Her Name is Sharbat Gula

You saw me as a refugee.
My piercing eyes your prize.
I was, am more than that.
I walked miles over mountains.
Mountains of earth, violence
hatred and poverty.

You asked no permission.
You saw in my eyes . . . what?
Pain, loss, my future?
My future was with or without
your use of me.
Your lack of concern for me.

Your future, on the other hand
calloused or not,
your future was in my eyes.
And they appeared everywhere
while they were still here.
One click and you were gone.

I became your prize photograph.
I was your prey.

Mish hosts Tuesday Poetics at dVerse, the virtual pub for poets around the globe. She asks us today to “look into my eyes”, giving us several ways to do that in her prompt for our poem.

My poem is written from the perspective of Sharbat Gula. Her photo was taken in 1984, by Steve McCurry and subsequently used as the cover for the June 1985 issue of National Geographic and the large book National Geographic: The Photographs published in 1994. This photo has been called “The First World’s Third World Mona Lisa.” The photo was published without her consent and the identity of the photo’s subject was not initially known. At the time, she was a child living in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

National Geographic later searched for her, not knowing her name. They found her and produced a documentary “Search for the Afghan Girl” which aired in March 2002. In her recognition, National Geographic created the Afghan Girls Fund, a charitable organization with the goal of educating Afghan girls and young women.  In 2008 the scope of its mission was extended to include boys and was renamed the Afghan Children’s Fund. After finding Sharbat Gula, National Geographic also covered the costs of medical treatment for her family and a pilgrimage to Mecca. Hers is an amazing story and can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghan_Girl

55 thoughts on “Her Name is Sharbat Gula

  1. Nancy Jahnke November 17, 2020 / 3:00 pm

    I remember seeing this picture long ago and it was haunting. Her eyes are so very beautiful, but Filled with emotional mystery! You described that mystery perfectly!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 19, 2020 / 2:42 pm

      We have the big “coffee table size” book of National Geographic photos and she is indeed on the cover of that. Glad you enjoyed the poem!

      Like

  2. kim881 November 17, 2020 / 3:12 pm

    Who could forget that picture and those eyes, Lill? I love that you wrote from her point of view and that, in your version, she saw the photographer for what he was.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 19, 2020 / 2:43 pm

      I was at least, very glad to read in my research, that National Geographic did search for her – no easy task – found her and id some kind of restitution for her. In the article I linked to, there is a recent photo of her….much older of course but still those eyes!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Björn Rudberg (brudberg) November 17, 2020 / 3:25 pm

    I knew that this would be the picture just from reading your poem. I must admit that I have never read the full story, but the picture I knew so well

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 19, 2020 / 2:44 pm

      It was so interesting to do the research on the photo.

      Like

  4. Dora November 17, 2020 / 3:34 pm

    I remember this photo and story, Lillian, and I too was struck by the utter heartlessness of taking this iconic photography with no regard for the welfare of the child subject. Beautifully written poem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 19, 2020 / 2:45 pm

      Glad you liked the poem, Dora. Yes….but I was very glad to find in my research that Nat. Geographic did search for her (no small task) and found her….and did restitution.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Mish November 17, 2020 / 3:34 pm

    OH so moving, Lillian….I like the way you empowered her through your words, giving voice to the photo. I’m sure the perspective is pretty accurate. You can see the disapproval in her beautiful eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. msjadeli November 17, 2020 / 3:38 pm

    Such rich information about this iconic photo and the young female. Glad you chose it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jane Dougherty November 17, 2020 / 3:48 pm

    She was a lovely girl. No one should have to live like she had to. Funny, the photographer spent so much time trying to track her down when he’d got himself a big hit. If he’d thought to ask her name and if she minded being photographed in the first place, it wouldn’t have been so complicated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 19, 2020 / 2:46 pm

      I was at least heartened to read that National Geographic searched for her (no small task), found her and did some kind of meaningful restitution.

      Like

  8. calmkate November 17, 2020 / 4:58 pm

    haunted eyes that we all remember so well!

    Yes I followed that story, thanks for sharing it!

