This is Post #29 in the new Series “Going to Afghanistan”.
Mrs. Fred W. Clayton
405 N. Roop St.
Carson City, Nevada
Senders name and address:
Fred W. Clayton
c/o USOM / Afghanistan
Hotel Claridge – 820 Connecticut Avenue N.W. – Washington 6, D.C.
Harold B. Morris, Manager – MEtropilitan 8-3935
24 Oct. 1958 (Friday)
I love you and miss you so very much. Wish you were here to enjoy the day to day activities, the trips, the parties, the scenery and the work.
I have just reread your four letters (4) the last of which you wrote 13 Oct. ’58 at 6:50 A.M. I hope to get more mail tomorrow.
I picked up some diarrhea in Amritsar and took entero vioform but have found the “Mucilose” prepared from psyllism to be the most effective thing for “sticking one together again”. In as much as the “sea baggage” may not be here for another month I’m rationing myself on these items. More of each of these items should be brought by you.
I’ll try to write the rest of this letter so you can use it for any distribution you may care to make. Some of it may be duplication.
Page #3 of this letter continues on Stationery from:
Glenbrook – Lake Tahoe – Nevada
(This is stationery from the Glenbrook Golf Course which WAS Glenbrook, Nevada in 1958)
It is fitting that I should write about Kabul and Afghanistan on paper from Glenbrook Nevada for Nevada and Afghanistan are similar in terrain and climate. In fact Kabul and Glenbrook are almost at the same elevation above sea level.
As I sit here writing in my room at the I.C.A. Staff House on this Friday night in late October I could well imagine the clock to be turned back thirty years to a ranch house in Nevada. My room is very comfortable for winter living as it is on the second floor over the kitchen and is on the southwest corner of the building. The south and west walls each have four casement windows five (5) ft. high by three feet wide. With 12 ft. of window on each of two sides the room is well lighted and well ventilated. The windows are presently draped with white sheeting. The walls are plastered and painted green. The ceiling, about 9 ft. above the floor is also plastered and painted white. The floor is concrete partially covered with a red and black Afghan rug.
The door is on the east wall near the northeast corner. Along the east wall is a chest of drawers made of teak with a new mirror above it. South of the chest of drawers is a sheet iron stove (locally called a bukhari) with a low fire burning for protection against the chill of the clear night air.
Along the north wall toward the door is a wardrobe 7 ft. high by 4’ 6” with double doors. West of the wardrobe is the bed with a night stand on each side. The bed is a single one with a Hollywood foot.
On the night stand in the northwest corner is the tape recorder. In the southwest corner is my air freight packing box.
I’m sitting at a modern design white oak desk facing the stove. A bare electric bulb with a small glass shade above it hangs from the center of the room. A new table lamp of German manufacture sits on the right corner of the desk. At night this table lamp sits on the other night stand by the bed.
The major noise outside is the barking of dogs with the occasional crunch of shoes on a gravel walk. A door slams and a voice calls out in the sharp staccato of Pharsee. Only then is the Nevada ranch spell broken.
The Staff House is large having some seven rooms and two bathrooms on each floor. It is built of adobe bricks having walls about 20” thick. The second floor and ceiling is supported on poplar poles laid edge to edge to make the floor, concrete is poured over the poles. The ceiling plaster is applied to the underside of the same poles and has a minimum thickness of ½ inch.
The roof of the house is sheet metal and is pitched with hips at the four corners.
There are four of these houses in a row on the western side of the compound. Two of the houses are used for Staff House quarters, one for the dispensary and the fourth to house the motor pool offices, the property offices, and the visual aid dept.
The entire compound is about 1/8 mile square and is completely enclosed by a mud wall two feet thick and about nine feet high.
The compound is entered by a single gateway in front of the most southerly house; the one I am in. This gate way is guarded day and night by one or more turbaned Afghans. After midnight the gate is barred and braced from within.
The office is about ½ mile away in a similar compound in similar houses. My office is on the ground floor and has a large bay window to the south.
The compounds contain trees and some lawn. Most have ditches running through them for irrigation.
Kabul is a cosmopolitan city in the same sense that San Francisco and Istanbul are. Here the races and the tribes of Europe and Asia have met and mixed for centuries. They were transported here, not by ships of the sea as in the other two cities, but by the ships of the desert. The camels; also by horses and donkeys and by foot. Today the streets of Kabul contain mixed traffic of cars, trucks, camels, horses, donkeys, cows, sheep, and chickens.
Night before last on my way to a diplomatic reception at the Embassy Residence my car was stopped by a band of sheep being driven across the street under the light of the new German street lamps.
Every morning I am awakened by the braying of the donkeys followed by muffled noises of fire building in the kitchen and the bath rooms. The wood fired water heaters serve the dual purpose of providing a nice warm bathroom morning ablutions.
Kabul is well policed and unlike most cities outside the U.S.A. the lower floors are not protected by heavy iron bars and iron doors. Siemans store has show windows of glass which are not covered and are kept lighted at night. This is unusual in Europe, let alone Asia.
