Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

World’s Most Dangerous Road?

Posted on: February 22nd, 2011 | No Comments

In between my recent travels, I flicked through the satellite television channels dealing with travel and adventure.  Filled with tall claims and well spun yarns, they provide fleeting entertainment.  One show gives the impression of dealing with the “world’s most dangerous road” judging by ice-filled roads.  Certainly, in this category there is a fairly long list of contenders.   For sure, the James Dalton Highway in Alaska 414-mile gravel road that connects Prudhoe Bay oilfields needs vigilance and preparation (including a 4-wheel drive, the right kit and extras of everything).  But is it the most dangerous?   

Bolivia’s North Yungas Road, connecting the capital La Paz to Coroico in the Amazon region, is itself known as the “Death Road.”  Fifteen years ago, the Inter-American Development Bank declared it the world’s most dangerous road because it killed 200-300 people a year along its almost 70 km length.  Today, new construction has meant that few travel along this route except for a few intrepid travelers looking for a challenge and the right to say they traveled it.  

The road leading from Baghdad International Airport toward the Green Zone (now the “International Zone”) was surely the most dangerous road in the world at one point.  This is where we lost Marla Ruzicka (see earlier post) and many others.  Although strict checkpoints, constant patrols and blast walls that line the entire length make the roughly 15 minute trip safer these days, it remains a potentially hairy ride.    

East of Kabul

From personal experience, the most dangerous roads lie in Afghanistan and Pakistan where altitude, long-distances, terrible conditions and ever present violence meet.  These days, roads like the one that link Kabul with Peshawar are surly the world’s most dangerous.  That road passes through the tribal areas of Pakistan where NATO fuel supplies were recently blown up, the Kyber Pass (notorious during the British Raj as a site of ambush and intrigue), through Jalalabad in sight of Tora Bora and the now dangerous Sarobi, up a spectacular gorge and into Kabul.  In that same valley, I was stopped several years ago by a rock avalanche that took the better half of a day to clear.   

Or take the road leading north from Islamabad on route N75 to the hill station town of Murree and then north again to Muzaffarabad.  It’s fine up to that point.  This area of Kashmir has been mostly off limits to foreigners except for a period following the 2005 earthquake that devastated the region.  About a year after the disaster, I traveled up the Neelam Valley Road along the “line of control” that demarcates the long, blood-soaked division between India.  As part of the Lesser Himalayas, it is at once beautiful in a way only matched by the likes of the Rockies and the Alps.  It is also hair-raising, crossing over crumbling dirt roads over 8,000 + foot passes with very few guardrails. And, in the time I was there, aftershocks and rock avalanches.  Along long stretches, the road is well within the crosshairs of Indian gun positions on the other side of the valley.  While calm during my visit, our driver plainly said at one point “My brother was killed along here.”

Giving Thanks

Posted on: November 28th, 2010 | No Comments

It’s the holiday season again.  The Christmas season is starting, as is Hanukkah, and Eid al-Adha was just a few weeks ago.  Americans just celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday and most of us have a lot to be thankful for.  A big part of all these holidays are about recognizing the needs of others, not just here but wherever they might be.  Neverest is doing its part through Giva-Knit and the soon ready Hydro-Life products.  But we also believe it is about the communities that we belong to and the people we connect with.  Please spread the word and holiday cheer.

Aschiana: Kabul’s “Nest” for Children

Posted on: September 21st, 2010 | No Comments

Visiting our Giva-Knit partner again is always a motivating experience.  I met with Yousef Mohamed, Aschiana’s director and he shows me around their center and offices in central Kabul.  The staff are professional and dedicated.  Through their hallways are pictures drawn by children, photos taken of projects and beautiful landscape shots from different parts of the country.  Like a museum, one room is stuffed with paintings, drawings and sculptures made by children helped by Aschiana which have been displayed at various exhibitions.

We then visit different rooms where children are busy on computers, basic literacy and numeracy, doing wood carving and shop work as well as, of course, traditional art.  We also visit an outdoor court where boys play soccer.  This is what it’s all about – children being themselves just as they would in any other country while theirs continues to suffer from war and extreme poverty.  Moreover, the children are engaged, having fun and clearly learning.  Despite all their set-backs and obstacles they will face, they are laying the foundation for the future and deserve more support.

Remembering Marla Ruzicak

Posted on: September 16th, 2010 | No Comments

Travel brings you into touch with dynamic people and Marla Ruzicka is definitely one of them.  She was impassioned by justice and, given the nature of our recent wars, sought desperately to right the wrongs of collateral damage.  Marla went on to found the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) which continues to work on helping those who are voiceless.  She wasn’t without controversy…a young American woman trying to fix the faults of the Defense Department.  But her doggedness in helping others far less advantaged than her was distinctive and she won many fans in the media, civil society and even within the military.

