Afghanistan

Embedded perspective

I can say that Afghanistan was once home to me. As a child I lived there for four years, when my family had to escape Iran after the Islamic Revolution and found refuge in Kabul. I remember the smell of dust, when the first rain drops touched the dry soil.



The sound of rockets hitting nearby buildings and my parents sleeping with us girls in one room wishing if we shall die, we should die at least together. I remember how my father took me to the local market to rummage through piles of clothes to find something suitable to wear. I always asked him to buy me one of those cheap plastic rings but there were more important things we needed. I remember the sweet taste of ice cream that my parents bought us in the park and the embarrassment I felt when little girls and women begged me for money, assuming those who can afford ice cream are wealthy.

I took these memories with me when I returned to Afghanistan in 2013 and was introduced to cultural facets I had not known before. Living with locals enabled me to experience the country from their perspective, to see beauty in the simple things, experience the joy of unexpected visits and wedding announcements. Being integrated in local structures allowed me to find a different approach to strangers. I put my guard down, overcame my prejudice and fear and invited others to do the same. I experienced generosity among those who had very little and was touched by the stories of those who had never read a word. My photo essay is an attempt to show Afghanistan from a perspective that is different from the war torn images we are used to. They show the faces of people who are proud, content, tender in their relationships, welcoming in their encounters.


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A shopkeeper at the famous birds market in Kabul. Trained pigeons are used in a game in which neighbours release their pigeons for a flight shortly before sundown. While the females usually follow their own male leader, sometimes they change their herd in the air and therewith their owner.
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When I asked this shopkeeper for permission to take a picture, he first fixed his hair and neatly put his radio aside before indicating to me that he was ready. Later I returned to him and gave him a print of this picture. He showed his gratitude by giving me a bag of fruits.
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A young man selling home-made soup on a market.
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Mother and daughter washing dishes in a nearby stream. Their house neither had electricity nor running water.
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Portrait of a little girl, approx. 6 as she was a first grader. On each picture I took of her she had a different expression. This one I find the most revealing.
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Portrait of an Afghan woman in her 30s, hard work leaving marks on her face. She did not receive any formal education but ensured that all her children went to school.
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Portrait of a young man, approx.. 15, working together with his family on a potato field.
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A family enjoying a cup of tea after a long day of work on a potato field. The father had studied engineering in Iran but could only manage working as a farmer once he returned to Afghanistan.
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Portrait of a man in his 50s. He allowed me to take pictures of him and his family and shared his tea and bread with me before heading home.
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Women enjoying a day out picnicking together with the two youngest family members.

Photo Essay by: Milla Khodai


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Milla is a researcher and has worked as an advisor with development aid agencies. The photos for the photo essay were taken during her field work in Afghanistan. “I was extremely fortunate to have met people who supported my endeavour. I am forever grateful for their generosity and indebted to the kindness they have shown me.”

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