Monday, October 17, 2011

Travel Afghanistan

Another country I hope to visit but probably never will.  The closest I've come is peering across a border checkpoint on a road toward Herat and from a helicopter looking into it's wrinkled brown hills.  A cross roads of many cultures and religions since the time of Alexander the Great.  This month, it will be ten years of American presence in the country.  Here's my collection of armchair travel.

1.  The Places In Between, Rory Stewart (2004).   In January 2002, Stewart walked across Afghanistan.  He sleeps in snow drifts, encounters villages burned and deserted because of the Taliban.   Along the way he encounters extreme hospitality, extreme brutality and humor, surviving on his knowledge of local language, the hospitality of strangers and an adopted Mastiff.  Stewart seems to be in the model of bygone English adventurers, diplomats and statesman.  He went on to serve in Iraq for the UK and later to become a Minister of Parliament.  Bought new. 

2.  Afghanistan: A Short History of Its People and Politics, Martin Ewans (2001).  Ewans was a member of the British Foreign Office who served as head of their mission there.  A concise history from before Alexander the Great to the time of the Soviet withdrawal and the rise of the Taliban.  One quote worth including from the UK secretary of state for India in 1880:

     As the result of two successful campaigns, of the employment of an enormous force, and the expenditure of an enormous force, and the expenditure of large sums of money, all that has yet been accomplished has been the disintegration of the state ... and a condition of anarchy throughout the remainder of the country.  

Bought used but can't remember where. 

3.  Between the Oxus and the Jumna, Arnold Toynbee (1961).   Toynbee is a British scholar who traveled Afghanistan and surrounding countries in the early 1960s referring to it as the "roundabout of the world."  Color pictures.  Bought used but can't remember where. 

4.  Night Letters: Inside Wartime Afghanistan, Rob Schultheis (1992).   A haunting, impressionist book that gives an account of the Afghan civil war with the Soviets.  Schultheis traveled between the lines of the fighting gaining the trust of the Mujaheddin.  A gift from a friend.  

5.  The Man Who Would be King: The First American in Afghanistan, Ben Macintyre (2004).  Like something out Kipling, Macintyre tells the story of a Pennsylvania Quaker who enters Afghanistan in the 1840s.  Harlan loses sight of himself and seeks to become a king-like figure among the tribes of Afghanistan.  Great pictures.  Bought new.  

6.  North from Kabul, Andrew Wilson (1961).   Wilson traveled through the heart of Afghanistan in the early 1960s.  Book purchased used from Elliott Bay Books, Seattle, WA.  Previously owned by one Bill Williams, Ahlman Academy, American Embassy, Kabul, Afghanistan, 1968 with a purple library stamp from the institution.