Finally, my Trip to Afghanistan
That first trip to Afghanistan found me on another rollercoaster. I was flying high, literally, over the beautiful snowy (even in late August) Hindu Kush mountains feeling exhilarated. I was also afraid. I had no concrete plan about how to make my photographs or even how to conduct the interviews. I had not yet arranged for a translator or my interview subjects. I had an idea of a few places to start, but not much more.
Soon I found a great translator, and we began by interviewing her family members. After our first long day working together, I was devastated. The interviews had gone sufficiently well, but I judged my photographs to be only average. I was slowly getting my feet on the ground and developing my shooting technique. Making contacts to find interview subjects was going slowly, in part due to erratic phone service. I only had two weeks left. I saw clearly the possibility of going home a failure, with only mediocre results to show for all of my efforts.
Had I come halfway around the world and accepted the financial support of my friends, only to do something mediocre? This was the lowest point in my life so far. With failure staring me in the face, I pulled out every tool I had in my kit. I exercised, cried, prayed, and meditated. I surrendered my project to The Universe, to God, to the Forces Beyond my Control, to the part of myself that is wiser than my everyday self. My role now became only to show up and do my best. Beyond that, the outcome was out of my hands. Within thirty minutes after I’d finished, people I’d contacted began calling. I easily got through to other groups who were happy to introduce me to interview subjects. The idea for my signature shooting technique came to me, allowing me to get natural images and slices of the moment. I learned that getting a visa extension and changing my flight would be easy.
I put in the work and the results flowed. When they were less than optimal, I shifted tactics and tried again, much like a Roomba*. And like an intelligent Roomba, when I hit a wall, I thought, “Oh, I’ve reached a dead end. Interesting. Let me go that way and see what happens.” I found in this case and with every project I’ve undertaken since, staying clear and focused, not on the results I envision (although they are always in front of me), but on my intention to do and be my best—whatever the results, has lifted a huge burden from my shoulders, anxiety from my gut, and opened me to seeing opportunities I would have been blind to otherwise.
*Roomba is a robot vacuum cleaner. It vacuums in a straight line until it hits an object or wall, and then it changes its course. It keeps doing this until eventually, the entire floor is clean.