The Kabul you don’t see in the news
Traveling overland through Afghanistan, Daniel C. Britt photographs images of daily life you’d never otherwise see.
FOR A WESTERNER exploring Afghanistan, Kabul’s the easiest place to begin. Air travel in-and-out is safe. The Zuhak taxi service is reliable and expat-friendly, if a little pricey. Mingle with NGO-workers, mercenaries and journalists at barricaded expat hotel-bars like Gandamack and L’Atmosphere to get the 411 on your next destination or the cell phone number of a good fixer. Don’t forget to get hammered. The beginning of any trip in Afghanistan is likely the beginning of a dry one. L’Atmosphere has a lap-pool that’s great to be drunk in.
Kabul street food, with the exception of the dirt-cooked corn-on-the-cob, is top notch. Of course, if you have some way to cook on your own, shop every day for lamb shanks, or a freshly slaughtered hen or hacked-off ox feet for soup. The Kabul markets are windows into the precarious, out-of-breath, tech-deficient soul of the city.
At the cushion shop in old Kabul, 10-year-old Hazarra kids run across town from the bird market with giant bags of chicken feathers balanced on thier heads. Fourteen-year-old stuffers frantically cram the feathers into pillow cases for a group of aged seamstresses in uplifted burquas to close with needle and thread. Finally, two Pashtuns with broomsticks take turns whacking the pillows until … well, who knows? I watched them for an hour then decided to my daily life photo essay back to the pool.
Photos by Daniel C. Britt.
Boys play soccer in one of the underground passages that connect buildings in Old Kabul. Much of the old part of the city, especially the markets, is a labyrinth. These kids weren't worth much for directions or their sense of fair play. They hacked my shins to bloody sticks. There are no yellow cards in Afghanistan. Photos by Daniel C. Britt.
Kuchi refugees meet over tea at Darulaman Palace in Kabul Sunday, October 24, 2010. Over 100 Kuchi men, women and children were placed there after clashes with Hazarra groups turned violent. Above, the men discuss ways to survive the winter in the abandoned palace. Britt.
A man hacks at the roots of a tree near Darulaman Palace in Kabul. It was built in the early 1920s by King Amanullah Khan in an effort to modernize Afghanistan. It was supposed to be part of the new capital city, Darul, and connected to western Kabul by rail. The king's ouster by religious conservatives halted this project and other reforms. Muhajadeen, fighting the Soviets for control of Kabul, shelled it to pieces in the nineties. A series of fires also contributed to its current hideous state. It's a massive and cold reminder of Afghanistan's stunted development as a nation, a must-see in Kabul even though the $15 taxi ride is a bit steep. Britt.
Women traverse an intersection in Kabul. Sidewalks are hit or miss in Kabul. Crosswalks are nonexistent. I was always amazed at the way Afghan women navigate the traffic-circle-onslaught with hindered peripheral vision. Britt.
Burquas For Sale
A merchant dusts his selection of Burquas at his shop in Kabul. I tried one on. It was like wearing an oven that induces tunnel-vision. Any and all sizes go for around $30. Britt.
A Macedonian soldier covers his face while walking past a pile of burning feces in Kabul. The sewage system in Kabul is a mess. As a result burning poop piles are common, especially in the outer districts. When the smoke gets into your jacket, it's indelible. Then you're standing in line for a pomegranate and everybody's looking at you. The pomegranate guy is sniffing your bills. Awkward has no end once you're marked by a shit fire. Britt.
A shepherd pushes his flock across the street in Kabul. Afghan shepherds are pretty talented dudes. I met a few in Kabul who were also ox-herds, goat-herds, chefs, mechanics and certified doctors of Chinese medicine. Britt.
Wazir Akbar Khan Pool
A man bathes in the faucet used to fill the public pool in Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan district. Under Taliban rule the pool atop the tallest peak in Wazir Akbar Khan was drained and used for public executions. Groundskeepers maintain the cemetaries covering the peaksides. Slip them a few bills -- or run off with their bulky valve key like these two did -- and take a bath. Britt.
Kids swim in a half-filled public pool atop Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan district. Britt.
Gulzar, 17, relaxes at the pool in Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan district. Britt.
Men beat pillows with sticks in Kabul. I'm not sure whether it's to test the pillows or soften them or just for kicks. I imagine these two leave work feeling extremely calm. Britt.
Foot and motor traffic creeps down a dirt street in Old Kabul. Old Kabul saw its first hard thoroughfare just last year so be ready to push your taxi over mounds of dirt that appear out of nowhere. Old Kabul is also marked by an ash-greyness that fills the atmosphere several times a day. Britt.
