Far out

By LAUREN WOLFE  |  May 4, 2007

By now, winter was approaching. The two traveled on across Iran, arriving in Kabul, Afghanistan, to clear days and 20-degree weather at night, with snow capping the distant mountains. They showed up in the only Volvo in Kabul.

Here is what Carol wrote home to her parents on October 1967: “Afghanistan is an amazing country. It hasn’t really changed in 2000 years. Hardly anyone wears Western clothes. However they are the kindest and most honest people I have met yet and completely unpretentious. . . . Dad, it is melon season here and in Persia.”

Meats hung drying on outdoor racks and turbaned men hawked yarn, apples, and utensils on outstretched wooden tables. In public, women still wore the chadri (now called the burqa), a full-length gown and veil. Lightweight and usually made of rayon, it covered the face in mesh and hung in long, thin pleats to the ground. Communism and the Soviet war had not yet gripped the country.

Carol wrote to her parents about making two purchases: “A beautiful embroidered lambskin jacket. They sell for around $10 and would be worth over $100 in the States — plus a lambskin hat for $1.00.” Also, she was “watching my food because everyone seems to get dysentery here.”

Even with the presence of dangers greater than dyspepsia, the young American remained unfazed. “The bazaars here are great. Gold jewelry and precious stones are cheap plus beautiful rugs and silks. Also practically everyone here carries a gun. It is quite funny.”

Brits drove in Land Rovers painted with “London to Katmandu” signs. Junkies wandered around buying morphine for 50 cents from drug stores. There was occasional unrest, as when Carol wrote home about student demonstrations in Kabul: “[T]hey expect some shooting before dark. The whole town is full with police and army. The demonstration is against the opening of parliament or some such thing.”

Or some such thing. Nothing to worry about, mom and dad. The melons are great.

She signed many of her letters “Your loving but far away daughter.” At the bottom of one she appended a note:

“Mother: stop worrying.”

When Carol was a little girl in Roanoke, Virginia, she would often curl up in a crawl space off her bedroom. Tucked into an eave of the roof, the niche had enough room for a blanket, a pillow, and a flashlight. She didn’t read a lot of books — still doesn’t — but she read magazines and spent time listening to the adults talk.

Her family had moved from upstate New York to the South, where the other kids had (to Carol’s ears) phony accents. She had worn jeans up north, but now was made to wear dresses; she hated that. “I liked being a nonconformist,” she says, “much to my mother’s dismay.” Which is maybe why, sometime in the fifth or sixth grade, a particular issue of National Geographic devoted to Afghanistan wheedled its way into her heart. It would take another 10 years to fulfill her now-kindled desire to go there, but she needed to go to a place that was “so remote.”

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