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The Road to Kunduz

November 5, 2008

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    At an agricultural high school rebuilt by Mercy Corps, students are getting hands-on training in crop and soil management. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Farhad Zalmi/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Eating kabobs in Kunduz. Photo: Farhad Zalmi/Mercy Corps

Our day began with a long drive down the Kabul-Doshi Highway. This long stretch of road that wends through the Hindu-Kush mountain range and, according to Zalmi, is the main thoroughfare that connects Afghanistan and Pakistan to the rest of Central Asia.

It's funny to me that in spite of the security briefings we have had and the dozens of men I've seen carrying around assault rifles, the only time I was worried about my safety was when our car was driving through the long tunnels that marked the mountain pass.

The passages are at least 30 years old, and were built to help keep the heavy snow off some of the more treacherous parts of the highway. I started to feel a twinge of panic as we went through the longest unlit stretch of tunnel — it took us at least 10 minutes to get through it. Our driver treated it like any other part of the trip, veering around cars and buses and trucks while maintaining a steady speed of 90 miles per hour.

Our final destination was Kunduz, but before that, we paid a visit to the Baghlan Agricultural High School. Mercy Corps rebuilt this two-story structure years after the original school was destroyed during the Soviet invasion in the early '80s.

The school is a fairly nondescript building, but it is surrounded by ample amounts of arable land, where students are getting hands-on training in crop and soil management. The deputy headmaster, Tipti, says that the students grow all sorts of vegetables — tomatoes, onions, and greens — that they either use to feed the students or sell in the local market.

The site of the school is growing too, with a mosque being built behind the students' dormitory, the finishing touches being added to a poultry facility and plans to build pens for sheep and cows. This will allow students to get training in animal husbandry and livestock care — two classes that the school is already teaching, but have yet to put into practice. Quite exciting developments for this already amazing place in Baghlan.

Miguel and I ended our day in Kunduz, meeting many of the dedicated staff at Mercy Corps office here, and then filling our bellies to bursting on kebabs in a local restaurant. (We managed to eat about 21 between the two of us.)

Not surprisingly, we were the center of attention in this small storefront, as the locals peered over our shoulders to see how we managed with this staple of Afghan cuisine. I think we did quite well, but you can judge for yourself with this picture Zalmai took of us mid-meal.