Often in our job as photographers we are totally dependent on drivers. Back in 2004, I was on assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan for the first time and came to appreciate just how important a good driver can be, especially in a place like that where your life can depend on it.
When I first met him, this good, solid, bearded man with lively eyes, was fluent in Russian, Urdu, Hindi, Pashtun but no English whatsoever; as I had no idea of Russian, Urdu, Hindi and Pastun our conversations were limited and hilarious to anyone else listening, but somehow despite this, right from the very first moment, we understood each other.
On my first trip to Afghanistan when we stopped the car to take pictures Omar was always calm but alert in an almost imperceptible way. The stops would be very short, with minimum interaction with the locals and none of the usual hanging around or loitering photographers like to do in order to get pictures. In Afghanistan this is just not sensible. The opportunity for misunderstanding in such circumstances is considerable. They may never have seen a camera and will be curious, but they may mistrust it and you and be wondering what you and it are doing in their ‘hood’, whatever the motives crowds gather quickly so at the slightest sign of unwanted attention With one flash of Omar’s quick, electric eyes we would be out of there – quickly. All it took was a look.
We had long conversations in our imaginary language and I admired his skills as a driver; how he drove securely to suicide bombing sites without drama, got us past security barriers, dealt with foreign and Afghan forces, always very edgy particularly immediately after an attack; took unimaginable shortcuts and managed to coax all the power out of the vehicle when it was needed; drove through the Hindu Kush mountain range on the worst roads I had seen anywhere in the world, and all in a very calm and professional manner, without a hitch.