Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I've been busy! I'll spend the next couple of weeks posting recent stories and projects, starting with this story about Emergency Hospital that I worked on while I was in Afghanistan for a month this fall. The doctors and nurses at Emergency were kind enough to let me spend a few days with them, observing and listening to the patients inside:

After shrapnel from a mortar shell penetrated the skull of 1-year-old Bashir Ahmed, pictured above in his mother’s arms, the boy ended up in an intensive care unit in one of Afghanistan’s most medically advanced hospitals.

Emergency Surgical Center for War Victims is Kabul’s newest war hospital. The hospital, run and funded by the Italian Emergency non-governmental organization since 2001, changed its admission criteria to treat only “war wounds”—shell injuries, bullet wounds and stabbings—just three months ago.

The change, according to current medical coordinator Dr. Antonio Rainone, happened because the hospital has seen a dramatic increase in shell injuries and bullet wounds in the past year. A whole ward of the hospital lies empty, ready to use in case of a mass casualty incident.

“It is Afghanistan that has gone back to being a war country,” said Dr. Rainone.

Emergency Hospital is proof of the growing violence and complexity of conflict happening around the capital. Patients come to the 100-bed medical facility from Logar, Wardak, Ghazni, Kapisa, Parwan and Kabul provinces, sometimes even from as far away as Baghlan or Kunduz in the North and Paktika province in the Southeast.

Their injuries, almost without exception, are severe and complicated. Thirty percent of patients are children.

The following photographs provide a look inside Emergency Hospital.

Thirteen months ago, Apzal was shot in the chest by an AK-47-wielding tribal rival in his home district of Urgun, Paktika province. The 18-year-old’s spinal cord was shattered by the bullet and he is now paraplegic. In Afghanistan, treatment and care of people with serious spinal cord injuries is sparse. Apzal has spent the last several months at Emergency being treated for pressure sores, deep and potentially-fatal tissue wounds that sometimes develop in bed-ridden patients.

Dr. Antonio Rainone examines the chest x-ray of a patient with bullet wounds.

Ruhillah, a mother of four, lives in Ghazni province in the village of Khuschi, where she said Taliban and pro-government residents live side-by-side. She was asleep at home with her family when a rocket exploded nearby. Ruhillah’s arm and jaw were fractured, and now her mouth is wired shut to help her heal. Her 2-year-old son and her husband were also injured.

Italian nurses, from left, Georgia Novello and Andrea Freda and anesthesiologist Federico Cafagna wheel a patient with two bullet wounds to the chest back to the operating theater. The patient had arrived earlier in the day and immediately underwent surgery to repair the damage. However, steady blood loss indicated a problem, so surgeons prepared to open him back up.

Surgeons look for damaged tissue in a patient with bullet wounds to the chest.

Gul Bashara, 11, cries out in pain while her mother and aunt move her to a wheelchair in the children’s ward. She was outside at home in Logar province with her brothers and sisters when a shell landed in the family’s garden. Seven children were injured and two were killed in the explosion. Gul Bashara’s spine was injured and she was paralyzed from the waist down. She also has severe flesh wounds to her arms, legs, back and chest.

Gul Bashara’s 4-year-old sister Sidiqa received two badly broken legs in the explosion.

Norullah was at a relative’s wedding in Wardak province when a grenade was thrown into the wedding party. He had injuries to his arms and abdomen, and lost vision in his right eye.

Minadar, a mother of nine, said she and her family huddled in their home in Sar e Pol province while fighting raged one night. A mortar detonated nearby, killing one of her sons and injuring two others. Minadar’s right hand was amputated and she suffered a severe fracture and open wound to her left arm. She said she thought the situation in Afghanistan was getting worse. “I wish the war was finished,” she said.

Anesthesiologists prepare 8-year-old Waris from Logar province for emergency surgery. The boy had shrapnel wounds to the chest, abdomen and skull.

Mohammad Agha, 20, was shot in the chest outside of a polling station in his home district of Archi, Kunduz province, on September 18, the day of Afghanistan’s parliamentary election. The bullet damaged his spinal cord: he is now paraplegic. He got engaged shortly before his injury, and now can’t summon the courage to tell his fiancĂ©e that he’ll likely spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Khan Agha, right, 28, talks with a relative outside his hospital ward. Agha is an Afghan policeman in Takhar province, is married, and has two young sons. He said he was in a firefight with Taliban insurgents and stepped on a mine while running. His left leg was amputated as a result of his injury. When asked how he would be able to earn a living, he said, “I don’t know, but God will provide.”

A child sleeps at Emergency Hospital. He had shell injuries including a broken leg and shrapnel in his abdomen.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


I've been hiding out in the U.S. for the past few weeks. I decided it was time for a little R&R.

I got to see lots of family and friends, survived a mild concussion and an inner tube wipeout and attended two weddings.

Above, a campfire before my brother's wedding near Polson, Montana. (I love campfires.)

My sister-in-law's wedding dress on the big day. I was in the wedding, so I didn't shoot very much.

