In Scotland, mountains offer solace
chance to get lives in perspective.
After the climb to the top
we see our corner of the world
spread out below.
How insignificant we seem,
how worries seem to shrink;
we see ourselves as mere specks
in the vast landscape.
We can choose which paths
take us up and down the mountains.
We celebrate a life that’s good.
There, in Afghanistan
we see majestic mountains,
we see people walking.
There they don’t feel safe.
No-one can know what dangers
lurk as they take twisting paths.
Will many live to complete
their journey? No celebratory
picnic on the tops for them.
If they choose a path, where
will it lead them? Who knows
when death will meet them?
Where do they go to after work?
Bazookas on their shoulders
Dirty and dusty
Emerging from caves and blown-up hidey holes
that at least is true
Where are the women?
Where are the children?
Where are the pets, the comforts, the food?
Where is the table that the food should be upon?
Have these men been there
As long as the mountains
Are they as grim and tough and ominous
As the mountains?
My friend died in these mountains,
harsh lands on a Biblical scale
though it was the Koran
he brought back with him.
He went to bear witness,
had a camera he’d never used
and a can-do attitude
he’d learned from the SAS.
He bucked the system there,
too maverick to toe the line,
a failure in his eyes
though not in the eyes of others.
Up there in the mountains
they were soldiers too,
fighting their holy war.
Maybe all war was holy to him.
Not that he wanted to see
people die but he understood
resistance to oppressors.
He worshipped their courage.
He marched through the night with men
who knew the paths by heart,
following their footsteps with faith
and blind animal grace.
They slept in icy caves,
scattered with animal bones,
and he talked of books and love
with the man who was a lion to his people.
A man who recognised
the roaring inside him
and knew there were ways
to quiet it, to be still.
In the thin air of the mountains
existence becomes pure
and it’s easy to believe
heroism is about finding ways to die.
The chance of a noble death,
dying in the pursuit of truth,
was taken from my friend.
He was murdered - for his camera.
But I hope that up there,
where the height of luxury is hot tea
infused with the tang of woodsmoke,
he was finding a way to live.
Andy Skrzypkowiak was an exceptionally courageous photojournalist who was murdered in Afghanistan in 1987. He was known for his footage of Afghan mujahideen led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, known as the Lion of the Panjshir.
the silk road
these bombs that fall upon our land
bring liberty they say
but I know not how, why and to who
death does not discriminate
it comes and goes each day
from russia with love and those born in the usa
our so called allies also leave their card
as they strike back at this year’s foe, next year’s friend
and the circle is unbroken
the leaves are shaking on the trees
and the silk road is closed once more
They remind me of the paintings
of William McTaggart -
all those children he painted
who seemed to merge into the land
or into seascapes. Those children
had become part of nature, their lives
free as birds screeching on the shore.
The men of the mountains
walk the narrow paths or squat
on the rocks of grey hill-sides.
And their faces are hard like rock,
their faith rock-solid too,
worth defending with rifles and mortars,
they could run over these rocks like ibex.
McTaggart’s carefree children ran too
along the shores of Machrihanish beach
no hint of fear in their smiling faces,
while the men of the mountains for centuries
have had to deter invaders extending empires
and send them homeward to think again.
State sponsored desolation
Apparently for reasons of control and not anarchy
Strategically positioned countries
Spilling out because they’ve got no hope or land left
The news says: Economic migration
Generations, sick hungry displaced - bereft
That once provided answers, refuge, solace
Now diffusing scorched earth
Chasms from which retaliation shall emerge
Vengeful declarations, dogmas of virulent malice
Death tolls endlessly recounting
The mountains have laid bare their void
An expensive resettlement program
Usually costs more than the war
When the smoke clears, leaving a theocratic and bloodthirsty vacuum
This stricken land may forgiven for asking
What was it all for?
Andy Skrzypkowiak with Massoud
Click on the gallery to find out more about their work!