Trip to Gardez, 3-4 April 2005
Driving in Kabul
Leaving Kabul
On to Gardez
Gardez Camps
Sp Forces
Random Thoughts


Modern Day Fortresses

Zurmat is about 25 miles from Gardez. It took over an hour to drive there.  

Not because of traffic jams. No, just a bad road, a dirt road with ripples and washouts so bad that most of the trip was made in 2nd gear. Bouncing around like shoes in a clothes dryer, I finally saw the utility in a Sport Utility Vehicle.  

The road passed through a broad valley extending for miles to the mountains on either side. Not a single tree in sight.  

Instead, what seemed to sprout from the ground were huge walled compounds.  

Most were off in the distance, hundreds of yards or more from the road. With nothing next to them, not a vehicle or tree or person, it was hard to estimate their size. But based on their gates, I’d guess their walls are 12 to 14 feet high, and based on our home back in Georgia, I’d guess the walls surround 4 to 10 acres.  

I’ve seen these “fortresses” everywhere I’ve traveled outside Kabul, which admittedly is very little. To see even one of the forts is remarkable, yet they’re everywhere. Some sit alone, the only one in miles, probably the first in the area. Others, as in the photo above, sit near each other, a stone’s throw away. Surrounding them, the land is flat and eroded, bare of topsoil and trees, all the way to the inevitable mountains.  

Building with brick and mud is the most common method here, both in the city and out in the country. If not in material, these walled compounds seem to be an enormous investment in labor and time. In America we might put up a privacy fence, maybe a barbed wire or split-rail fence, maybe just some chain-link around the yard to keep the kids or dogs in. But a 14-foot high, 2-foot thick wall expected to last 60 or 70 years, completely surrounding the entire property?  

Obai told us three reasons for the massive walls:  

1. Ownership. Without surveys and a government office to record the boundaries of your land, ownership is declared with a permanent wall.  

2. Security. These walls stop bullets, grenades, shrapnel, robbers, muggers, etc. Some of the compounds add turreted watchtowers for increased security.  

3. Privacy. Women inside the walls have the freedom to be outdoors without a burka, with men outside the family unable to see them.  

Have to say, for this country, its culture and its history, it makes sense. 

Once inside the walls, an Afghan would have his own universe: homes for extended families, shelter for domestic animals, gardens, orchards, wells.  

The rest of the country can descend into chaos, but inside my walls all will be well.


next: Special Forces camp at Zurmat