After many years of conflict, the war in Afghanistan is over for for us here in the United States. Though things might not have gone the way everyone wanted, the important thing is that it’s done and now healing can really begin for those that have been touched by this far reaching catastrophe.
I’m especially happy to share with you something new you’ve probably never seen before.
Thanks to recent events, Google Earth has lifted the satellite restrictions in the region. Allowing us to see for the first time in 20 years the natural beauty this land has to offer.
Here is a map of the Country, most of you may think that this country is like how they portray it in the news; A war-torn desert with destruction and death around every corner. In fact most Americans have issues finding it on a map, while even more confuse the country with Iraq and they are separated by about 1000 miles and aren’t even considered as being on the same continent (Respectively Southeast Asia/Middle East). While some of the country is covered in sandy deserts, there are other places here that more or less resemble a fairy tale. In fact, just over 78% of the country is mountainous and 50% of the country has an elevation of 6,600 feet. I was in the highlighted red area in the photo above and some of these pictures are from me and the guys I served with, but a lot of the pictures in this post are from google earth.
Let me show you the Afghanistan I know:
Margah Village, located in the east near the Pakistani border, rests in a deep valley surrounded by the Hindu Kush Mountain range. These desolate areas are only accessible by donkey trails and makeshift dirt roads. There is no electricity, plumbing or modern commodities. The Pashtun folk who live here in these communities live much like they did 1000’s of years ago. Living perfectly in tune with nature.
Just around the corner of the village Medeki kalay this photo was taken. You can finally start to see something familiar. Located at the bottom of the photo is the mighty Dandelion! This little edible flower in the sunflower family has successfully spread to every continent on the globe (Short of Antarctica) and they were indeed some of the first familiar plants I saw in the country too. Seeing as they can populate the most recent of disturbed areas, they were often seen growing along newly installed HESCO walls and recently placed C-wire along our bases perimeters.
Most Dandelion seeds land only a few meters away from the parent plant, but on days that are less windy and especially warm, some of these seeds can travel 50 miles or farther. The seeds can also remain viable for years waiting for conditions to be just right for germination.
Here’s a bit of a mystery. Aspens and Poplars are not native to Afghanistan, but this photo shows what appears to be an aspen grove growing in the top right corner. I find it thrilling that at some point there may have been a trading caravan that traveled through a market near this village where there was a merchant selling fast growing trees to the locals. Why wouldn’t someone want free and easy access to firewood from right in their backyard? Maybe they were purchased and planted here, where they’ve been growing ever since!?
This country gets COLD, but thats not hard to imagine when most of your country is attached to the same mountain chain as Everest. There are many alpine plants that thrive in these higher elevation areas!
This is a picture of a pretty unruly “hill” near a little town called Nakka. Nakka is yet another village separated by the outside world, so much so that it’s often referred to as “The Nakka Bowl” due to the fact the entire village is surrounded by a terrific mountain range that has (Had?) no real roads connecting it to the rest of the country in any meaningful way. These are some of the places in the world that exist still where no outside government is recognized. There are villages here that still have castles from the middle ages with inhabitants inside that are referred to as the princes of “Shadow governments”. They are the De-facto kings of the valley and can have hundreds of subjects who pay to them taxes in exchange for services and protection from rival tribal “Kings”. Go on google earth and take a look around this village if you don’t believe me. Set a timer on your watch and see exactly how long it takes to find something that looks like a medieval castle.
I flipped out as soon as I found this picture on google earth. Sadly going through my own collection of photos I could not find a clear image of what I wanted to show next. If you look all the way to the bottom right you can see another familiar tree. Cedrus deodara, the Himalayan cedar is native here, in the east of the country. Along with the Pines and Junipers, I found the forests of the country oddly familiar to the forests of my hometown in Northern Nevada. The mountains there are similar in size and structure (Say with a little less shale, and a little more granite). So it’s no wonder many of the flora in the region mimics the same as those across the globe growing in similar conditions for millions of years.
Anyways, Deodara cedars, as they are also called, are pretty badass. They are the biggest trees in all of Afghanistan. Some of these monsters can reach nearly 200 feet tall and get a trunk diameter of 10 feet. They are some of my favorite trees, and the Latin nomenclature of the name is unique as well. It is actually a Sanskrit term meaning “Wood Of The GODS!” deva “God” and daru “Wood” written in Latin as deodara. That name alone should tell you not only how striking it is to stand before one in real life, but also attests as to how important these trees were for the local peoples.
I can just barley make out some willow trees here. These classic riparian trees are always found near water, but I’m not a Salix expert. I can’t tell them apart from just a twig and a few leaves.
Now that’s a rose garden! To the Afghans the rose is seen as a symbol of Muhammad, so its no wonder they are often found growing on the grounds of mosques.
China, Pakistan, India, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan all share borders with Afghanistan, leading to some of the most diverse ecosystems on our planet. Unfortunately, due to the countries political turmoil for the century it has been had for ecologists to study these secluded landscapes. The country sports a number of exotic wildlife species, Including monkeys, palm civets, parrots, bears, cobras, and even the elusive snow leopard. Hopefully soon botanists will be able to enter the country safely, as its rumored no official seeds have been collected from the country for taxonomic reasons since the 1970s!
Many plants we have growing in our gardens are thanks to the natural garden of Afghanistan. Next time you are working with Tulips, Violets, Iris or Lillie bulbs you can thank the Afghans for hooking it up with some real sweet flowers.
Here is the view right outside of the old gates of the base we lived in. I still remember the first time walking through that small waddie below, I was excited and terrified all at the same time. After walking through pumpkin patches, corn, marijuana, and tulip fields and into the first village I realized everything I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, Literally. (The Big Red One is stationed in Kansas)
Here we can see yours truly, I’m giving the camera a huge goofy smile, because being out on patrols was way better than being stuck at the base, and if you look at the hole in the wall behind me you can almost just make out a fraction of the beauty I’ve been describing.
Another picture of me, I’m in the background with the cigarette in my hand. This photo was taken near an Afghan outpost. These guys lived it rough out here, but they had homemade instruments and I had my trusty harmonica, we had a lot of time to burn, so we had plenty of time to goof around and play some tunes. They once bought out some hot Masala chai tea for us to have, and I remember giving a fellow my coveted “Rangerbar” snack as a thankful return gesture. This Afghan soldier ripped it into small bits to share with his friends and that’s when I saw something that really disturbed me. Those poor bastards all shared one rancid toothbrush to 20 or so guys. Most of them were already missing teeth and undoubtedly had more cavities hidden. As the son of a dental assistant, I made sure to write a letter to my mother explaining the situation and a few months later I got a box off the helicopter that had a TON of new toothbrushes.
Imagine my dismay to see them quickly turned into tools to clean weapons.
The war is over now, and God willing it stays that way. I’ve heard a lot of language coming from my fellow Americans regarding what they think about this or that. When it comes to the the verbiage about these new Afghan Immigrants I am especially concerned, however. I can tell you from personal experience that I made many friends out there and we didn’t even speak the same language. I’m not a spokesperson for anything, but at least look back through some of the pictures in this post one more time. That is what they leave behind to come here, and unless we help them out a little, its going to be a scarier experience for them than it was for us.