I recently traveled around Afghanistan as part of a photography project for which I traveled to all the Central Asian countries. The goal was to show how these misunderstood and unknown countries really look like and how our prejudices stand in the way of connecting with and understanding cultures, religions, countries, and people that are different from us.

A message I find is becoming increasingly more relevant giving the rising tension in the world now that xenophobia and Islamophobia, unfortunately, seem to flourish abundantly once again. The incredible hospitality, authentic interactions and genuine connections we had with the locals changed my perspective, and that of people in my environment, on this side of the world. I hope to continue spreading this message as far as possible.

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The blue mosque in Mazar e Sharif. I felt that at the mosque’s I could really see daily life as it would be without war

Afghanistan has been at war for about 40 years with no end in sight. Images and stories of war and terrorism are generally only information that reaches us through the media about the country. Thus the image we have in our mind of the country is pretty awful of course. You imagine it to be a post-apocalyptic wasteland, with people throwing bombs at each other all day long. It’s not like that all.

On Friday, big groups of families and friends come to the mosque and hang out after the prayer

Children playing, people snapping away selfies, people laughing; this is how life should be in Afghanistan

Surprise surprise, not every Afghan is a terrorist who wants to destroy the western world. It is only a small percentage of the population who are extremists and give Muslims a horrible reputation. The majority of the Afghan population does not agree with groups like the Taliban and ISIS at all and don’t even consider them to be real Muslims, because what they are doing is against many rules of the Islam.

And sitting around, chatting over some tea, is a major social component of Afghan culture

I did not aim to take dramatic pictures of the army in combat with terrorists or the aftermath of a suicide bombing in Afghanistan. Instead, I want to show that life goes on despite the war. Instead, I want to talk about how everybody on the streets, in restaurants, hotels etc. chatted with us and were incredibly proud that we visited their country, how people invited us to their home, how we feasted on delicious food (Afghan kebab rules!), how we got incredibly stoned with the supervisor of the oldest mosque of Afghanistan and how we were greeted with friendly and curious faces everywhere.

A student making use of the peace and quiet of the Herat mosque to study his books

I think that showing this side of the country produces a much more colorful and truthful image of the country than what is portrayed in the media and that it paints a different picture of the country than only the war. Life in Afghanistan continues and goes on despite all the troubles. People are living their daily life and are just looking for the same things that we are looking for here in the west, which is being happy and being able to take care of and raise your children.

Especially the younger generation was eager to test out their English with me

Bazaars form the beating heart of a village or city in this part of the world. Perfect to observe local life

The Afghans are a proud, resilient and powerful people. They have been going through so much misery. The least they deserve is that people know how they really are, which is beautiful and warm, and hope that stability will once return to their country. Let’s not forget that beyond the war, the politics and the terrorists, there are millions of people trying to live a normal life. The conflicts across cultures will continue endlessly if we do not change our behavior toward each other. Perseverance in trying to understand one another will ultimately prevail over ignorance and mistreating one another.

The Kabul bird market is an ancient market, bustling with people in the small alleys and narrow lanes

Wandering around here feels like stepping back in time about 100 years

People looking for a pet, a trophy or fighting bird come asses and buy the available birds

This is a worker in the Herat tile factory

Here they still make tiles for the mosques in the traditional way

Unfortunately, there is less and less work for them due to cheap mass produced tiles from China

Smoking hasj is an ancient tradition, that predates Islamic rules, and is quite common throughout the country