• Two Afghanistans: Staff writer Mark Sappenfield says that reporting in Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, is a world apart from the nation's Taliban-flush south (see story). "In Kandahar, the danger meter is always pinging. I never wanted to be too far from our car, and whenever we spent too long in any one place, I started to feel uneasy. There was no sense of strolling through the town or driving around to enjoy the scenery. It was a military mentality: Go from Point A to Point B, do the job, move on," he says.
In contrast, going to Bamiyan was a bit like a paid vacation. "There's almost no threat, the people are lovely, and the scenery is amazing," he says.
One afternoon when Mark and his interpreter, Farouq, had finished their work early, they did go sightseeing. "We drove up a spur of the Bamiyan Valley to see a rock formation that is said to be a dragon killed by one of the first caliphs of Islam, Ali, because it is a thin ridge with a crack down the center, from which flows mineral-rich water stained red like blood. The mineral deposits have even made two formations like horns. When we arrived there were actually other tourists there from another part of Afghanistan, climbing the rock. It had a completely different feel to the place ."
– David Clark Scott