It took five hours to cover the 250 kilometers between Farah and Herat, the cultural capital of Afghanistan and home to mosques, minarets and my boss. I had been pretty excited about the trip for a number of reasons, not least of all being that I was finally going to get to see the fabled Blue Mosque of Herat. I'd been scheming to get to said mosque since my failed efforts to sneak into Afghanistan while traveling after my junior year in college, when I was a carefree idiot and the Taliban were still in charge.
But of course I didn't make it to the Blue Mosque -- which, I discovered after some mournful googling, is actually called the Jumah ("Friday") Mosque, to avoid confusion with another Blue Mosque in Afghanistan, in Balkh province in the north. I didn't actually make it into Herat proper at all: our trip was exclusively to military bases on the outskirts of the city, first to Camp Stone (run by the Americans, with a chow hall that stocks both excellent onion rings and non-alcoholic beer), and then on to the heart of things at Regional Command West (RC-West, if you will) headquarters at Camp Arena, co-run by the Spaniards and Italians.
It was definitely an interesting trip, tagging along with the Commander of our PRT to his meetings to provide the governance-focused civilian view on things. We had scores of meetings, the most important of which was with the general in charge of RC-West -- a stately, handsome Italian one-star named Claudio Berto who looks exactly like you'd expect an Italian general to look. After years of working at huge embassies (tiny cog, enormous machine), it was definitely odd to be one of two people sitting down with a general in charge of thousands and thousands of soldiers, and to have my opinion matter to him.
I am slated to head back to Herat in September, and am determined to see the blue mosque come hell or high water. In the mean time, I was more than content with a truly excellent pizza, a half dozen espressos crammed into a 24-hour time frame, and a ride home that happened to pass by a small herd of wild camels.