This month I finally got around to one of my original goals when starting this job...getting out to see more of the countryside. I embarked on a trip that took me to Kunduz, Takhar, and Badakhshan provinces. I met a lot of people and it turned out to be great workwise and gave me a greater sense of the country I'm working in.
Kunduz has good German food at the Lapis Lazuli guesthouse, Taloqan has a small core of really cool people, and the folks from AKF showed me a good time in Fayzabad. I didn't end up taking so many pictures because frankly the landscape looked just like a less dramatic version of California. The coolest part of the drive was the road between Taloqan and Rustaq (specifically after Puli Begam). The "road" is pictured...we actually we riding along the riverbed for a while and the bits which look kinda like pavement are really the water. That's another point, so many days of unpaved roads leave you exhausted.
Another thing that amazed me is how--and I know this sounds odd--homogenous the country is. With the exception of being able to get fish near the Amu, I'm disappointed that all you find is qabili pulaw, monochromatic lamb kabab, and week vegetable khoreshes. More stunning is that they all taste the same everywhere. I'm starting to get the feeling that the synthesis of the Afghan identity has been remarkably successful and that the problem rather lies in society's difficult relationship with modernity. All sorts of pre-modern praxes have individually been nationalised and modernised but are in the present context incompatible and often hypocritical. One example being hour the 'science of honour' has been perfected amongst women (more and better ways have been found to keep their honour beyond reproach) which complete ignores the fact that it's way too expensive to cordon off one half of society into limited and pre-ordained roles.
The construction of the road between Kesham and Fayzabad is also something really amazing. It involves some pretty impressive terraforming and it's rare that you see a road of this size being built where there is no pre-existing alignment. I got the sense that the engineers were just having fun in some instances by trying to make the job more difficult. Sometime rather than build the road into the more amenable gradually sloping opposite bank of the river, they were blasting away 1500m sheer rockfaces to make way for it.