Category Archives: Memory

Woven into a documenta carpet

M: You’re on a carpet in the documenta!

Me: What?

M: Did you know that you’re on a carpet in the documenta?

Me: No. What?!

20120826_163329 20120826_163301 20120826_163333 20120826_162957 20120826_163318 20120826_163248

Two years back when they told me, I thought this was a joke. An odd one, but a joke. I laughed it away, until I saw the pictures. That was indeed me, and the folks from the circus in Afghanistan with whom I worked. But how did we get there, into an art piece, an uber-dimensional wall-hanging carpet in one of the biggest contemporary art exhibitions in Germany? And how did somebody find and identify me on that?!

The situation must have been quite comical indeed. An old friend of mine, walking with his family through the Kassel documenta, wandering from room to room, tired after seeing one art piece after the next and nearly deciding to go home, when my friend’s sister suddenly screamed out: “That’s A.! That’s her on the carpet!” To say the least, her eye sight and memory must have been really darn good, as we hadn’t seen each other for some time, I wore a headscarf on the picture and even the others had to take a second or third guess before believing that it was me. Baffled, they took pictures of the carpet and sent them to my parents, who skyped me as I was in Kabul at that time.

Imagine, your face woven into a carpet, a piece of art. It’s rather something you’d expect of a king, I guess. At least I didn’t plan for my life to be portrayed in a carpet and hung in an art exhibition. Especially while not knowing that I would be woven and hung…in a way. I felt ambivalent about it, partly because I initially didn’t know where the photo came from and who used it in that way. I called up the others from the circus, and none of them was aware of their involvement in an art project in Germany. Once I saw the picture of the carpet, I remembered. Snow, cold, a group of artists traveling through and visiting the circus, me staying for courtesy for a tea, them asking to take a photo of us in the snow while they were walking out to catch their next appointment. None of us knew where this photo would end up, digitally collaged with other people’s photos in a different setting.

Now, two years later, it is an odd and beautiful reminder of that day that I might have otherwise forgotten. A day when the good-natured dog in the picture still lived, when the snow piled up in one of Kabul’s coldest winters, when I volunteered for the circus on weekends and Shirkhan still worked there, when I stayed for green tea and buiscuits, when I wished to quit my job and do my own projects. A day, woven into a carpet. So in the future, when civilization has broken down, and digital records have crashed in some future internet catastrophe, I will still be found on a carpet, smiling about in Goshka Macuga’s ‘Of what is, that it is; of what is not, that is not'[dOCUMENTA (13), 2012]

Here’s a German article on the documenta with the carpet on:!96101/
Here’s the artist’s website:


Leave a comment

Filed under beautiful coincidence, connections, English, Kabulistan, Memory

We don’t know where we are until we remember

IMG_0876The world turns in circles. Our own little life worlds run in circling movements forward.

Experiences are connected to things we read or hear or get lectured in. The ah-ha moment of seeing something in front of us that we have read about. The understanding that comes with Captain Hindsight. But not only in a way of “If I had known”, but also in “wow, I know now and how special makes that, what has been”.

Sitting in a morning lecture on the influence of Timurid architecture, scribbling notes while glancing views on the power point. Ten people in a room, one talking, me listening. I write down something about octagonal shapes and eight minarets, as I glance at a picture from the corner of my eyes that seems familiar. I see light garlands pendling in the wind.  

I re-adjust my view.

It’s just a domed building. No garlands, no movement on the picture. But I still see it.

Pink, green, yellow, white. No light emanating from them as it was daytime when we visited. IMG_0891The light garlands must have been there for a celebration. And we were there to pass the day. Sa’s turquoise scarf, her observing eyes, our scarce words speaking of the language barrier, our smiles of overcoming it. As we were walking along the excavation site, I tried to make sense of the building, tried to connect it to something. But my total ignorance of Iranian history and Islamic art and architecture back then, showed me a beautiful building. And through the lack of a common language between my hosts and me, and the absence of any guidebook (yes, there are people travelling without guidebooks, which makes it much more interesting to explore!), I was left with admiration alone.

