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My travels to Afghanistan began many, many years ago on the eastern border of my country, my homeland, Poland. I was walking through the forests of my grandmother's tales. A land where every field hides a grave, where millions of people have been deported or killed in the 20th century.
Behind the destruction, I found a soul of places. I met humble people. I heard their prayer and ate their bread. Then I have been walking East for 20 years -- from Eastern Europe to Central Asia -- through the Caucasus Mountains, Middle East, North Africa, Russia. And I ever met more humble people. And I shared their bread and their prayer. This is why I went to Afghanistan.
One day, I crossed the bridge over the Oxus River. I was alone on foot. And the Afghan soldier was so surprised to see me that he forgot to stamp my passport. But he gave me a cup of tea. And I understood that his surprise was my protection.
So I have been walking and traveling, by horses, by yak, by truck, by hitchhiking, from Iran's border to the bottom, to the edge of the Wakhan Corridor. And in this way I could find noor, the hidden light of Afghanistan. My only weapon was my notebook and my Leica. I heard prayers of the Sufi -- humble Muslims, hated by the Taliban. Hidden river, interconnected with the mysticism from Gibraltar to India. The mosque where the respectful foreigner is showered with blessings and with tears, and welcomed as a gift.
What do we know about the country and the people that we pretend to protect, about the villages where the only one medicine to kill the pain and to stop the hunger is opium? These are opium-addicted people on the roofs of Kabul 10 years after the beginning of our war. These are the nomad girls who became prostitutes for Afghan businessmen.
What do we know about the women 10 years after the war? Clothed in this nylon bag, made in China, with the name of burqa. I saw one day, the largest school in Afghanistan, a girls' school. 13,000 girls studying here in the rooms underground, full of scorpions. And their love [for studying] was so big that I cried.
What do we know about the death threats by the Taliban nailed on the doors of the people who dare to send their daughters to school as in Balkh? The region is not secure, but full of the Taliban, and they did it.
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Photographer Monika Bulaj shares powerful, intimate images of Afghanistan -- of home life, of ritual, of men and women. Behind the headlines, what does the world truly know about this place?
Monika Bulaj’s stunning, painting-like photographs blur religious and cultural divisions, exploding stereotypes. She is a TED Fellow. Full bio »