In the Face of NO

In the Face of NO

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On my last full day in Afghanistan, I interviewed Soroya Sobhrang, the Commissioner for Women’s Rights at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. Later, when we were debriefing, Elias, one of my co-interviewers, told me that I needed to write a book. “No,” I replied. “I’m a photographer, not a writer.” But he persisted, saying that I had insights and perspectives that needed to be shared. A book would bring the womens’ stories to a much wider audience and make my efforts a great deal more effective.

Writing a book had been suggested to me many times before. I’d had no interest. But this time, in this place, Elias’s words sunk in. Because of the timing, because of the way he said it, because of who knows what, I knew he was right, and I knew I could do it. And so I began working on Gathering Strength: Conversations with Afghan Women as soon as I returned home.

In general, I tend to give up and move on when someone tells me “no.” In that moment, I may discuss and persuade, but if the answer is still “no,” I let it go. But this experience always reminds me that it is often worthwhile to keep suggesting and asking, even in the face of repeated “no”s. Sometimes infertile ground has become fertile as the situation has evolved or the person’s thinking has changed. I never know when my (perhaps slightly different) words might be fruitful, even when talking with the same person about the same issue.

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