Re­flect­ing change

Friday - - Society -

Pia’s up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion at Dubai’s Al­liance Française, Eyes Wide Open – An Afghan Jour­ney, aims to re­flect the changes she has seen in her two lat­est vis­its to Afghanistan.

One was in 2002, just af­ter the fall of the Tal­iban, when the coun­try was be­gin­ning to find its feet fol­low­ing 20 years of heavy war.

Hope and op­ti­mism were high, Pia re­calls, but the re­al­i­ties of five years of Tal­iban rule end­ing abruptly af­ter a lengthy civil war meant the place was dis­or­derly and chaotic. She be­come in­ac­ces­si­ble, of­ten due to con­struc­tion; some places were de­stroyed, and one thing that was very no­tice­able was the num­ber of houses be­ing built around the edge of the city, on the moun­tains that sur­round Kabul. It was here that I no­ticed a great sense of poverty.”

Ac­cord­ing to a source at Kabul Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, many of the mud-brick dwellings pop­ping up on the edge of moun­tains around the city are il­le­gal and dan­ger­ous. But many Kab­u­lis choose to live in th­ese places be­cause they of­fer a cheaper al­ter­na­tive to liv­ing in the city.

Life in th­ese pre­car­i­ous places is par­tic­u­larly hard, es­pe­cially when the win­ter months start to kick in. Few of them are con­nected to the elec­tric grid. Also, peo­ple of­ten risk their lives com­ing down and go­ing up the treach­er­ous paths on the snow-cov­ered moun­tains to get wa­ter or other daily es­sen­tials.

Through her im­ages, Pia is hop­ing to ex­press how Afghanistan is pro­gress­ing. Given that al­most all the news that comes out of the coun­try is mil­i­tar­ily re­lated, it of­fers a unique hu­man insight into Afghan so­ci­ety. Af­ter all, it was the warmth of the peo­ple that made Pia fall in love with the na­tion in the first place.

In 2002, she says Afghanistan felt a safer place. Pia re­calls walk­ing alone in many parts of cen­tral Kabul, es­pe­cially Shar-e-Naw (or New City), which re­mains the bustling city cen­tre, equipped with a fa­mous tit­u­lar park, restau­rants, and fash­ion bou­tiques.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing on Chicken Street in Shar-e-Naw and be­ing ap­proached by a group of 15 young men. They spoke to me about the as­pi­ra­tions they had for their newly freed coun­try, and their role in it. One of­fered me his scarf – a tra­di­tional Afghan one. I was very touched and gave him my scarf in re­turn.”

Any such in­ter­ac­tion and so­cial­i­sa­tion in Afghanistan nowa­days would be ill-ad­vised,

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