Imitation is the biggest form of flattery right? 🙂
Today terrible news from Badakshan, a remote region in the North East of Afghanistan. I visited this beautiful bur rough area two years ago together with Fawzia Koofi, the parliament member representing Badakshan.
Today, more the 2000 people are feared dead as a landslide buried most of an entire village in the area. Entombed in a blanket of earth nearly 30 feet deep, there is now no more hope for finding survivors…
I went into my archive, as I remember we visited a place that was affected by a landslide as well. Sadly this is very common in the mountainous area of Badakshan when springtime comes. Snow melts, heavy rains can fall, causing landslides, stone avalanches… No need to say how bad this is for one of the poorest places in our entire world.
Tonight, Belgian tv channel canvas will be broadcasting the documentary ‘No burqa behind bars’ by filmmaker Nima Sarvestani. It tells the shocking tales of a few women in Takhar Prison in Afghanistan and will teach you more about the so called ‘moral crimes’ of which these women are accused off.
Human Rights Watch did an incredible report on the same topic called ‘I had to run away’ , that inspired me to work on this while I was in Afghanistan myself and I would urge you to read it if you find the time.
I ended up visiting some women in the female prison of Faizabad, in the North-Eastern province of Badakshan, that are convicted for running away from their husbands.
I had heard about this woman, with a one month old baby that was jailed there, and she told me she ran away from her husband because he didn’t recognize and accepted the baby as his straight after birth. It means he accuses his wife of adultery (zina or sex outside marriage) which is one of the worst crimes in a country like Afghanistan. She knew that from the moment he didn’t accept their child, her death sentence was voiced. She couldn’t do anything else but run away. It’s exactly this running away that made her end up in prison.
Conditions in the jails are not good, but often the women there feel more safe and secure then at home with violent husbands and family in laws that abuse and beat them. They receive 3 meals a day and get medical treatment when needed.
Several hundred children in Afghanistan live in prisons with their mothers. Even though some serious efforts are done in some facilities to provide education for the children and vocational programs for the women in the prisons, most lack a chance to any proper education…
Fawzia Koofi is the first female elected Vice-President to Afghanistan’s parliament and is a candidate in the upcoming 2014 presidential elections of Afghanistan.
Despite repeated death threats from the Taliban, she remains an avid and outspoken women’s rights activist and is committed to raising the level of education and voicing problems women face in her war torn country.
All these images were taken on a trip I took with Mrs. Koofi to her home province of Badakshan. More images can be seen online on my website.
I had the most incredible luck to be able to travel to the remote mountainous area of Badakshan in the North-East of Afghanistan. The most beautiful landscapes, huge mountains and lush valleys that make you feel nostalgic very easily. You feel very small and feel the enormity of nature.
It’s however also the region where maternal and child mortality is the highest, education levels the lowest, simply because of the remoteness of the land. There’s little infrastructure to accommodate the needs of the people living there. It’s a region that’s very dependent on the elements and while I was there you could still see the immense destruction the floods and avalanches caused during the past winter.
We traveled with descent 4×4 wheel drives, but because of the destruction on the (barely existing) roads, one of our cars ended up getting stuck in the water and a makeshift rescue operation had to be conducted. Of course adding to the already existing adventure and nat geo feel of the journey.
In the end we were able to get the car free and were on with our journey. However, it does make you think a lot about the people living here who don’t have the cars like we had.
Imagine a full term pregnant woman having to travel a few kilometers like this on a donkey or even on foot to reach a health facility that may or may not be able to help with the delivery or have staff on hand to assist. Not even thinking about possible complications that could arise during the delivery…
© Wendy Marijnissen
This photo is of auntie cooking on the outside fire.
All over Afghanistan this is how most women will cook their rice and prepare dinner. Under the Badakshan sky, filled with so many stars, I stood and sat next to auntie watching her cook. I love the image because it reminds me of the the beauty of that exact moment. Without speaking each others languages (She speaks Dari and I speak Flemish and English) we understood each other. As we sat on a small wall watching the rice boil and she put her arm around me, we knew exactly what was being said and I knew I was accepted into her family.
© Wendy Marijnissen
While I was in Badakshan province in the North-East of the country I got to see the result of stone avalanches and see how small man still is in comparison to the power of nature. Many villages were hit, houses destroyed and the very little infrastructure they had swept away by stone and rocks… Last winter was particularly cold and bad and caused much destruction and loss of life.
Badakhshan is one of the country’s poorest and most remote regions. During these harsh winters, many villages and big parts of Badakshan are completely cut off from the world and unreachable by normal methods. Some parts are shut off by heavy snow for at least six months every year… This is one of the reasons why for instance maternal and child mortality is much higher here then anywhere else in the world.
I’ve just returned for the incredible Northern area of Afghanistan called Badakshan. A mountainous and remote area where nature is overwhelming and life rough. It’s a place where most people lack basic necessities like running water and electricity. Health care is provided but most people live so far away from the nearest health facility that they often come too late and this being the reason why maternal mortality is still the highest here then anywhere in the world.
We drove hours on end to get there and along the way you see the most beautiful vistas but also pass some of the most horrible roads, tunnels (Salang) and dangerous areas (Kunduz provice).
The first time since arriving in Afghanistan, I stayed with a host family and got to experience the normal Afghan life at home. With it came the most delicious home cooked food as well and I enjoyed spending my time with the women of the household. It still very much is a separate affair. Women and men hardly mix and there are different rooms for receiving male and female guests etc…
Another challenge proved to be photographing women. Even from a very early age they seem to be trained to turn away from the moment they see the camera raised to ones eye. Even on official functions or when they are very aware you are making a photograph of them, they will later come and say they don’t want you to use it because it’s not done in their culture and they could get in a lot of trouble with their families. When you hear about the woman in Parwan province being executed by the Taliban for so called ‘adultery’ while all the men of the village cheer, when you hear about the murder of Hanifa Sapi, head of the provincial office of Women’s Affairs of Lagman province, the many girl schools being attacked or students being poisoned, you have to take their concerns seriously. And even so, you always have to respect the wishes of people and show some cultural sensitivity towards the people you photograph. It seems to be a problem nowadays in photography and it often just goes about getting the image quickly without thinking about the consequences for the people in the photograph. As long as they have the images, that’s all that counts…
More images to come in the next days. But for now I’m trying to set up some more things here in Kabul and also try to rest up after this incredible week. I seem to have slept for 12 hours last night, so it seemed it was very necessary 🙂