My friend Bridget's wedding in Seattle.

Iraqi stowaway in my car to the airport, Columbus, Ohio.

Sept. 11, Fire Island, NY, ferry.

New York City, from a train window.

Cairo, here I come...

Friday, July 9, 2010


Above, women lift their hands during Friday prayers at Moqtada al-Sadr headquarters, Sadr City.

I witnessed Sadr's female devotees as they prayed, tucked away behind the walls of his office compound. To see more photographs from this unique experience, visit the post I wrote for The New York Times' At War blog by clicking here.

In Iraq, no one is untouched by the chaos of war. Women have lost husbands, fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, to violence and prison. They've been threatened for not wearing the scarf and the abaya. They've been attacked for being Christian, Sunni or Shia. They have been displaced from their homes and have had to find a way to work, study and take care of their families under the most difficult of circumstances.

Although their daily lives have changed dramatically since the 2003 invasion, women don't seem to have much of a voice in politics or the media. They have been largely sidelined by mainstream Iraqi politics and only seem to make an appearance in a story if they were involved in a bombing or other bloodshed.

Because I am a woman, I was able to get inside the world of Iraqi women and come away with something from their lives. It is an incomplete picture, at best, but I was amazed at the stories these women told me. They keep going despite their grief, despite their fear, despite everything they have seen and experienced.

Another photograph inside Sadr's office headquarters.

I went to Baghdad University to photograph students on the first day of Spring exams. Read the blog post for At War by clicking here.

With the help of Zaid, an Iraqi employee of The New York Times, I started photographing students in the co-ed department of physics as they crammed before their first test. Although we had written permission from the Ministry of Education, within minutes an instructor was demanding that we get additional permission from the dean of the department, who was unavailable. Next we tried the political science department, also a co-ed program.

Nope. Denied.

Discouraged and worried that this seemingly innocuous photo idea would turn into something impossible, we finally tried the Women's College of Education. Bingo. We talked to the assistant dean and he sent someone with us to help inform people what we were doing.

I was surprised that we were granted access to a women's school. My experience in the Middle East has often been the opposite--women's places are harder to access.

Zaid's theory was that co-ed university departments could become targets for Islamists hoping to make a statement. Men and women mixing together, attending the same classes, sitting side-by-side to study--none of this would fly with any number of extremist groups. And indeed, universities in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities have come under attack, so perhaps the co-ed departments were being extremely protective. But who knows.

People in Iraq are afraid.

Above, women crammed minutes before their psychology exam. It was great to see so many women attending classes at Iraq's largest University. The Women's College of Education alone has 4,000 students. If they pass the course of study, these women will go on to become teachers in public schools across Iraq.

Students in Iraq have amazing dedication. Residents of Baghdad can expect 4-6 hours of electricity per day, unless they can afford a private generator. IED's explode on Baghdad streets on a daily basis. Yet the students return to class day after day.

Students check for their names on the classroom door before the start of their history exam.

Women gather every Sunday at Sayyed Idris shrine to pray, talk to each other and lie in the shrine's cool interior. To see more, check out the At War blog post here.

The shrine is a place where women bring their grief and troubles, and their hopes. It's something many of us can relate to: when the world goes crazy, we too often turn to religion, each other or both. They focus on personal issues--family, work, happiness.

A woman quietly reads the Quran inside.

The shrine itself has been a target from rockets, gunfire and numerous nearby bombings. But the women still come every Sunday.

A woman carries a sleeping baby inside the shrine.

At Noon's salon in Karrada neighborhood, owner Nahla George Daniel added extensions to a customer's hair.

In 2007, Daniel, a Christian, fled to the Dohuk in Kurdistan. She was terrified by the many attacks on Christians. She came back to Baghdad last year to pick up life where it left off. And so far, business has been good. Women have flocked back to her tiny two-story shop for manicures, pedicures, hair cuts and color.

Doesn't the desire for that which is "normal" overwhelm all of us at one time or another? Baghdad must surely be the extreme opposite of "normal". How long can one endure it?

It took a lot of courage for Daniel to return to Baghdad, and also to let me photograph her and her salon.

Hanin Ghanim gets purple hair color at the salon while her sister Shams, 17, watches. The stylist is Daniel's daughter Nagwa Amir, 18.

Samaa Al-Sarraf, 24, got her hair colored at the salon.

Electricity wires above a portrait of the Imam Hussein, Sadr City.

The biggest complaint I heard while I was in Iraq was about the lack of basic services, especially electricity. Private generators provide the bulk of power for those who can afford it. When there is no power, it affects everyone's lives--especially in summer when the temperatures can reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit.

Customers negotiate for the price of meat in the women's market in Sadr City, where many of the stalls are run by women, and nearly all of the customers are as well.

"Everything we earn here we spend on our stomachs," Naima Abd Al-Saada, a spice seller, told me. She said the Iraqi people are tired. I believe her.

Fabric store owner Makiya Hemeli, left, watches a customer sort through used fabric in Sadr City.

