Saturday, March 19, 2005


In all the different places that Pam and I have been, we play a game to find the word that best encapsulates and defines it. In Germany it was "Complicated", London's word was "Character", in Dublin it was "Depression" and in Italy it was "Warm". Afghanistan's word is "Violent"

I can't put my finger on it exactly but everything about this place seems to be violent. It's weather, it's history, it's terrain, even it's climate. It's as though God has allowed all the forces that govern earth to conspire in order to make this the most inhospitable place on earth.

The weather swings from a parching heat that bakes and cracks the clay-like soil, to brutal thunderstorms that turn it into lakes of mud. Eras upon eras ago, the cataclysmic eruption of tectonic plates thrust jagged and harsh mountains thousands of feet above any habital climate. These breath-taking spires now serve to collect untold amounts of snow and ice, store it through the harsh winter months and when the weather finally warms, generating hope for new life and sustenance, they unleash floods and mudslides which simultaneously devastate, commerce, transportation, and any realistic hope of viable agriculture.

The soils that permeate the region are historically reluctant to produce any reasonable quantity of food crops. Those that can be produced may be sufficient to provide for the grower's family if they were able to both store the crop and survive year round on the sole source of sustenance. The survival portion would be endured if the storage part could be managed, but the storage would require a building. Buildings require bricks, and he who controls the brick production controls the region. The crop could be sold, but that would require both transportation and roads in order to move the crop to any semblance of a market. Attempts to improve the roads are resisted and turn violent because that would loosen the local brickmaker landlord's grip on regional power. Additionally, any one attempting to cut swaths through open terrain for an improved road system risks unearthing or detonating any number of the landmines that have been buried throughout the recent history of this country. Rarely a day goes by here that I don't read a report of someone, usually a local national, and all too often a child, critically injured or killed by exposing a mine. Road construction is a dangerous enough occupation without the addition of sniper fire or buried explosives.

These factors would lead any logical person to consider would could be grown in small areas of cleared land which can be easily transported and easily sold. The poppy production is skyrocketing. Violence quickly follows any drug production, and the local farmer trying to make ends meet with his pitiful acreage of poppies is no exception. If it is only the finished product that is seized, the farmer can still try to raise his family living on poppies which explains why we see reports of sick Afghan children being treated with opium because it's all the parents had. When the cash crop is seized by local warlods or eradicated by police or troops, the farmer is then left with the same thing he started with, a family and a piece of clay that grows very little.

We have spent months preparing to deploy to a completely land-locked mountainous desert and within weeks of arriving we find that one of the assets most desperately needed is boats. No, you read correctly, You see, the sun has been out over the area for most of the past few days except for some short and spectacular thunderstorms that come through in the afternoon; just enough to keep a higher than normal moisture content in the non-absorbant soil. Then yesterday, the heavens opened. 10"-12" inches of rain, in the form of raindrops that seemed to be the size small plums, fell inside the span of an hour. The easily saturated soil soon reached capacity and streams with unnavigable currents formed in every open space. The water, rolling off the soil like a sailor' s oilskin, coupled with the already higher than normal runoff from the heavy winter snows quickly turned small streams into raging torrents which was soon washing away vehicles, livestock and people. In one location an island was formed surrounded by these muddy torrents trapping several hundred people and the water still rising. With the no place to land helicopters, and the water too high and fast to ford with vehicles of any type, we quickly deduced the last option to be boats. Unfortunately, the situation is still developing, I can't tell you how it turned out.

Tomorrow is another day. The sun will be out and the lakes will soon be mud. The jingle trucks will still be trying to move unmanagable loads across unnavigable roads brutalized by heavy snows and mudslides. The trucks that do manage the transit will face indiscriminate tolls and taxes by local landlords, or random violence at the hands of anti-coalition militia. Food crops will continue to be too hard to grow in the inhospitable soil and poppys will continue to spring up to garner fast cash in order to provide for families.

When at the end of the day it seems so futile, I realize that the people I see, regardless of the violence the now endure at the hands of the climate and the land, now no longer endure the brutal oppression they have known for as long as any living person has been here. If all we are doing here makes their lives just that much easier, If they can go to schools, or clinics without fear of religous persecution, if they can wear their hair or clothes as the please without fear of torture, then I can lay my head down at the end of the day, and know we are making a difference.

1 comment:

devildog6771 said...

I am glad that you are able to take such an honest look at the situation there and see the good of what you have all done. Good for you.

I know that at times you must all feel terribly frustrated and tired. But you have made a real difference. God bless you all.

Thank you for all the sacrifices you have all made.