By Lucas Jackson
One of the ubiquitous presences when traveling through Afghanistan on an embed with U.S. soldiers is that of scores of children either watching the soldiers passing in convoys or patrolling their villages. It is not uncommon for dozens of faces to be staring at you, often while standing mere feet away from the obvious out-of-towners.
The soldiers do their best to either ignore these multitudes of staring eyes or to interact with them but most often the children react shyly when confronted or when someone tries to talk to them. As a photographer traveling with these soldiers I also stand out, even more so than the soldiers which they are at least used to seeing. I am dressed differently and instead of a rifle I carry something they see far less often – cameras. For me these trips are as frustrating as they are interesting. I try to catch moments when these children are interacting to the presence of the military in their town or with each other. But I often find that as soon as I point the camera, I either become the center of attention or my young subjects turn and run away.
A young girl carrying a baby, as she went to the town’s well to get water, kept a watchful eye on my camera, while pumping water as her friend stared. Groups of children, earlier pointing and laughing, immediately turned and hid behind a lamp post as soon as my camera was raised to my eye. The children waiting to pick up the spent bullet casings after a small firefight were not at all shy of the noise of machine guns and sniper rifles, but they instantly look down or cover their faces when a camera appears. It is a fascinating fact of life here; these children understand better and are more comfortable with guns than with a camera.
Except one. Granted, there are plenty of children who will wave or smile or pose if they do not run when the camera is pointing at them. But, one small boy I saw only minutes after a firefight with insurgents on a ridge above his home didn’t seem to see me at all. He caught my eye as I stood near Lieutenant Kenneth Rowe as he spoke with village elders working to improve the relationship between that town and both the U.S. and Afghan National Army soldiers who would be defending it.
Out of the corner of my eye I was drawn to a small boy dressed in blue climbing over the wall leading from his home to the street. I raised my camera to take a photo as he jumped down from the top of the wall. He moved differently, acted differently. He did not stand and stare or walk up to one of the several groups of children that surrounded him but he walked straight and quickly to a small hole and sat down. I saw he had a swollen eye. I took several photographs as he looked and acted so different to the other children who he seemed not to want to interact with.