It was a typical hot day at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. I was carrying my camera around the airfield when I happened to pass by a “local national” work crew. He seemed to be the most junior man on the squad–following the younger men around, he carried only a mop. This mop man was unusual, though; his black turban suggested he was Taliban or a Taliban sympathizer. He looked old, too. His old wasn’t the type of old that we (in the Western world) know; this was rock-old. Dirt-old. I knew I needed a photo. But it was the black turban that had caught my eye and it was the black turban I needed proof of.
I approached the Afghans and pointed very tentatively at the old man, and then I pointed to my camera. They shouted something to him in either Pashto or Dari, and he turned and leaned the mop up against the wall of the mil-van latrine. He then walked out into the sun. The young men pointed at me; I smiled and pointed at the camera, and then tried to ask him if he wouldn’t mind me taking his photo.
He seemed almost too polite and too passive. I asked him to come over to the wall of the building. I believe I took but one photo. Here it is.
When I looked at the photo for the first time full-screen on the computer, I knew that I was hooked on street photography and portrait photography. What I didn’t know is that I had captured one of my best images yet.
During two tours in Afghanistan, I have not seen an older native. Afghanistan is a rough and tough country. This man, however, had endured. He is a survivor. How many Russian Hinds had he downed? How many occupiers of his country has he seen? On which side (if there are indeed sides in war and especially in Afghanistan) does he do his fighting these days? Or does he only wield a mop? I took this photo in 2006; where are you now, mop man?
I wish I had asked his name. . .