We head down a rugged road toward a village not far from Pakistan’s border. Mud-walled houses, sprawling farms, boys playing cricket in a field, life’s mundane rituals are on display. In the eastern province of Khost, you see the real Afghanistan – one that in some ways seems oblivious to the war unfolding nearby. The normality in itself is a striking testament to the resilience of the Afghan people, who have been in conflict for more than three decades.

I am traveling with a photographer, Andrew Quilty, and soon we reach the village, Tor Ghar, which is nestled in the basin of the dark-hued mountains. Life is slow. Villagers sit on wooden cots inside their compounds. They have horrific stories to tell of the war crashing into their lives – this part of the country has served as a gateway for militants coming from Pakistan. And yet they graciously offer us cups of green tea with caramel chocolates.

Back in the provincial capital, I notice a group of children playing in a wheelbarrow. They laugh, giggle and tease each other. I close my eyes, hear the excitement in their voices, and suddenly they could be anywhere. Nearby, small stalls bustle with customers, including women in blue burqas. From carts, vendors sell shiny grapes and apples, the market’s cacophony melding with the honks of car horns. And for a moment, it’s possible to forget the checkpoints and the blast walls and the white U.S. military reconnaissance blimp flying over the city.

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