Portraits of Afghanistan

Posted by on September 10, 2012

Much more than landscapes or bazaars or food, Afghanistan was about the people we met along the way. People who generally expressed a genuine interest in us, were very willing to engage, and just seemed so… normal I guess?

So, here, I want you to meet some of them. These are not all the people we met, not even close. But I did manage to take a ton of portraits over three days in Afghanistan, and each of them is a snapshot memory of walking around exploring a place that prevailing wisdom suggests is nothing but terror and war all the time.

Butcher Shop

Since our initial stop was the bazaar in the village of Redoge, this was one of the very first things we saw. Our little group gathered around to watch this guy pulling stringy intestines out of the carcass, and then another group gathered to watch us watch this guy pulling stringy intestines out of the carcass. Laughs were had by all.

White Bearded Butcher

Immediately after that, he took a turn at the butcher work. This man was smiling and laughing nearly the entire time, but put on his serious face when I asked if I could take a picture.


Walking through the bazaar nearly every eye turned our way at some point, most with accompanying welcoming smiles.

Snap Shot

This was my only attempt at high-speed portrait photography in Afghanistan. The driver smiled as he drove past, but what really sells me on it is the “Wtf?” look on the passenger’s face. Several motorbikes and bicycles that passed us on the road sported floral decorations like the one here.

Afghan Auto Shop

For such a small population in the area, the bazaar was surprisingly well-stocked. There wasn’t honestly a lot that we needed, but this guy was by one of the main intersections in the market and every time we walked past he would wave us over for a look.


I didn’t get many pictures of girls or women the first day because I wasn’t really sure what was appropriate, but after smiling and waving and watching us walk halfway down the hill beside their house none of these kids seemed to mind.

Meet your Wheaties

We saw tons of people working hard in fields as we walked past, but he was one of the few who were close enough to try to talk to. I suppose there wasn’t actually much verbal communication going on, but we interacted with him (and his family nearby) for longer than seems reasonable ¬†without any shared language.


So many shy kids! This was one of the bravest, who stayed around after the camera was out. She never came forward from the fence, but at least she didn’t run off like so many others!

Eat this man's biriz!

I’ve referenced elsewhere a chaihana where we ate my favorite meal of the few days. This was the owner, who fed us delicious food while a traveling Imam from Kabul attempted to convert us to Islam.


I honestly don’t think this girl liked us very much! She was trying to corral a couple of sheep back towards (presumably) home, and our presence spooked them a bit. Maybe she’s just a bit of a stoic, though, as we never did get her to smile.


I had no way to talk to this guy, but something about his bearing stuck me as having an air of authority. I tend to project upon him the role of some sort of village elder or leader, but I’ll almost certainly never know.


She’s just doing her chores! There were a couple of kids here, and while all the rest were playing this girl was stuck squatting over the dishes. Once she and the rest saw me taking a photo, though, they scattered back towards the house.

Reading on the Rocks

To my knowledge, this guy never once even looked up for a glance at us. I suppose we didn’t ‘meet’ him exactly but the fact that he seemed so calm and absorbed started, I think, to relax me a little bit and take the edge off of how anxious I was to be in Afghanistan.

Half-Grown Gossips?

I love this shot. These kids were in front of a house we had to walk past to get down from a hilltop we had inadvertently climbed onto from the proper path. They would look at me, see me seeing them, look away, and start whispering to each other. It happened several times, and I finally decided to capture that as a moment in itself.

Storefront Friends

Back in the Redoge Bazaar, this guy seemed to be hangout with friends more than trying to do any selling. Note the scarf. These were pretty common in Afghanistan (and in the Afghan/Tajik Bazaar down the border a bit in Ishkasim), and we left the country with several as awesome souvenir/gifts!


I seriously have no idea what this kid was doing, or where he’s going with his naan. From the moment we saw him until the moment we turned a corner and he was out of view, he stood right here clutching the bread. The bread in that area is pretty good, though, so maybe he was worried we were going to try to eat it?

Shyness and Sheep

This was a bit of a spin and shoot, as I wasn’t sure how they were going to react to the camera. Later, I was informed it was probably entirely culturally inappropriate for a Western dude to be walking around taking pictures of girls. Oops.

Money Dyeing

Dyeing in Afghanistan

I’ve no idea why this guy was dyeing money. $1 is worth about 50 Afghan Afghanis, so it isn’t like it was a whole lot. We actually left the country with something like 250, so perhaps I should have tried to trade him a new one for his dyed one just to see if he’d take it?

Through the Veil

In looking at the meta-photo of this shot, I suppose I’m actually being kind of creepy here. The kid seemed just as stoked to be photographed as I was to take the shot, though, so I went with it and was really happy with how it turned out.


After waving us in to have a look around and putting up with half a dozen photos being composed, these two were kind enough to also demand that we take a huge piece of bread on our way out of town. It was delicious.

Out for a Ride

Donkey-riding seems like the most popular method of transport we saw in Badakshan. No idea where these two were going, but they seemed nicely dressed for wherever it was.

Afghani Al Bundy

Though Maki had a bit of a thing with breaking her shoes in Central Asia, we never ended up buying anything from these guys. They put off a good vibe, though, and I smiled every time we walked past their shop on the main street of Redoge.

Red with Envy

This is perhaps my favorite shot from the whole trip, though the memory makes me a little sad. Just past their house a group of village kids were out playing ball and chasing cats and occasionally punching each other in the face. These two, though, just stood in the door and watched it all without ever joining in. As with so many moments from traveling I have no idea what the explanation was behind it, but for some reason this one left a strong impression.

White Beard

This may be an odd thing to care about, but I love the variety of headwear going on in Afghanistan. In much of the rest of Central Asia you tend to see pretty regularly the same types of hats, but here they covered a pretty broad range. This is another guy that, even though we couldn’t really talk, hit me with a really good vibe as we were making our way.

Pashto Hat

Bit of a family portrait. These guys invited us in for tea, but we were worried we were going to offend our hosts (at the place we were meant to stay the night) by being late for dinner so we had to decline. I felt, though, like we were being rude as we tried not to be rude.

Sweet Goodbye

And, finally, the goodbye. As we left the home where we spent our first night in the country, our host’s daughters saw us off from the doorway until we were out of sight. These guys were all smiles and laughter while we were in their home, and yet again here they put on their serious faces.

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