My good friend, Joe Sheffer made this lovely piece on the maker of President Karzai’s hats, otherwise known as a Karokhail. 

I’m currently going through my life’s possessions, in preparation to move to New York. I came across the first letter I ever received at the age of 5 days. It contained the postcard you see above from my godfather with the inscription on the back that reads, 

May you bring light and colour to illuminate the encircling darkness. 

I’ve now left Afghanistan, but I’m sure I’ll be back. Whenever someone has a leaving party in Kabul, the running joke is that they’ll be back for the money when they can’t find a job in the real world. The fact is that something about the work, its immediacy, perhaps or the close-knit nature of the foreign worker community (which include returned Afghans and local fixers), draws people back again and again. 

This week a couple of aid workers from an organisation that is popular among the Islamic world, invests greatly in Afghanistan and does not promote itself heavily were abducted in Bamyan province, an area known for being largely peaceful. The area had been touted for a possible future tourism destination a few years earlier. 

Like many incursions into previously peaceful areas in Bamyan, this isn’t necessarily a black and white indication of all hell breaking loose, but rather an extension in a pattern of more targeted attacks, fewer battles in traditionally ‘hot’ areas and, as I very much felt in the last few years, a nationwide growing resentment of foreigners. This is only part of the reason I left and is qualified greatly by the Afghan friends and colleagues I have. 

However, the withdrawal of aid from the Afghanistan will continue to damaged the country, while those jockeying for power at the negotiations table will orchestrate more attacks in the hope that instability will give them more leverage. 

Mo Scarpelli at Frame by Frame is doing a great documentary on Afghan photojournalists, including profiling my mate, Massoud Hossaini from AFP. Watch the video and support the Kickstarter campaign!

Shirtless guitarists, headbanging and stage-diving at alternative arts and music festival Sound Central 2013 in Kabul, Afghanistan. 

Thousands of people passed through the third annual Sound Central festival - the only alternative arts and music festival, not only in Afghanistan, but the entire central asian region. We were lucky enough to play twice - once on women’s day and once on the third day of the festival with our brothers-in-arms, District Unknown, aka the only metal band in Afghanistan.

It was a challenge going on after the hometown favourites, DU with their brand of ultra-aggressive and infectious psychedelic-doom groove. The audience was tired out and left the auditorium for a well-earned break. But within two songs, we got them back.

You never know what the reaction might be from a group of (mostly) young men, who haven’t grown up going to gigs, let alone learned mosh pit etiquette or rocked out to a frontwoman, who isn’t provocative or girly, but in-your-face and energised. Perhaps surprisingly for some who don’t know Kabul, but not surprising to us, we received a hyped-up reception of jubilation and respect.

Sound Central is a safe environment where young people - musicians, artists, performers or just fans - can come and express themselves freely without judgement. In an often closed society, where perception is everything, this is something that’s lacking. There are no youth clubs here and young people are expected to become adults very quickly. Sound Central isn’t about changing Afghan culture, in fact it’s letting Afghans take the lead and tell the world what they want. It’s allowing us all to have options. It’s allowing us to see past the media bias and see this country as full of potential and fully paid-up members of the human race.

Enjoy the gallery.

Photos by Ellie Kealey

It may be just a moment. It may not be a solution. But this makes everything worth it. 

In all my four years in Afghanistan, I’ve never seen anything like the reaction of these Afghan girls to my band, White City. The highlight of my time here, by far. 

My band, White City, played day one at Sound Central Festival 2013 in Kabul, Afghanistan to a crowd of 450 screaming teenaged girls. What band could ask more? 

The girls were there for a special women’s only day, designed to give women a safe space to enjoy the music, arts and culture from all over the world on offer. Playing also was the inspirational Ariana Delawari, who is premiering her David Lynch directed documentary, “We Came Home” at the festival. 

Sound Central 2013 continues for the rest of the week. 

Filming Georgian soldiers receiving a briefing in the field. Musa Qala, Helmand. 
(My USMC press officer escort was carefully watching my bag, in case you were wondering).

Filming Georgian soldiers receiving a briefing in the field. Musa Qala, Helmand. 

(My USMC press officer escort was carefully watching my bag, in case you were wondering).

I travelled to Shindand air base in western Afghanistan last month to cover the Afghan Air Force’s pilot training school, which will qualify all AAF pilots and flight crew from now on. 

Although the Afghan Army Air Corps has been functioning since I arrived in 2009, the Air Force is relatively new, only stood up officially in 2010. Since then, it’s faced a number of challenges, not least the acquisition of light air support planes to replace the fighter MI-35 helicopters (known to many by their cold war NATO designation - “Hinds”).

Many of the pilots of the AAF qualified initially during the Soviet occupation, during extensive training in Moscow. They’re familiar with the MI-35s and MI-17 transport helicopters (aka “flying tractors”), as well as the AN-32 cargo planes. These aircraft are popular, because they’re easy to maintain. This commentator advocates de-mothballing the Antonov cargo planes, currently sitting at Kabul airport (I’ve walked among them). 

However, the AAF support mission by the international community is mainly US funded, up to at least 2017. That means there’s a lot of resistance to obtaining spare parts and mentoring flight crews from contracting companies that are outside of the US.

The other problem is sustainability. MI-35s and MI-17s are very expensive to run - up to $6000 per hour, whereas light aeroplanes go further and run much cheaper. The Cessna 208s currently being trained on at Shindand are very reliable and rarely break down (the only maintenance I saw was the result of a trainee pilot taxi-ing into a fire extinguisher). Add to that a light support aeroplane, such as the Super Tucano and you have a pretty comprehensive capability - MI-17s for landing in remote areas, C208s for longer cargo runs and a bit of light air support, thrown in. 

But, as seen by the disastrous acquisition of C-27 cargo planes, which ended in the entire fleet being ground, sometimes it’s just better to stick to what you know. I waved off a number of pilots in 2009, who were embarking on a 3 year course in the United States to fly the C-27. I have no idea what became of them.