What I didn’t know -and wouldn’t know fIMG_0909or some years- is that I was standing in the former capital of the Mongol Il-Khanid rulers of Persia (Iran), who built this master piece in the 14th century (1302 to 1312 AD). The dome that I tried to get onto a photo -my problems illustrate how huge it was or how inapt I was in photography- would turn out to be one of the largest brick domes in the world, just at the theoretical engineering limit for a brick dome. I couldn’t decipher the inscriptions back then, nor could I understand how the patterns were constructed out of names (Allah, Muhammad and Aliin this picture). IMG_0898For me it was a day-tour to interesting old buildings whose history I didn’t know. I walked away from the others, into one of the buildings. In a niche I come to sit and overlook the area, contemplating how I got here and what this all means.IMG_0902 Nothing made sense back then yet, despite the immediate tales we tell ourselves – we travel, we explore, we learn, we make connections. Stranded in a couchsurfing adventure in a home of an Iranian family, communicating, but rather guessing on the implications of words and phrases, gestures and courtesy, I couldn’t possibly know that four years, – crazy travels including living in Afghanistan and driving a Rickshaw through Iran – later, I would sit in a classroom in the Netherlands and see a picture that explains where I had been in the first days in Iran, back then, when I forgot to note down where I had been and was never able to reconstruct it. Until today.IMG_0894

Leave a comment

Filed under architecture, beautiful coincidence, English, Memory

Afghan Tourist Photos (Kabul to Sorubi)

Testing the edge

Close to Sorubi

Streets in between Kabul and Jalalabad

Towards Sorubi

Then we discovered the old russian tank...

...and started taking tourist pictures for our future grandchildren...

Not sure why they said I shouldn't show these to my parents...


The dam reservoir in Sorubi

Down at the reservoir

These little pashtun boys always amaze me. They're more like miniature men.

Our sandal seller in Sorubi

Leave a comment

Filed under Deutsch, English, Memory, Out of Kabul, people, Surrounding

Nearly Expired

Everyone is talking about global warming. On both ends it gets more extreme: blazing winters and damn hot summers. In a little side-discussion I say resignated to my colleague Marwa:

“That’s what we did to our planet.”

Marwa, Chanom Sadat and me at work

Marwa, Chanom Sadat and me at work

She looks at me, seriously thinking and says then:

“yes, it’s nearly expired, our earth”

Leave a comment

Filed under connections, English, Kabulistan, Memory, people

The stone memory (English version)


(Deutsche Version hier: )

”There are times and places we wished we’d have a camera to catch the moment. To fotograph what we see, to hold onto it. Sometimes we left the camera elsewhere or it isn’t possible to shoot in that moment. Sometimes we even understand that the experience of that moment can’t be caught on camera.

I have collected a stone for each one of you. In this stone you can put your memories of the present moment, your feelings and emotions, your thoughts. When you take it again into your hands, your memory will be there, you’ll be literally holding it.“

Jusztina gave me the stone. Striped in different shades of brown, with curves and edges it lay in my hand. Not exactly a beauty. Still. I hold on tight to the stone, caressing the surface with my fingertips, trying to soak up this particular moment. The forest behind, the small group of people at the pebble stone beach at the banks of the Donau, called Duna here, and the sky which seeimingly mirrored the water in its cascading shades of blue.

It was autumn in Hungary. A group of firespinners and jugglers had gathered in a foresty area to play, learn and spend time with each other. I had ventured out with Markus, a good friend of mine, from Berlin. ‘Direction east’. We had found the ‘firebirds’ through contacts and on this particular morning, Jusztina, a hungarian firespinner and dance-theatre-performer, had gone with us to the beach.

I didn’t have the slightest clue that the stone wouldn’t vanish like most of my travel-souvenirs, but that on the contrary it would stay with me for all the coming years.

Long time it stayed in the various pockets of my jeans, then it wandered from bag to bag, depending which accompanied me. Sometimes it got lost and I couldn’t find the stone back. Then it surprisingly appeared again. As I travelled to Marocco round about two and a half years ago, the stone was in my luggage. As I told the story of the stone to my travel-companion Marie, she got out of her bag a cut off dreadlock. This dreadlock travelled with her to bring her luck!


