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May 2011 Issue
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Tea with the Taliban

Tea with the Taliban, by Ian Robinson

Travels in Afghanistan

By Ian Robinson

Bateman Publishing, $29.95

When most of us think of Afghanistan all we picture is “death and destruction”. But travel writer Ian Robinson says while this is what we see in the media, there’s much more to the war torn country.

Robinson’s book Tea with the Taliban recounts his three month journey through the land in 2008. Many westerners who travel there hire private security contractors to protect them from being kidnapped or from other threats. True to his derring-do style, however, Robinson strode and rode through the dangerous land by himself.

His fascinating book gives a refreshingly nuanced and honest account of the everyday realities of Afghanistan and its people. Rather than sit in the safety of blast-wall protected hotels, Robinson wanders around cities alone and meets a variety of interesting Afghanis who he says for the most part were “extremely hospitable”. “Everyday people would invite me in for tea,” says Robinson.

In Kabul, he even sits down for tea with an elderly member of the Taliban and argues with him about past events that shocked the West. Rather than only giving an official history of the places he visits, Robinson weaves in the voices of local people to provide a much more textured feeling of the losses, tragedy and poverty of a land called the ‘graveyard of empires’.

After exploring Kabul, Bamiyan and the ancient city of Herat, Robinson travels to the north of the country, buys a horse and treks through the little known Wakhan Corridor which shares its borders with China, Tajikistan and Pakistan. “There are no landmines, there’s no Taliban and it was never fought for by the Russians. It was just this little corner that got forgot about,” says Robinson. He and his horses trekked through this mountainous corridor, with 7000 metre unclimbed peaks, with the aim of reaching the Big Pamir, a large valley the Amu Daria, or Oxus River, runs along the border of.

Robinson doesn’t compromise his Kiwi values when he meets locals, even when he is alone and incredibly vulnerable. This story of a straight forward bloke making friends with people from a very different culture in a little understood land makes for engaging reading and provides a much needed alternative account of a land where New Zealand soldiers have been serving for 10 years.

 

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