Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Road to Jalalabad

On Thursday, I left Kabul for the first time since my arrival and traveled to Jalalabad to continue our gender impact assessment with one of our partner organizations located there. It takes about 2 1/2 to 3 hours to travel to Jalalabad from Kabul, and by my estimation the roads are pretty awful. Apparently until last year, the same trip took over 6 hours because of how much worse the roads used to be. The road conditions are very sketchy - narrow, steep curvy mountain roads without guard rails, uneven pavement and big potholes. I guess the road used to full of craters from missile blasts, so this is a huge improvement. We passed construction on the road, and the government is paving the roads - in one spot there were even lines on the road - not that anyone knew what they were for.

On the way there are a variety of checkpoints that we had to stop at, but for the most part they just spoke to the driver briefly before waving us on. The drive itself was stunning. We were driving through the mountains just after sunrise, with the Kabul River sparkling on the left as the sun peeked out over the mountains. Once we entered Nangahar province, we had to wear our shawls . . . Nangahar Province and Jalalabad are more conservative than Kabul City.

We arrived at the NGO office, completed our interviews and left immediately to trek back to Kabul. The roads aren't safe after dark, both because they are trecherous and for security reasons. We had a little caravan; myself, Waz, the driver and the security guard in the first car, and another car with another security guard following us in a second car. I was not happy when I realized the guard in the second car was a Ministry of Interior police officer, in full uniform. The Taleban are currently targeting foreign military, Afghan gov't officials and NGO workers. We were trying to be subtle, and this guy was not helping.

We stopped three times on the way back -- once to argue with a checkpoint guard who was trying to re-route us onto a longer and less safe road back to Kabul (we won), once to buy pommegranites in a little village, and once because there was a pick up truck full of young Afghan men blocking the road. The last stop scared me a little because there were all these men in the truck, and other men on the side of the road (construction workers), and the ministry of interior guard got out with his big gun and started talking to them asking them to move. They moved, but it was a tense few minutes.

After returning to Kabul, completely exhausted (I only got about 3 hours of sleep before the trip) I checked my email and discovered that a security warning had been sent out for that day -- all foreigners were warned against traveling to Nangahar Province because of reports of Taleban action. . . The report said, "JALALABAD, Sep 28 Security officials Thursday claimed detaining four suspects along with weapons and other explosives in the eastern Nangarhar province." Hmmm. . . Well I'm glad I got to see a little of Jalalabad when I did, because it looks like it will be off limits for a while. . .

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