Blips from the edge - A photo journal of daily life in Afghanistan
19th February 2013
With 'Blippers' in over 170 countries worldwide, the images and stories that are shared here each day are diverse to say the least. In the opening installment of a series of Blog post focussing on Blippers in the farthest-flung corners of the planet, we travel to Afghanistan to speak to 'AirborneSkyGod' for the first of our Blips from the Edge.
'Airborne' (as we will call him due to 'security issues') has travelled the world for work, often to the most hostile places on earth.
However, while he may still carry weapons and work in a hostile environment, these days his work is more on the 'operational and project management side' of the security industry. Originally from North Wales, he served in the Parachute Regiment for many years and specialised as a Combat Medic - skills that are vital to his current posting in the Bamyan Province in Central Afghanistan.
Since he was flown into Afghanistan last month, Airborne has been regularly sharing his stories and photos on Blipfoto - offering a glimpse of a very different side to life in the country than the usual fare served up on News Channels across the world.
The Bamyan Province (translated as 'The Place of Shining Light') sits in the centre of the country. Historically, this area was strategically placed to thrive from the Silk Road caravans which criss-crossed the region trading between the Roman Empire, China and Central and South Asia.
However, the region's had a turbulent past - from Genghis Khan's Mongol invasion in the 13th Century to its more recent capture by the Taliban.
It was the site of an early Buddhist monastery, with many statues of Buddha carved into the sides of cliffs facing Bamyan city. The two most prominent of these statues were standing Buddhas (dating to around the 4th or 5th Century AD) measuring 55 and 37m high - the largest examples of standing Buddha carvings in the world. They were listed among UNECO's World Heritage Sites. But in March 2001 the Taliban Government decreed that the statues were idolatrous and ordered them to be demolished with anti-aircraft artillery and explosives.
The landscape is stunning, but unforgiving. And life for those that live here is 'harsh,' says Airborne. "It is currently in the minus figures here day-in day-out. Snow is all around us and people here are true survivors in life. They have no running water and electricity is limited. People have very little. Most use a Bochari - a drum with a flue - to heat their houses. They generate a lot of heat but it takes a lot of wood to sustain them. So around this area you see a lot of 'timber merchants' and people out in the country chopping down forestry. Any electricity that is generated is usually through solar panels.
"People still often live in the caves. They are cold to the touch but provide a solid structure unlike most houses and huts which are built from mud and timber. Clothes washing is done in the local river as well as drinking water being collected from there and general bathing too. People don't have the right clothing or footwear either yet they carry on regardless. These people are true survivors in life."
Like most westerners, Airborne is reliant on many luxuries, but while he's in Bamyan he too washes in freezing cold water and relies on poor lighting. "When I see people moan and groan back home about the minutest of things I steer them to my pictures and show them how much worse off they could be. It makes you grateful for what you have in life."
The locals are known as Hazara and they are very friendly and welcoming people, says Airborne, although taking pictures is not always well received. "However, if you ask, people are often willing. What the kids love is when you show them the picture after you have taken it, they are astonished at the technology and then fight for you to take more pics. Although, due to work, a large percentage of my photos are taken whilst on the move.
"Challenges here are daily," he continues. "Whether it be the climate, people, work issues or corruption. The list is endless and no challenge is the same. The biggest problem, I think, for the country as a whole is to rid the Government of its corruption. For me though, the 'local' challenges are more definitive... the people expect more from you than you are able to give."
But despite still being a poor region, Bamyan is the first province in Afghanistan to have recently set up a tourist board, Bamyan Tourism. A feature of this developing tourist industry is based around skiing. The province is said to have 'some of the best outback skiing in the world' and in 2008 an $1.2m project to encourage skiing was launched. The province now hosts the Afghan Ski Challenge, a 7km downhill race over ungroomed and powdered snow - an event that Airborne hopes to take part in.
"I am very lucky that I work to my own agenda here, which allows me the time that's needed to discover the amazing sights. I try to take at least two days off a week. Unlike Kabul, movement here is much easier. In the Capital it is checkpoint after checkpoint after checkpoint and hassle at each one. Here, is very different."
As such, he's witnessed everything from the rugged Hindu Kush mountains to Shahr-E-Gholghola ('City of Screams') - a fortified urban site ruined by Genghis Khan - all of which has been shared on Blipfoto.
"The Blip community is what makes the place so special - I love reading the comments people post and it really brightens my day when I get positive comments on my photos. Although I think my pictures depict more content than technical ability (I don't have a clue about f/stop, shutter speed and other techy stuff!)."