By Jawid Habib
July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s beauty and war-torn history naturally motivated me to love photography with a passion. Although I’ve never taken any formal classes in photography, I was determined to bring back my experiences from a country that is known as the Heart of Asia and share them with the rest of the world.
With hundreds of photos to choose from, choosing which photos to include in this photo essay was not an easy task to accomplish. Each picture has a story to tell, which I partly interpreted based on my experiences. But ultimately it is up to the viewer’s imagination to paint the rest of the many stories embedded in each moment captured through the lens of my camera.
Rings of Hope. July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
While sitting down with relatives in a religious ceremony hosted by my parents to commemorate the passing of my uncle and aunt at Heray banquet hall, I noticed a tall white bearded man approach me – clothed in brown khakis, a simple t-shirt, and with a black Nikon camera hanging from his shoulders. His name is Aldo Magazenni. Suriya Pakzad, an activist, Afghan humanitarian, and my mother’s friend, introduced Aldo to my parents and I. Coincidentally, I was wearing my black Aldo dress shoes the day I met him. Aldo invited my wife and I to visit his water project in Farqah district which eventually provided thousands of Afghans with clean drinking water. The project was completed by the district’s native residents, under the supervision of Aldo and local Afghan engineers.
Masjid-e-Jammeh (The Friday Mosque). June, 2005. Herat, Afghanistan.
Constructed during the Timurid Dynasty (1370-1526), Masjid-e-Jammeh is Herat’s largest mosque and is attended by thousands of worshippers for Friday prayers. It is said that as much as skilled workers refurbish the mosque’s ancient glazed tiles, there is always more work to be completed. During my recent visit to Afghanistan, a bomb exploded in close proximity to the mosque which nearly killed my cousin, Aziz Ahmad.
Herati Wedding. June, 2005. Herat, Afghanistan.
My mother (center), playing a daf drum during a relative’s wedding celebration as family members walk towards the bride’s home. Afghan women typically sing folkloric music while playing the daf as children dance to the music.
Grapes. June, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
Juicy white grapes that satisfy the stomach and soul. These grapes are from my brother-in-law’s farm in Kabarzon district, situated in Herat’s countryside.
Midday Rest. June, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
Afghan cooks take a much needed rest after cooking large quantities of food for thousands of hungry stomachs. Their meager wages and tough working conditions make life extremely unbearable. That day, I had the honor to sit down with the dozen or so workers at Heray banquet hall and shared with them my experiences as an Afghan youth born to refugees in the United States.
Veteran. June, 2009. Kabul, Afghanistan.
A former Mujahid freedom fighter, stands next to his produce store in Kabul city. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans were maimed and millions were killed during the Afghan-Soviet war that preceded the end of the bitter Cold War.
Friends Forever. July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
Thanks to the benevolent support of the Afghan diaspora in the United States, my parents and I were presented the opportunity to distribute food aid to displaced Afghans at a refugee camp situated near the city’s historic minarets. The refugees have amazing stories to share. Some were displaced due to NATO and ISAF bombing raids in their villages, and others were simply forced out of Iran.
Pictured: Children from the refugee camp gather around for a priceless picture that depicts a magnetic bond that had kept their hearts and souls strong throughout their lives of displacement and war.
Gratitude. July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
A refugee steadily accepts a bag of food from my mother as a boy looks on.
Cry of Desperation. July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
We had just finished distributing food supplies to displaced refugees. Our food ran short and I speedily hopped into the back of the green pickup truck. As our truck began to leave the camps, a helpless woman looked directly into my eyes–anguished. There was nothing I could do. My heart sank. All I had to give her distraught soul was a smile of hope; I vowed to return and will return, God willing.
Departure. July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
As we headed out of the camp, a sizable group of refugee families accompanied us to our trucks hoping there would be more food. Looking into their eyes, one can find a unique story accompanying each individual.
The chase was on…
Afghan Michael Johnson. July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
…and so it was. I will never forget the speed of the young Afghan boy pictured on the left, as he sprinted with determination. I am assuming they simply wanted to chase our trucks for fun, or perhaps they thought we had more food.
Dalaane Baghdasht. July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
The Dalaans of Baghdasht are dark tunnels that lead to homes and roads. These old mud brick tunnels and homes were once inhabited by wealthy landowners that held high prestige among Heratis. They continue to house both the richest and poorest residents of Herat.
