Afghanistan The Opium Farmers of Afghanistan by Damian Bird
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I was kindly taken to this opium den by the British Army to witness the proceedings. In the middle background of this first shot one can see a British army Colonel and next to him is his Afghan guide holding a hankerchief to his face to keep the pungent opium smoke out of his eyes and throat. The smoking of opium a frenzied effort to get high and the participants fill their lungs to the brim with opium smoke before letting it go with hacking coughs and spittle flying around the room. No opium is wasted.  This smoker sucks dangerously hot smoke into his lungs straight from the base of his opium pipe to make apsolutely certain that he as left no opium un-used.  His coughing following this final effort lasted for about half an hour and sounded like someone shaking a metal tool box full of metal tools. A subsistance opium farmer in one of his small mud walled opium fields and next to his scarecrow.  His mud built house can be seen in the background. This Afghan opium farmer showed me the opium he smokes in his pipe. Opium farming is a family business and this opium farmer is passing on his secrets to his son. I was carefully watched by everyone whilst visiting this opium farm. I knew that the farmers were only tring to feed their families but an outsider taking photographs creates suspicion and fear. The beautiful opium poppy. Despite the heroin problem caused by this crop I watched my 70 year old father die recently of systemic cancer and I know that his death was made humane by the powerful pain reliving qualities of opium. Another example of the beautiful opium poppy. After being hospitalized recently for a suspected brain hemorage I was given a drug introvenously in the night that replaced my agony with golden sunshine pouring through my body. I melted into by hospital bed an fell asleep. The beauty of the opium poppies is astonishing and sitting amongst them is mesmorising and dreamlike. This opium farmer irrogates his precious crop by digging out the water channels to keep his poppies well hydrated. Hard work but worth it. Farmers grow opium because it yeilds much more money than any other crop per square metre of land farmed and hence is a far more efficient way of farming. This is the type of shovel used to dig out the irrogation channels which feed water to the opium poppies. It allows a farmer to apply his full body weight to dig down with. These children know that their father’s crop as seen here in their walled field would feed and clothe them. In Afghanistan tasks such as ditch digging are almost all undertaken manually with basic hand tools such as these shovels. Ploughing is done with a  plough and ox  and then the transportation of crops is usually undertaken with a horse and cart. A British army Gurkha with a heavy machine gun carried as a defensive weapon in case of ambush from Taliban. Afghanistan’s climate is perfectly suited to the growing of the opium poppy and the day I took this shot the weather was crisp bright and as close to perfect as it gets. No tractors, but the promise of a cash reward for a crop in demand makes the slog worth it! . Sitting amongst the opium poppies feels like being on a bizarre film set.  One has to remain cognisant that the human drive to survive is the reason for the propogation of this drug (certainly at grass roots level) and that greed and a desire to lead people into the dead end world of herion addiction is as far removed from the opium farmers’ motivation as Britain is geographically. This opium farmer is showing with his body language that even though he knows the growing of opium in Afghanistan has been outlawed, he wants to be allowed to go about his business on his land (walled off from the outside world) to earn his living wage in the only way he can. Under the Taliban the growing of opium was even more underground. Like the flying of kites, shaving and playing music the growing of opium is seen as an expession of new found freedom.