Embedded With Afghan Civil Society – Part 1 – Leaving Kabul in Darkness

In May 2010, I accompanied the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization (AHRDO), an NGO that promotes human rights through arts and culture, as its staff conducted participatory theater workshops as psycho-social therapy and organized civilian war victims to take an active role in shaping the national debate over the government’s intention to negotiate with some of the insurgent factions currently battling Afghan and international forces.

Series introduction here.

Day 1.

At 3am Bisharat, AHRDO’s 28 year old managing director, calls me to say he is close to my house and to be ready when he arrives.  The Toyota minibus pulls up outside and I bundle my duvet and duffle bag in the back. Bisharat slams the door shut. “Ok,” he says, “let’s go to Bamiyan!”

Inside, Bisharat introduces me to Aziza, an Afghan actress and filmmaker who spent many years in Iran and is now considering working for AHRDO. The other passengers include the long-haul driver, Rohullah, and AHRDO’s usual driver, Amin.

We begin the easiest phase of our eight and a half hour journey from Kabul to Bamiyan City. The streets of Afghanistan’s capital are quiet and still. Few people move about in the pre-dawn hours.

On the Darul Aman road, our vehicle overtakes jingle trucks laden with goods from Pakistan and other parts of Afghanistan. A lone street cleaner in an orange jumpsuit sweeps dust away from a sidewalk as the trucks kick up more.  A sign in Dari and English stands next to him. In English, it reads ‘Work is on progress.’

I take out my ipod and switch on the Killers’ ‘This Is Your Life.’ As the sprawl of Kabul gives way to open plains, the dark blue sky begins to pale. The sun is rising fast over the lush farmlands of Parwan province. Looking out the window, I see farmers emerging from their mud-brick compounds and women carrying plastic jugs to water pumps. Aboveground power lines stretch into the distance like robots linking arms.

An hour and a half later, the paved roads abruptly ends. The van lumbers on, now hugging the jagged insides of mountain roads barely wide enough for a single vehicle.

Smiling impishly, Bisharat tells me the trip will be like this for the next seven hours.