My trip to Afghanistan began many, many years ago, on the eastern border of Poland, my home country, walking through the forests of my grandmother’s tales—a land where every field hides a grave, where millions of people were killed or deported in the 20th century.
Beyond this destruction, I discovered the soul of places. I met humble people, heard their prayers, and ate their bread. For the last two decades I have been walking East through forests and fields, from Eastern Europe to Central Asia through Caucasus mountains, Russia, North Africa, Middle East, looking for places where the sacred transcends borders. And I always found humble people, again and again heard their prayers, shared their bread.
This is why I went to Afghanistan. One day I crossed a bridge over the Oxus River. I was alone, on foot. The Afghan soldier was so amazed to see me that he forgot to stamp my passport. He gave me a cup of tea. I understood that his surprise was my protection. I traveled from the Iranian border to the tip of the Wakhan Corridor, without ever embedding. Sharing the road, hunger and fear with Afghans, walking, riding yaks, horses and trucks. My only weapons were my notebook and my Leica. This is how I entered their intimate world and found Nur, the hidden light of this country:
The prayers of Sufis, humble Muslims hated by the Taliban, a hidden, interconnected river of mysticism from Gibraltar to India. / A mosque where a respectful stranger is welcomed as a gift and showered with blessings. / Clandestine rites of Shia covered in blood and tears in a theater of pain. / A men’s hammam, bath of steam and whispers. / Magic rituals of the wandering holy man who operates a kind of a Hospital of God.
What do we know about the pain of these Afghans we pretend to protect?
The 15-year-old girls jailed after escaping forced marriage. / Villages where the only medicine for killing pain and stopping hunger is opium (also given to small children). / The nomad girls of Jugi and dancing boys who became prostitutes of Afghan businessmen. / The 13,000 girls in the largest Afghan school in Herat, so passionate about learning that they study underground and in tents where scorpions lurk. / Death threats by the Taliban, nailed at night on the doors of parents who dare to send their daughters to school. / Acid thrown at girls’ faces in Loghar. / Poison fed to girls in schools in Kunduz.
These Afghan people, mostly illiterate, have told me: “This is a war over our children. Either the Taliban wins and prevents them from going to school and having a future. Or we continue to fight to help our country have hope. We are a lost generation”.
I would like to give voice to these silent people. Small worlds, ignored by the media and prophets of global conflict and show the hidden light behind the curtain of the great game.
Monika Bulaj, free-lance photographer, writer and film-maker. She explores - in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe - the dim areas of the Monotheism, where the sacred can transcend borders: bonfires, dances, cult of the dead, and possession rites. She describes outskirts and deserts, frontiers and megalopolis. And the world of the last ones: nomads, farmers, immigrants, outcasts, untouchables and impure.
Her photos and reportages have been published by GEO, National Geographic, La Repubblica, periodicals by Gruppo Espresso and Rcs, Courrier International, Gazeta Wyborcza and other international magazines.
She has displayed more than 50 personal exibitions in Italy, Germany, Egypt and abroad.
Born in 1966 in Warsaw, she has completed five-years studies in the Polish Philology on the Warsaw University. In addition to Italian and Polish, she speaks French, English, Russian and German. She studies Arabic and Persian. She has three sons and lives in Trieste.