In the course of doing our job, we were able to observe how the Afghan people live in the poorer rural areas where the insurgency seems to have more influence. The population in the area we covered was made up of mostly farmers who used the land in the mountain valleys (wadis) to grow crops.
The population is very poor – homes are made from mud and clay and usually do not have windows, electricity, or indoor plumbing. Cooking is done over open fires and laundry is done in a stream or pond by the women in the family.
The call to prayer happens 5 times a day and every village seems to have a loudspeaker system so everyone knows when to do it. It starts around 0400 in the morning but you learn to tune it out over time. Sometimes the guy doing the prayer does a good job singing the prayer and it isn’t too bad to listen to, other times it sounds like you are listening to Afghan talk radio. I guess everyone can’t be Pavarotti.
During the summer, we saw people sleeping on the roof at night where the air was cooler. The lack of electricity kept the valley dark resulting in a sky that was free of light pollution – an astronomer’s dream. It was beautiful to see – before coming over here, I hadn’t seen the Milky Way since I was a kid. It was nice to see the space station pass over a couple of times during my time there because it brought back fond memories of my former career working on the space shuttle. What a contrast in cultures it was seeing a technological wonder pass over an area where people still live like they did hundreds of years ago.
Public transportation in Afghanistan was a little different from other countries – we would call it hitchhiking. Every day we saw people and families standing along the side of the road getting picked up by strangers. Not everyone owns a car and I assume that their religious teachings promotes helping other Muslims in this situation. There were buses that came through the area in what seemed like charter services, but it was pretty common seeing cars pull over and people jump in or out like they were getting off at a bus stop. What ever works I guess…
It was hard to watch the children living in these conditions. The situations we have been conditioned to protect our kids from happened every day and it was surprising that the kids survive them. I remember seeing a family stopped on the side of a main road and their toddler walking around with traffic whizzing by with no one really paying attention to him. Remember the sleeping on the roof thing? Would you let your toddler walk around on a flat roof at night with no lights or supervision? Maybe I am a little overprotective as a parent, but it was nerve wracking to watch a kid get out of bed to relieve himself over the edge of the roof.
So yes, there life is a little different from ours but they are getting by. With an illiteracy rate of around 70 percent, this country has a long way to go if it wants to improve its’ people’s standard of living. I hope they are up to the task.