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Telling My Mom and Dad I'm Going Back to Afghanistan

written by Holly Pickett
on September 20, 2010

In my two years as a roving freelance photojournalist, I've never really found a good way to tell my parents I'm going to a conflict zone. I dread it. I don't want them to worry needlessly, so I usually try to pick the timing with a lot of care. But sometimes instead of telling them face-to-face like I should, I chicken out and send an email.

Such was the case last week when I finally told them I was headed back to Afghanistan. Soon.

I had been in the United States for the past month, visiting home and am gradually making my way east. I started in Montana, where I was in my brother's wedding. I had the chance to talk to my parents in person about my upcoming trip to Afghanistan — I waited until after the wedding for a good moment, but one never came.

My next stops would be New York, followed by Cairo. As my father and I said our goodbyes at the airport, he started to cry. I know that my family misses me and worries about my safety, but they have been wonderfully supportive of what I do. Seeing my dad cry caught me off guard.

While in New York, my plans came into focus. The thought of my dad upset in the airport haunted me. I was sure if I told my parents about Afghanistan on the phone, I'd hear their worry.

My mom and dad have watched me go to Gaza, Yemen and Iraq. I've been to Afghanistan three times, for a total of about six months.

For me, going to war zones is a choice. I can say no. No general is telling me it's my duty. I don't have a steady paycheck from the U.S. government or a non-governmental organization dispatching me to Iraq or Afghanistan. By saying yes, I am knowingly putting myself in harm's way.

But I feel strongly about documenting the day-to-day struggles and survival of people who don't have a voice. Most of the photographs I take are of civilians — regular people caught up in extreme circumstances.

I feel that I am called to do this work — that this is my purpose, at least for now.

So I wrote this email:

hi guys, yep. it's true. i'm headed to afghanistan probably around sept. 16 or so. for about a month, depending on work. i couldn't let a year pass without going there. it's weird, but i kind of miss the place and some of the people. i promise i'll be careful with my body and mind.
love you guys.
holly

I hope they understand.

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