Since late spring, the Taliban have been expanding their control over Balkh province, which, only a year ago, was considered the safest in Afghanistan. Now they are collecting a 10 percent tax from farmers and imposing a lifestyle guided by the strictest interpretation of sharia on cauterized villages that sprawl in the loess desert only a few miles outside of Mazar-e-Sharif, the provincial capital. In July, a bomber on a bicycle detonated his device inside the city, killing three children and an old grocery stall owner only a few blocks from the house where I stay.
But despite the violence and privation that kills their loved ones and decimates their streets, life, of course, goes on even for people trapped in Afghanistan’s immutable mass violence. Families continue to raise crops, graze sheep, cuddle their children, fall in and out of love.
And, on a good night, they go out for ice cream. One August evening, I tagged along.