'Treasure' in the mountains

A Monitor photographer found a different kind of treasure at an emerald mine on a mountain in Afghanistan.

The trek to the emerald mines in the mountains above Khenj, Afghanistan, was a steep three-hour march. As a photojournalist, I crave this type of experience, and it was worth every step. A friend of mine who works for National Geographic once told me, "Good pictures are made in good situations." And this was a great situation.

The miners' faces wore the years of struggle searching for emeralds, and the scenery provided a stunningly beautiful backdrop. None of the miners could ever remember having a Westerner spend the day with them, and I was welcomed with characteristic Afghan hospitality. They were as curious about me as I was of them. I wanted to know about life in the mines and their hopes for the future, and they wanted to discuss American foreign policy.

As the men prayed, I was struck by the peacefulness of the high mountain perch – the only sound was the wind rushing over nearby peaks. Because many of these men had previously been fighters, I wanted my pictures to reflect the relative calm in the Panjshir Valley. I worked fast in the visually rich environment, knowing my time was limited because I needed to descend before dark. After I said my goodbyes to the miners, they headed back to their caves, and I hiked down the steep slopes with a bag full of pictures. This one conveys everything I was hoping for.

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