I took this photo of a mother and son in the markets in Kabul, Afghanistan late in 1976. It was a thriving, exciting place, and in my brief time there, I loved it. At times I felt like I’d stepped into ancient times, and yet it also had an encouraging modern vibe. Things felt like they were really happening for the best in Afghanistan.
The Taliban and the Russian invasion had yet to happen. Russia and American were both vying for Afghanistan’s favour. An Afghani told me both superpowers were providing support with projects and finances, almost competing with each other. He assured me with a smile that Afghanistan could walk the fine line successfully between them towards a strong independent future.
A University was thriving in Kabul, and not all women in the streets were covered like this one. No one seemed to be concerned that I wore no head cover, and walked the streets in jeans.
I became acquainted with an Afghani woman who worked at the main telephone exchange. She had been nursing in Scotland, and returned home because she felt the country had entered its modern era, with an excellent future ahead. She wore Western style clothes at work. I often wonder now what happened to her.
I was able to move around safely – although, as in all places I travelled to, I was cautious and careful. I travelled on public buses in regional Afghanistan, and lived for several weeks in Kabul by myself.
A local Afghani Hazara took me to an American centre in Kabul where I watched on television Jimmy Carter being elected to the American Presidency on November 2, 1976. Afghani Hazara are a group of Shia Muslim ethnic minority oppressed in Afghanistan. They claim descent from Genghis Khan.
My Hazara acquaintance was so optimistic about the future for Afghanistan. He was a bit of a puzzle – working as a waiter at the hotel where I was staying, although he seemed too educated and urbane for that role. One of those ‘braveheart’ patriotic sorts who appeared to have some interesting and mysterious connections. He was kind, helpful and courteous to me, and came to my rescue when the hotel manager came knocking on my door in the middle of the night, with clear ill intent! It seemed strange that a hotel waiter could put a hotel manager in fear. I instinctively felt he was one of the good people in life, and trusted him. I also instinctively felt I shouldn’t ask too many questions about who exactly he was. I hope he is safe in the world somewhere.
Within two years of this photo being taken, Afghanistan was plunged into a continuous series of wars – civil and wars with invaders.
I have fond memories of my time in Afghanistan and the country that it was then. And I hope that one day it can get back to the optimism of those times.