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Life on Stonecutter Street

A photographer tells Afghanistan's history through one family.

When Murphy first met them, Stonecutter Street looked like the end of the world, a bombed-out ruin. At that point, Farhuddin’s mother had died after giving birth to the youngest of the brothers. And the oldest brother, Abdul Sabour, had been killed several years earlier. He was 19 and was killed fighting on the side of the Communist government forces of then-Afghan President Mohammed Najibullah against the Mujahedeen fighters.

When that happened, the father asked his other sons to vow to never join a militia or fight in a war. In the heavy war years of the mid-1990s, the father and his sons struggled with poverty and hunger as the fighting raged around them. Murphy captured them in this period dressed in rags and their eyes filled with fear and despair. Eventually, the brothers' hunger drove them to serve in the legendary Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud’s forces. They volunteered so they could earn the 60 cents a day paid to foot soldiers.

They defied their father’s wishes. They put on the uniform because they needed to eat.

“They did it to survive, so we could survive,” says Farhuddin.

Farhuddin honored his father’s request and has never fought on any side in a country where few men can make such a claim.

“I don’t know any champion or great man worth fighting for. Not then, not now.”

In 1996, a stray bullet fired from Taliban positions on the hills killed the second brother, Abdul Shakur, 21, at a checkpoint in the south of the city. Thirty-two days later, the next brother in line, Abdul Shafur, 22, was killed when a Taliban rocket slammed into a barracks.

“Both the bullets and the rocket that killed my brothers were Taliban, and I hold them responsible for my two brothers' deaths in 1996,” says Farhuddin.

He remembers that climate of fear that the Taliban brought with their puritanical beliefs and an enforced climate of fear that sucked the joy out of life for the Afghans.

“We were scared. They ruined life,” said Farhuddin.

The father was never the same after losing two more of his sons. The grief broke him. His health failed and he soon died as well. The brothers were despondent. They felt they had nothing left but each other.

Again Murphy came knocking and photographed them, and the cumulative effect of the years of loss and loneliness is there like a dark cloud over the landscape of their faces. The departed members of the Ba Deli family were buried on a hilltop cemetery above Stonecutter Street. Today, men and boys are free to run among the gravestones and chase after colorful, hand-crafted kites that were banned under the Taliban.