In 2012 I lived and worked in southern Afghanistan as a civilian employee of the U.S. government. I worked with farmers, tribal elders and local government officials. Eleven years of America at war and I was still required to live on a heavily protected military base.  Whenever I left the base to work with the Afghan populace, I was required to wear protective gear, travel in armored personnel carriers and be escorted by heavily armed soldiers .

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Some of the faces of Southern Afghanistan: 1) Tribal Elder   2) A young man who beat me at arm wrestling.

A tribal elder   Look at my muscles

I can no longer hear the sound of a helicopter without thinking of Afghanistan.

Helicopters again

Sending Help

Marching off to talk with a village.

Stay in Line

Marching to a village

Most of my work was in the rural areas, working with farmers to assist in developing more lucrative export markets for crops like melons and pomegranates. I was always accompanied by a small U.S. military and Albanian Special Forces contingent. Required to always stay in line while walking down roads and through villages, several men would walk in front of me and several behind. In this picture, a group of Albanians and Americans bring up the rear.

We Have Your Back

We usually had a soldier out in front of the line who would scan for land mines. If I wanted to leave the line and talk to a farmer I had to ask permission from the commanding soldier and have the area scanned for mines in front of me.

Preparing for the March

Eat My Melon

Sometimes our meetings would take place in fields or orchards. Here we’re waiting in a pomegranate grove for tribal elders to arrive for a meeting.

Under the Pomegranate Grove

After the meeting.

Pomegranate Meeting

Pictures from a meeting with tribal elders in the village of Loy Karez.

Thanks for Nothing

Loy Karez Elder


Armored Protection

Sunset Over Loy Karez

Going Home

Once a week we would meet with the District Governor and his Executive Officer.

Visiting the Guvna

A marijuana field in the Shadizi area of Spin Boldak, Kandahar province.

Mountains and Marijuana

It was located right behind – and tended by – an Afghan Border Patrol Outpost.

Smoke Me; Eat Me; Make Me Into Hash

Visiting a village to check on a project on the outskirts of Spin Boldak, we were met by a running hoard of children and young boys wanting to pluck anything they could from our vests.

The Village Converges

Pencil Please

It's Over There

Whenever I’d travel between Spin Boldak, where I lived on the Pakistan border, to Kandahar, I’d travel on a CH-16 chopper. They always came in pairs. One would land and pick me up; the other would hover as a protective measure. This picture was taken out of the back of the CH-16 looking at the accompanying chopper.

Double Protection

Does it surprise you that I was also well-protected from inside my own chopper?

Watching from Above

Armored personnel carriers – MRAPs. This is what I traveled in when leaving the base. These vehicles were developed for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They’re specially designed and heavily armored against IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).

Armored Sunrise

Dont Tread On Me

Inside one of the Mother Ships with two Albanian friends – one an escort and one a gunner for the MRAP.

Fun in the Back

Albanian Gunner

After my colleague finished her one-year assignment, I inherited some infrastructure projects in the urban areas in and around Spin Boldak.

We are In-charge

Here we’re doing some monitoring and evaluation of a sidewalk and water drainage project.

Pouring Concrete in Spin Boldak

Walking the streets of Spin Boldak.

Watching Out for Me

Imagine living in a place where, if you are a woman, you may not walk alone in public. Its name is called Afghanistan.

You May NOT Walk Alone

The Burkah

Face of Afghanistan

At the market

Look See


This is what a Southern Afghanistan dust storm looks like: A solid wall of fast-moving sand and dust.  When you see this you get inside as fast as possible and always make sure you have your scarf handy just in case there’s no shelter.

Dust Take Cover


All Content Copyrighted © Stephen Tavella

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