The New York Times
is a chinese proverb that says 'Don't listen to what they say. Go see.'
TDJ: Where are you,
and what did you do today?
RF: I'm in Peshawar, a dusty, bustling city about two and a half hours
drive northwest of Islamabad, in the Northwest Frontier Province of
Pakistan. I spent most of today at the Shamshatoo refugee camp, about
45 minutes drive outside of Peshawar, working on a story for the New
York Times Magazine. This is where I have spent most of the past week
Are you working among a press corps, or on your own?
RF: I'm working on my own mostly. Today, I was with the reporter and
a translator. I didn't see any other journalists in the camp. Some days,
depending on the news, I see lots of other journalists. And, at the
end of the day, in the hotel restaurant, there is plenty of company
to be had.
TDJ: Can you explain how you figure out where to be, how to get there?
RF: Some things are easy and obvious. For example, when it was announced
that former mujahadeen commander Abdul Haq was captured in Afghanistan
we headed straight over to his headquarters (in Peshawar) for reaction.
And, after the U.S. strikes began in Afghanistan we were on alert, checking
the hospitals to see if any of the wounded were arriving for treatment.
On days when there is no breaking news I'll work on a photo project
or a feature story with a reporter.
As for getting there: we have hired a car/driver. If he is gone for
the day we'll take a taxi or a motorized rickshaw (very cheap).
TDJ: what to wear (I'm sort of kidding, oh, what should I wear today,
is my hair okay? But do your work togs affect your safety?)
Foreigners are not a common sight to Afghan refugees or to rural people
in Pakistan. We cause a real sensation whenever we show up. On top of
it, they are fascinated by the cameras and also by a woman working with
cameras. Sometimes I feel like the Pied Piper, other times I feel like
the coke bottle in the movie 'The Gods Must Be Crazy.' Everywhere we
go, we draw a crowd. People want to hear what you talk about and they
crowd around you, staring at you. In Islamabad, which is more cosmopolitan
than Peshawar, women dress in a more modern manner but here, I wear
the traditional Shalwar Kammiz outfits (loose pants and long tunic)
that the women wear, complete with a head scarf. It's hard enough to
work here with everyone crowding around you, getting in your frame,
I don't need to make it worse by drawing even more attention to myself
by wearing western clothes. I'm not trying to hide who I am; with my
fair skin and freckles that would be impossible. I'm just trying to
minimize the unwanted attention. I have gotten some interesting comments
from men here too, who said they appreciate the respect I am showing
them by wearing their traditional dress.
TDJ: who to trust?
RF: We have been working with local journalists from the local English-language
newspapers as translators and we have been relying on their judgment
in terms of drivers quite often with success.
Where is home, when do you think about home?
RF: Home is both a place and a feeling. Home is being comfortable with
who I am. Home is in my heart. After living in a number of different
states, cities and countries over the past 13 years it's not as much
a physical place as a mental one.
T DJ: Why do you do your work?
RF: There is a chinese proverb that says 'Don't listen to what they
say. Go see.' Curiosity about the world I am a part of and a desire
to share what I've learned and seen with others is why I am a photojournalist.
TDJ: and what do you hope to achieve with maybe one photo a day (is
this correct?) printed in the New York Times?
RF: Some days I won't have any photos in the paper and on other days
there will be one or more. If our readers learn something that they
didn't previously know, if it stops them for just a moment, then I have
TDJ: and the bonus question, How's the food over there?
RF: There is a lot of meat over here for those who can afford it (most
Afghan refugees can not). We journalists are not having problems eating.
Food is plentiful and not bad - and inexpensive. Tough if you are a
vegetarian though. For the many Afghan refugees though, there is not
enough food. The main staple in the refugee camps is bread, baked from
flour distributed by aid organizations. This is accompanied by a watery,
oily stew, occasionally with little pieces of meat or vegetables floating
in it that they dip pieces of bread into. They also eat rice or legume
dishes. I don't get the feeling that they can ever eat too much.