The girl in the green dress (except it’s not, it’s a shalwar khameez)

In December last year I wrote about “the girl in the green dress”. I’d seen her picture that day in the New York Times and like everyone else, I was horrified. I’m not saying that lightly like “jeez I was horrified by the price of my electricity bill.” I mean shocked, stunned, loss of breath, horrified. Which is exactly why photographer Massoud Hossaini has just won a pulitzer prize for his work.

An article I read today answered all of the questions I had at the time. I wonder what her name is? How old is she? I thought at the time she looked about the same age as the first little traveler. She is. Indiscriminate thoughts ran through my mind. Was it her best dress? It was.

Tarana herself has scars on her legs and arms and walks with a limp. She no longer attends school because her legs hurt, she says, adding: “I hope I can get well soon and go back to school.”

Learning more about Tarana’s life has provided insight, but the words have just made the picture more distressing. Tarana’s father is unemployed, her family of seven live in what is described as a two roomed ramshackled house, a house which leads to an alley full of young men openly injecting herion.

I often wonder about our soldiers, how do they cope when they return home? When I talk about my geographical schizophrenia it all seems so middle class, so very first world. How does a soldier return to his family and not stop thinking about the Taranas of this world? The confusion that must come from being so happy to be going home, but knowing what you’re leaving behind. 

If Massoud Hossaini hadn’t won the Pulitzer prize, I imagine Tarana’s name would remain a mystery.  I imagine her family would have been of little interest, for they are one of many families in the same situation. Understandably Tarana sounds a little confused by the attention:

That her picture has been featured on newspaper front pages around the world means little to her, she says, with a small shrug and a fleeting smile.

There’s no way Tarana could comprehend how many people opened a newspaper, or clicked on a website and were shocked by her picture. Which is probably a good thing, because if she could she’d possibly wonder why she continues to live the way she does.

Here’s the original post ::

Television was in its infancy during the Korean war but by the time Vietnam rolled along it was right there, in our homes.  For the first time the world was presented with haunting images on a daily basis. Who could ever forget “The girl in the picture”? Kim Phuc was nine when Nick Ut took this photo. The second little traveler is nine. Pictures like this were arguably so confronting that people began to ask more questions. Sometimes you can hear the story but it’s not until you see the picture that you can really comprehend the horror.

Did I mention the second little traveler is nine?

Last week I read Sally Sara’s “farewell to Kabul”. It is such a beautiful piece of writing. Not only do you get a honest portrayal of life as a foreign correspondent but there are heart wrenching moments like this;

“But I have seen things here too that I wish I hadn’t. Minutes I wish I could scratch away. Not so much for me, but for those whose lives have fractured in front of me. 

I still see one boy’s face. His name was Abdul. He was an 11-year-old, who had been injured in a blast in Kandahar. He was brought into the military hospital with half his face blown away. The bandages around his head were covered in dirt, gravel, blood and vomit. He screamed and cried, pleading for the pain to stop. Adbul’s face was so badly injured, I spent most of the time filming his feet. His toes flexed with the waves of agony. 

Abdul’s suffering was not my fault but, as an adult, it was impossible not to feel responsible. I remember standing there thinking how utterly wrong it was that, live or die, this child would think this was what life was. It was just wrong.

And to think it was intentional. Someone had sat in a dusty compound somewhere, patiently lacing a homemade bomb with the nails and ball bearings that tore through this boy. A child should never know that life could be like that. The next day Abdul’s dead body was carried out of the hospital, wrapped in a white sheet and cradled in the arms of his father.”

Two days after this piece was aired there was yet another suicide bombing. This picture was in the New York Times.

The photo was taken by Massoud Hossaini, you can read about how he came to take the shot here. My first reaction when I saw this photo was pure horror. There are too many children, too many little hands and feet.  
I keep thinking about the girl in the green, wondering if that was her favourite outfit. Was it new? Who was she going to meet at the festival she was on her way to? I wonder about the people surrounding her. How many family members did she lose? Who was looking after her? Who was holding her hand? 
In 2011, this has to be our “the girl in the picture”. 
Does she have the same impact? 

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