...Fresh lamb meat hangs in the Kabul meat market. Fresh meat and poultry hang all over Kabul. Walk up to a slab and sniff it. Act like it smells bad. Give the universal cues for rotten in front of others and meat-sellers will be more open to bargaining. Britt.
Kuchi children try to push-start a mini-van in Kabul in late October 2010. Violent clashes between Kuchi herders and Hazarra farmers in Kabul prompted the local government to place hundreds of Kuchi men, women and children at Darulaman Palace for the winter. Gathering supplies to stay warm in the abandoned, dilapidated structure calls for resourcefulness. Procuring the mini-van was a feat in itself for a ragged bunch of 14-year-old Afghan nomads. Now if they could only get it started. Britt.
An aquarium store owner observes evening prayer in his shop in Kabul's Shar-e-now district. This guy described fish as "Allah's most beautiful creation." I argued it was the horse-lubber grasshopper. He said horse-lubbers were "too ugly" for Allah. Britt.
A man balances a bundle on his head while navigating the Kabul market in August 2009. I've seen the flat basket and cloth used to carry televisions, auto parts and small goats. Britt.
Afghan genius, left, combines carrots and pomegranate seeds in a 1970s juicer to produce nectar of the gods on the street in northern Kabul. Heavenly beams shine so brightly upon him, an umbrella is necessary to regulate heat on his genius face, behind which, the brain pumps every ounce of neuro-electric authority into the next juice idea. Britt.
Stop and Stare
A man wonders what the hell I'm doing in Kabul. Upon seeing a foreigner, Afghans typically stop in their tracks and stare at them for a prolonged period. Britt.
Another dude wonders what the hell I am doing in Kabul. I fell asleep on the street near this guy's doorstep. He opened his front door and stared at me unblinkingly for quite some time, all the way through the call for morning prayer. I photographed him while I was figuring out where to go. I really liked this guy. When I woke up, my jacket still smelled like burning shit. He offered me his waistcoat and a pinch of naswar. Britt.
A propane-seller drives a donkey and cart through Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan district. A lot of these guys don't mind if you just hop on the cart as it's rolling by. Britt.
A street vendor heats dirt from the roadside in a wide pan until the corn tastes really dry and hard and dirty. It's cheap way to eat. And healthy, assuming, of course, the heat cleansed the dirt of chemical pollutants and microorganisms. Britt.
...Fresh chicken meat. A boy beheads a chicken at the Kabul bird market. Britt.
Chai and Kebabs
A boy warms his hands at a streetside grill in Kabul. Yellow, Afghan-style tea, or chai, and kebabs that include skewered cubes of fat sliced from sheep buttocks are available at every corner. After eating them for a few days, remnants of the sheep-butt fat congeal into a lardy-chalky film that coats your mouth. As the film naturally depletes you feel like you need more fat cubes to build it up again. Its maddening, and horrible for your breath. Britt.
Car Wash Au Naturale
Boys dry a car washed in a creek in Kabul. On top of all the organic foods available in Kabul, there is also an organic car wash. Patrons drive a car into the creek near the main shopping mall and tip kids to wash and dry it. Britt.
Kid in the Window
A kid in a window in a house in Kabul. I took this picture because somewhere in his house Kylie Minogue was on full blast. Britt.
Three guys eat together at a Kabul restaurant in November 2010, wondering why the hell I'm photographing them. Britt.
An aged bone doctor works on a patient in a dark, single-room hovel in old Kabul. Several "bone doctors" live in Kabul. Using fingertip massage techniques, cloth bandgages and sticks, these guys treat herniated disks, rheumatoid arthritis and compound femur fractures. Britt.
Pashtun fighting bird being eyeballed by two men at the bird market. These birds go for up to $700 and can rake-in four times that amount in bird-fighting circuits. They also sing. Photos by Daniel C. Britt.
A stylish young man auctions goods on the street in Kabul. In Kabul, young people challenge traditional Afghan dress by wearing fake Dolce and Gabbana jeans with rhinestones and embroidery. Britt.
A sold-out banana vendor takes a break on his cart in Kabul wondering why the hell I am photographing him. Britt.
A Kabul bird-seller pitches pigeons to a potential customer at the bird market in Kabul. Each bird had a name. At left, there was Parsa, which means gifted, holy and devout. At right was Giti, which means grape-presser. Giti was smaller, socially awkward and pale -- the result of a chilly lifetime spent in Parsa's fat shadow. Britt.
An ox-foot vendor strikes a b-boy pose in Kabul. This guy had no question as to why I was photographing him. Britt.