Trip to Gardez, 3-4 April 2005
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Background
Kabul
Driving in Kabul
Leaving Kabul
Roads
On to Gardez
DDR
Gardez Camps
Fortresses
Sp Forces
Marriage
Random Thoughts
Conclusion

 

Driving in Kabul

Any GI who gets behind the wheel over here shouldn’t drive for at least a month after getting back home.  

I don’t think Kabul, or Afghanistan, has the concept of speed limits quite nailed down. Certainly no money is wasted on speed limit signs. Each driver goes anywhere there's room and as fast as he can when he sees an opening.

By the way, “he” is not politically incorrect. Females don’t drive here. They don’t even shop much. (Is this a great country, or what.) The streets are crowded, but mostly with men. The women are at home, where they properly belong.  

I’ve seen rambunctious driving before, notably in Haiti in ’95 and Korea in the '80s, but nothing to compare with Kabul.  

Since the Taliban were ousted in December 2001, the country has been flooded with United Nations and humanitarian organizations, and by American and European military. Streets are filled with construction and commerce. Afghanistan’s GDP growth rate for 2003, the most recent year for which data is available, was 29%. 2004's will be even higher. In most countries, a growth rate of 3 or 4% is normal.

Taxis speed everywhere, usually old dented yellow-and-white Toyota Corolla station wagons, even some Corolla sedans like the ones I remember from Bangkok in the late '60s. Also some old Russian Ladas and Czech Skodas you wouldn’t expect to still be running. Many newer SUVs, too, mostly military or UN.  

But no speed limit signs, no stop signs, no traffic laws. Or if they’re here, are ignored.  

That may be because until the past year or two, there has not been a police force to enforce them. Germany is the nation charged with developing the police. (An inspired choice.) A vehicle licensing system seems to have begun recently. You still see vehicles without license plates at all, or more often with old, bent, faded plates in arabic lettering. But more often now, and a positive sign of the government gaining control, vehicles have the new squarish plates displaying “KBL” and numbers a westerner can read.  

Driving seems to follow two rules: 
1) the bigger the vehicle, the more right of way it has, and 
2) once another vehicle is in front of yours, it goes first even if it gained that advantage illegally or unfairly.  

Yet I’ve never seen a single instance of road rage. 

Someone cuts in front of you, a car comes out of a side street without stopping causing you to step on the brakes with both feet, and it’s OK. No one gets excited. No one shows anger, not even frustration. Maybe it’s an expectation that everyone is armed, or that the other guy is a veteran of combat during the past 25 years. So everyone shrugs off a selfish driver – at the next intersection, that selfish driver could be me – to be thankful no metal got crunched, no bones got crushed. 

Better than taking it personally and seeing 7.62 or 9mm rounds coming your way. Which, with all the weapons routinely carried over here, wouldn't be at all surprising.

 

next: Leaving Kabul