Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Places In Between

If you want to learn more about the lives of Afghans, read Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between . It’s also a great adventure story since Rory walks from Herat in western Afghanistan to Kabul in eastern Afghanistan, through the mountains in winter and shortly after the Taliban were removed from power.

This is what I learned about Afghans:
1. Most of them, especially in the villages, are fiercely tribal;
2. The custom is to accommodate travelers, not always willingly. Life is so harsh that people are forced to help one another whether they want to or not.
3. Even the meanest huts have “guest” rooms, which I suspect are intended to keep strangers who are traveling, all male, away from the women. It was rare that Rory was allowed in the presence of women.
4. A vast majority of Afghans are not ready to western-style democracy.

In a chapter titled “Pale Circles in Walls,” Stewart describes the disconnect between the U.N. objectives of “the creation of a centralized, broad-based, multiethnic government committed to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law” and the differences between the many tribes he encountered, which were “deep, elusive, and difficult to overcome."

Stewart had a half-dozen friends who worked in Afghanistan in embassies, think tanks, international development agencies, etc., and found them all well-meaning. However, “Policy makers did not have the time, structure, or resources for a serious study of an alien culture. They justified their lack of knowledge and experience by focusing on poverty and implying that dramatic cultural differences did not exist. They acted as though villagers were interested in all the priorities of international organizations, even when those priorities were mutually contradictory.”

The Places In Between is a thoughtful book which has done more to inform me about the lives of Afghans than everything else that I have come across.

(photo of book cover – Vuvzela.blog.co.uk)
(photo of Rory Stewart and Babur, the mastiff who walked many miles with him – Graphics8.nytimes.com)



sounds interesting!

Gail Jonas said...

I tried to find an e-mail address for you to thank you for your response, which led me to your two blogs. I've saved them in favorites, will put them on my desktop, and will check them frequently.

What's amazing is that we bloggers who are not at all famous find one another!

Gail Jonas
or gejonas@sonic.net

Anonymous said...

I will have to read this too. Reminds of what had and continues to happen in native Alaskan villiage.