A solitary journey in the Afghans’ land. Sharing food, sleep, efforts, hunger, cold, whispers, laugh, and fear. Travelling by bus, taxi, horses, trucks, on yak-back. From the Iranian to the Chinese border, on the Wakhan snows, armed with a notebook and a Leica, all set for the privacy of each meeting. Balkh, Panjshir, Samanghan, Herat, Kabul, Jalalabad, Badakshan, Pamir Khord, Khost wa Firing: weaving all the time in order to avoid the bandits, and following the complex security geography that all Afghans know very well. When speaking to Afghans, I discovered that war is a multi-million self-fuelling machine, that just to keep working goes as far as paying in a roundabout way bribes to its own enemies. From the time when I refused to travel “embedded” in a military unit – wearing a Kevlar helmet – I re-discovered the world that Europeans, from Maillart to Bouvier, loved a lot, that same world that after ten years of military presence, we have given up to know. The Sufis cradle. The tolerant Islam s cradle. The cradle that the West likes to ignore, as much as Bosnia. A world that Talibans hate, and our bipolar crash scheme threats. A naked and mineral country, where a tree has an unrivalled majesty, where each person has no room for arrogance. Deserts where the call “Allah u Akhbar” sounds much purer than anywhere else. A dazzling land with endless skies, so flooded with sun to the point that in order to give new meaning to light, fire, and shining looks it is necessary to seek shelter in the shade. Inside, at sunrise, at sunset. A desperate country where women are crushed by tribalism and opium is the only medicine of the poor, but where a foreign woman may be welcomed in a mosque and where the stranger’s enchantment is considered as a blessing. In this country one risks his/her own life just by going to school and in the outskirts children wake up at four a.m. to go get some water on donkeys’ back. Yet, in this country there is irony, and people laugh even in their darkest moments, have affection and show respect to the eldest, are conscious that their only chance for a future life is in schools and in their children, the men of tomorrow. In the “bright garden” of Afghanistan I have followed by instinct its paths, and found centers of hope in the most un-hoped for places, at the darkest bottom of desperation.
A solitary journey in the Afghans’ land. Sharing fear, sleep, hunger, cold, whispers, laugh. Travelling by bus, taxi, horses, trucks, on yak. Following the complex security geography and codes of behaviour to survive that all Afghans know very well. I wanted to see-things as an Afghan sees, to be as vulnerable as they were. This is how I entered their intimate world and I re--discovered the world that Europeans, loved a lot, that same world that after ten years of military presence, we have given up to observe and to know. One day I have been told by Afghans that the soul of a dead person lives in every seventh bird. Therefore it is worth feeding them all, with millet and water. I passed a lot of my afghan nights to assist the prayers of Sufis, humble muslims hated by the taliban and ignored by the West, as much as in Bosnia. The keeper of the grave of their beloved Poet offered me a rose. The prayer goes on and on. The zikr is on the same wavelength as crickets and the breath of the night. Nearby, the Sheikh wrote with his finger the Prophet’s name on the body of a child who had bad dreams. Thus his body became the Name. I found a dazzling and with endless skies, so flooded with sun to the point that in order to give new meaning to light, fire, and shining looks it is necessary to seek shelter in the shade or in the night. In the ‘bright garden’ of Afghanistan, I followed its paths instinctively, finding centres of hope in the most hopeless places, in the darkest depths of despair. Beyond the mythical Oxus River, is Tajikistan. The Tajik people, divided by the river and its history. The same code of honor, the same poets, the same hospitality, sour milk, flat bread , veal, as in Abraham’s tent. Kabul, city of Babur, the Mughal emperor who conquered it without bloodshed, who loved it so much to dress it with a garden of roses, who built BLIT here his own grave, a bare stone under the sky, washed by rains. Kabul, shelter and grave, end of the line for fleeing people, hung to the sky with kite strings, with no exit. What do we know about the pain of these afghans we pretend to protect? Hopeless kirghiz, forgotten behind the closed doors to Tagikistan, China, Pakistan and the Pamir mountains. Each winter they lose over 20 people for each 1200 of the population. The nomads in Afghanistan – cul de sac – the way of no return. During a chronic war the nomads suffer most, as the Gipsies did during the Balkan wars. Here I passed night in the house of Haji Osman who cuts a candy in four parts, with a small knife, for all four grandchildren. In this house i lived with the Ishmaelite minority, wakhi people, known for its tolerance to women and its strong mystic authority. The only one place in Afghanistan where the men give me their hand. Yet, in this country there is irony, and people laugh even in their darkest moments, have affEction and show respect to the eldest, are conscious that their only chance for a future life is in schools and in their children, the men of tomorrow. These Afgan people, mostly illiterate, have told me: “This is a war over our children. We are a lost generation. 