“She was the chosen girl, a famous face on a cover, a public portrait, unseen by her for twenty years. She was wary, a child without a choice, last in the line of girls taken out of the dark tent into the daylight. As the camera came closer, she lifted her hands to cover her face. There was a flash and a click. When she lowered her hands, another flash and click. The camera held her captive and released her to the world.
The journalist chosen to tell the girl’s story studies the photograph. She stares back, unsmiling, startled, cornered. She is ready to flee, thinks the journalist. Instinctively, she is poised to run.
Many professional journalists and photographers before her have examined the image with their loupes, commenting on composition, light and colour. No clueswere given to her identity in the magazine article that accompanied the cover picture. It is a stand-alone image, open to interpretation and imagination.
The green eyes are unexpectedly, unusually striking for a photo from a war zone. Viewers are accustomed to the dreary camouflage colours of battle and the background browns of a dusty, degraded land. These eyes are not emerald green or deep green; rather, the inner grey-green irises, flecked with brown, are encircled by a darker, indefinable colour – limbal rings. The intensity of the green will depend on what the girl wears. The journalist thinks such eyes that change colour are the most desirable; she regrets that her own are plain brown, with no variation.
If she were to choose an enduring image from 1984, the year of the girl with green eyes, it would be one of the starving children in Ethiopia where a famine was decimating the population at a rate higher than the war dead in the long conflict with Eritrea. The world was inured against pictures of hollowed out hungry African babies. A striking child in a little-known country was more likely to draw attention. She was a girl child from a country condemned in the West for the low estate of women…
The journalist checks her notes. Pakistan, 1984: encampments of Muslim volunteers in their thousands, spoiling for a fight, rallying to jihad, “holy war”, against the Soviet invaders in neighbouring Afghanistan; headquarters of the mujahideen, “holy warriors”, guerrilla fighters compelled to fight for the sake of Islam, gathering to expel the infidels from Afghanistan and to overthrow the anti-Muslim regime. They were just one brand name in the worldwide band of freedom fighters and, similar to rebel groups in other countries wresting independence from intruders, a breeding ground for usurpers. The festering factions in Pakistan were the precursors of the Taliban.
Villagers traumatized by the destruction of their homes, herds and crops by Soviet bombing and strafing had no choice. Their fields were infested with landmines and their lives were diminished by deaths. They hazarded the border crossing into Pakistan and disappeared into vast blue canvas camps. The girl with green eyes was among them.
Forty years or so later, she has arrived in Italy, among the thousands airlifted from Kabul after the Taliban seize control for the second time. She is a refugee for the second time. Afghans are now scattered across the globe, a vast diaspora in forty countries. How will it seem, the journalist wonders, to those coming here to the sun-scorched sienna homes of Rome from the bullet-punctured high mud walls of a compound in Kabul. The woman who was once the chosen girl takes cover, leaves family behind, suffers guilt about them and frets about their fate, feels disoriented in new surroundings. These are the seasons of her life, repeated like daily prayer times, salat, but cheerless recitations known only to refugees…”
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