Monday, November 03, 2008

Riding With Mad Max Across The Kandahar Plain, To Visit With Ehsan Ullah Ehsan

I had no idea that it was possible for an early '90s Toyota Corolla to move so fast. My driver (who I will call Max) could outrun Mario Andretti, I swear. The only really dodgy moment was when we got stuck behind an ISAF convoy. This is never a good idea, but it was that much more spooky because the convoy got blocked by a jack-knifed oil tanker truck, and Max got a bit jittery, thinking maybe it was a trap.

To get around it, the convoy made its way down into the rocky bumper-car ground beside the highway and everybody else followed. Max uttered ''Inshallah,' and off the road he roared. A few cars got bogged down in the dust, but not Max. We were back on pavement in seconds.

"It is called Baghdad Road," Max said, as we roared towards Kandahar City. "It is a nickname." I thought that was the nickname for the Kabul-Jalalabad Road. Maybe there's two? I could see why it would be called that, though, all the way into town from the airfield. Craters and ripped-out sections of steel highway fence, from suicide bombers, and IEDs. That kind of thing.

Ehsan called from town on my Roshan. He sounded frantic. "Where are you? What is happening?" We're fine, I said. Then we got stuck in another traffic jam on the main road inside town, and Max started getting jittery again. "Very dangerous," he said, and spun the wheel, tore down a sidestreet, then switchbacked a few blocks and made his way down the old road that winds through Kandahar's narrow old streets. And of course the traffic got blocked up again. But this time, it was donkey carts and pushcarts and flocks of sheep, masses of people, bicycles and motorcycles. "It is very dangerous," Max said again, and then proceeded through the crowds like a seamstress threading a needle.

Then we made it to Ehsan at his sanctuary, behind high whitewashed walls, down a dusty Kandahar backstreet. It's called the Afghan-Canadian Community Centre. It is an oasis of civility and decency and learning in this city. It's a refuge for women, a school, a library, a computer lab, an adult-education centre, and an internet cafe. Ehsan Ullah Ehsan conceived the idea, and he runs the place, and he is one of the people I'll be writing about, which is the reason I'm in this beautiful country.

Ehsan had just received another "night letter," a death threat. We spent the morning together and talked about things. I don't know that I've ever met a more courageous person, anywhere, in my entire life.

This morning, back in Kabul - which is a different place altogether - there was no dearth of jitters here after this. But note this part: A local resident who attempted to prevent the abduction was killed in the attack. . .


Blogger caddis said...

If you are in Kabul, try and get in touch with Louise Rowlands from Winnipeg, who is working there for a US aid agency....good friend and family member, and has been there for some time. She has been an eye and ear there for all of us she corresponds with...She was in Armenia earlier, and can provide some interesting contrasts. Suki

2:56 PM  
Blogger Bernard said...

I like reading your posts from Afghanistan, how about doing a talk about it once you are back here in Victoria?

5:48 PM  

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