A Life Revealed – National Geographic Magazine

A Life Revealed

Her eyes have captivated the world since she appeared on our cover in 1985. Now we can tell her story.

By Cathy Newman

Photograph by Steve McCurry

She remembers the moment. The photographer took her picture. She remembers her anger. The man was a stranger. She had never been photographed before. Until they met again 17 years later, she had not been photographed since.

The photographer remembers the moment too. The light was soft. The refugee camp in Pakistan was a sea of tents. Inside the school tent he noticed her first. Sensing her shyness, he approached her last. She told him he could take her picture. “I didn’t think the photograph of the girl would be different from anything else I shot that day,” he recalls of that morning in 1984 spent documenting the ordeal of Afghanistan’s refugees.

The portrait by Steve McCurry turned out to be one of those images that sears the heart, and in June 1985 it ran on the cover of this magazine. Her eyes are sea green. They are haunted and haunting, and in them you can read the tragedy of a land drained by war. She became known around National Geographic as the “Afghan girl,” and for 17 years no one knew her name.

In January a team from National Geographic Television & Film’s EXPLORER brought McCurry to Pakistan to search for the girl with green eyes. They showed her picture around Nasir Bagh, the still standing refugee camp near Peshawar where the photograph had been made. A teacher from the school claimed to know her name. A young woman named Alam Bibi was located in a village nearby, but McCurry decided it wasn’t her.

via A Life Revealed – National Geographic Magazine.

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‘Visibly Pregnant’ Girls Are Banned From School In Sierra Leone : Goats and Soda : NPR

Across Sierra Leone, students are preparing to return to school April 14, after nine months off because of the Ebola epidemic. But one group has been banned from returning, according to a new decree by the minister of education: “visibly pregnant” girls.

Minister of education Minkailu Bah announced the ban last week, explaining that “innocent girls” could be negatively affected by their pregnant peers. The ban would prevent seniors from taking the exams needed to graduate and attend college.

And this isn’t just a Sierra Leone issue. The question of how to educate pregnant girls spans the globe and hits home in the U.S. — despite laws here that guarantee a teenager’s right to an education even if she is pregnant.

The ban in Sierra Leone comes at a time when the government has already undertaken a strategy to reduce teen pregnancy, including peer mentorship and health education. The country says that its high rate of pregnancy among adolescent girls is a national crisis. One third of pregnancies in Sierra Leone are teenage pregnancies, according to national health data.

via ‘Visibly Pregnant’ Girls Are Banned From School In Sierra Leone : Goats and Soda : NPR.

Illustrator Creates A Cute Animated Résumé To Get A Job With Google – DesignTAXI.com

Australian illustrator and animator Lisa Vertudaches wanted to apply for a full-time position as a Google Doodler in Los Angeles, and figured that she will “need something pretty impressive to get their attention”. So, she put together a fun animated résumé that showcases her drawing and animating skills—the cute video is filled with cute animal characters and other “weird and wonderful creatures”. Unfortunately, Google never watched this animation and the position was closed subsequently—however, we still hope that other potential employers would see this creative résumé and hire her. Watch her animated application below—would you do something like this of your own résumé? via Illustrator Creates A Cute Animated Résumé To Get A Job With Google – DesignTAXI.com.

Of Suicides, Depression and a Blood test…

I meant to put this post up last year but I was not sure I had the right words to say. But now, I know holding on to it will not make it any better, so here goes.

I was in a matatu, public service vehicle, a day after my birthday and I heard about Robin Williams a.k.a Mrs Doubtfire a.k.a Genies’s voice in Aladdin had died. Cause of death? Suicide.

The man who had defined my childhood laughter, creativity and interest in acting had been found on August 11 in his house, dead.

I was disappointed as I was shocked that someone who brought so much laughter and joy to others lives had so much tears, hurt, and depression within himself that suicide was the only option out.

  depression

Earlier on, on August 9 last year, I came across an update on my Facebook Timeline that was threatening to end two lives. T-W-O. Their own and someone else’s: her baby. This was one of many other similar updates from this friend who by the look of her words was struggling with something and the pain of it all that was weighing her down.

I am no psychiatrist and I do not know what people do at such times but I panicked. I was scared and hoped it was not true…that even in years to come, it should not be true. That suicide is a solution.

I called her, sent texts and Whatsapps text but there was no response. I contacted our mutual friends and we made it to her place only to find it locked. Fortunately, I have gotten communication that they are both okay (they still are fine to date) but at the back of mind I have a fear that this is something that needs to be addressed. Now. Not tomorrow. Not a week later but now.

Suicide is not freedom. It’s a cry for help that always comes too late. Suicide, depression and other mental issues are barely understood. In fact, most times after a suicide, people would say: But what was bothering them? Dint they look fine? Couldn’t they just stop those depressing thoughts from coming into their heads? It is all in the mind…don’t think it.

Clearly, there is a profound misunderstanding about the nature of mental illness and the hope that with money and fame you shouldn’t be depressed…if anything, you should be the healthiest person around. Depression is an illness that descends upon people irrespective of whether they are funny, as Williams was, or successful or beautiful or any other adjective that describes the people we know.

You and I too, could be depressed.

depression 2

As a journalist, I have discovered that reporting on deaths, accidents, and suicide is difficult as it is necessary.

