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Afghan Portraits

On her fifth visit to Afghanistan, Iva Zimova took a series of portraits. Her subjects were rural people: farmers, beekeepers, vendors and policemen in the country's northern provinces. We present the pictures alongside extracts from her letters home.

Salaam everyone. I am back in Afghanistan, a totally different Afghanistan than I have ever seen before: the dry and dusty land I remembered is surprisingly green. There has been enough rain this year so the hills are carpeted with grass and grain, farmers plough their lands, goats and sheep happily jig around. It looks idyllic.

I am staying with the Czech NGO People in Need. They have funds for work and livelihood projects, agriculture workshops, and the construction of new schools and granaries in rural areas.
Salaam from Afghanistan again. My second field trip was to the village of Kishindeh. The harvest season has begun. In Afghanistan, men usually harvest grain manually with a sickle, a scythe is unknown here. Tractors are rarely seen.

I went to two schools; one was built by an NGO and the second is a state school which has one small room with one window and a blackboard. Pupils sit on the floor; there are neither tables nor chairs. Nevertheless, it is good that children go to school at all.

Some, like 12 year old Fauzya, are not so lucky. She doesn't go to school, she doesn't know how to read or write. She studies only the Koran in a mosque. I was told that she will be married to some old man when she is 15.

Salaam from Mazar-e-Sharif, salaam for the third time. Weather is hot, hot, hot. The mercury in the thermometer rises to the sky; today it stopped on 40 Celsius.
Hot water is coming out of both taps. Potatoes are cooking under the ground and chickens are laying hard-boiled eggs. Okay, I am exaggerating, but it feels this way. And we sweat and sweat and sweat.

On my third trip to the field, we were passing a small town where a bazaar was in full swing. The street was busy with men on motorcycles, sitting in front of their shops, selling nans or sheep or just wandering here and there. We were the only women there. Even though we were in the car, our driver gave the order: 'Put burqas on.' I was the last one who put it on. I was fighting with this unfamiliar piece of clothing - I couldn't find the front and couldn't find the top. The ladies tried to help me; many hands were grappling with this blue monster. Finally we managed it. I was under the blue burqa. There was just one mistake: I wore it inside out.

Salaam. The security situation has worsened. It probably has to do with the upcoming elections. The Taliban are coming out, visiting rural areas and recruiting new members, especially young men and boys.

We keep our heads down and consider our every movement, but continue to work. In Zare, People in Need presented a farmers' cooperative with a new tractor and wheat thresher. A big ceremony was held, speeches were delivered and the thresher was used for the first time. Everybody was happy. It took seven minutes to thresh one bag of grain, where before it would take a full day driving several donkeys or cows in a circle.

Salaam. My 'mission' for the NGO is finished. My last shoot was in Toqay district: a beekeeper, agriculture nursery and wool processing workshop.

So goodbye Marghzar, goodbye Zare and Kishindeh. Goodbye Mazar-e-Sharif, goodbye Balkh. I am off to Kabul on Saturday.
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