Getting around

When ever my mother went to the market she used her red bicycle and I would be seated on the rear rack. It was a harsh ride in to the market but a smooth one back as I then was seated on top of the clothes and fabric she bought. Groceries were hanging in bags from the handlebar, but I suppose our servant helped out too.

These small expeditions were not without risk. Not that there was a Taliban govern but the religious fanatics where still present and the stories of women getting acid thrown in there faces did exist. I believe my mother used to wear a scarf when in unfamiliar public spaces.

For public transport there were busses, packed with travellers not only on the inside but on the outside as well. When boarding the luggage was thrown up to a catcher on the roof, stored and lashed to a rack. God knows how they managed to sort it out later when somebody had to get off. Like much in Afghanistan it was managed with a sort of chaotic organisation that I believe you actually must be native to understand. The busses where colourful art pieces with paintings and attached ornamented boards in all kind of spaces available. The delight in the creations diminished once you realized the purpose, as invocation to all kind of Gods to survive the roads. In the end, not really an alternative for a westerner with kids and a minute understanding of Farsi[1].

Taxi would be a better choice but you could not take just anyone, you would have to inspect it to be somewhat safe to ride in because the standard could, to say the least, vary. Anyone with a pair of rolling wheels could make a living for himself, it seemed. I remember seeing a taxi with only a funnel for gas tank with the driver popping out to fill up the funnel from a can each and every mile. Cars missing hoods or fenders were not unusual and leaking radiators were somewhat of a consistent standard.
On top of that, Kabul was scarce with street names so you would have to know your way around, giving directions to the driver in Farsi, daste raast, daste chab, robaroo, as in turn left, turn right, strait ahead.

I don’t think that we owned a car in Kabul but I remember a beige tin box on wheels parked in the street outside our house one time, and that we were to ride in it somewhere. We did trips out in the country sometimes and we must have done it by car but I do not remember the details. We did one trip over the Khyber Pass to Peshawar, in Pakistan. I remember overlooking a railyard from a bridge watching huge black steam locomotives maneuver the train sets in clouds of steam and black coal smoke. In Sweden all trains where electrified or operated by diesel engines so this image has burnt in to my retina and I’ve never seen something close to it in real life since.

Afghanistan did not have a railway. They relied on roads, many built by Soviet aid, camel caravans and airplanes to connect the different parts of the country. My mother used to tell me a story about a tourist trip she did with some of the other housewives to Herat. That’s in the other end of the country so they had to travel in a small airplane. On the route the pilot had other stops and at one time he went down to deliver some eggs to a crowd of people, in what looked like a desert. The party of women, in desperate need to pee, stepped of, but at this place there was no toilet, no buildings, no nothing. Not even a tiny bush to hide behind, so in the vast plain they formed a ring as a screen and then stepped inside one after another to ease the pressure. Where all the people of the place came from remained a mystery, as they took to the skies again.

On school days I was picked up by a yellow and black American style school bus. I have one memory of riding it. Along with other school kids there was an Indian girl, a couple of years older than me, who had an egg saved from her lunchbox that she ate during the ride home, but she didn’t like the yellow. I found that curious and we probably had a discussion about it. Anyway she gave me the yellow after eating all the white. This is a strange memory entirely. I wonder why that got stuck in my brain.

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