And I may not admit it but at times, stories that I do get into me. They change my mood, they make me question so  much I have known about humanity and a lot more. As journalists, we are told not to be attached to a story, to our sources etc. But, this is not possible. It is a constant juggle of thoughts and when I get back home, I try to block these things out, I try to talk about them with my family and friends and try to move on. But, it is not easy.

Writing about suicide is a matter that unless it involves a prominent person, it is something that is discussed as a by-the-way matter. Barely would people be interested to do a follow up of the cause of suicides around them mainly because of the trauma, shame and lack of information on the issue.

Depression and suicide are the shadows that lurk around us every day, they are constant battles that our brains are pushing hard to keep at bay so that we do not crumble and give up and die out. A constant battle.

Even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon knows this too well. He is urging governments to invest in and support young people with mental health conditions. This comes as about 20 per cent of the world’s young people (about 280 million) experience a mental health condition each year according to a UN report.

“Let us begin to talk about our mental-health in the same way we talk about our overall health. The United Nations wants to help lift the veil that keeps young people locked in a chamber of isolation and silence,” the UN head said during the observance of International Youth Day which is marked each year on August 12.

It is not surprising that last year’s slogan was ‘Mental Health Matters.’

Still in my research, I discovered that, apparently it is now possible to predict who had experienced suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide just by a blood test, researchers say.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine revealed a genetic modification may be able to predict suicide risk.

The scientists from took samples of brain tissue from mentally ill, healthy people and from people who had died from suicide. They discovered a chemical (methylation) released by the brain in response to stress has the effect of managing the strain of everyday life so that it does not turn into suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

The research, which was about 80 per cent accurate, noted that in some groups, lower levels of the human gene (SKA2) were associated with people who had committed suicide. The SKA2 helps to instruct a region of the brain that controls negative thoughts and impulsive behaviors. Thus an abnormal version of the gene means the brain will have trouble keeping at bay stress hormones.

Zachary Kaminsky, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said: “With a test like ours, we may be able to stem suicide rates by identifying those people and intervening early enough to head off a catastrophe.”

I hope that this test works and soon it will be able to correctly prescribe drugs to tackle depression as it is for Malaria and other infections. I hope it works and it is made available in the country as more and more, we hear and read about a police officer who in rage killed his wife, at times children, and himself.

We hear of fathers who kill their children because ‘Life was too hard’ or of the recent case that a man, allegedly, killed his three beautiful children, his wife and jumped on an oncoming bus. The whole family ended in a span of one week. The deaths were blamed on a cult but information about the guy point out at a depressed man, who locked himself away from the world as we know it and immersed himself into a church.

Mental health is an issue that we should all be involved in. The loss of a friend, sister or brother or a relative is heartbreaking. If it is through suicide, it affects many more as there will be the guilt that perhaps, if you would have been there often maybe, it would have made a difference. It certainly would. It will be so much better, if we understood what depression is, what it can lead to and how we can be true friends by genuinely seeking to be there for our friends and relatives. It will be even better, if we stopped judging those among us who are battling depression and seek help for them from people who know how to address these medical concerns.

depression 3

I am still looking for ways to help my friend. To help myself as well. I am reading about it and talking to people who can help her stay afloat. It is little, it is scary but I think it is necessary. I should do it. If I can, I will do more.

As Robin Williams’s said: “Now we have to adjust to the realities of miracles. We can hide behind the veil of science and say it was the drug that failed or that the illness itself had returned…The reality is we don’t know what went wrong any more than we know what went right.”

“Are You Angry With Me?”: Dating as an Autistic Woman

“I have to tell you something about myself, something important,” I said to my boyfriend. We were lying on a bed in a University dorm, a girl and boy who at nineteen were taking our first tentative steps into the world of relationships.

“You can tell me anything,” he said.

“There’s something wrong with me,” I said. “I mean, socially. I mean, I’m autistic. Well, on the autistic spectrum, and it sometimes makes me seem weird, or socially awkward, and it’s difficult for me to get things — you know, body language things.”

He paused, then broke into a smile. “You’re silly,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with you that most people don’t have. Sure, you’re a little socially awkward, but you know what, that’s adorable.”

I let it go. I could have pursued it, could have explained how difficult school had been: how I’d gone to see lots of educational psychologists before finally being sent down to London to see Francesca Happe, a specialist in autism, who — after one hour of tests, which seemed like games at the time — diagnosed me with Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, a form of autism. It meant that while I was bright, and loved reading and chatting, I struggled desperately to read social signals. The language of the body, that which makes up an estimated 60% of communication, was almost closed to me. So instead I fell back on words — the safety of which I could understand, as their clarity left nothing to puzzle over or decipher.

In the years between twelve and nineteen, I had taught myself a lot — forcing myself to go out and read faces as you would a foreign script, learning to figure out certain movements and postures. But it did not come naturally to me, as it does for most people. Still, as a nineteen-year-old, newly at University, I could for the first time in my life “pass” for normal, or neurotypical. I felt a bit like a fraud, but it was also exciting to move among my peers and feel, for the first time, fully accepted as one of them. Sometimes I feared the mask would slip, that I would be discovered, but I seldom was — although sometimes in conversation, someone would develop a puzzled look on their face.

via “Are You Angry With Me?”: Dating as an Autistic Woman.