Sunflower. July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
Nuqrah village’s sunflower seeds are just as popular amongst Afghans as David’s Original Sunflower seeds are among Americans. David better run out to Nuqrah and become acquainted with this prospective supplier…before it’s too late.
Kabul River. June, 2005. Kabul, Afghanistan.
The Kabul River fills up during the summer months as snow melts from the nearby mountains. As the river water increases, so too does the realization that city governance is abysmal – for many reasons. Insanitary conditions create a plethora of health problems, but are a reminder of the urgent development needs before Kabul can regain its former beauty.
Tomb of Gowharshad Bigum. July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
Gawharshād Bigum, or Shining Jewel, was the wife of Shah Rukh, the emperor of the Timurid Dynasty and son of Tamerlane. Bigum led a cultural renaissance that led to the construction of many mosques and theological institutions in Herat city.
Agony Illuminated by Hope. July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
Although his facial features depict a tumultuous Afghan lifestyle devastated by bloodshed and war, his eyes glimmer sparkles of light, signaling hope for a bright and peaceful future.
Upon viewing this picture, Asim Alam, a friend of mine, commented, “The mud wall behind him mirrors his wizened face. This is a beautiful picture, and speaks volumes about Afghanistan’s past and the ordeals of its people.”
Professor Michael Provence, director of the Middle East Studies Programs at UCSD, suggested that I discover further information about his historic past. It will be interesting to know what lies behind this man’s piercing eyes that remind us of Sharbat Gula, the famous “Afghan Girl” whose picture was taken at a refugee camp by Steve McCurry in 1984.
Flying Kites. August, 2005. Kabul, Afghanistan.
It is true: Afghans love to fly kites and fight them with their glass coated strings.
Trusted Laborer. July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
Although this man’s landowners live among the Afghan diaspora in the United States, he continues to work their land after three long decades.
Schoolgirls. July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
We visited an all girls’ school in Nuqrah village, an agricultural community situated in the outskirts of Herat city. The school was infested with insects and bugs that constantly bit teachers and students. The mud-bricked walls were unstable and their only restroom was deplorable. They didn’t even have a well for drinking water which forced students to walk miles to receive water from the nearest well. Amidst all this inconvenience, summer heat, and potential for diseases, these girls bravely walked to school and extracted whatever knowledge was available.
Schoolgirls’ Well. July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
We swiftly took action and made a call to the States and a well was dug for the school the same day. Today, my family and I are in the process of establishing a new school for the girls in conjunction with the Afghan Literacy Foundation and other donors.
Village Well. July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
With the generous sponsorship of the Doost Family in Phoenix, Arizona, another much needed well was built in Nuqrah village. For the first time, these children had clean drinking water. They were amazed.
Old House. July, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
My grandfather’s birthplace. Now ruins, my forefathers dwelled in mud brick homes located in Nuqrah Village. My grandfather went on to become a provincial accountant in the northern Faryab province, and introduced the radio to the city of Maimana.
Camel Traffic. August, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
We ran into a herd of camels as we traveled to the scenic village of Karukh. You don’t see this on I-5 everyday!
Family Picnic. August, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
Amidst the insecurity, we couldn’t resist traveling to Karukh village, which is nestled in a mountainous region northeast of Herat.
Innocence. August, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
My daughter, Ferdouse. Just as her eyes have enlightened my life, I hope her actions give new life to an ailing Afghanistan.
Dealership. June, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
Afghan men, including a few of my cousins, sit around a dealership office attentively listening, as Mohammad Qasim speaks to a distributor in Canada. Car sales have greatly increased since the fall of the Taliban and have become an extremely popular source of income for Afghans who can afford the investment. An average car such as a 1995 Toyota Corolla costs around $1,500, while a luxury SUV can be as high as $30,000.
Catastrophe. August, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
It was August 4, 2009, and I was sleeping on my khala’s (aunt) roof like any other Afghan that takes advantage of Herat’s cool summer night breeze. Around eight in the morning, the entire city and I were abruptly woken to a heart trembling blast. Ghulam Yahya Akbari, a former city mayor and rebel, targeted a high-ranking police commander’s convoy as the commander went to work by placing a bomb near a dumpster. The blast ripped through the commander’s vehicle and tore apart the wall and glass of a nearby home. The cowardly action resulted in the death of more that 12 innocent bystanders and injured at least 45 others. Among the dead was a watermelon vendor whom my family regularly bought watermelons from, a small child, and an old frail woman.
