Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Koochis and their camels

I am getting to know the neighborhood where I’m living better, mainly because we take a different route to the station everyday (security precaution). There is a lot of war damage, and the more I see of Kabul, the more I see the devastation of war. In the late 80s, the warlords would just bomb neighborhood after neighborhood until they were piles of rubble. I imagine the streets were impassable. Thousands and thousands were killed. And it was all Afghan on Afghan. And what a sin, because the untouched areas are very interesting. Trees grow well here.

The streets are connected in many places by little traffic circles. There are broad sidewalks and little pocket parks. Some of the few surviving blocks of buildings are hundreds of years old and lean into each other like European medieval villages that tourists love. Sadly, there is so much devastation in some places that it’s hard to imagine why people stayed at all. Bombing someone back to the stone age? Kabul’s been there, done that. I sometimes think about organizing an “end of the world tour;” See what the end of WWIII will look like—visit Kabul!

Yesterday I saw a colorfully dressed extended family heading out of town with 4 camels packed high with wrapped packages. Of course they were walking in the middle of a traffic-choked street, and of course people drove their cars right on the camels’ heels, honking their horns. The little kids in the family caravan whizzed between car and camel. An old man dressed in a flowing robe and turban paid no attention to the ruckus, but waved a stick which the camels followed religiously.

I didn’t have my camera. Time travel? This is not culture shock, this is culture electrocution. Just rub your eyes and say—what a cool dream. The drivers told me these were Koochi people. They ride into Kabul to trade, then head back a couple hundred miles and a thousand years to their nomadic desert homeland. So within this broken down city, there are amazing snippets of an amazing world. I wanted to follow the Koochis and their camels.

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