I’ve seen a lot during my 13 years photographing in Afghanistan.
War, poverty, sadness, and despair. They all blatantly exist and you see it on every corner of every street. Although I was in the middle of this ongoing war, I learned to keep my feelings detached and locked away because I knew I would be able to return to my First World life soon enough.
Then I met Zarghona and my world shifted. All those emotions I had kept locked away welled up and burst from my soul. Suddenly, I knew I had to feel what this woman was going through and tell her story.
When I first saw Zarghona, in 2013, she was begging on the street with her disabled son. There was something about her strength that struck me immediately. She and I connected right away and our friendship continues today.
The mother of six, Zarghona is a true survivor. Her youngest son, Bareilly, lost the use of his legs after a rocket exploded near him and now she is his primary caregiver. As he continues to grow, she struggles to carry him and he struggles with emotional frustration. While most of her children are married now, they still rely on her strength and endurance.
The detail that affected me most about her story was how she was sold into marriage at the age of 10 to a widower 40 years her senior. She had her first child at the age of 14, which means Zarghona has spent most of her life taking care of other people. Yet, you wouldn’t know it by talking to her. She has no self pity because she doesn’t know any other kind of life. Every day means survival and finding food for her family.
Despite the constant stress of day to day survival, Zarghona’s heart belongs to Bareilly. When I visited in 2014, she took me to the Shrine of Hazrat e BaBay Khode Saib where her son could have a “Dam”, also known as a healing. While Zarghona and her sister-in-law prayed, Bareilly received the Dam. In 2016, Zarghona had some brief hope for Bareilly when I traveled with them to the International Red Cross Orthopedic Hospital in Kabul. Bareilly would be examined to see if they could operate on his spine. Unfortunately, there was nothing they could do to improve his situation but they were able to give Zarghona a new wheelchair. Even with the bad news, Zarghona didn’t allow it to defeat her.
I have been so touched by Zarghona and her life that I invited her to edit my photographs with me. I wanted the captions to be in her words because I feel I could never capture her spirit in my words alone.