I was terrified, shocked, and angry. After joining my family for a breakfast for which I had no appetite, I immediately called my cousin Farzad, who is a local journalist in Herat, and made arrangements to visit the scene of the blast. Wasting no time, I met up with Farzad and hopped onto his motorcycle where we speeded off in a hurry. By the time we got there, the police had already cleaned up most of the carnage, but people continued to congregate to get a glimpse of Yahya’s injustice. The following photos are that of the devastating scene and of some the individuals who were martyred that gloomy morning of August 4th.
I took it as my duty to risk my life that day and gather whatever footage I could obtain to share with the rest of the world. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Father Loses Son. August, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
Perhaps one of the most unforgettable moments that day was when I witnessed a father wailing over his son’s dead body. I will never forget the man screaming and falling onto his knees as fellow Afghans took away his son’s body to the hospital’s morgue. I was able to capture this scene on my camcorder but not so much with my digital camera. His pain speared my heart. As they took away his son’s body, the white-haired old man shouted, “For what crime did you kill my son???”
Cowardly Attack – August, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
As Farzad and I entered the hospital, we were directed into the morgue, where the body of an old woman, young girl, and two young policemen lay. I gave Farzad my camcorder and stood over the bodies, raised my hands in supplication, face down, and prayed for their martyrdom. The young girl, whose body had not yet been identified, laid there–lifeless. I wondered what plans she had that day. Did she go out to buy some bread for her family so that they may enjoy a nice breakfast? Was she the old woman’s grandchild? She definitely was not going to school on a road where children normally walk by at eight in the morning…
That day, August 4th, Herat’s schools were closed in observance of the upcoming elections.
Young Policemen. August, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
As adrenaline rushed through my body that hot summer day in the hospital’s morgue, questions rushed back and forth through my head. How can any human being commit such injustice? Anger rushed through my veins and sweat soaked my clothes. A nurse next to me said, “Damn! What kind of sweat is this?”
These young men were out patrolling the streets for no other reason that to bring bread to the table. They looked forward to playing with their kids, or reading a book. They were preparing for another Ramadan with their loved ones. They didn’t deserve such an ending. No innocent human being deserves such an ending.
Election Day – August, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
On election day, rumors emerged that criminals planted bombs all over Herat. As much as I wanted to cover the elections with my amateur photography and journalism skills, I couldn’t risk my daughter growing up without a father. So, I went to my cousins house and climbed up her roof where I caught a glimpse of anxious Afghans lining up to vote for Afghanistan’s next president. The criminals fear mongering proved unsuccessful: large numbers of Afghans, young and old, male and female, showed up to vote. Although this photo shows a limited number of voters, lines eventually wrapped around this school which served as a voting center.
The Vote. August, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s most recent elections were a complete failure, for the most part. Corruption was rampant across the country, and Afghans complained about ink that easily washed away, which allowed many to repeat their votes.
My cousin’s neighbor had two of her fingers stained with this special dye.
Mesmerized. August, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
If you haven’t visited Afghanistan, then make sure you hop onto a rickshaw. Although dangerous, this mode of transportation really allows you to enjoy the scenery Afghanistan has to offer.
Here, Ferdouse and I are caught – lost in a trance into the future, although Ferdouse does seem a bit sleepy.
Malik’s Family. August, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
Two weeks before this photo was taken, this family lost a loved father and husband to gastrointestinal cancer. My family has been searching for potential sponsors to support Malik’s widow and children in order to keep them off the streets so that they may pursue their studies.
The idea is not to hook families on a welfare-styled sponsorship model, but rather to support families establish small businesses so that they may eventually stand on their own feet and prosper. We are looking into providing microloans based off a model established by Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen bank, only without charging the interest. The project is in the works.
Parwana. August, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
Beaten, cheated, neglected: These words describe young Parwana’s life, who is seventeen years old. At an early age she was forced to marry a man from the city. After two kids, she discovered her husband was cheating on her. He threw her out of the house and now she lives with her parents who can barely provide enough to support her or her two children.
Teamwork. August, 2009. Herat, Afghanistan.
If ants can work together for the betterment of their lives and society, then human beings can surely accomplish such a task.
Mansions Galore. September, 2009. Kabul, Afghanistan.
