Unbridled Freedom - Kabul 2003  

 

Kabul in the summer of 2003 was a city buzzing with joy, hope, dreams of a new beginning and a grand future. Afghanistan was just emerging from the darkness of the Taliban tyranny into the sunshine, taking cautious but certain steps towards a better life. It was a special year, a fleeting moment of happiness.

 

I arrived in Afghanistan in February 2003 to start a job with the United Nations. That summer I spent almost every Friday meandering through various neighborhoods of Kabul, my camera in hand, looking to experience and better understand the Afghans and their way of life.

 

This photo ensemble speaks for itself, particularly when one understands that practically everything joyful in life, that we take for granted, the Afghans were forbidden to do by the Taliban, punishable by severe public beatings or death. These images symbolize the incredible energy and happiness I encountered wherever I went that summer.

 

Yet, it was short lived. By the following year the Taliban would begin their insurgency in earnest, fighting the international coalition in a quest to take back the country. I worked in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. Already, by 2005, the general security situation had worsened.

 

Ten years later, in 2015, I returned to Kabul for a one-year stint with the UN. The country had transformed incredibly. There was astonishing progress on every level: health, education, women’s rights, law and order. Yet there was also progress for the Taliban, who were already in control of several provinces and were waging a relentless offensive against the coalition forces and their own people. Weekly suicide attacks were common and the civilian casualties, sometimes caused by coalition forces but more often by the Taliban, were in the thousands per year. 

 

Five years later, the US and NATO forces abandoned the Afghans in the early morning hours, effectively handing the country over to the Taliban on a silver platter. On August 15, 2021, the Taliban once again entered and took Kabul. All that was accomplished over the past 20 years was extinguished within a few weeks.

 

Never again was there a time as pure and as carefree as the summer of 2003, an ephemeral moment when the burning desire of the Afghan people for peace, freedom and happiness was on full display.

 

 

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The aim of this NFT is to help two Afghan families escape Taliban persecution, regain freedom and survive in another country.

 

 

In the second week of August 2021, when it became frightening clear that the Taliban were just days from taking Kabul and Afghanistan, I contacted two of my former Afghan colleagues, Yaseen and Noori (not actual names), to see how they were doing and what they were going to do. A few days later Kabul fell and the rest is well documented history.

 

I had worked with Noori back in 2003-2005 and with Yaseen in 2015-2016. Both were drivers for the United Nations, where I worked as well, and we spent a lot of time together in UN vehicles driving through Kabul, engaged in many conversations. I got to know them and their families well. They are wonderful people whose limitless generosity, humility and friendship touched me deeply. Noori and his wife have four boys and three girls. Yaseen and his wife have three girls and one boy.

 

The Taliban is actively going after Afghans who worked for foreign forces, the United Nations and NGOs, as well as journalists, police officers, women’s rights activists and other progressively minded individuals. Both Yaseen and Noori were United Nations employees. However, what makes things worse and much more dangerous for them is that Yaseen and family belong to the religious and ethnic Hazara minority, who are brutally persecuted by the Taliban. Yaseen is also a journalist and has written many articles and essays on none other than Islamic Fundamentalism in Afghanistan and the region. 

 

Noori and family hail from the Panjshir valley, home of the legendary Ahmad Shah Massoud who successfully resisted the Taliban in the nineties and whose son is trying to do the same now. Additionally, one of Noori’s sons was a national police officer and the other worked for a women’s rights organization.

 

Both families are in great danger from the Taliban. Yaseen and family have been in hiding since the Taliban takeover and Noori knows the Taliban will eventually come after him and his family.

 

I wanted to help them. So I wrote recommendation letters, filled out visa applications for a few countries and put both families on humanitarian evacuation lists. I realized quickly that it is not in my power to get them out of Afghanistan. However, when they hopefully manage to exit Afghanistan they will need help to survive and sustain themselves wherever they end up. That’s when this NFT funding project came to light!

 

Why these two specific families? The answer is, because I know them personally, trust them with my life and want to help save their’s. 

 

This photo composition was created to raise the means to help these two Afghan families escape Taliban persecution, survive in another country and regain freedom. The owner of this NFT will be the benefactor who will enable Yaseen and Noori’s families to do just that.

 

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75% of the proceeds from the sale of this NFT will be dedicated to support both Yaseen and Noori’s families. 

The funds will be split in two, one half for each family and will be administered by me personally. I am not affiliated with an NGO, am not running a charitable organization and do not have not-for-profit status. I am just a person who wants to help two friends and their families and can only offer my word that every single penny of the proceeds will be used for them and nothing else. I am also expecting Uncle Sam to want his cut, hence the 25%.

 

You might ask, why not donate the proceeds to MSF, or UNHCR or any of a thousand other charities? I like to give this analogy: Instead of spreading thousands of tiny seeds randomly onto the earth in hopes that some might germinate, I prefer to help transplant a group of plants, moving them from danger to safety and ensure their survival.

 

It is impossible to send any money to Afghanistan. Therefore the funds will only be available to Yaseen and Noori once they have made it out of the country. Nevertheless, there are various ways a portion of the funds can be used while they are still in Afghanistan such as paying the visa application fees. The US currently offers the option of applying for Humanitarian Parole. The application costs $575.00 per person. Yaseen and family are 6, Noori’s family consists of 9 people. Furthermore, the funds will be used to provide financial support for the families within the US or another transit country, while they wait for their asylum paperwork to be processed. The families might need plane tickets or help with paying for accommodation while held up in a transit country.

 

There are, of course, unforeseen and unwanted outcomes. It is possible that the families never manage to get out of Afghanistan. In such a situation I would have to explore alternative ways of getting the funds to them. Such options exist, but need careful planning and vetting. Should the unimaginable occur, then the funds would be used to help other Afghan families. I do not want to entertain this outcome, but need to clarify that the proceeds will be used for nothing other than to help an Afghan family. I am part of an ex-UN community and we are all, in one way or another, trying to help our Afghan colleagues and friends. There will be no lack of Afghans in need.

 

I would also like to ascertain that part of my commitment to this cause will be to remain in regular contact with the benefactor/owner of the NFT, to keep them informed as to how and when the funds are being used.