Amongst the Alpha Male Aid Worker Community, you cannot claim any greatness without having served a mission or tour in Afghanistan. Conversely, a tour in Afghanistan makes the weakest CV and shortest of careers seem weightier than it really is.
In my 25 years as an aid worker I worked for significant spells on the borders of Afghanistan (Pakistan and Tajikistan) but must confess to a rather meagre number of actual days in country. All told probably a month of days spread over a decade. Just enough to bluff my way with Alpha Males.
Here are some photos I made on those trips. The opening one is a detail of the gorgeous tomb of Hazrat Ali in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. It was 19996 and just a few weeks after the Taliban had captured Kabul and thus claimed the title of ‘rulers’ of Afghanistan. Mazar was ruled by a cruel Uzbek opportunist in the fine tradition of Afghan warlords, named General Dostum who ran his own airline (Balkh Air), didn’t prohibit booze and welcomed the NGOs, UN and other aid agencies to his fair city. I remember walking around in the evenings I was in town and chatting with all manner of refugees from Kabul who were predicting terrible things to come from the Taliban. The city was overflowing with them.
The year is 2000 the location is Faizabad. By this time the Taliban had pushed everyone back to the far edges of the country and Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan Province, was the final stronghold of Ahmed Shah Masud the great Lion of Panjsher who had held first the Russians, then rival mujahideen and now the Taliban at bay. Herein Faizabad, girls were proudly educated and these four are coming home after a day of studies.
This little tyke walked up to our UN plane right after it landed in Faizabad to have a look at the white folks getting off. In the background three Soviet era relics and in the far background the snowy peaks of the Pamir mountains.
Afghans are some of the finest more resilient business people in the world. Here in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1996 a carpet dealer counts his money.
Afghan children in the courtyard of their home in a village near Pul-e-Khumri in the north. 1996.
In the dirty bazaar of Faizabad, in 2000, a man with a weak leg (perhaps a war injury) sells sweet Afghan mountain grapes.