The fall of the Taliban and arrival of Karzai’s government led to a boom in real estate prices. Afghans who were once poor farmers with worthless lands are now the wealthy aristocrats who are the talk of the town. Many of them sold their lands two to three years after the U.S. invasion when prices were at their peak, and are now building four to five-story mansions in the most affluent neighborhoods of Herat.
Election Chair. September, 2009. Kabul, Afghanistan.
Azizullah (Aziz) Ludin, Afghanistan’s Chair of the Independent Election Commission, has served the Afghan people with a plethora of knowledge and skill for most of his life. Recently, he was under fire for allegedly mismanaging Afghanistan’s elections which resulted in widespread fraud. In a recent interview with the UK-based Telegraph, he said:
“Everyone knows that if an area is not secure, you cannot expect people to come out and vote…It will be worse than last year. In such conditions, how can you expect to hold an election?”
At his residence, I grasped the opportunity to chat with him and observe his reactions to the politically motivated attacks he and his commission constantly received. He is a humble man, even though he holds a Ph.D. in economics and holds regular meetings with top officials from around the world.
Kabul Fried Chicken (KFC). June, 2009. Kabul, Afghanistan.
That’s right, the Colonel made it to Afghanistan!
Pushing Carts. July, 2005. Kabul, Afghanistan.
Poverty has forced many young Afghans like this boy to resort to laborious work. If he doesn’t work, his family could go hungry. Poverty has devastated Afghan families for decades and has paralyzed countless Afghans from pursuing their endeavors to attend school who hope that they may one day become a working professional.
Destruction. August, 2005. Kabul, Afghanistan.
Remnants of Afghanistan’s horrific past continue to haunt Kabul’s residents. This building was not destroyed by the Russians, Taliban, or the Americans; this building and many others were destroyed during Afghanistan’s four-year civil war that lasted from 1992 to 1996 between rival Mujahideen commanders.
Push. July, 2005. Herat, Afghanistan.
Our car ran out of gas on our way to a family picnic at Shaidayee, a greener terrain situated in the outskirts of Herat. My cousins, uncle and I push the pickup truck to a nearby gas station.
Cleaning Shoes. August, 2005. Kabul, Afghanistan.
An Afghan boy cleans shoes as people wait in line for their turn. Young boys and girls like this child are usually forced to skip school in order to support their families. Many of them have lost their fathers to Afghanistan’s ongoing conflicts.
Afghans love polished and good looking shoes, especially when there is a family gathering, wedding, or just to stand out!
The Afghan Watermelon. August, 2005. Herat, Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s watermelons are known to the melon lovers of the world. Their sweet watery taste is enough to quench anyone’s thirst during hot scorching summers.
This cute girl just couldn’t get enough.
Soaked. July, 2005. Herat, Afghanistan.
A girl from Baghdasht village playfully splashes water on me as I capture the moment. She lost her father during the Taliban’s reign to an illness that could have easily been treated in the United States or any medically advanced country.
Today, she is studying and is determined to become a physician.
Joy Ride. August, 2005. Herat, Afghanistan.
My aunt, Homayra, and her son, cruise through a village on their way to a family outing. You may have noticed by now that Afghans love to go out! My uncle, Sultan, is seen sitting in the middle seat of the van as a radiant light shines upon his face.
In 2007, two years after this picture was taken, my uncle Sultan died of congestive heart failure that was untreatable in Afghanistan’s shabby hospitals. Subsequently, my aunt Homayra died in a car accident on the day her grandchild was born. The taxi she sat in did not have any seat belts.
Destroyed Tank. August, 2005. Herat, Afghanistan.
Badly damaged tanks litter a hillside near Herat’s Takhte-Safar park. The tanks were said to have been targeted by American cruise missiles targeting Taliban targets in 2001. Some were destroyed and others are simply remnants of the past–we hope.
Good Idea? August, 2005. Herat, Afghanistan.
Kids fool around in the trunk of a Corolla as their father speeds away.
Irresponsible parenting or lack of civil authority?
Prayer. September, 2009. Kabul, Afghanistan.
Praying amidst a serene rose garden supplicating for peripheral peace; overlooking a war-torn Afghanistan stricken with grief.
Kabul Sunset. September, 2009. Kabul, Afghanistan.
The sun sets in Kabul Afghanistan during the holy month of Ramadan. The smell of bread and Afghan food as people began to break their fast at sunset, was enough to make this journey an unforgettable experience.
I pray that Afghanistan finds peace, justice, and communal love, so that every Afghan may live a life defined by everlasting happiness and prosperity.
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