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Lions Roar : November 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2006 93 the gunmen he was forced to take along as bodyguards repeatedly boasted of the people they had killed, and seemed to be torturers, too. But Stewart, an erudite Scot who appears to speak several dialects of the local tongues, was driven to journey into the heart of uncertainty. He was walking, of course, in the foot- steps of such great adventurers as Pat- rick Leigh Fermor, who walked across Europe in his teens, during the 1930s, in a journey described in his Time of Gifts, as well as Wilfred Thesiger, Eric Newby, and Peter Levi. Englishmen (and they are nearly always men) enjoy a grand tradi- tion of seeking out wild places and set- tling in among the (generally male) locals as if in an exotic version of their boarding schools, spartan and punishing and lit up by a bracing monastic simplicity. Stew- art himself went to the same high school (Eton) and the same university (Oxford) as Peter Fleming, Robert Byron, Colin Thubron, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley. All of these explorers might, for their courage, have been soldiers or, for their erudition and linguistic skills, civil administrators. Stewart, in fact, has been both—he served in the Black Watch of the British Army, he worked in the Brit- ish embassies in Indonesia and Montene- gro, and his newest book is about serving as the coalition’s deputy governor in the Iraqi province of Amarah. Only 33, he’s already been made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Stewart’s mission in The Places in Be- tween, very much like that of a reconnais- sance officer (or a spirited diplomat), is to map Afghanistan at ground level, giv- ing us sketches (verbal but also literal) of everything he passes. He is so attentive that the only other Brits he meets, some soldiers, assume he has to be a spy. He re- cords the questions the Afghans ask him (usually having to do with how much a wife costs in Britain), he takes in villages laid waste by the Taliban, he sleeps on the floors of village huts, and he catches day-to-day lines of power and realities that, as he tells us, all the well-intentioned do-gooders who never leave Kabul know nothing about. You realize, as the trip goes on, just what gave the British Empire its strengths, at its best, in administrators as sensitive and learned as this. Stewart can debate details with professional historians—his pages are littered with footnotes—and at many dangerous turns, he knows just what it is wise, or not wise, to say (sometimes ad- mitting he’s a Christian, sometimes claim- ing to be a Muslim from Indonesia). In the classic way of those Brits who love to live rough with the Pathans or the Bedou- in, he seeks out and finds in Afghanistan both the lineaments of a vanished age and people who constantly mourn the passing of their culture’s Golden Age. But he is also honest and persistent enough not to look past “Iranian flip flops marked ‘Nike by Ralph Lauren,’” or rulers eager to learn about broadband. This is travel, in short, not as vision but observation; travel as a way of accumulat- ing documentary footage, day by day, of a culture too often seen in the abstract. Travel even as a way of making a larger diplo- matic point about how a young blunderer stumbling through a series of villages may PHOTOBYRORYSTEWART The 12th-century Minaret of Jam, located in Western Afghanistan, which is adorned with calligraphy, geo- metric design, and verses from the Koran. ANCIENT WISDOM, HERE AND NOW Contemporary works by Paul R. Fleischman, M.D. PARIYATTI A not-for-profit educational organization offering resources to suppor t the path to liberation. www.pariyatti.com 1.360.978.4998 At your favorite bookseller or YOU CAN NEVER SPEAK UP TOO OFTEN FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS Poems that illuminate our connection with the web of life. THE BUDDHA TAUGHT NON- VIOLENCE, NOT PACIFISM Reflections on injustice, individual choice and skillful action. CULTIVATING INNER PEACE Learnable lessons from famous exemplars of peaceful living including the Buddha,Thoreau, Gandhi, Muir. KARMA AND CHAOS Eight essays on the practice of Vipassana meditation, and cause and effect.