Archive for July, 2011
Very long story short: it seemed like the right time to go. Once, in the romantic glory days when Osama had just been killed and we all saw the world through rose-colored sniper scopes, daytrippers from the capital or from Lahore would come in to Abbottabad (EPP-ta-bad) to pose for pictures in front of the ex-warlord’s house. It is not as big as it looks on TV. Now, men in camouflage weave through the grass holding rifles and eyeballing everything that moves. Dozens of cellphones have been smashed, and, on the first day I was supposed to drive north to Abbottabad, five “CIA Informants” were arrested by the Pakistani government for cooperating with Americans. Still, it’s a very pretty town. Nice hills.
[My apologies, this story has been submitted elsewhere and cannot honorably be published here. Until we can give up on “honor”, I can offer only the poor summary above. To read the full story about my tea party with Osama and the long games of bridge we played while I waited for Seal Team 6 to do the honors (maybe — you’ll have to find out!): send an email with a sentence including the words “Boca”, “curry”, and “fuckface” to INGULFED at GMAIL dot COM]
More pictures from pakistan here.
The town of Karachi is made of many things. For three days, I was one of them — a rare Jew in a the world’s third largest city where almost everyone can style themselves a minority in some way. There are those that seek to destroy everything “different” from themselves — the sadly frequent bombings and killings. Except for them, everyone is awesome, every corner of the city has its own new secrets.
There are Catholic churches, Sikh shrines, Hindu temples, the memory of a synagogue, and Zoroastrian fire temples, not far from the Towers of Silence where the dead are left to decompose naturally in focused sunlight.
[Annoyingly, this story has been submitted elsewhere and cannot be published here in good conscience. Until we can give up on “conscientiousness”, I offer only a poor abridgment below. In order to read the full story with everything you ever wanted to know about Karachi but didn’t know to ask (unless you know things to ask): send an email to INGULFED at GMAIL dot COM with a sentence including the words “fondue”, “Pakistan”, and “Sammy Davis, Jr.”.]
More pictures from pakistan here.
Lahore was blisteringly hot.
In a white shalwar kameez, I adopted the look of the bluer collar, while two men escorted me across the city. The driver wore traditional clothes too, but the man in the back joking loudly in Punjabi had on slacks and a neat collared shirt. He worked for the father of a friend of a friend of a friend, the president of the oldest and largest university in Pakistan. In Pakistan, with the right start, hospitality is easier found than Kevin Bacon. (Bacon, however, isn’t served anywhere.)
You can’t get far without hearing Lahore nahin dekha tou kuch nahin dekha, “If you haven’t seen Lahore, you haven’t yet seen the world.” The city is peppered with gardens and architecture left by the Mughal Empire and parallel kingdoms. The Shalimar gardens are green even in June, and families picnic and sit by the fountains. A couple of couples nap in piles. Through the Masti Gate in the north of Lahore’s Walled City, the Begum Shah Mosque is mostly hidden behind market walls and a rind of scaffolding. Like most of Lahore’s antique facade, the seventeenth century walls are baked red with delicate patterns painted in yellow and green and bright colors. The Begum Shah (which I translate poorly as “Mrs. King”) was Mariam uz-Zamani, mother of Emperor Jangehir, (“conqueror of the world”).
At night, this Shahi Mohalla (“Royal Neighborhood”) is better known as Heera Mandi, “the Diamond Market”. You might say it’s why Lahore is called that — it’s the city’s longtime red-light district, thinly guised with music and dance. But recent crackdowns have imposed stricter laws on the dancing, and lady’s of the night have become lady’s of the early evening. What once began only after midnight now ends at eleven p.m., and at dinner at a rooftop cafe down the street, we heard only the sounds of sitar wafting up from below. Some things had modernized in the name of convenience. “It’s all delivery now,” my host said.
