I didn’t know them, but I can picture them. They would have been laughing and talking, at the end of the work day, as they rode the bus from work to home in Kabul. The mix of men and women means there was flirting, too.
Most of them were young, under 30, and their careers had tracked with the growth of media itself in Afghanistan. As independent media grew, so did the opportunities for them.
A video editor, pulling together the best visuals into a coherent news package. A graphic designer, helping people notice and understand complex information as it flies across the TV screen. A dubbing artist, speaking in Dari the words of someone who spoke in English or Pashtu.
These are jobs that didn’t exist in Afghanistan 15 years ago.
When the Taliban ruled, there was no TV, no free media, and no mixing of genders at the office because women didn’t have careers.
These are people who didn’t exist 15 years ago in Afghanistan: accustomed to their freedom, their right to talk back, to flirt, to openly question Islam, to make friends with foreigners, to talk about sex.
The Taliban killed seven of them in an attack on their bus Wednesday evening.
Seven … so many…
Even one is so many.
But there are so many others – thousands of journalists in Afghanistan, now – who will keep going, keep getting information out to other Afghans and the world.
Afghans have grown used to their lively media. They know what it means to get information that’s based on facts, news that reports more than the government’s side. Taliban propaganda has always been sophisticated, but Afghans themselves are more savvy now.
That change began to happen in 2002-05, in the years when I was there to work with those first independent journalists. We helped them learn how to ask questions, to tap into their natural curiosity and need to question authority. We gave them guidelines for ethical journalism and guided them in the critical thinking they had to develop.
And when they flirted, fell in love, and rejected their family’s choice of a matched mate, we listened to them.
I didn’t know the seven who died in the suicide attack, but I can see them.
And right behind them, I can see all the rest.
Mourning today. Getting back on the bus to work tomorrow.
Today’s penny is a 2004, the year that the first generation of independent Afghan journalists covered the first free and fair presidential election.
Featured image: Mehri Azizi, 22, graphic designer. Photo via Facebook; photographer unidentified.