When most people hear about Afghanistan, they expect tales of war, terror, extremists, and the Taliban — the kinds of stories they read in the Western media.
For Afghans, life is not always so dramatic. They may be residents of a country that has been caught in strife for the better part of three decades, but the average citizen is still trying to live a normal life amid the chaos.
It was this side of life that photographer Marieke Van der Velden set out to capture when she traveled to Kabul in 2013.
“It’s important to talk to and show normal people on a normal day, not just right after a bomb attack,” Van der Velden told Business Insider. “The people I photographed are in the middle of a 30-year-old war, but they have no part of it.”
For all the people Van der Velden met, she decided to ask them a simple question: “What is your favourite place in the city?” Finally given a voice to talk about something other than war, her subjects lit up and showed her a side of Kabul few Westerners ever see.
Van Der Velden shared some of the photos here. You can see the rest at her website.
One of the most popular favourite places is Ghargha Lake on the Afghanistan 'riviera,' where families can take boat trips.
This man loves Ghargha Lake because residents rent horses and ride along the beach. Each rider tries to outdo the other by making his or her horse rear.
Maize (wearing the blue burqa) lives in a village 15 hours outside of Kabul, but came to visit her husband, an army officer stationed in the city. They picnicked for the day at her favourite place, Bagh-e Babur Gardens, a historic park built in 1528.
The Intercontinental Hotel was Afghanistan's first international luxury hotel. The swimming pool is the favourite place of many men in the city. No women are allowed to swim here.
Khatera works in a beauty salon, her favourite place, which only women are allowed to frequent. Some women dye their hair black and a few get red highlights, which she says is 'trendy' right now.
Shamella's favourite place is the boxing school at Ghazi station. She has been to Kazakhstan for competitions and says her school encourages girls to practice sports.
Fakhria's favourite place is the poetry group she visits once a week. Though she studies law, she writes poetry in her spare time about the injustices done to women in the country.
For many, the Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif, a city north of Kabul, is their favourite place in the country.
Zarifa (left, wearing black headscarf) says that her favourite place in the city is the women's support groups. 'What makes me angry sometimes, is that the media show an unrealistic image of my country. Part of my family lives in Iran and they are always worried because of the dramatic news that they constantly hear,' Zarifa told Van der Velden.
Nafisa (second left) is a TV presenter at Shamzad TV, one of 43 commercial TV stations in Afghanistan. She and her colleagues are often targets for attacks because they work in media. She says the garden of Shamzad TV (pictured) is her favourite place in the city.
Shamila is training to be a police woman, like her two sisters. Her favourite place in the city is the police training center (shown). Kabul currently employs 400 police women, but they never work directly on the streets.
Mazhda (not shown, but in audience) wants to leave Afghanistan, but is unable to get a visa for anywhere in Europe. She does not have a favourite place in the city.
When Nilofar was 2 years old, a Taliban rocket hit her house, sending a piece of shrapnel into her back and damaging her nervous system. She now plays in a wheelchair basketball league. The training center is her favourite place.
Many say that their favourite place is this view of the city from one of the mountains edging the valley.
Arifa (second right) is with her family, taking a walk on New Year's Day. Her favourite place is the rose garden at the Intercontinental Hotel.
Fatma left Afghanistan for the Netherlands when she was 8, but she returned one year ago. She says her favourite place is the house of her grandmother (pictured, left).
These two women say their favourite place in the city is the streets of Kabul, a very dangerous place for women.
Shakila owns a driving school with her husband. She teaches women how to drive and maintain a car. Her favourite place is behind the wheel of her car.
Many might remember Ghazi Stadium for the shocking reports that an adulterous woman was executed during halftime of a football game. Despite this, many in the city still love the stadium because it is one of the few places sports, such as volleyball, football, and tennis, are played.
Khotera is a high school student who studies the Quran on her laptop. Her favourite place is her family's living room, where she watches 'Afghan Star' (similar to 'American Idol').
Leda (right) is married to Reza, who asked Leda's parents if he could marry her immediately after meeting her in his store. Leda's favourite place is their living room, where they raise their daughter.
These boys love to test their cars and mopeds in the mountains close to Kabul, where they can drift and drive at high speeds up the mountain.
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