“I’m a member of the Taliban,” he said, as if it were like telling me he was an accountant.’
When I told people I was going to Sri Lanka and Dubai, no one seemed to blink, but when I decided to add a week in Afghanistan onto the end of my trip, people began looking at me like I was mad.
As someone who travels the world in search of stories that can inspire people to find and pursue what makes them smile, I guess my decision just didn’t seem make sense to many.
“Why put yourself at such risk? The way you travel, with all that camera equipment, it’s suicide. What can you possibly learn about happiness in such a place?” people said.
While declining security had made it ‘the most deadly country on Earth for foreigners in 2014’, something was calling me to Afghanistan, and as a journalist and filmmaker who had forged a beautiful life and career out of following my heart no matter what, I wasn’t going to die wondering.
“If the world wanted me dead, it would find an easier way,” I’d tell people. Plus I knew the universe was sending me there for some reason, and I was about to find out why.
Check out some of the incredible work of Mike and A Million Smiles below (courtesy of Channel 9):
It was 60 degrees Celsius and I had spent all day photographing in the desert, so when I couldn’t find a taxi and a man in an ‘uber-like’ car pulled up and asked me if I needed a lift, I said sure.
Jumping in the car, I’d barely told him the address of my hostel, when he began asking where I was from and where I was going. I told him I was from Australia and was heading to Afghanistan the following day.
“I’m a member of the Taliban,” he said, as if it were like telling me he was an accountant.
My muscles tightened as I planned my escape. “What!!!” I replied.
“It’s OK,” he said, “I’m no killer.”
“All males in my village are forced to join the Taliban once they are 16. Actually, I am still forced to go back and train with them for one month every year. Otherwise they will kill my family,” he said.
“The worst thing is, my boys are getting older and soon they will have to join too. It is my greatest fear – that they will become killers. Because you know, as soon as that happens, you are killing yourself. Your soul slowly dies.”