Many moments stay unfotographable. Laughing with strangers and friends, a feeling of understanding or the all embracing fear that sometimes overcomes us. So much is hidden and hard to capture in pictures. I can frame them in stories or silently smile upon them. The stone still travels with me up till today. It was in my feverishly cramping hand when I was fighting food poisoning in Pakistan, jingling next to turkish Lira and Indian Rupees in my purse, flirting in my hand when standing next to sleeping camels on the beach in Karachi, chilling out on the ground of my waiste bag while walking over a festival in the desert and coming onboard with me on the plane to Afghanistan. It’s just a stone, but for me it is like a photo album of past emotions and moments.

Leave a comment

Filed under English, Memory

The stone memory (deutsche Version)

(English Version here: )

„Es gibt Zeiten und Orte an denen wir uns wünschen, wir hätten eine Kamera bei uns. Wir könnten das fotografieren was wir sehen und es festhalten. Manchmal liegt die Kamera zuhause, die Situation erlaubt keine Fotos oder wir verstehen, dass es nicht möglich ist, das was wir erleben, in Fotos festzuhalten.

Ich habe für jeden von euch einen Stein gesammelt. In ihn könnt ihr eure Erinnerung hineinlegen und speichern. Wenn ihr ihn wieder in eure Hand nehmt, wird die Erinnerung da sein an all die Momente, in denen ihr einen Moment mit ihm ‘festgehalten’ habt.“

Jusztina gab mir den Stein. In veschiedenen Brauntönen gestreift, mit Mulden und Kanten lag er in meiner Hand. Nicht gerade eine Schönheit. Trotzdem umschloss ich den Stein, fühlte mit den Fingerkuppen in seine Vertiefungen und versuchte diesen Moment in mir aufzunehmen. Der Wald hinter uns, die kleine Gruppeam Kieselstrand der Donau, Duna wie sie hier genannt wurde, und der Himmel, der das Wasser zu spiegeln schien in seinen Blauschattierungen.

Es war Herbst in Ungarn. Eine Gruppe Feuerspieler und Jongleure hatte sich in einem Waldstück versammelt um gemeinsam zu spielen, von einander zu lernen und Zeit miteinander zu

verbringen. Ich war mit Markus, einem guten Freund, von Berlin aus ‘Richtung Osten’ aufgebrochen und hatten durch Kontakte die ‘firebirds’ gefunden. An diesem Morgen war Jusztina, eine ungarische Feuerspielerin und Tanz-Theater-Performerin, mit uns am Strand.

Wie wenig konnte ich zu dem Zeitpunkt ahnen, dass der Stein nicht wie sonstige Andenken verschwinden sondern mit mir reisen würde.

Lange Zeit blieb er in meinen Jeanstaschen, dann wanderte er von Tasche zu Tasche, je nachdem welche ich bei mir trug. Manchmal ging er verschütt und ich konnte ihn nicht wieder finden. Dann aber tauchte er überraschend wieder auf. Als ich vor zweieinhalb Jahren nach Marokko reiste, befand sich der Stein im Gepäck. Als ich die Geschichte des Steins mit meiner Reisekumpanin Marie teilte, holte sie eine abgeschnittene Dreadlock heraus. Die reiste für sie mit und brachte ihr Glück.

kurz vor Marokko

Viele Momente bleiben unfotografierbar. Gemeinsames Lachen mit Fremden und Freunden, gefühltes Verständnis und alles umkrampfende Angst. So viel ist verborgen und nicht immer in Bildern fassbar. Ich kann sie in Geschichten verpacken, ich kann sie aber auch still belächeln. Der Stein reist bis heute mit. Er war in meiner fiebernd krampfenden Hand als ich in Pakistan meine Lebensmittelvergiftung ausfocht, er klimperte im Portemonaie neben türkischen Lira und indischen Rupees, flirtete locker in meiner Hand als ich am Meer in Karachi neben schlafenden Kamelen stand, lag auf dem Grund meiner Gürteltasche während ich über ein Festival in der Wüste schlenderte und als ich den Flieger nach Afghanistan bestieg. Es ist nur ein Stein, aber für mich ist er wie ein Gefühls-Fotoalbum!

Leave a comment

Filed under Deutsch, Memory