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January 23, 2003

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Second day in Herat and we want to compare notes with other foreigners about how to travel in Afghanistan. At the bank we have trouble finding someone who will accept dollars for the local currency, afghanis (1 dollar equals 47.5 afghanis). It seems that local merchants, not banks, handle consumer money exchanges. One money changer, a young man named Najib, speaks a little English and offers to help us. We ask if knows any Americans. He leads us through Herat's backstreets to an unmarked home. Guards outside let us enter, without Najib (who goes home), and inside we meet a US Army team. They perform a humanitarian mission in Afghanistan, implementing various projects aimed at improving life and infrastructure for Afghan villagers. They provide us with excellent hospitality, food, and advice about Afghan travel. They're surprised to see tourists, so we swap stories: their stories are more interesting.
The Jameh Mosque, the biggest and most important structure in Herat.
At the Jameh Mosque we meet some men from the Historical Society, one of them speaks a little English. He invites us to his office which is a factory for making mosaic tiles. We drink tea and watch men of all ages chip, hammer, and shape clay into tiles that are painted and baked into brilliant turquoise, saffron, and green ceramics.
Afghanis guarding the Army compound are surprised that someone dressed like a Taliban is allowed inside.