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Daily Life in Kabul Photographed by Marieke van der Velden

Marieke van der Velden

“Afghan men are good horsemen. At Qharga Lake they can rent a horse. They gallop as fast as they can along the beach, trying to outdo each other by making their horses rear.” Favorite place in the city: “Horses at Qharga.”

Marieke van der Velden

“My name is Shakila, and I am a mother of 10 children aged 7 to 25 years old. Together with my husband, I’ve had a driving school since 2006. I give driving lessons to women and teach them all about mechanics. If their car breaks down by the side of the road they need to be self reliant. Sometimes men find it difficult to accept that their wives are behind the wheel. But when they see the benefits–not having to always drive around their wives—the problem becomes a lot less prominent.” Favorite place in the city: “Behind the steering wheel of my car.”

Without having experienced a place, it’s near impossible to not let your impressions be shaped by the media. When it comes to a place like Kabul, Afghanistan, the collective view of anyone who hasn’t spent real time experiencing will obviously skew toward visions of a war-torn, impossible-to-inhabit city. It was this desire to add a different view of a place that motivated Amsterdam-based photographer Marieke van der Velden to portray the city in her series A Monday in Kabul.

In her project statement, van der Velden writes, “I wanted to show the humans of a country in conflict. Not to shock viewers, but to evoke feelings of empathy and recognition. As long as we lose our human feelings for each other, world politics have free play to do whatever they want. The gap is bigger than ever. It is my personal belief that when we get past the ‘us against them’ way of thinking, the truth hits us harder than ever before.” A Monday in Kabul goes a long way towards closing the gap between the general media focus on war, bombings, and death and more common, regular daily life. The photo captions, in the words of some of the subjects, tell a very different story than what is generally portrayed. 

Via Lenscratch. All photographs © Marieke van der Velden. You can see more on van der Velden’s blog.

Marieke van der Velden

“My name is Shamella and my biggest passion is my sport: boxing. I’ve even been to Kazakhstan for competitions. A few years ago a teacher at my school encouraged us to practice sports. She said many girls were afraid of boxing. I thought ‘oh, really?!’. Then I decided I wanted to give it a try. In Kabul, there are more than 50 boxing gyms for men, and Afghan TV shows many programs about sports, usually involving men. For women, this boxing gym is the only place to train.” Favorite place in the city: “Boxing school at Ghazi Stadium.”

Marieke van der Velden

“The squares and open areas around the Blue Mosque are filled with tens of thousands of people. At the cemeteries, people have picnics at the graves of their relatives. Today are the New Year celebrations. The year 1392 started on 21 March 2013.” Favorite place in the city: Square around the Blue Mosque during New Year’s Day.

Marieke van der Velden

Four police women keep watch from a high building. The city of Kabul currently employs 400 police women who are mainly deployed when searching women at the entrance of ministries, airports, hospitals, and women’s prisons. Currently, working on the streets is too dangerous for them. Favorite place in the city: Police training center.

Marieke van der Velden

“My name is Zarifa (black headscarf on the left). This group of women and I help other women in our neighborhood who are in trouble. We visit their homes to talk and look for solutions. What makes me angry sometimes is that the media shows an unrealistic image of my country. Part of my family lives in Iran and they are always worried because of the dramatic news they constantly hear. I also take a class at the university. Sometimes I worry about the 2014 elections. The freedom I am currently enjoying could be over in a flash.” Favorite place in the city: “Meetings with the women’s group.”

Marieke van der Velden

The pool of the luxurious Intercontinental Hotel is filled with water seasonally, from April through September. Only men are allowed to swim there. There are no pools for women in the city. Favorite place in the city: Swimming pool at the Intercontinental Hotel.

Marieke van der Velden

“My name is Amir and I am married to Sharifa. She is very politically active. When I first saw her 17 years ago I immediately fell in love with her. For 7 years I asked her father for her hand until he agreed. On the day we got married, I said: ‘I’m your backup, do whatever you want to achieve.’ We were blessed with 2 kids. I love her dignity, her ambition, her idealism with which she shows that there is an opportunity for women, even though politically it is not easy for her.” Favorite place in the city: “The garden of one of our houses.”

Marieke van der Velden

“My name is Khatera. I work in a beauty salon. There are more than 1,000 salons in the city. For men, it is strictly forbidden to come here. The most important thing is the dyeing of the hair, as black as possible, but red highlights are also very trendy at the moment. If a bride comes in, we make sure she looks fantastic and give her a free facial massage. As women of the city we have many more rights; in the countryside women still hardly ever make it out of their homes. I would never want to trade places with them.” Favorite place in the city: “My beauty salon.”

Marieke van der Velden

“My name is Nafisa (second from the left), I’m a TV presenter at Shamzad TV. This is one of the 43 commercial TV stations in Afghanistan. Together with my colleagues I make a children’s program where kids can ask questions such as ‘how do you become president?’ The director wants more women working in the media and we feel safe here. But out on the streets, safety is still an issue; the nature of our work makes us a target for attacks.” Favorite place in the city: “Garden of Shamzad TV.”

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