A tale of two cities? More like a story with two tales

If you would have asked me in 2000, 2005 or as recent as 2009 “Where do you see yourself in 10 years, 5 years, next year?” Typical benchmarks if you live by a goal setting lifestyle. I would have responded with some standard answers relating to personal productivity and financial aspirations, adding a couple material acquisitions to the list. You know… carrots at the end of the stick to work towards. Nothing could have prepared me for what would happen next.


It was Dec 28th 2009 with Christmas still in the air. Peaceful and quiet while at work as most everyone had taken the week off, this is the time I devote to reviewing and planning. Evaluating what I’ve accomplished and strategizing pursuits to be obtained. With my attention diverted, wondering what the New Year would have in store, I was quickly brought back to reality by Microsoft Outlook’s ‘Ding’ notifying there was a message waiting to be read.  This email would change my life forever while affecting my immediate family, friends and relatives. A burden and void they did not ask for.



Life provides doors of opportunity every day. Most walk past, scared to walk through or too busy to see. I was walking fast, but in mid-step, this one caught my attention. Not the prettiest door I must say. In fact, this evoked many negative emotions like loneliness, less than desirable food, uncomfortable living conditions, and life threatening situations. These are things I knew would be on the other side if I decided to enter. So why choose this door?



If you’re spiritual, some might say it was in god’s plan, others might say it was in the cards. I feel it was a calling and a duty. A time to serve my country… sacrifice… give unselfishly for a day that has never made sense. A day I will never forget.  Pain, Loss, tragedy, few words of many unmentioned that describe September 11th 2001. The email on this particular day asked for something, volunteers. Who was willing to go? I felt a surge in my body. This was my chance to do something for the greater good, outside of myself. A contribution that felt right. After countless hours of intense training, medical testing, obtaining a Visa and security clearance, I was ready. Within a matter of weeks I was leaving my wife, boys, and amenities, heading to a world I knew little about. Oh, I thought I had an idea of what was going on… I had studied, I was trained, but until you put boots on ground… you really don’t have a clue.


 So here I am on the other side of the world in a culture so unlike my own. Having to leave the wire often, getting the opportunity to see more than most, yet still extremely limited in what this country has to offer. It is far too dangerous to go anywhere by all means of transportation. Chopper rides being the most beneficial providing views unparalleled compared to ground movement. Afghanistan as a whole is what I would describe as ‘Antithetical Alentours’.

As the end of my 2nd tour draws near, I consider myself lucky to have served in both the Northern and Southern regions of Afghanistan, getting to see both sides of the coin. While performing duties as assigned, much to my disappointment being a photographer wasn’t part of that role. Carrying a camera only as a tool likened to a tourist, my only means to document my encounters. Provided are a handful of random glimpses showing the extreme contrast between the North and South.

The South consists mainly of flat, hard terrain where you will find the harshest conditions of extremely hot temperatures, limited fresh water and dangerous unmarked mine fields scattered throughout the countryside. “Survival of the fittest” as my Father-in-law would say. Still there is an intangible beauty to this land featuring a unique spectacle known as the Registan Desert. Most call it the Red Desert as it is visually separate from the surroundings by 50 to 100 foot (30m) walls of red sand. From above it looks like the well defined outline of a lake.

Highway 4, the only ring route through the country 


Meeting with the District Governor

Clinic at a FOB

Guard tower right along HWY 4

The Red Desert in the background

Desert beauty

The North on the other hand is a dramatic change from the barren South, with all the beauty and majesty of the Hindu Kush massif, part of the Himalaya mountains. The rugged nature of impassible peaks and isolated valleys, serves to reinforce the segmented nature of the country’s populace. Crystal clear snowmelt and turquoise rivers flow feeding plants, animals and used for irrigation can seasonally turn dangerous. Surprise rainstorms often transform the episodically flowing rivers to torrents, destroying crops, villages and nomadic camps.  


Young children are tasked with laborous activities

In the current state, this is not a tourist destination by any means. A shame the beauty of Afghanistan must remain a secret. Hidden until a more peaceful way of life can hopefully one day be obtained. While this was a brief snapshot, I could spend hours showing pictures and sharing stories. However I will bring this to a close by saying I’ve accomplished another goal and excited to be coming home soon. An opportunity never thought possible, a place these feet never would have touched. It would be unfair not to mention and thank my wife and children who have been patient and supportive through these past 2 years of being away. Time we will never get back. Even after returning for 3 short months, only to head back out for a second tour. They didn’t ask to fill my roles and responsibilities, it was thrown upon them. Their efforts, courage and strength are immeasurable. I am grateful daily.   I heard a wise man once say “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Sir, I heard you.

 Parting thoughts:

“Doors are made to be opened” ~Michael, Nspired Photography


8 thoughts on “A tale of two cities? More like a story with two tales

  1. Michael, I enjoyed reading this as it is a story from real life and a person’s heart. You have a way of telling your story with words and such stunning pictures. You always make me think about things and go places that I would/could not go without you taking me there. Have a good night and thanks for sharing.

  2. You have so many gifts, Michael. They unravel one by one as you take the various opportunities offered behind the doors you open. I’ve enjoyed the blog.. Your descriptions of the Afghan countryside and thoughts about it are works of art enhanced by the pictures.

  3. Those pictures are amazing. I wonder how you took the one of you blending into the background with the only color the bright red shirt. Great work!

    • Thank you David! I do post production work with Photoshop. I created a black and white layer, then with a mask, uncovered only the shirt. That is it’s natural color. No saturation added at all. It’s a process but worth the results. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

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