A few days ago I wrote in this blog about how the Helmand
River valley was rendered fertile by an ancient irrigation
system built by the Pashtun tribes in the area. As diplomats
here have pointed out to me, thats only part of the story.
Stewart shook me awake around dawn in the small room where they barracked us on the base in Sangin. The squaddies had made fresh porridge, a rare break from rations. It was in the headquarters building across the canal that runs right through the compound. You arent supposed to go more than 20 metres on the base without helmet and body rmour, so I suited up and hurried over.
Before I joined Reuters I worked in Africa for a while, where I developed a strong sense of how geography shapes civilisation. The quality of land, access to water, distance from markets — all these can sow the seeds of conflict. Nowhere is a better example of this than Afghanistan, and I often try to throw a little geography lesson into my stories.
We have hit the ground running. No sooner were we
comfortable in Kabul then we were whisked off in the back of a
Hercules cargo plane to Camp Bastion, the tented camp for
British troops in southern Afghanistans poetically-named Desert
of Death of Helmand province. The camp, as a British sergeant
once reminded me, is not far from where an entire British
brigade was wiped out in the Afghan wars of the 19th century.
The Baluchi and Pashtun tribesmen who first called it the Desert
of Death named it well: it is about as forbidding a landscape as
Ive seen anywhere. Flat and dry as the moon, covered in pebbles
and grey dust like talcum powder. Blisteringly hot in the summer
and (as I learned last December) freezing cold in winter.
The Dixie Truckers Home in McLean, Illinois, off Interstate 55 and alongside what used to be Route 66, may not be the first American truckstop. But it’s definitely one of the oldest — and one of the most revered among aficionados of the old cross-country highway.