The greatest hazard one encounters walking the streets at night are the huge fierce dogs owned by the nomads who may be spending the night on any open ground in the city. Some of these dogs look almost like hyenas being markedly larger at the shoulders than at the hips. They respond only to their masters and evidently don’t understand English.
Monday 20 Oct. ’58 I accompanied the Continental Allied study team (Bennett, Burris etc.) to Gulbahar to see the huge textile mill being built there. Gulbahar is about 50 miles north of Kabul. The valley between here and there looks much like the Owens Valley in California except that it has much more water and is much more productive. Grapes are raised in abundance. Some are marketed fresh and others are dried for raisins.
Most all fruits, vegetables and grains are grown in this valley as was some cotton. Sheep and cattle are also raised. Maximum farm size is about seven acres so living is somewhat meager.
At Jabal us Siraj is a small textile plant (53 looms) and a hydro-electric power plant. This power plant was the first one in Afghanistan and was built before World War I by an American engineer named Jewitt. If I am not mistaken this man was the husband of Mrs. Jewitt who was Clyde Huston’s secretary and the father of Don Jewitt who used to work for Elmo Di Ricco in the State Engineer’s Office (Please check this when convenient).
Ralph Krause is leaving next Wednesday. He is taking a tape recording of Afghan music which we made here at the Staff House on our recorder. He will duplicate it in Palo Alto and will give you a copy and the original. He will make a second copy which he will take to Sid and Cleo in Washington for us.
Ralph and family will be up to Carson this winter to ski. His girls are in their early teens and love the snow. His next door neighbor Tom Morrin – my old school mate at Bowles Hall – has a cabin at Bijou, Lake Tahoe.
I must close now and get to bed. It is mid-night and the frost is on the pumpkin.
All success to your politicking. Hope you have a good Nevada Day. Wish I was there.
All my love,
Going from last to first: Fred was proud to be a Nevadan, he was a second generation native born Nevadan. His grandfather first passed through what is now Elko in 1852, went to California and returned about 1859 to settle in the state permanently. Nevada Day was important to Fred.
Both Morrin and Jewitt (the name may be misspelled) represent Fred’s ongoing preoccupation with “Small world stories”. The world to him was one big continuous Facebook long before facebook was ever invented. He did not need the computer or the web, he had an irontrap memory and correlated names and name information constantly. Of course Tom Morrin lived right next door to Ralph Krause, of course Ralph knew Homer Angelo – Fred’s world was almost always like that, everyone was connected and connected to each other and connected to Fred. But he had another advantage – Fred and Lloydine really did know a lot of people.
Bowles Hall is in Berkeley, California. It is on the UC campus and like the Staff House is a residence hall. Fred’s second love after Small World stories is “interesting places to live”, which includes hotels (The Claridge), Bowles Hall, the ICA Staff House, and a very long list of unique places to temporarily “hang your hat”.
The Owens Valley look alike is where the Bagram Air Base build by the Russians is; now occupied by the American (Nato coalition) Command. The airfield did not exist in 1958. Owens Valley was once very fruitful before the water was stolen by the City of Los Angeles (a story partly told in the movie Chinatown). Some of Fred’s near relatives were well situated in the Owens Valley before LA made its move and were “wiped out” along with many others by the water wars that LA unscrupulously won.
The dogs Fred describes are the “Coochie dogs”, probably the meanest and most powerful attack dogs on earth. They are very fast and agile and have virtually no neck (a dogs most vulnerable spot). German Shepherds and Pit Bulls would not stand a chance against a Coochie dog; and Coochie dogs are skilled in teamwork and competition so there is always a race between the “always two” to see who can be the first to take an intruder completely down.
Much of Europe, even Paris, had a tradition of shuttered night windows on shops and businesses. Virginia City (Nevada) had iron shutters one almost all buildings (you can still see some of them this day). The practice was widespread in Gold Country and dominated the older buildings in San Francisco. Istanbul and Cairo and Jerusalem were shuttered cities; Kabul was not.
Much has been made more recently of the “tribalism” of Afghanistan and the “melting pot” of America. In fact Afghanistan is far more of a melting pot than America is. The complex genetic mixing of eastern and western peoples inherent to virtually every Afghan is the result of thousands of years of trade, invasions, and conquests beginning long before Alexander the Great’s Greek armies and Roman Empire trade routes that reached to China. The British armies and those of the Russian Tsars made their mark in mingling with the seeds of Genghis Khan, the Persians, people from the tribes of India. The racial diversity of what looked almost like the whole world could be found on the streets of Kabul, melded into a soft patina of color that might only be best described as “Afghan”.