(*not including all the photo ones)
After four hours on our way back from Bamiyan, we took a detour at a car wash/berry stand for a detour into the heavenly Panjshir valley. We had just passed a convoy of military trucks and emerged from the dirty, windy roads of Taliban territory onto smooth highway. Gull, my guide and the founder of the new Rah-e-Abrisham tour agency, looked infinitely happier. We waited while two boys meticulously sprayed and scrubbed the car back to white, and looked out at the road ahead: the road to Panjshir was safe, controlled only in parts by mafias — those who dealt in drugs, not people — and most of them could be bribed.
The berries were outside the town of Charikar, and we ordered them from the mechanic by claiming a woven dish of many thousands of white, pink, and purple fruits that resembled mini raspberries, and popping them into our mouths with scientific precision. The darker berries were the sweetest, sometimes too much so. The whitest were tart, and the pink and multi-colored could be anywhere in the middle. Gull and Ali Akbar, our fearless driver, were experts. Flitting across the surface with their fingertips, they avoided the mushiest and would put together a cocktail of two or three berries of different colors to toss back in the cup of their palm. Only I ever put four together or had one alone. After half an hour, in the pile wider than a large New York pizza, we had made respectable damage and returned the basket to its roadside table, where it waited under the shade for the next hungry travelers.
There is a checkpoint somewhere along the silver Panjshir river. The jagged walls of the gorge shoot up almost vertically, and a guard waved from a booth chiseled into the rock face for me to display my passport. There are small towns along the road, or by the wrong turns we took, but most of this detour is uneventful. For brief moments, with early afternoon light just right, wide open fields are golden with grain. But the big pay-off comes suddenly, right around one final turn…
Full story over at The Express Tribune.
They invited me in for tea, six Patan engineers and construction workers and an older man, to their gated compound. We talked about the Taliban, Judaism, Islam, and guys from Kandahar and why they like little boys so much. We made lots of butt jokes. We had dinner. Now we’re friends on Facebook.
All the photos from Afghanistan are here: PHOTOS!
A slideshow of the men from Bamiyan is below —
Afghanistan: Part Five
[This story has been submitted elsewhere and cannot ethically be published here. Until we can give up on “ethics”, I offer only a poor abridgment below. In order to read the full story complete with Bamiyan political history and portraits of kids: send an email to INGULFED at GMAIL dot COM with a sentence including the words “Rebel”, “aperture”, and “iPhone”.]
My guide had looked at me like I was crazy to walk around on the streets of crepuscular Bamiyan for no reason. Not because it was dangerous, just because… why? I was hoping to take some pictures of people — and I got everything I was hoping for. A dozen children ran and played and strangled each other (quasi-jokingly) and when they refused my offer to photograph them, I gave them my Canon Digiital Rebel XT — certainly the first time any of them had held a camera of any kind. It was their weapon. The tides turned.
The following link is the 97 pictures they took. (View as an automatic slideshow or just click through — these pictures span 5:57—6:07 p.m. on June 12, 2011.)
The camera was left on Aperature Priority, so that when they turned a particular dial they underexposed the pictures almost completely to black. Many of them still had information that could be recovered by squeezing the RGB levels. These ones look pretty darn cool. I’m almost positive that’s what the kids had intended.
Below, and at this link, is the video of their exploits, filmed with a concealed iPhone on Sar-e-Aasyab Street in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
See all the photos from Afghanistan here, including more of the photographers themselves.
Afghanistan: Part Four
[The following are adapted excerpts from an article that has been submitted elsewhere. To read the full story with a blow-by-blow of the drive from the central Afghan hub of Bamiyan to the perhaps the most beautiful lakes in the whole Caucasus, send an email to INGULFED at GMAIL dot COM with a sentence including the words “picnic”, “caucasus”, and “dragon”.]
If you’re not doing anything later, you might like to check out Band-e Amir, Afghanistan’s one and only national park. Six sapphire-blue lakes 10,000 feet up in the Hindu Kush Mountains provide what may be Central Asia’s Number One picnic spot. Entry costs fifty afghanis (one dollar).