When I Wake Up

March 21, 2008

In those first few seconds of waking in the morning, when my sleep has been disturbed, my first thoughts are to deny the cause of the sound.

“Maybe the door slammed; maybe a cat jumped over a bucket; maybe a vehicle tyre burst.” So many maybes… but the reality is usually the same. It is a bomb!

“Get up now,” I will say to myself, “If you are not there before the police then you are in trouble.” I always call another photographer, or the Reuters Television producer, to double check, and I hate to hear the reply, “It is a bomb, I heard it too.” But it is the response I have come to expect.

My camera equipment, which lives with me as a constant companion, will be over my shoulder as I call our driver, who lives nearby, and is usually already on the road. Now, all I have to worry about is getting to the scene as quickly as possible. We have to fight our way through heavy traffic, aggressive security forces and angry members of the public.

More than four million people live in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and the traffic is my worst frustration. The roads in Afghanistan are often narrow and rutted, with no traffic signals, crazy drivers and a total absence of rules.

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Above: Military personnel secure a suicide blast site in Kabul

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Above: The scene of a suicide car bomb explosion in Kabul

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Above: A military helicopter flies over a blast site in the south of Kabul

On my way to a scene I always try to tip off my TV and text colleagues if I haven’t spoken to them already, and they do the same for me. If I am lucky I will reach the scene before the security forces, which are usually composed of Afghan policemen, Afghan soldiers, members of the Afghan intelligence service, NATO forces and U.S. troops. If I am not lucky it can feel like a big military party, at which the favourite music comprises wailing ambulance sirens and helicopter rotor blades churning the air. The accompanying lyrics go something like this, “No picture!!! Camera down!!! Get out of here!!!” followed by “Go away,” “Shove off,” and lots of swearing.

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Above: Foreign military personnel (L) stop an Afghan police vehicle from advancing to a suicide blast site in Kabul

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Above: Afghan police and security personnel search a suspect for explosives after a suicide bomb blast in Kabul

Amid this confused situation, we have little time to think of the plight of the victims – the dead and those wounded by the blast – we can only look for pictures that describe the carnage, and try to get away without being hurt ourselves. Scenes like this make me feel as if I am at a photo-shoot at a junk yard, with the wreckage of vehicles and the bits blown off them; the shattered bodies of the victims; the blood stains; the broken windows and a million other bits and pieces.

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Above: A U.S. soldier walks away from a suicide blast site in Kabul

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Above: Afghan policemen secure a car bomb site in Kabul

It is only when I have arrived back at the office and filed the pictures that I am back to myself, and continue with the routine of any normal person. I say to myself, “I should get some breakfast, I should brush my teeth…” and so much more.

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Above: A British soldier (2nd L) tries to stop a mourning Afghan woman from approaching a suicide attack site in Kabul

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Above: An employee of the Afghan Ministry of Justice looks out through a shattered window after an explosion in Kabul

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Above: Afghan families and relatives of Tuesday’s suicide bombing victims carry the bodies to a cemetery for burial in the city of Baghlan, north of Kabul

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Above: An Afghan army soldier keeps watch after a suicide bomb blast in Kabul

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Above: A U.S. military personnel (R) and an interpreter stop locals from approaching the scene of a suicide blast in Kabul

All photographs by Ahmad Masood

8 comments

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Mr. Masood,

Thank you for doing your job and getting up for those photographs. Your work is incredibly important to those of us here, away from the fighting. Stay safe and keep your lens dry.

Posted by catherine.mchenry | Report as abusive

Thank you for your photographs…and for the real story

Posted by Victoria Vestal | Report as abusive

Thank you for the work that you do to send these images to us, I wish only that I had the skills (Photographic) to do what you do.

Stay safe ..

Posted by James Ham | Report as abusive

Salom Masood. Khale shorma chetor ast?
Esme man Diana ast va chebade. (Hope my transcriptions are spelt correctly!)
Great pictures…great story :-)
” Amid this confused situation, we have little time to think of the plight of the victims – the dead and those wounded by the blast – we can only look for pictures that describe the carnage, and try to get away without being hurt ourselves.”
Balay, zendagi mizgara but doesn’t it affect you? Lotfam ghofta, how do you get nah-kam? Reports say that sharhe bozorg is one of the world’s dangerous cities: How do you handle the everyday “madness” the media potrays (that I assume is indeed the case)?
Khoda Hafez Masood.

Posted by Diana Ngila | Report as abusive

I hope that you can make it home safely so that you can write a book about your experiences- I’d read it!

Posted by C4 | Report as abusive

exellent work guys, take care!
(Montevideo – Uruguay)

Posted by Juan | Report as abusive

Dear Ahmad Masood.
I am a 70 year old painter living in UK. I am doing a series of oil paintings on theme of incongruities of war. On the Reuters editors choice Oct 7th 2008 i was very very impressed by your photo of ‘ An Afghan man washes himself under a broken water pump Kabul’
Would you give permission for me to base a painting on the quick sketch I made of that image?, The painting will not be a reproduction. I would of course aknowledge your photograph as my source. Neville Weston

[...] the picture of the wounded Afghan boy (Slide 2) reflected on this more than a year ago in “When I Wake Up,” on Reuters Blogs: “Amid this confused situation, we have little time to think of the [...]

I saw a picture you recently took of a man who writes letters to the government on behalf of illiterate people. I would love to have a print for my office. Is there any way to acquire one? Thank you for your work.

Posted by FMW | Report as abusive