'Dees ting Afghanistan,' he said

We jarred along at a crawl from Kabul to Kandahar on a hot August day last summer on one of the worst road systems in the world. We bumped along the dirt road, occasionally glimpsing remnants of pot-holed asphalt - reminders that there used to be a highway here. Soviet tanks and land mines had pretty much finished it off. A 300-mile drive that took six hours when the roads were good 24 years ago now takes 20 hours. Our driver, Malik Jan, who spoke English with a limited vocabulary, pointed out details and sights along the way. "Bobe," he would announce, "Bobe" being his best attempt at my name, "dees ting here, dees ting...." I was amazed at how well he could express himself using only two or three words. My Pashto was slightly worse than his English.

Ten hours into our journey and about a dozen "dees tings" later, we found ourselves in a desert dust storm. During strong gusts the visibility dropped to nearly zero. The outside temperature would drop, too - by about 20 degrees F., as the dust blocked the sun. Our dust-coated faces looked like bad mascara jobs. I took this photo of these shepherd children when we stopped to wait out the storm for a while. Visibility had become so poor that we were concerned we might collide with an oncoming car. That's when Malik Jan pointed through the windshield toward the invisible horizon ahead and eloquently stated the obvious: "Hey Bobe, dees ting Afghanistan."

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