13,000 girls in the largest afghan school in Herat, so passionate about learning that they study underground and in tents where scorpions lurk. And for afghan people to educate their daughter means to educate the whole family. Perhaps, in Afghanistan the real battle ground is the woman’s body, not the territory. Adolescent girls are taken away, raped, killed, sold, imprisoned in accordance to the law, in order to pay for tribal insults perpetrated by men. Death threats by the Taliban, nailed at night on the doors of parents who dare to send their daughters to school. Acid thrown at girls’ faces in Loghar. Poison fed to girls in schools in Kunduz. What do we know about the juvenile prisons where female adolescents are incarcerated after escaping from forced marriages? What about 16 year old Anar Bibi, who tried to kill herself and ended her life slowly and painfully after 80% of her body was burnt. Two dark cherry eyes, still smiling, are what is left of Anar Bibi. She has chosen self-immolation not to be married to a man she did not want, in exchange for eight thousand dollars and two cows for her family. In this desperate country where women are crushed by tribalism and opium is the only medicine of the poor, a foreign woman may be welcomed in a mosque and her enchantment is considered as a blessing. … The kuci, jugi, poorest of the nomads, struggling to survive in garbage dumps in Kabul: half of their newborns do not survive winter. But may be all afghans are in danger to became kuchis a displaced and disspossessed people waiting for an impossibile escape. Adolescent Afghan boys are running away from violence, Talibans, poverty, bombs in villages and in refugee camps. Many of them are orphans. They work as slaves in Pakistan, they freeze to death on the Iranian and Turkish mountains, they are closed in Iranian jails, they choke inside containers in the attempt to reach Bella Italia, and the European Union, they get drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, among luxury yachts and tourist cruises. We spend millions trying to fight terrorism abroad, and then treat them as worms. Let them die in the name of the Schengen Agreement. What about CHILDREN with no legs, in a country where the casualties due to antipersonal mines continue to increase? Abdullah is 12 years old and he has lost his legs and an eye for mines. As said Milarepa, the buddhist master: "This body of ours, so difficult to have, so easy to annihilate”. “I have never seen such endurance in pain, as if the threshold had been lowered” told me a surgeon of Emergency, the Italian organization on the front line for 20 years to help the countless Afghan war victims. But, thanks to God, does exist in Afghanistan the malang, wandering holy man who operates a kind of a Hospital of God, the sanctuaries where - in the absence of real hospitals - people come to receive benedictions. The malang blows the baraka; and with a gian knife he cuts all the invisible evil out of the body. This is the land where Jalal Ud Din Rumi, called Mevlana, was born, the Poet who said: “Come in whoever, come in whoever you are! Are you an idolater? An unbeliever? An atheist? Come in! Our home does not house desperation. Even if you broke a promise for a hundred times… come in!” One night I saw Clandestine rites of Shia covered in blood and tears in a theater of pain. For Hussein, the most beloved Imam. Not far from here, one year after, the past december a boy of 17 – educated in the Pakistani madrassas, crammed and stuffed by bombs and propaganda – will blow himself up, and kill women, men, and children at a celebration. So… Afghanistan does not mean just war, although we have been fighting this war for ten years already, on thousand-year-old silk roads, destroying delicate balances and feeding monsters. The war is all over the place. in every face, in every thought, in everybody’s daily life. “Here life is just a matter of style” they keep telling me. Behaviors change from place to place. Everything is just theatre. Even for Talibans, who shave themselves before entering Kabul. Hats, patu and burkas are stage costumes. The art of survival of the afghan people is something so chic, so dainty. … They smile and speak of the worst things. When afraid, they smile and speak. And as animals they softly slow down their gestures. And always smiling, with impassible eyes, they try to sneak away, to diseapear.
photographer&writer on the road, ted fellow