Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mulling Beauty: Universal or Relative?

I took a day trip to Jalalabad recently, about 45 minutes away by helicopter. I was fascinated by the view from this flying bus, which lifted off the ground and just hovered. It's a strange feeling for those accustomed to flights -- that association of speed build-up with lift off! Not so with a helicopter -- it can be just a still hover. The sound is so loud that I was lulled into a still, meditative state.

The landscape from Kabul to Jalalabad is breathtaking, with rolling green hills that change into gray boulder outcrops, then to a large river-carved gorge that resembles a mini Grand Canyon. My mind wrestled over the concepts of beauty and love -- universal or relative? Looking upon these sights, my heart told me universal. Remembering the women I've met and heard about -- beaten, killed by their families -- my mind says it must be relative.

Part of the trip was to witness opium poppy eradication -- Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium poppy in the world, with a crop of 6,700 tons last year, enough to make 670 tons of heroin. That's more than 90 percent of the world's supply and more than the world's addicts consume in a year.

Poppies are beautiful flowers, and with the vast fields of white and pink flowers around me, I wondered how difficult it was for the police and locals to go chopping them. The field of white flowers behind me in this photo are all poppies. The men behind my right shoulder are carrying out the dangerous task of eradication, much-loathed by the farmers and militants.

A young boy playing in the destroyed field over my left shoulder handed me this flower.

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