CS: Seamus is one of the most respected eyes on Afghanistan and the world as a journalist, as a photographer. Seamus really knows the story; he’s been covering it for fifteen years. And I have as well; I first started reporting on the Taliban in 1995. Seamus first started reporting on Afghanistan in 1994. We both went back to our starting points. We’re colleagues and friends and we’ve reported together in Iraq and Afghanistan and Ireland and elsewhere. I really respect his photography and was honored to be working with him and excited that we had an opportunity to have him work for GlobalPost.
The purpose of this report was to go back to the people and the places we know and that we’ve known for a long time and use them as the touchstone to assess where things are today. For me, that was to go back to the first madrassa on the Pakistan side of the border where I first heard about the Taliban. You saw it in my story; I think it’s really interesting that those same refugee camps that lay dormant are now filled up with Swat refugees. If you read the lead story, “Blowback,” I’m really in the exact same spot of earth. And then Seamus had this great idea to go back and see this family that he’s known for fifteen years and use them to tell the story so I recorded all the audio of him talking about the story on the rooftop, I recorded the sound of the brother telling the narrative of the family, the sounds of the street, the sounds of that rite of passage for his two sons. And, also, we tried to capture through Seamus’s photography, but also through the reporting of the story, the resiliency of the Afghan people and I think that is really the most powerful theme of Seamus’s piece: resiliency.
AF: When you set out to do this was there anything that came up that made you change your plan for the package?
CS: The Sally Goodrich story unfolded in continuing and unpredictable ways. Again, Sally Goodrich and the girls in that school are people I’ve grown to know over many years of reporting. When I first did the story on Sally Goodrich two and a half years ago, it was a feel-good story for the Boston Globe Magazine and it ran on Mother’s Day and it was called “Educating Sally.” [Vermont schoolteacher Sally Goodrich lost her son, Peter, on September 11th, and built a school in his honor in the Logar province in Afghanistan]. It was such a beautiful moment to be there when she gets to see the school in session for the first time, and the joy and hope there on the girls’ faces and the way Sally engaged with them, it was really beautiful. It was really touching having covered the war for so many years and so many bad things, to see this good story coming out of the despair of Sept. 11th, to be about people connecting and hope—it was great, right?
But then five months ago, Sally started calling me with news that all these [village elders] who we had known—and we have snapshots of us arm-in-arm and we ate lunch in their home—had, according to the U.S. military, gone with the Taliban. And in shifting to the Taliban, that village represents a microcosm of where things are headed in Afghanistan. But then the story unfolded in even more complex ways on the ground for me. I did a lot of reporting and got the whole dossier of facts from the military, I met with the Ministry of Education, which oversees the school, I talked to the principal through intermediaries and then I finally got to even meet with the village elders who had been accused of going with the Taliban.