What emotion should the visual of an Afghan girl skipping along behind her family, her face glowing with evident glee, invoke in an observer at this moment in time against the context of a tense, terrorised homeland? Relief? Triumph? Exhilaration? Joy? Optimism?
All such feeling buoys to the surface – a harbinger of hope that the little happy girl skips her way into a life safer than the one she has left behind. Almost inevitably, this knot of affirming sensations hauls along sinister baggage. Of doom, of hopelessness, of the inescapable awareness, that millions of other girls her age who remain back in Afghanistan where the fate of their dreams to study, play, work, love, survive, live is now uncertain.
Is it possible to find consonance between feeling momentary comfort about a single life saved and the ever-present, unrelenting screams of despair girls and women in Afghanistan are collectively letting out?
This deeply rousing photo going viral is the work of Reuters¬†journalist Johanna Geron who captured the pictured family as they stepped onto the tarmac of the Melsbroek military airport in Belgium, where they escaped to after the Taliban takeover back home in Afghanistan.
This photo by Johanna Geron (Reuters) is destined to become a journalistic classic. There are so many symbolic layers, from tragedy to joy. Leaving your country. The plight of refugees. Survival. The two adults wearing masks. Childhood. pic.twitter.com/dPJdIqxF7l
— Christian Christensen (@ChrChristensen) August 27, 2021
Afghan Girl Skipping Into A Better Future: What About Others Back Home?
What immediately strikes about Geron’s capture is the child’s naivete against the palpable sobriety the adults leading her are exuding. All masked, the woman’s face isn’t visible but her stance is tight and upright, while the man, presumably her husband, appears fatigued – his shoulders limp and his free hand holding lightly onto a second smaller child who seems engrossed in their own shadow falling ahead.
The weight of human resilience and misery in the photo is too heavy to be lifted by someone sitting in comfort under a stable roof miles away from the warzone and its unfair perils. So I’m not even going to try.
What non-Afghans can do is put into perspective – as Afghans are desperately asking us to – is the stream of reports, experiences, first-hand accounts, retellings pouring in uninterrupted about the unfolding calamity.
Schools have shut down in many parts of the country, they may or may not open again (here’s what an Afghan educator told SheThePeople). The streets are empty of women, with hoardings of their faces blackened and armed gunmen turning them away from workplaces. The fundamental rights of Afghans, especially women, hangs in the balance tipping dangerously in favour of the Islamist powerbrokers who seized the country on August 15.
Certain reports also claim executions – the Taliban’s go-to punishment for sharia violations in the 1990s – have begun, as have demands for underage girls as wives and ‘sex slaves.’ Then there are the bloody scenes from Kabul airport that suffered two terror attacks on Thursday and left 170 (and counting) dead.
But Afghan women and girls face more than a threat to their lives. They face the insurmountable loss of dignity, the rights they fought long for, every hope they hoped of equality, visions of a liberated country where girls would grow knowing they deserve every happiness in the world… and then a bit more.
From the rest of the world, they are neither seeking pity nor spokespersons. Only support, consciousness and humanity.
Image: Johanna Geron / Reuters