Scenes from the real Mazar-e-Sheriff [PICS]
Snapshots of daily life in Afghanistan from Mazar-e-Sheriff, Jalalabad and the Panjeer River Valley.
IN MY SIX MONTHS of travel around Afghanistan in 2010, the hunger protests in Mazar-e-Sheriff, however brief, strengthened my hopes for a more unified nation.
Street children in Mazar-e-Sheriff protest in front of the downtown police station Monday, October 24, 2010.
Mazar is an hour’s drive south of the border with Uzbekistan. I got there just a few days before the Eid feast celebrating the end of Ramadan. Jamal Hakimi was on LAM FM radio, blasting Kabul politicians while a wave of 200 street kids, ages 8-25, gathered itself up and crashed on the police station in the center of town. Hoisting pick-axes and wheelbarrows, on dirty cloth-wrapped feet, the crowd assembled at the station gates to demonstrate against the lack of food for the poor. A Tajik boy lobbed a muddy sandal that bounced off one police officer’s AK-47 rifle. Clusters of kids suffocated each other rushing to show cell phone videographers a fist.
It changed my perception of poverty-stricken Afghan youth. I had them boxed as feral thieves who own a swatch of their village and a swatch of their tribe but shy away from the national dialogue. I thought of them as too steeped in local disputes and the hustle for food to gang together for better governance.
The Mazar street kids proved me wrong.
That Ramadan fast ended in a rush of outraged, desirous Uzbek, Tajik, Hazzara and Pashtun kids who got organized and leveraged the Eid holiday to make a four-hour statement.
Even more inspiring: the police who stood down, rerouted traffic and gave out bread afterward. All photos by Daniel C. Britt.
Street children in Mazar-e-Sheriff protest in front of the central police station Monday, October 24, 2011. They called for local authorities to feed the homeless during the winter months. Britt.
A group of boys climb into the Buddhist caves in Jalalabad. Around 272 BC, the labyrinth of caves was an Ashoka monastery. Now it's more of a local's hang-out-smoke-hash kind of place. Most of the kids were great also guides. The one second from the top was a bit peculiar in that he popped a squat every time I raised my camera to take a photo. He was also the most aggressive pickpocket I'd ever met. Britt.
Jamal Hakimi, 21, exhales a plume of hookah smoke at Qaillon, the smoke shack near the main mosque in central Mazar-e-Sheriff. The local radio celebrity was a great guide. He was always easy to find, rocking that metallic silver sport coat. We smoked too long on the cushions in this hermetic little room. Cold oxygen hit us outside and Jamal puked in the ditch. Britt.
Jamal Hakimi and a Sheep
Jamal Hakimi poses with the black sheep that will become his family's Eid meal. After much deliberation, we decided not to name him. Britt.
A boy kicks his donkey along the road on a sunny day in Afghanistan's Panjeer Valley. Residents of the most isolated, defensible region of Afghanistan, Panjeeris fiercely regulate their own borders. It's the only place in country United States soldiers feel safe walking around without body armor. Visitors not dressed in military greens, however, should consider purchasing armor. Panjeeris are quick to mob outsiders, accusing them of allegiance with the Taliban or al-Queda or both. Britt.
Sardar Hakimi, left, and his children watch a butcher slaughter a lamb for the family's Eid meal. Lambs are really tasty animals to eat for the holidays. Stew made from the lamb's head, lamb kebabs and shank sandwiches are just few local favorites. The first dish we had was a fatty ligament stew on flat bread. It was chewy but filling. Britt.
Buddhist Caves 3
A boy enjoys a swatch of sunlight and the view of the Kabul River from a cave once used for Buddhist meditation in Jalalabad. The Kabul and Kunar rivers make Nangarhar province an agricultural center. Britt.
Hunger Strike 2
Street children in Mazar-e-Sheriff protest in front of the downtown police station Monday, October 24, 2010. It was refreshing to see police calmly stand-down, allowing the crowd to assemble and freak out. Britt.
The main mosque in Mazar-e-Sheriff at dusk. The Qaillon smoke shack and Jamal's puking spot is a few meters off to the right. Britt.
Men guide two oxen and a wooden plow though a field in the Panjeer Valley. Panjeer is one of the few places in Afghanistan where accepting an invitation to tea must be deliberated over. The man at left offered us tea, when we accepted he reneged and waved us off. Britt.
This is me toking on some free coconut shisha at Qaillon in Mazar-e-Sheriff. In traditional Pashtun style, the owner gifted it to me when he found out I was visiting Afghanistan. Britt.
A stranger at left dodges the camera as the Qaillon smoke shack proprietor sets another glowing coal on my hookah in Mazar-e-Sheriff. The 7x7 meter space is packed nightly with a friendly mix of business types and shepherds. Britt.
A man gives the camera a thumbs up from within a tuk-tuk motorcycle taxi in Jalalabad. Jalalabad tuk-tuks have blue canopies. The Kabul breed sports red canopies. There is a long-standing tuk-tuk rivalry between the two cities. According to a local mechanic, if a red tuk-tuk rolls into Jalalabad, its driver will likely be challenged to a race, extorted for money and verbally harassed while children steel his mirrors and dismantle his vehicle's decorations. "The children will be dancing" while they steal and vandalize, he added. Britt.