Marla also had a seriously fun side.  I first met Marla in Kabul in early 2002.  My first impression was one of curiosity when she asked “where do you party around here?”  At that time in Afghanistan, there was only one answer “Anywhere.”  That night was at the Mustafa Hotel.  She went on to found “Klub Kabul” a kind of roving social set.  We both left in 2003; I took a job in Eastern Europe to unwind from a crazy year and half…but Marla went straight to Iraq to deal with the mess that was being created there.

In the end, she sadly paid her life for it when a roadside bomb killed her on the way to Baghdad International Airport.  She is honored with this marble plaque a BBC news crew embedded in the wall of the Gandamack Lodge.

Staying in Kabul: Gandamack Lodge

Posted on: September 13th, 2010 | No Comments

While this blog is about all things interesting to do with travel, we don’t often discuss hotels.  Occasionally though, there is one worth writing about.  Kabul’s Gandamack Lodge is one of them.

Established by the BBC photojournalist Peter Jouvenal, it had a reputation of being a hangout for war correspondents and armed security contractors, at least among the humanitarian set.  After all, there’s body armor for rent and they can hook you up with an armored car and armed escort.

But there seemed to be less of them during my stay.  They had just removed some of the automatic weapons that were on display on the walls of the underground bar.

The original building was reportedly owned by one of Osama bin Laden’s wives (it is said that the sociopath stayed in Room #1).  The current compound is in a well protected area of Kabul’s Shari-Now district, across the street from the Iranian Embassy.  The rooms are nice enough and have all the basics including nice sheets and towels. The restaurant’s food isn’t great (it oddly describes itself as a “rice free zone”) but it’s a nice place to imbibe and catch up on current events in the green garden during these last days of warmth before the Kabul winter.

Kabul: A Truly Thrilling City

Posted on: September 10th, 2010 | No Comments

Time again to visit Kabul.  It’s a short hop from Islamabad.  Great time of year to visit as the heat is of the summer is gone and the constant dust isn’t so bad.  Right now security is good as well (in the city itself) and election campaigns are in full swing.  I’m here to see how our Giva-Knit effort, a unique product where you purchase a t-shirt or sweater and an Afghan child in need receives the same, is proceeding.

How Giva-Knit started

Posted on: September 5th, 2009 | No Comments

“What they lack is a market,” my former colleague and long-time friend Shakeeb told me, “then the artisans can deal with their poverty.” Driving through Kabul’s bumper-to-bumper traffic, we talked through the issue. Kabul once had an export textile industry before the wars of the 1980s and 1990s destroyed the city. Small cottage looms are maintained by families that struggle through poverty. I later met one of these families, headed by Ahmed. Using spools of green thread pictured here, he weaves sweater parts that then are sewn together by his wife. There are about 50 such artisan families that belong to the Hazara ethnic group that was heavily persecuted during the Taliban regime. But the market is too weak to adequately support their work. 

Still sitting in traffic, two boys approached us. Filthy and dressed practically in rags, their tiny right hands were outstretched as they asked for help. “I wish there was more we can do,” Shakeeb said plainly. I knew from my time managing a humanitarian relief organization in Kabul what a dire situation children face. Although the situation has improved a lot since 2001, children still suffer on an unimaginable scale. They face one of the worst illness and fatality rates in the world. And, unlike many other impoverished countries, Afghanistan suffers from especially harsh winters similar to Boston and Chicago. Seeing these boys’ poor faces, I wondered how do these children survive through the winter?       

So Giva-Knit started with a simple idea: provide market space for the artisans and help children survive the brutally cold temperatures. Please support this innovative effort today. 

Ahmed weaving sweaters in Kabul

Ahmed weaving sweaters in Kabul.

Really outdoors: Hiking in Afghanistan

Posted on: August 4th, 2009 | No Comments

Travel, among other things, is about the unexpected. Amidst the stories of war and deprivation, it is still possible to have a nice day out in many parts of Afghanistan. A short drive north from Kabul, not far from Bagram military base, above the heat and dust yet below the snowy peaks of the Hindu Kush, is the village of Istalif. Walking west out of the village, several aid workers and I walked amongst grubby, friendly and endlessly curious kids (for them, we seemed to be the morning’s entertainment). We hiked on for more than an hour, tracing the switchbacks of the cool mountain river, until the mountain air became crisp and the trees grew tall. We reached a guest house that could only be reached by hikers, donkeys and robust goats. Under a mulberry tree, we all took off our day packs and pulled out what became a great lunch of cheese, fruit and Afghan bread. We talked about the important, yet fleeting, nature of aid work and about the possibility of creating projects that worked more closely and sustainably with local Afghans. Back in Istalif, with aching leg muscles, we bought some pottery for which the village is known and made our way back to Kabul.

   

Near Istalif, Afghanistan

Near Istalif, Afghanistan.