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Afghanistan: Then and Now

June 7, 2010

When I was a kid I had a book called Then and Now. The book would take a scene like a bedroom, kids playing outdoors or a corner store, and then put two images side-to-side; one from “then” (some time in the early 1900’s) and “now” (the 1990’s). I was reminded of this book when I stumbled across an article called “Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan.” In this article, the author, Mohammad Qayoumi,  revisits a photobook about the country he had as a child in Afghanistan. Comparing pictures from this book (printed in the 1950’s) and today (found on Flickr’s Creative Commons) is a “then and now” of its own sort — except instead of the women’s  skirts getting shorter and careers becoming more advanced, the opposite has occurred.

Here is a picture from the article, of women boarding a bus:

Compare this to an image I found online, which is typical of images that came up when I searched “Kabul” (Qayoumi’s childhood home) :

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Michael Foley

It is remarkable to me that the 1950’s in Afghanistan looked so much like the 1950’s in the United states — and yet now the two countries look almost nothing alike. As Qayoumi says in his article’s introduction:

A half-century ago, Afghan women pursued careers in medicine; men and women mingled casually at movie theaters and university campuses in Kabul; factories in the suburbs churned out textiles and other goods. There was a tradition of law and order, and a government capable of undertaking large national infrastructure projects, like building hydropower stations and roads, albeit with outside help. Ordinary people had a sense of hope, a belief that education could open opportunities for all, a conviction that a bright future lay ahead. All that has been destroyed by three decades of war, but it was real…it is important to know that disorder, terrorism, and violence against schools that educate girls are not inevitable.

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