Maintain your bicycle and you will never need to walk

kandahari-cycle-mechanic

“I am a bicycle fixer, fixing bicycles
People come to me from dawn til dusk
Not even for a moment, from dawn til dusk, am I free
If you maintain your bicycle, you will never need to walk.”

As marketing blurb this has a simple truth to it, and will no doubt ensure that the Kandahar cycle mechanic who uttered the words is never short of work.

My friend the Victoria-based journalist Terry Glavin recently announced on his blog that the Canadian High Commission in London is currently hosting an exhibition of photographs and profiles of men and women from Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. The pictures were taken by local high school students provided by Canadian aid workers with cameras and training in photography and journalism, and Terry provided some of the text.

Housed in a small room sited just behind the embassy’s lobby, the exhibition will run until 11 November. Having visited the exhibition yesterday, I urge you to do likewise if you are in the area. The High Commission is based on Trafalgar Square in London’s West End.

The photographs and personal profiles are striking, and focus on everyday life and trade within the Kandahar community. Some of the translations of verse accompanying the pictures jar emotively with the mundanity of the images and profiles, but the overall impression is of direct communication between the featured Kandaharis and a western audience. Through images and text they are telling us about their everyday lives and their celebration of them, and in a way that I’ve never seen any foreign media correspondent manage to do.

Along with the photographs and profiles, the “Unsung Heroes” exhibition houses a number of picture boards detailing Canada’s involvement with the NATO military mission in Afghanistan, and the country’s aid and development activities in the country.

There is a typically Canadian understatedness to the impeccably bilingual official text, and the impression given is of a job that needs doing, and doing as well as humanly possible in difficult circumstances. Canada’s war losses in Afghanistan are high, and its devotion to the cause at state level is unquestionable. Setting aside the vocal opinions of Canada’s unthinking, ‘anti-war’ and pro-Taliban political activists, I would hope this is true of the Canadian people as a whole.

So intimate is the imagery of the exhibition, I left Canada House with a feeling that I had met a bunch of interesting people from a culture in many ways very different from my own, but with shared values and everyday concerns. As I cycled at dusk back towards Greenwich along the Thames Path, chasing the Moon and a bright Jupiter as they hung close together in the eastern sky, the images of Kandahar never left my mind.