Saturday, September 20, 2008

Into Afghanistan (sort of)

As I posted recently we decided against travelling to Afghanistan because the risks didn't seem worth the reward. Still, after living a stone's throw from the Afghan border for several weeks and seeing all of the villages and people on the other side of the river I have to admit there was still a draw. As a result we decided to do the next best thing to going there, which was the Afghan market at Ishkashim. The Afghan border post is on an island in the middle of the river, and every Saturday there is a market on the neutral zone between the countries.

We caught a mini-bus from Khorog and had a scenic 3 hour drive along the river in a very comfortable chinese van. I have gotten very tired of Russian jeeps since the windows only come up to my neck and I spend most of the time looking at the ceiling or slouched down trying to see outside. This is made worse by the lack of suspension and bad roads which send me crashing into the roof at regular intervals. It was nice to be in a well-designed vehicle with big windows and comfortable seats!

We left our passport at the border and walked across the bridge to a stone courtyard. And we were in Afghanistan. It was amazing. The men were all wearing traditional Afghan clothing and everyone had beards. There were no women at all except for a few from the Tajik side. People spoke Persian and once again, after months learning a few words of Russian, we were in a place where we didn't have the first word in common with anyone.

Everyone was incredibly friendly even though we couldn't talk to them very much. A few people spoke some English and invited us to come to Afghanistan to stay with them. People loved having their pictures taken. For the most part I think we played the part of nice Canadians well although we committed a bit of a blunder when be bought two cokes and opened them (they don't have Coke on the Tajik side). In Tajikistan Ramazan isn't a big deal for most people and you can eat freely, but in Afghanistan eating or drinking while everyone else is fasting is a major no-no. As soon as we realized our crime we put the cokes in our pockets and drank them outside.

The market itself wasn't that exciting unfortunately as there are no tourists in this area so nobody sells the types of things tourists would find interesting. Most of what was being sold was basic food stuffs, some fabrics, and a few car parts. I did manage to score a complete Afghan outfit which should look great at Burning Man next year.

All in all it was a great experience and it made us sad that circumstances are such that we couldn't cross the border entirely. The NE corner of Afghanistan looks amazing and the footpaths we see across the river would make for some remarkable hiking from village to village. Maybe one day we will return to this part of the world when circumstances are better. Until then our hopes are with the Afghani people. History has dealt them a bad hand and we hope that things turn around for them and their country.

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