KABUL, Afghanistan – Donkeys. Crater-sized potholes. Burqa-clad street squatters. Unpredictable street closures. Pickup trucks filled with heavily armed guards and mercenaries. Monster-truck size armored convoys. And a construction season that never ends.
Oh, and the threat of IED’s and suicide attacks.
Welcome to just another ordinary commute in Kabul.
It’s perhaps the most jarring feature of a city that’s survived 30 years of war. When you come to Kabul, there are a lot of things you expect to see: Walled compounds, security guards, helicopters flying overheard.
What you don’t expect is the traffic. I’m not talking ordinary, exit-at-the-next-turnpike traffic. I’m talking sprawling, bumper-to-donkey-to-cart traffic that snarls for hours. With no working traffic lights and even fewer stop signs, Kabul is a veritable nightmare for getting around. A 10 kilometer commute can often take longer than two hours, even longer if there’s just been a snowfall.
Even roads in the supposedly nicest areas of the city – the places where Afghan warlords have built ridiculously monstrous supersize-me gated mansions – feature potholes so deep they resemble shallow graves.
Getting to your destination typically means weaving through a sea of wooden carts, cyclists, beggars, phone card dealers, and other drivers who pass so close if they roll down the window, they’d be close enough to light your cigarette.
And if you asked them, they probably would.
In a city where might rules the road, where the only traffic rule is that whoever has the most guns in their vehicle gets to go wherever they want, Kabul’s army of traffic cops is cleared out-gunned. First, because most don’t carry guns. And second, because most drivers have never had any formalized, structured training on the rules of the road.
The end result: Drivers will often drive the wrong way directly into oncoming traffic, and the police are powerless to stop it.