The drive back to Bamyan City from Panjob occurred in slow motion. One of our cars had died – causing the men to argue back and forth in an attempt to breathe life back into the vehicle with hot air. The women sighed. The men failed. And so after an hour a festively decorated van with an unenthusiastic driver arrived to take us home. While we had raced to the districts in pickup trucks that could handle the unpaved roads and rough mountain passes, we hobbled back to the main city in an aged van – which perpetually snorted and stalled in protest of having to make the trek at all. I was couched in between two others for hours, trying to fight off my nausea with only the driver’s screeching, dissonant local music as an anesthetic. Our windows went up and down and up and down as the dry heat and the wind flooded the air with dust. I was more dust than skin by the ride’s end.
After we stopped in front of my hotel, I climbed out the van – staving off my impulse to kiss the immobile earth in front of the leering security guards. I said goodbye and thank you to Shuhada. As I watched them drive away, I realized that this almost the end of my time in Bamyan. A friend was visiting from Kabul for the next several days. After that, it was back to Kabul to work out of Shuhada’s head office. And a few weeks later, I would fly back to Cambridge.
As dusk quickly enveloped the caves where the Buddhas once stood, I looked out over a valley where lines of crops wove together with intricate precision. Little girls in bright tunics ran circles around older women as they walked down unpaved roads – their pale blue burkhas pulled back revealing their tan, wrinkled skin. It would be impossible, I thought, to adequately describe a world so isolated, yet so abundant.