Hanin Thaer, 5, kisses her 5-month-old sister Yasamine Thaer in the tent where they live in Sadr City. Hanin's mother, Iqbal Achoup Shuker, is on the right. The family, led by Shuker's widowed mother-in-law, has no home and has been squatting on a piece of land for the past four years. They survive by collecting cans and other goods to recycle.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The most difficult place

(At the end of my New York Times rotation, I wrote an essay for the Arthur F. Burns Fellowship newsletter about working in Iraq.)

For the past seven weeks, I have been the bureau photographer for the New York Times in Baghdad. This was my first visit to Iraq, and although I have worked in Afghanistan, Gaza and Yemen, I have found Iraq to be the most difficult place to do my job.

For now, much of the violence seems to have subsided and life is slowly improving. Markets, commercial areas and nightlife are blossoming. Occasional explosions and gunfire briefly shatter the calm, but people maneuver around the roadblocks and continue on their way to work or university.

But fear lingers. Seven years of brutal violence have left their mark here. Iraqis are haunted by bombings, kidnappings, murders and gun battles. They don't trust the government, the media or each other.

It's the fear that makes working here difficult. When I talk to people, they often deny my request to use their names. Iraqis of all stripes are extremely wary of cameras and nearly always request proof of formal permission, usually from a ministry or other government entity. Even then, people are not eager to put themselves out in the public eye.

It is nearly impossible to photograph the aftermath of a car bomb or street battle. In most cases, the scene is blocked by police, and cameras are simply not allowed. The government has decided that published photographs of deadly bombings aid the cause of insurgents.

In any conflict zone, personal safety must come first. Finding the balance between being able to work and being secure in Iraq has proven a challenge. When I work, I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. I try to make myself small and quiet. I try to blend in. For the first time in my career, armed bodyguards and two cars follow me wherever I go, a fact that has changed the dynamic of my work dramatically. Moving from place to place is complicated by checkpoints, IED's and blast walls. I often work wearing the abaya and a scarf to cover my hair. It took nearly a month for me to figure out how to work under all of the security measures.

Despite all of this, Iraq has grown on me. My rotation here is at an end and I am sad to leave. Iraq's story remains compelling and most Iraqis are warm and hospitable. Iraqis have witnessed unimaginable horrors, but they keep going.

(Photos: An Iraqi National Army soldier guards a neighborhood in Mosul, Iraq; a death announcement hangs outside the bombed former home of poet, painter, translator and novelist Jabra Ibrahim Jabra in Baghdad; a sandstorm colors Baghdad's blast walls yellow.)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Night's rebirth?

Going out to dinner, a club or a movie are things I take for granted, and I don't have to worry about a militarily-enforced curfew.

Baghdad is another story. Years of violence have meant people stay home at night, away from car bombings targeting restaurants and theaters. Clubs are few and far between, and the streets must be completely clear by the midnight curfew.

A recent lag in violence has coincided with a rise in evening social activities. Nightlife may be making a comeback in Iraq's weary capital.

I worked with Anthony Shadid on a story about a new, enormous, spectacularly-decorated restaurant called the Lebanese Club. If you'd enjoy reading Anthony's story about this Baghdad destination, click here. He really captured the flavor of nightlife in Baghdad.

The main dining room of the Lebanese Club. The manager, chef and much of the wait staff are actually from Lebanon.

Outdoor seating affords a view of the Tigris and a distant oil refinery.

The main dining room. (The air conditioning bills for this place must be outrageous!)

A V.I.P. room, "ala Scarface," as Anthony put it. The best quote was from the Lebanese manager of the club, Antoine al-Hage: "Where there's war, there's lots of money."

The guard room outside the Lebanese Club. Because, V.I.P.'s of course have lots of bodyguards.

In comparison, one of Baghdad's more typical eating establishments--bright, colorful and full of glass.

This family restaurant also had a bit of a unique style, complete with live parakeets, mannequins and a saxophone-playing Santa .

Chile restaurant had a shisha cafe attached. Wish I could have smoked one there, but glassy restaurants are still pretty much off-limits to foreigners.

Some young guys smoking shisha in the cafe.

Anthony and I also attended the premiere of an Iraqi-made feature-length movie, the first to come out in a long time.

The movie was called "Son of Babylon," was directed by young Iraqi Mohamed Al-Diradji and was filmed entirely in Iraq. It screened at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was all in Kurdish with Arabic subtitles, so I couldn't understand much of the plot. Basically it's about a boy and his grandmother who go in search of the boy's father, sometime around the American invasion in 2003.

Another great story by Mr. Shadid can be found here.

The street where the theater was located was closed off to traffic and guarded by Iraqi National Army soldiers and tanks.

Everyone got the friendly pat-down at the door. It was a pleasure to see so many people at the film's red-carpet premiere. A very special evening for Iraqis.

No popcorn at this theater, just hamburgers. And tea.

Then the audience found their seats and waited for the movie to start...