Buddhist Caves 4
Two boys stand on a narrow ledge between the Buddhist caves in Jalalabad and the rushing Kabul River. Britt.
The Salang Tunnel...of Death!
The Salang Tunnel is a Soviet built death-trap for motorcyclists. The tunnel connects northern and southern Afghanistan beneath the Hindukush mountain range. Over 16,000 vehicles pass through it daily, most of them belching diesel smoke which blinds and asphixiates life within its 1.6 mile length. In addition to being a gas chamber, the tunnel is also pitch black with no shoulder. If you drop your bike, prepare to be smashed by a train of motorists giggling in their little pockets of oxygen. Britt.
A Kuchi woman and her children at a camp in Jalalabad. Jalalabad is home to at least two large Kuchi camps. The migratory herders are usually open to photography in exchange for food or money. Money is preferred. Britt.
The Road Through Pansjeer
A car careens down the road through the Panjeer River Valley. Steep cliffsides and sharp turns make this first five miles feel like a video game. Britt.
Ruined Russian artillery vehicles line the roadside, mountainsides and streambeds of the Panjeer Valley in Parwan province. The valley never fell during the decade long Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Then resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud used the landscape in combination with anti-aircraft weapons to keep invaders at bay. Britt.
Jamal Hakimi on the Radio
Jamal Hakimi, right, in his metallic sport coat, conducts a radio interview at the LAM 92.3 FM studios in Mazar-e-Sheriff. The LAM playlists include scores of Lebanese pop singers, traditional Afghan Ghazals and The Black-Eyed Peas. Britt.
A man and a small child nap on a cot at a Jalalabad tire shop. I stopped by this place looking for battery acid. Two men taste-tested what they had in store. They coughed, spit; one of them doubled over and the other said the acid he just drank was no good. I wondered how they tested the blow torches. Britt.
Buddhist Caves 2
Boys race to the peak of one of the hills that above the caves once used for Buddhist meditation in Jalalabad. The pickpocket, second from the top, sacrificed first-place to sqaut for the camera. Britt.
A local helps a man cross the Panjeer River on a wheelbarrow hanging from a makeshift zip-line. Valley walls are so steep, the valley floor is shaded most hours of the day. I'm not sure if the eerie blue light and the sound of artillery exploding beyond the valley walls enhance the experience but they certainly give it a sense of place. Britt.
The Taj Mahal Guesthouse in Jalalabad is part walled-in expat resort and part think-tank. The Taj tiki bar is where NGO workers, security contractors and State Department types come to unwind. A handful of tech-geniuses from Langton Labs in San Francisco have made it their semi-permanent residence. One of the most innovative projects launched from the Taj is a cellular network enabling Jalalabad residents to drop tips to police via text message. Britt.
Jamal Hakimi watches Turkish soap operas in his livingroom in Mazar-e-Sheriff. "Forbidden Love" is the most popular televised melodrama in Afghanistan right now. The show follows the story of Bihter, a girl whose family forces her into a reluctant marriage with an abusive older man. Where do they get this stuff? All photos by Daniel C. Britt.
Eid with Jamal 2
This is the coat of the black sheep we ate for Eid, Monday, October 24, 2011. Eid sheep are generally recycled into clothing or blankets. One of the children said this one would make a good jacket for a ninja. I tried to say "great minds think alike, kid," in Dari. He thought I was slow and handed me some change. Britt.
Eid with Jamal
An experienced butcher hangs a sheep from a tree and cuts it to pieces for Eid on Monday, October 24, 2011. Eid-time butchers make house calls throughout the holiday. They are constantly looking for apprentices -- for those of you looking for a travel-work opportunity in Mazar-e-Sheriff. Britt.
A wrecked Soviet tank sits outside the monument to Afghan resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. Massoud defied the 10-year Soviet occupation from his base in the Panjeer River Valley. When the Soviets withdrew in 1989 the Wall Street Journal named him "the Afghan who won the Cold War." Massoud also opposed the Taliban. He was assassinated by two members of the regime posing as journalists shortly before the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City. Britt.
Jalalabad Road Pit Stop
People wait for transportation where the Jalalabad Road splits on the outskirts of the Jalalabad city center. Jalalabad Road, connecting Jalalabad to Kabul and Peshawar, Pakistan, is one of Afghanistan's most-traveled thoroughfares. Britt.
Jalalabad Fish Cart
A shadow pases a fish cart parked in the Jalalabad market. Located between the Kabul and Kunar rivers, Jalalabad is a great place to buy fish. The market also boasts regionally-prided pomegranates, restaurants that deep-fry everything, and a ridiculous, albeit endearing, soccer ball clock tower. Britt.
Best Chicken Soup
A street vendor in Jalalabad serves-up a bowl of the clear, starchy shredded chicken soup the city is famous for. Jalalabad, far and away, has the best street food in Afghanistan. Britt.
This is the Amo Hotel right across from the south entrance to the main mosque. Most hotels in this part of the city are relatively clean and cheap at around $20 per night. Staffers however, can be invasive. Keep your electronics locked in your bags. Britt.