. He incorporates some history into his observations -- he was in fact following a path taken by Babur, the first Mughal emperor of India. It was quite an adventure. I think his experience helps to point up the difficulty of establishing an effective central government in Afghanistan, let alone a reasonably honest one. The local villages he visited were isolated and felt no desire to have a central government meddling with the way the elders ran things.

Definitely worth reading.

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