    Liked by 1 person

      • calmkate November 19, 2020 / 8:24 pm

        yes that’s an accurate description, they left an impression deep on our hearts

        Like

  9. Glenn A. Buttkus November 17, 2020 / 5:04 pm

    I’ve reposted that image many times , This is am terrific piece, first person narrative. Thanks for sharing your research too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 19, 2020 / 2:47 pm

      The more I read about the photo and her, the more fascinated I became. I want to watch the documentary now.

      Like

  10. Ron. November 17, 2020 / 5:21 pm

    With or without the background story, Lillian, this work is masterfully ekphastic and it totally blew me away when I finished reading & scrolled down to discover the prey-eyed photo, which forced me to go up & read that beauty again. Brava!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 19, 2020 / 2:47 pm

      What a wonderful response to read, Ron. Thank you so very much!

      Like

  11. rivrvlogr November 17, 2020 / 5:43 pm

    This says just as much about all refugees, that they are little more than numbers once we lay down the newspaper and go on with our lives. Your words give an added depth to the photograph.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 19, 2020 / 2:48 pm

      Yes….think of all the photos we see, and so often, of refugee faces. My research on this photo reminded me that each photo we see has a person, a real person, in it and a story that goes with it.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. revivedwriter November 17, 2020 / 6:15 pm

    When I read the prompt, this is the photograph that I thought of. I love what you did with this prompt!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 19, 2020 / 2:49 pm

      I also immediately thought of this photo the moment I read the prompt. Glad you enjoyed my poem for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. memadtwo November 17, 2020 / 7:37 pm

    Too often we take without giving in return…I am glad this story had a better ending than beginning. (K)

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 19, 2020 / 2:50 pm

      Me too. I was heartened to read that National Geographic searched for her – no small feat – and did restitution many years later for her and her family. I want to watch the documentary now.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Grace November 17, 2020 / 7:45 pm

    I remember this photo as well Lillian. Her eyes are really haunting. Thank you for acknowledging her name and the details of the photo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 19, 2020 / 2:51 pm

      Glad you enjoyed, Grace. I was fascinated by my research into the photo and plan to search for and watch the documentary about National Geographic’s search for her all those years later.

      Like

  15. -Eugenia November 17, 2020 / 8:44 pm

    Beautiful expressions of the photo, Lillian.

    Like

  16. rothpoetry November 17, 2020 / 9:26 pm

    A wonderful poem Lillian. It is interesting that when I read through Mish’s prompt these were the first eyes that came to my mind! So captivating!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 19, 2020 / 2:52 pm

      This photo, all those years ago, made an indelible impression on so many people.

      Liked by 1 person

      • rothpoetry November 19, 2020 / 7:37 pm

        It was so intense and iconic!

        Like

  17. Misky November 18, 2020 / 6:08 am

    A lovely tribute to that beautiful girl. I’ve always thought her eyes reflected an element of apprehension.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 19, 2020 / 2:53 pm

      In my research, I also found a recent photo of her. Much older, of course, but the eyes are still piercing!

      Like

  18. kaykuala h November 18, 2020 / 9:23 am

    A great piece of writing befitting the classic photo of the Afghan Girl. Your best, Lillian!

    Hank

    Like

    • lillian November 19, 2020 / 2:53 pm

      Thank you so much, Hank! Really appreciate your comment!

      Like

  19. pvcann November 18, 2020 / 9:30 am

    What a powerful and moving poem connected to a powerful and moving story as well, wonderful lines.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Kenji November 18, 2020 / 11:20 am

    I remember her photo being used once on Medecins Sans Frontieres’ greeting card. Not knowing the backstory, I have always wondered why she had such a piercing look. You’ve clarified it was her disapproval through your poem. Thank you, Lill, for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 19, 2020 / 2:54 pm

      SO GOOD to see you here, Kenji! I am so sad all our travel has been curtailed by Covid – no reunion. But, I am thankful for health and that we took our trip to Japan when we did!

      Like

  21. Mary (tqhousecat) November 18, 2020 / 1:57 pm

    Wow! Riveting! I especially like

    “You asked no permission.
    You saw in my eyes . . . what?
    Pain, loss, my future?
    My future was with or without
    your use of me.
    Your lack of concern for me.”

    Like

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