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The Afghanistan I Know
Kay Muldoon-Ibrahim
Afghanistan is a place most people knew little or nothing about, and probably couldn’t have found on a map, that is until the events of September 11, 2001.  Now it is the subject of daily press releases, American and allied troops have set up military bases in the country, and it has become the “ground zero” for the war on terrorism.  What a tragedy!
This is not the Afghanistan I know.

Several months ago Leo Heppner wrote a moving article for about his visit to “ground zero” in New York.  Expanding on the theme of our changed world since 9/11, I want to show you the Afghanistan I came to know and love as a photojournalist on assignment there in the early 1970’s.  I express the hope that America’s current mission can restore the country to that peaceful prosperous seeking one of 30 years ago.

As a young impressionable artist/photographer, having recently completed four years with the Peace Corps, I found Afghanistan wonderfully beautiful and exciting, its culture fascinating, and its people warm, hospitable and generous.  My assignments were for the World Bank, the International Development Association, and several United Nations organizations, all with development projects in the country – UNDP (United Nations Development Program), FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), WHO (World Health Organization), ILO (International Labor Organization), and ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization).  I also had an assignment for the Encyclopaedia Britannica Education Corporation to produce an in-depth picture story of the life of an Afghan family for their school series on family life in countries around the world.  In the weeks I spent in Afghanistan I traveled widely, photographing everything from the country’s fledgling civil air service and tourist industry, visiting the magnificent 400 foot high Buddha sculptures carved into mountain sides in the Bamian Valley, to road construction, agriculture cooperatives, mother-child health clinics, cottage weaving and leather tanning industries, and my favorite subjects - the people and the markets.

Leo ended his piece about “Ground Zero” in New York with his hopes that we may become a safer, more caring and unified country.  I would like to add to his wish that we also become a country more tolerant, understanding and appreciative of other countries, their cultures and their people. I call this “Our Shared Humanity” without which the World can never achieve the peace and harmony we all seek.  The Peace Corps celebrated its 40th anniversary with the theme, “Bringing the World Together.”  In my small way this is what I strive to do with my photographs.

The following is a selection of photos from these assignments.  I used a Nikon FM-2, a range of Nikon lenses, Kodachrome 25 with some Ektachrome 100 and 400 film, as well as a great deal of enthusiasm, affection, good humor, and patience.  I rarely used flash, as I prefer working with available light which is more beautiful, more intimate, and less obtrusive.  I should also mention that I needed to take extensive notes about my subjects, and had to engage the services of an interpreter to accompany my when possible.

grape farmer
grape farmer, #2
bringing water from the well
village elder
village boys
village of Istalif in winter
drawing water from the village well
sowing seed
cotton cooperative in Kandahar
gift of fertilizer from the USSR
nomad with his camels