It is hard to explain why I took a job in Afghanistan. One reason is because I wanted a bit of adventure after living in Singapore for two years and hoped to take photos of Kabul in my free time. People always ask me if I felt safe in Kabul. Well, I was uneasy on most days and on some days, darn right lucky. On my second day at my office, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) were launched at the government building next door for 18 hours. A few days later, seven people including six kids and one Nepalese Gurkha were blown up at a nearby compound. There were many other close calls that may be labeled as happenstance but were downright eerie.
Taking photos brought a sense of normalcy to living in a war zone. During my long commute across dusty and bumpy Kabul, I saw fathers take care of their daughters, kids throw paper airplanes off of mountains, and lots of bikes. There were tons of dirty, old Chinese bikes that Afghans rode everywhere. There were cops on bikes and food deliverymen on bikes. I even spotted the ‘Bookseller of Kabul’ peddling with a mountain of books strapped to his back wheel. Sadly, they were even suicide bombers on bikes. I only saw one woman on a bike because in Afghanistan women riding bikes is taboo and illegal. The Afghans like to keep things closed and shut, so to speak!
Out of the thousands of miles that I spent in the car, there was only one female biker in Kabul. I am very proud to have caught the young lady cruising on her bike in her school uniform. Kabul is a high desert surrounded by the gorgeous 5,000-meter high mountains of the Hindu Kush. From my speeding armored vehicle, she looked like she was riding on the moon.
I turned down a chance to ride an oversized, junky bicycle in my hotel compound. I had not been in the saddle for months. Out of respect for the Afghan guards who would be watching me ride, I declined. You can get away with some things in Afghanistan and riding a bicycle inside the walls is low risk.
Instead of going on a short spin around the yard, I showed the Afghan security guards my photos of Kabul. They liked my photos and noticed my bicycle shots. One guard, Qais snipped that he sees these street scenes all the time.
Exactly. Repetitive. Boring. Normal. Perfect.