The landscape is forbidding and inescapable. Blinding, terrifying sandstorms come without warning, turning something so peaceful into a sudden, pummeling black night.
And a small thing that tells you what it is to be female in Saudi Arabia -- we couldn't find a ladies' room when we needed it. Our guides went to the men's room and cleared them out for us.
In Afghanistan, schools that were once forbidden by the Taliban are now rebuilt, but there's still so much work to be done.
And guess who was in Afghanistan with UNICEF at the same time we were? "American Idol" Clay Aiken.
Teachers and students told him how much they need books for their libraries and computers for their science labs.
Aiken asked the class if anyone wanted to be a teacher, and several students raised their hands.
Rebuilding Rich Culture
We met someone else who has dedicated his life to Afghanistan -- cultural anthropologist Rory Stewart, who actually walked across the entire country.
"Afghanistan, in some ways, has an extraordinary kind of austerity and almost innocence in village communities," Stewart said. "The people either have seen their wives and children killed in front of them, they've seen their parents killed in front of them, and yet they've got great smiles on their faces, and they're being unbelievably productive. And that's a very, very impressive and humbling experience."
Stewart and Shoshana Coburn created the Turquoise Mountain Foundation to lend a hand to the people of Afghanistan in piecing back together the splendor of their past, one stone at a time.
Shoshana Coburn showed us the Kalainu-Borga fort, which means nine towers.
"That's the last remaining tower that's actually fully standing -- the rest are completely destroyed," she said.
Afghanistan has a rich cultural history that's hanging in the balance. People in Afghanistan keep their focus on the future.
"It's much easier politically to say we can turn this place into Sweden, but you can't," Stewart said. "It's a very, very poor, fragile, traumatized country. We cannot expect to transform it overnight. But we can make it more just, more free, more humane, more prosperous if we focus."