A young man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk...and apparently, back again.

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Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

The details of my life are quite inconsequential, really. Summers in Rangoon...luge lessons...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Jbad to Agam, Part I

I got outside the wire this past weekend, a couple hours' drive away, and attempted to scribble a running diary of sorts (no easy task on Afghan "roads") as the convoy transited areas that were all new for me, starting with Jalalabad itself.

This little city is incredibly poor, but to the villagers who pour in each morning, it's likely the center of wealth. The place is teeming with activity at 7 a.m. Ramshackle shops (I actually wrote "ramshackle" in my little book) crowd each other alongside the road, forming a sort of ancient strip mall, a mix of uneven timber and scrap metal holding them together.

Carts pulled by donkeys and horses are everywhere approaching and in town. They jostle with bicycles, jingle trucks, "tongas" (3-wheeled, brightly colored, bubble-shaped meter-maid vehicles, pictured above), tractors with carts, and boys leading farm animals. The horns they love to play are hysterical medleys, like Rodney Dangerfield's golf cart in Caddyshack.

Total chaos in town: chokepoints are everywhere, there are no boundaries whatsoever to the roads (aside from the one divided stretch above), and at random points, roads simply end and you must cut over to where another one started up, even in the center of the city. I wrote "Paved portions INCREDIBLY haphazard!" to describe the way in which they allocate their paving funds.

The donkeys are tiny and very comical when they run, but they pull such heavy loads! They're worked hard, as are horses, which always look skeletal. It really throws your sense of time and place into a tailspin seeing these everywhere in the region's capital city.

One of the city's gates. For all we know, the banner could be saying "Go away, American pig-dogs", but I would hope the interpreter sitting next to me in the HMMWV would say something if that was the case.

Palms near the city's gates show how desert-tropical the weather is here. Check out the roadside repair on the car--a constant sight here. But my favorite part of this photo is the two adorable girls at bottom left, cheering us on our drive.

Taking one road to a destination in Afghanistan literally means going straight until a dead end blocks you, then figuring out which direction is the likeliest way the "road" continues, over and over again on your route. The desert right outside Jalalabad is a stark, rocky place for many miles.

An Afghan grave hill. Right about here, I wrote: "Roads are beyond terrible outside city. Like driving through a quarry...a Flinstones quarry. I have newfound respect for drivers and their backs." Any sort of paving had long since ended by this point, and the potholes put NYC to shame.

The road took us into some insanely tight villages, which wouldn't be as nerve-wracking if the stone walls on each side were more than a foot or two from the sides of our vehicles. But that's not the worst part...

The Afghan drivers are! At this moment, I wrote: "Almost bad accident as road dips in culvert, walled in tight, with oncoming traffic whip around bend of 90 degrees." I tried yelling "Go back to Jersey!" at them, but they didn't catch my drift.

Pardon us, for interrupting your day of...doing nothing. I'm sorry, but it gets a little hard to understand the Afghan daily life when leisure time is plentiful for the men, but the few women we see are carrying loads or toiling at some labor (the others we don't see are surely doing the same).

Ah, a paved stretch of road again! In an inexplicable place of course, except that the district subgovernor may live maybe it's not so random. See if you can make out the snow-covered mountains through the morning haze.

Damn it, back to rocks! But excited to be up in some mountains, on our way to a school opening...that's why I was headed to Agam on this excursion. More to follow.

A note to the family and friends of Lt. Powell: thank you for writing in! It was great to see such a huge response. The bagpiper story was picked up by Fort Drum's paper (and I hear some other media outlets), so others out there are reading about your boy.


Blogger emma said...

Great travel diary! And great blog, keep up the good work.

March 28, 2006 at 8:04 PM  
Blogger kbug said...

Alot of your pictures and descriptions remind me of a mission trip I made with the youth group at our church to a small colonia in Mexico. The rocky dirt roads; the horrible drivers; the donkey-pulled carts; the ramshackle buildings made of metal, wood, mud, or anything else that could be found; the poor people; and the starving animals. Yeah, it sounds very familiar, but there was one difference, people weren't trying to kill us. Stay safe...

March 28, 2006 at 8:26 PM  
Anonymous margaret said...

Thank you for the tour. My husband is in Afghanistan and he tries to describe the poor conditions mixed with the beauty of the country, so you were like another set of eyes for me. It helps to feel in touch with his surrondings. Keep doing what you're doing and stay safe doing it!

March 29, 2006 at 4:20 AM  
Anonymous hope said...

Another interesting entry from Capt. Dan. These pictures remind me of a trip I took to Thailand. It's amazing to see how poor people are in other parts of the world. We always hear about it but don't believe it until we see it for ourselves. I hope you're doing well there and staying safe!

March 29, 2006 at 8:01 AM  
Blogger I Love Jeets said...

Is it me or does the car you were riding it bare a striking resemblance to my old Beater? Except of course it doesn't have as many dents or streaks of green paint from when I was side-swiped near Newark... damn, I miss that car.

Cool pics. Jalalabad is Jalalacool!

March 29, 2006 at 9:58 AM  
Blogger Major John said...

Aw, c'mon - those roads weren't that bad - just you wait, you'll see worse! If possible, try to get into a Hilux - they handle the narrow stuff better than a HMMWV 9plus the can slip through some of the rough stuff.

March 29, 2006 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger I Love Jeets said...

Way to go, Falco!

March 29, 2006 at 12:03 PM  
Anonymous Paco's News said...

Line of the day (which I intend to adopt for use with certain individuals at work):
"Pardon us, for interrupting your day of...doing nothing."

March 29, 2006 at 2:30 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Tim said...


Did I love jeets mention getting sideswiped in Newark? Is her real name "Judy" as in Daniel Larusso's "Judy" from Newark. Elizabeth Shue buried her.

Keep up the good work Danny!

Just lay off the jersey driver lines...remember your roots.

March 30, 2006 at 1:03 PM  

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