Wednesday, August 28, 2013


"Traditionally it was the custom of Afghan caravan-drivers to adorn their camels with bunches of ribbon, tassels, fringes and an array of good-luck charms, before embarking on their hazardous desert pilgrimage. They intended by the liberal use of these decorative symbols both to pay homage to their camels as custodians of their journey and to place them under the protection of God. For the spirits that haunted the wilderness were reputed to be evil."

"Today this tradition has survived in the form of paintings and flowers which festoon the sides of the Afghan truck. The driver and his mate are conditioned to a hard, lonely, even painful life, but its austerity is brightened by the dazzling exterior decor of the truck. Flowers transform it into a moving oasis: with rows of tulips and bouquets of roses clinging to its sides, the Afghan truck is like a traveling art gallery wending its way through arid mountains and deserts."

"The truck uses a startling variety of pictorial themes to announce its presense: aerial battles; rockets and interstellar spacecraft; armadas of galleons and fleets of steamers; duels fought to the death between savage beasts; Rustam grappling with a lion; a telephone gently plucked by a candy-pink hand. Each scene helps to celebrate the advent of the lorry amongst the men of the high plateaux and lost valleys for whom a thousand years of isolation have come to an end. These luminous comic-strip images have become the food for daydreams and fantasies of the Afghan peasant."

Since the conquest by Alexander the Great (330 BCE–327 BCE), Afghanistan has seen its share of invaders. This book of marvel trucks was conceived and published only a few years before the Soviet (1979-1989) and US marauders (1989 (and earlier) to present time). Look at the contrast in the photograph above between the "toot-toot" and the "shoot-shoot". One is at least attempting a heavenly; the other has certainly taken us to hell.

"The Mosque rallies the faithful together; in any oasis it is the most spectacular building. The truck brings people and things together in space and time: it deserves the same kind of loving attention."

"But there is another reason for the truck's elaborate adornment. The finer the painting, the more clients the truck-owner will attract. It is in a sense a part of his advertising campaign. The road may be strewn with dangers. Breakdowns, accidents, avalanches, thieves — all may be lying in wait at every bend of the road. The careful driver must know how to protect himself.

And what merchant would entrust his goods, or what passenger entrust his life, to a vehicle whose driver so patently neglected to place his truck and his load under God's protection?"


most of the photographs
and where quoted:
Afghan Trucks
Jean-Charles Blanc