The bridge over the lime green Panj River at Ishkashem, Afghanistan, is one of our young century’s great invisible hinges.
It is a simple bridge. Made of crudely poured concrete. Dusty. Little used. (Indeed, a rusty gate locks access to all traffic from 4 p.m. to late morning.) Yet history—worlds—collide here.
On one side of the span: Tajikistan. The Russian language. Battered old Lada cars. Lethal vodka sold in plastic bottles. Cratered pavement. Girls wearing trousers. Lines of yellow poplar trees. And phone and electric power service—all the fading legacy of 70 years of colonization by the Soviet Union.