The girl was 12 or 13 years old, an Afghan refugee whose parents had been killed when their village was bombed, she fled to the border of Pakistan with some relatives.
Steve McCurry, a famous war photographer,
took the photo that changed the face of the Afghan war.
But he never knew her name, until years later a search went out for the
'girl with the sea green eyes'.
Eventually they found a war-hardened woman, named Sharbat Gula,
her eyes as piercing and challenging as in the original photo.
You can read the full, fascinating story (and the original, 1985 story)
on the National Geographic website:
they also have a great little movie that explains it all.
I have chosen to exhibit this picture here for several reasons.
Firstly, since I first saw this photograph, like many others before me
- and others yet to come - I fell in love.
How can you look away from those eyes that speak the unspeakable?
Yet at first I never knew the full story.
I recently trained to take groups of tourists around Russia,
and it was learning Russian history that piqued my interest in this mysterious girl once again.
The Afghan war was called the 'Dirty War',
associated with the might of Soviet Russia crushing the ill-prepared Afghanistan.
It motivated the rest of the world to get involved and eventually led to the end of the USSR.
I watched the movie 'Charlie Wilson's War' (Tom Hanks- recommended!),
about the Afghan war in the 80s.
At the end of the movie Charlie tries to persuade the US government to give a little extra to build up war-torn Afghanistan and not just liberate her then abandon her,
as this will cause problems later on.
But, as Charlie says, 'we fucked up the end game.'
And so today- the armies are back in Afghanistan,
and the young girl in the picture is now around 40,
and nothing much in her country has changed.
What is striking is that she never knew the effects she was having
on the world with her 'sea green eyes'.
What good did it do her? Or her country?
As I tell my groups in Russia - for some, at least,
the Cold War never really ended.
What is inspiring about the story is that when Sharbat Gula was found,
she didn't really want her photo taken again,
for fear of being associated with foreigners,
and because a Muslim woman should be modest.
But she accepted because she knew it would bring the story to light again,
bring the world's attention once more to the humanity behind the war,
and hopefully because it will help her country.
Sharbat did it because she was promised medicine for her husband and children,
and education for her two little girls.
A mother, a wife, a proud Afghan, and an inspiration.
This time, let's not 'fuck up the end game.'