More to the Point, Why Doesn't Everyone Care?
Steve McCurry took a photo of a young girl in a Pakistan refugee camp in late 1984. She was from Afghanistan. This was during the time when the USSR occupied Afghanistan and many Afghans fled to Pakistan. Nevertheless, this single photo has haunted the world and me for over twenty years. Who was the person called merely the Afghan girl?
It took National Geographic years to find the Afghan girl. Her name is Sharbat Gula. She was born about forty-four years ago in a remote Afghanistan village. The original photo of the Afghan girl was taken when she was around thirteen. A half dozen years later, Sharbat Gula was around twenty when she returned to her village in Afghanistan in 1992. In 2002, National Geographic's search team found her and was able to identify her as the Afghan girl through an iris recognition test.
By then, Sharbat Gula married Rahmat Gul and had four daughters, one of which died soon after birth. Interestingly, she had never seen McCurry's photo of her taken in 1984.
That is the backstory of Sharbat Gula. Why do both these photos haunt me? What I saw in the first photo was a scared young teenager. She had seen suffering during the war with the USSR. During the conflict, many of her family members were killed and life was far from enjoyable for her.
I get the same feeling from the most recent picture of a woman suffering in life. She lives in a world of sexism culturally and religiously. Only her suffering is exacerbated by the passage of time. In her family portrait, her husband is happy, but she isn't. Additionally, look at the face of the little one in the red hat. To me, it looks like a toddler's version of her mother's first picture along with the most recent one. Life hasn't been good to her or her mother, which is tragically obvious. However, Sharbat Gula is merely one of many, many millions of women in the world today.
I have never met Sharbat Gula, and it is doubtful that our paths will ever cross. So what haunts me? Why do I care?
I don't like seeing anyone suffer. However, having danced with death twice, I know that my time is extremely limited in this world. In my remaining time, I can help people avoid undue suffering. In a strange way by vicariously helping others, it helps them and reduces the level of my hauntings.
Also, the word that resonates in my mind daily is legacy, which is due in large part to me dancing with death a couple of times in the past decade. What is the legacy that I leave my family and the world? I don't wish to be remembered as uncaring and not involved. Additionally, I can, in some small ways, affect the legacy of others by helping them avoid discomfort. Perhaps, I will reduce the number of people in the future who create haunting pictures of themselves.
The next question is for you my reader. Do Sharbat Gula's photos haunt you? And if they do, what will your legacy be? Choose wisely.
This is a very interesting video about the search for the Afghan girl.
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