Oqa, Afghanistan—After many day-long camel treks to petition the provincial government in Mazar-e-Sharif, the hardscrabble men of Oqa at last secured a promise: The government would send a teacher to their desert hamlet of penniless carpet weavers, barefoot firewood gatherers, and two score clay homes. Elated, the men pitched in to buy a blackboard and some chalk and dragged them into the only space that could pass as a classroom: the doorless anteroom of Oqa’s sole mosque, an oblique and teetering shape the villagers themselves had hand-molded of tumbleweed and mud. That was four years ago.
Dawlatabad, Afghanistan Abdul Bashir survived his first opium overdose on Tuesday. He was 15 days old. He thrashed against the soiled hospital cot and gurgled the horrible, rhythmic wheezes of the dying. Nurses pressed an oxygen mask to his tiny face, blue from asphyxiation, and tourniqueted his convulsing limbs to inject an antidote. From the corner of the drafty hospital room, Abdul Bashir’s young mother fixed her child with a drugged stare. It was she who had given him the opium that morning, to hush his crying.
Oqa, Afghanistan—Loose skin dangles around Mohammad Zakrullah’s angular pelvis and emaciated thighs when he squirms in famished discomfort. His newborn forehead and scalp glow ghostly purple, from the permanganate solution his mother, Chori Khul, has smeared on them, believing it would ward off hunger headaches. Next to his blue blanket, a rusted bukhari stove of soldered iron burns sharp coils of dry desert grass and donkey dung, and belches out more smoke than heat. (This is the second in a series of dispatches from Anna Badkhen in Afghanistan.
For the next several weeks, Anna Badkhen will be traveling through Afghanistan’s north, documenting life there during this pivotal year for the U.S.-led war. This is the first in a series of dispatches Badkhen will be writing for TNR Online about her experiences. Karaghuzhlah, Afghanistan—You can spot the village from miles away, quivering in refracted sunlight above a tract of Bactrian desert dun and tufted like a camel’s hide. The black crown of a sole pine, a rarity in these alkaline plains, marks the village’s eastern boundary.
Naubad, Afghanistan—In a wheat field in northern Afghanistan this spring, beneath the Cretaceous convulsions of the Hindu Kush mountains, a village elder named Ajab Khan shared with me the unsentimental math of his region’s farmers. An acre of wheat, Khan said, yields $400. An acre of opium poppies yields $20,000. The people of his village, Naubad, had grown exclusively poppies until 2004, when the government of Hamid Karzai asked them to stop.
When it comes to war, it is a natural human tendency to identify good guys and bad guys—and sometimes, it is a sensible one.
Baghdad, Iraq In December 2007, the Alpha Company of the 4-64 Armor Battalion of the Fourth Brigade, Third Infantry Division, arrived in the neighborhood of Saidiyah in southwest Baghdad. More than half of the onceupscale, religiously mixed neighborhood's 60,000 residents had fled to Jordan, Syria, or other parts of Iraq. Those who stayed rarely ventured out of their homes. Up until a few months earlier, human corpses had littered the street, where stray dogs feasted on them.