[an error occurred while processing this directive]


  Field Notes From
Saving Afghan Culture

<< Back to Feature Page

Saving Afghan Culture On AssignmentArrows

View Field Notes
From Author

Andrew Lawler

Saving Afghan Culture On Assignment

View Field Notes
From Photographer

Kenneth Garrett

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs courtesy Andrew Lawler (top) and Kenneth Garrett


Saving Afghan Culture On Assignment Author Saving Afghan Culture On Assignment Author
Saving Afghan Culture

Field Notes From Author
Andrew Lawler

Best Worst Quirkiest
    I can't reveal the name of the Afghan town, but the bar was the best I've ever encountered on any continent. We learned of its existence over a long dinner with Western aid workers who invited us to come along. After driving through silent and deserted alleys in the dark, we finally came to a nondescript wall. We stepped through the door into a courtyard filled with a pack of the usual snarling dogs and hastily descended into the dusty cellar of a mud-brick building. Behind the door was a place undreamed of in this strictly Muslim land where alcohol is illegal and the mingling of sexes discouraged. "Street Life," the brassy '70s song by The Crusaders hit me at the same moment the colored lights dazzled. The narrow room had a long bar, a heavy haze of smoke, and a group of French women dancing under a tiny disco ball. The drink selection, music, t-shirts, and tight jeans were worthy of any European nightspot. For young Westerners working long days in a strange culture amid tremendous poverty, the bar is a welcome respite. But strict secrecy is critical to its continued existence and safety.

    I've never had much fear of heights, but now I do, and I blame it on ancient Buddhist monks. To explore the Bamian caves and niches they painted requires clattering up rickety ladders perched on a ledge of a crumbly cliff several hundred feet above the valley. The fact that very young boys held the ladders didn't make me more comfortable, nor did knowing that the nearest hospital was a daylong trek over the Hindu Kush. But giving in to terror was not an option in the company of a dozen archaeologists, UNESCO officials, and our heavily weighted photographer Ken Garrett.

    Being trapped behind an iron gate in the dark and fumes of the world's highest tunnel is no fun, but it did give me the opportunity to practice international diplomacy. A team of Turkish engineers and Afghan workers were busy repairing the battered structure of the Salang Tunnel, built by the Soviets in the 1960s and neglected during two decades of war. As we drove through the eerie twilight, a Dante-like hell 12,000 feet (3,600 meters) high, we saw ghostly teams of men with blowtorches. At the end of the tunnel, a massive iron door with a large lock blocked our way.
    My Afghan guide sprang out of the car and squeezed through a gap in the gate. I followed warily. He immediately began arguing with the nearest Turk, who turned out to be the chief engineer on the project. "How can I do my work if you drive through the tunnel?" the engineer shouted. Fearing we would be locked inside indefinitely, I got between the two men before the arguing turned to blows. Finally, in the name of Turkish-American friendship, the frustrated engineer pulled out his keys, unlocked the huge door, and stalked away in disgust.


© 2004 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy       Advertising Opportunities       Masthead

National Geographic Magazine Home Contact Us Forums Shop Subscribe