Byrdmouse is a devoted husband and father that says what's on his mind even if no one else agrees with him.

In fact, especially if no one else agrees with him

American Soil

On the last of July I went to the American Consulate on the far side of Herat. It was nice to touch American soil if only briefly, but along the way I enjoyed the sights of life that passed by. American Consulate in Herat

At one point along the way I noticed a motorcycle parked on the side of the road. There were some small trees that made for a nice landscaping job along the road. As is normally the case there was a ditch beside the road and since the trees were watered recently by a truck (I'm sure it was tasked specifically to water the landscaping) there was water in the ditch. Two passengers of the motorcycle were sitting in the shade and one was using the water of the ditch to refresh himself, splashing it over his head. Being that this is still in the middle of Ramadan he probably wasn't drinking it, but he was using it.

When we crossed the Hari Rud River it is over a long bridge but there isn't much water. The river flows weakly throughout the year with a three-month spurt of real water. Normally there is only one spot with any water in it. I suspected it was shallow but on the way up I saw a motorcycle driving across it. Not the bridge, the bike went through the water. On the way back I saw a family stopped on the flat portion that serves as a bank during the 9 months of decreased flow. I'm not sure if they had made an excursion there just to see the water or if they were on their way to somewhere else, but there are lots of vehicles doing the same thing every time I cross the bridge.

The majority of the aid stations I see on the bases I've been on have had red crescent moons on them. Some have had the cross we all expect in the States, but the Red Crescent is much bigger here than the Red Cross. This is part of the reason it surprised me to see a giant cadeuses on each of the main gates leading in to the hospital. The history of the cadeuses as a Jewish event of healing startled me. Of course there is also a history of some of Saul's descendants settling in the Herat area. I was told they abandoned the town in the late 40s early 50s not long after Israel was founded but there is still a place referred to as Jew's Field somewhere in Herat.

A Zarang

Now I've mentioned the vehicles on the streets before. Cars, vans, trucks, zarangs, motorcycles, and bicycles. Zarangs are interesting three-wheeled vehicles. They are to the motorcycle what an El Camino is to the car. Sort of a conglomerate motorcycle, trailer, taxicab, vendor cart vehicle. They are all over. Most vans I see have the rear seats removed and have benches on the side walls because there are people crammed into the back. One guy always has the important job of holding on to the gate because they open the back gate when stopped and sometimes while driving to allow air flow in the back of the loaded vans. The trucks often have seats in the back, but even if they don't they tend to either be loaded down with cargo or people. Even some of the motorcycles and zarangs have from time to time a trailer overloaded with wood or metal or any other supply of things that are being transported from place to place, typically at a very slow speed.

There do not appear to be many rules of the road. Most of the roads in the town either have a concrete curb in the middle or a spot not quite the width of a vehicle where the pavement is not placed. On some streets there are cars parked over this non-paved portion of the road. Intersections are an amazing mass of things going in opposite directions. There are no stop signs, yield signs, traffic lights, and normally not even a police officer directing traffic. People just go where they want when they want. The truly amazing part is that I have not seen a single accident. Plenty of scraped, dented, and dinged vehicles, but not one accident. One car cut in front of us, in between the two vehicles to our right, then proceeded to go into a parking lot where one car was pulling out (in a similar fashion) all while a pedestrian crossed the lot opening. No one sped up or slowed down, even the pedestrian. But not one single bumper kissed.

Everyone seems to disobey the non-existent rules, but unlike in the States, everyone helps everyone breaking the rules. When we cross into the oncoming traffic lane to pass a slow-moving vehicle piled high with cargo, the oncoming traffic just slides a little to their right to get on the shoulder so we have the room to pass. Even still, it was a bit unnerving when we crossed the unpaved part of the road to pass the two "lanes" of traffic we couldn't get around. The chaos of traffic is simply amazing to watch.

The Consulate is by definition American soil, so I was able to briefly be at home. And on the day I returned briefly home I realized my greatest lesson of the Afghanistan trip yet. On our way out of the city we passed three boys on the side of the road wrestling. Again it hammered home the point. No matter that this country has been in a constant state of turmoil throughout its multi-thousand year existence. No matter that there has been almost constant war for the last thirty years. No matter where you go, it is someone's home. Someone laughs, plays, grows up, and knows of no life beside this one. And life is never all bad.


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