I have posted before on the tremendous loss of “quality of life” when one lives there lives without the daily presence of a diversity of animals; animals on the street, not just “dogs or cats” at home. Animals bring out the best in humanity unless the humans are warped to cruelty. The Afghans were generally not cruel. There were no trained snakes like in India, no bears on chains. There were no bull fights or bear baiting contests like in the Spanish world. Afghans did not flog their horses like the British; not a “Black Beauty” culture. Camels were loaded and led, not raced like in Nevada (now) or in Saudi Arabia (then and now). There was no breeding or stadiums for “Horse racing, “dog racing”, “harness racing”, the mounting of Ostriches – you get my point. Most Afghan animals helped with the work; but were part of the team that kept the whole society going. Some animals were of course eaten (Afghans don’t eat pig), but the killing was always done in a religious manner, forms and customs to reduce the waste and pain. There was of course the problem of the “caracal”, so let’s not assume everything was perfect.
New Mexico even today has many houses built of adobe. Fort Churchill in Nevada was built of adobe. Much of Spain and North Africa and India is of adobe. The Jerusalem of the Arabs and the Jews was mostly adobe; the list goes on and on. There are different sizes of brick, different mixes, different procedures – some bricks are dried, some fired. There are important differences in floor and roof design, in the use of corbels, in the way poles are placed, in the way walls all fit together.
The Afghans had adobe architecture pretty much down to a science; arguably they even had earthquake resistant adobe design; not made by engineers, but pieced together by the collective experience of a thousand years of earthquakes so seasonal you know when to expect them. Adobe compound walls surrounded almost everything, certainly every house and home. The wall around the Staff House was a full one half mile of adobe construction, as Fred said, “nine feet tall and two feet thick” – tall enough to keep the Coochie dogs out at night.
Kenneth (Ken Clayton) worked as a golf caddy and lived at Glenbrook in the caddy shack during the summer of 1957. The Glenbrook Golf Course was (and I believe still is) one of the most exhilarating courses to play in the world. Many expert golfers in California preferred Glenbrook to Carmel (Pebble Beach). The stationery Fred used for this letter was collected by Ken and a few sheets taken to Afghanistan by Fred.
In India they call intestinal distress “Delhi Belly”, some call it “The Trots”. In Mexico it is “Montezuma’s Revenge”. There are a hundred different colloquialisms for this essentially same disease. What Fred really had was “Kabul Tummy (the KT‘s)”; but then if he got it in Amritsar, maybe Delhi Belly would be “closer” to the truth; check the mileage or test the water. The point is that one can not necessarily drink the water without boiling it at high boil for a full twenty minutes – those were the rules then; we have bottled water now.
So Fred finally wrote a real letter, the kind that Lloydine had asked for, the kind of letter Fred could write when he had time, the motivation, and was not sick. It’s the kind of letter everyone wants to receive or read from overseas; descriptions, color, narrations about how good life can be when life is really different; not the same stores, gas stations, streets and lawns – the joy of having new and different neighbors. And Fred wrote the letter to be shared and read, his own words, so now I share this letter with you. It makes you want to go there (to Afghanistan) doesn’t it? It made me want to go. The irony of course is that what Fred loved so much about Afghanistan as stated in this letter is what he was there to forever change.
It’s like a sand mandala of the Hopi or of Tibet; first you create the beauty, then you see it, then ones hand moves and takes it all away.
So now we can not go there. Not really see it like it was. We can only “go back” in our minds; see pictures, read letters, imagine the way it was. And maybe we can imagine too the way it could be; if things were different; if the Afghans and if Afghanistan had been just left alone.
The Post Office is nearby where one might buy some stamps – Kabul street scene in October of 1958.
ICA Staff House – one of four buildings – and the ICA Staff House lawn – Kabul – October 1958.
This was the day the Afghan musicians would play. It was a course in Afghan music, probably never recorded before, but maybe. Just in case Fred had the Norelco ready. The tape recorder can be seen on the table to the right. Ralph Krause will take the tape to Washington D.C. and Stanford.
The USOM Staff House lawn was a lovely place, the acordian is not native to Afghanistan, the other instruments are.
Everyone wore a karakul hat then; it was more western than the turban, helped foreign trade, went well with western suits and western shoes. The camel drivers were not invited to this event – they could not afford the clothes.
An Afghan meat market – Jabal us Siraj, Afghanistan – October 1958.
Photograph taken by Fred W. Clayton – This photographic image is copyrighted by Donald Clayton, all rights reserved – first published 2010 on QalaBist.com.
Afghanistan did not have “meat markets”. It had meat vendors. The vendor killed his own animals, chopped them up, sold one pieces the size and shape they wanted. Each purchase was weighed with a scale – everything was fair. If you don’t trust this man shop someplace else. No pork was ever sold, just cow and sheep and some said the occasional goat. What you cannot see in this picture are the ever present wasps (attracted to the raw meat). This man will never get stung, but most others hurry along with their transactions. These pants and shoes and turban are Afghan wear, not western. The coat; well it is a coat that could go anyway – on or off like a simple beard.
Project Identity 720 ——————————————————————————————————————————————————————  35:069 – Asia – Afghanistan – Parwan Province –
Jabul us Siraj –
This photograph was taken on (or about) October 20, 1958 by an American engineer in Afghanistan. The identity of the person pictured is unknown. If you have any information regarding this person or his family please E-Mail this website.
2010.04.02 – 22:31.