Living the Life

His speedometer is busted, stuck on 45 kph. His gums have crept halfway down his big, yellow-ish brown teeth. He likes to play wailing Afghan music about as loud as he can stand it while swerving down mountain roads. When he smiles his face, criss-crossed by cavernous creases, glows. His name is Saeed Mirza and he is the baddest driver in the Panjshir.

He wears a forest green correspondent's vest and keeps a keffiyeh wrapped rakishly around his neck. His faux-Gucci wrap-arounds sit untouched on the dash. He's got a Brett Favre-like salt-and-pepper three-day beard and his hair is cut in a chic, Roman style, with short bangs flat against his forehead. He speaks in an Anthony Quinn growl and is loved by all. Locals smile and wave as he zips through their village. He chats with policemen and security guards as if they were his cousins. He rarely goes three minutes without a full-bodied belly laugh. He drives an aging Toyota wagon across hellishly dangerous Afghan highways for a living yet this man, this Saeed Mirza, full of life and mirth and verve, may be the richest man I've ever met.

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