Keep on Steppin'

How does somebody survive a disaster? As a film maker and photographer, I travel around the world and record stories. I meet the people who are left behind as the hectic television cameras from the first hour have left the disaster zone. They take me into their confidence and tell me the most astonishing and magical stories. Their words not only show their grief, but also their wonderful spirit of survival – keep on stepping.

Marjoleine Boonstra

The Man and the Lake

Come. Come with me. I’ll take you somewhere you’ll want to be. I’m sure of it. I come here every day - I’ve been coming here for twenty years. Or thirty. Mad really, what is there here? Nothing. Less than nothing. Sand, rocks, iron. Rusty iron. Here, do you see this sign? Totally rusty. Although you can still just about see what was written on it. Dobro pozjalovat... v posjolok... rybakov. Welcome to the fishermen’s village. That sign must be really old.

Let’s go this way, to the slope there, that’s where you want to be. I know every square metre here, even though it changes every year. Well, changes, that sounds too good. It gets worse, that’s what I mean.

There were so many fish here, a huge amount of fish. Right here, yes, where we’re walking now, when there was still water. I was connected to the water. I saw it more often than my own wife. Sometimes she was tender and loving, rippling and murmuring, as far as you could see. But more often, in fact, very often... she started to flirt with me, with really tiny waves, lively swells, here a push, there a thrust, I always had to smile, she was so brazenly tempting me. I didn’t give in, a fisherman doesn’t surrender just like that. But before you knew it, she showed up with huge show-off waves with black and white crests. I had nothing to fight that with. There was no way to get back to shore. To my wife. I had to go back onto the lake and wait until she was calm. That could take hours. Sometimes the whole night. Oh, I’d love to feel her rolling under me again...

You’ve found the grass, well done. Go on eat, eat your bellies full. They’ve left you to fend for yourself as well. I understand. Your master was a fisherman too. A fisherman who became a farmer when his boat stranded here on dry land. When the cotton used up all the water. Cotton is greedy, much too greedy.

There it is, you see, red with rust. That little one, next to it, with the prow sticking up proudly; that was mine. A fisherman is not a farmer.
Are you full? Go and lie down. I’ll take you back. Soon.

The old man shuffles towards the boats. There he lights an oil lamp. And another one. And one more. Than he gets back to the cow.

Do you see them? Do you see them bobbing on the waves? That’s what I come here for, every evening. To watch the fishing boats sail away. Can you hear the water lapping against the bow? It’ll be a calm night tonight, the waves are in no hurry. Do you hear what they’re saying? They’re talking about life, very calmly and deliberately they are telling about life that is born, wiped out and reborn.... Back and forth... back and forth... back and forth... That’s what I come here for, every evening.

The old man stares into the darkness. The cow lows softly. Or is it a boat horn?

The Man and the Lake

The Aral Lake was a large lake between Kazakhstan in the north and Uzbekistan in the south. The name roughly translates to “Sea of Islands”, referring to more than 1,500 islands that once decorated its waters. Originally, in fact, the large lake was approximately 68,000 km, but by 1960 the volume and its surface area started a rapid decrease. Fifty years later the lake was reduced to only 10% of its original size.

In the early 1960s, the Soviet government decided that the two rivers that fed the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya in the south and the Syr Darya in the northeast, would be diverted to irrigate the desert, in an attempt to grow rice, melons, cereals, and especially cotton. The Soviets had planned for this “white gold” to become a major export product. The construction of irrigation canals began on a large scale in the 1940s. Many of the canals were poorly built, allowing water to leak or evaporate.

Since 1950, the first conspicuous lowering of the lake was observed. Already in 1952 some branches of the Amu Darya delta no longer had enough water to flow into the lake. Grigory Voropaev was responsible for the plan for the use of river water for agricultural purposes. At a conference on the work, Voropaev confirmed that it was actually the purpose to “make the Aral Sea die peacefully.” Indeed, the need for water was so abundant that planners declared that the lake was considered a huge waste of water resources and agricultural profits - “a mistake of nature” that had to be corrected.

The planners believed that the lake, once reduced to a large swampy marsh, could be used for rice cultivation. But this monoculture required massive quantities of pesticides and fertilizers which have heavily contaminated the surrounding soil.

The shrinking of the Aral Sea has been called “one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters”. 01 Over four decades the coastline has receded at some points up to 150 km of the lake's original boundaries, leaving a desert of salt and heavily polluted sand behind, instead of the expected salt marsh. The region's once prosperous fishing industry has been essentially destroyed, bringing unemployment and economic hardship. The pollution has caused serious public health problems. Respiratory illnesses, including resistant tuberculosis and cancer, digestive disorders, anaemia, and infectious diseases are common ailments in the region. Liver, kidney and eye problems can also be attributed to the toxic dust storms. The retreat of the sea has reportedly also caused local climate change, with summers becoming hotter and drier, and winters colder and longer.

The Aral Sea fishing industry, which in its heyday had employed some 40,000 people and reportedly produced one-sixth of the Soviet Union's entire fish catch, has been devastated. Former fishing towns along the original shores have become ship graveyards. The town of Moynaq in Uzbekistan had a thriving harbor and fishing industry that employed approximately 30,000 people; now it lies miles from the shore. Fishing boats lie scattered on dry land that was once covered by water.

Over the years, the city of Moynaq (south of the lake, in Uzbekistan) and the city of Aralsk (north-east of the lake, in Kazakhstan) has become a destination for tourists looking for the carcasses of abandoned ships rusting in what is now a desert of salt. To date, apart from a few formal agreements between them, the governments of the nations involved (in addition to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan) have not taken significant action to restore the flow of water into the basin of the lake. The reason is that growing cotton crops requires a large workforce, now five times larger greater than the number of people there once active in the fishing industry. In addition, the land under water has shown to contain rich deposits of natural gas. In 2006 an important agreement about the exploitation of gas has been reached between the Government of Uzbekistan, Russian oil companies and the China National Petroleum Corporation, which complicates a possible return to the original levels of water of the Aral Lake.

Background info


He left home when he was six years old.
He’s nobody, he says. He knows nothing. Never had anything.
He’s not worried about it.

My name is cowboy. I live in New Orleans.

There are no horses in New Orleans. He’s a cowboy without horses.
He loves horses. Maybe loves them too much. He trained them. For quite a long time. They were wild when they came to him. He fed them. Cleaned them. Rubbed them. Kissed them. Told them how much he loved them.

They understood. They got eyes, they got ears, they can hear.

He saddled them. But he didn’t sell them. He couldn’t. He didn’t want people to ride on their backs.
He wanted them to be free. To be wild.
He freed them.

I told them: go!

Then he quit horse training.

He lives one day at a time. Some days are good, some days are bad.
One day Katrina came. It lasted for forty bad days and forty bad nights. People left, for Texas. He didn’t.

Help! Help!

Help! That was all there was to be heard.
He had to tow three boats. He had the sick on the first one. The handicapped on the second. The dead were on the third. He took them away. To better places.

I don’t do nothing wrong. Never steal, never kill, never been to jail.

When he was six years old he left home. There was a father and a mother and many sisters. And there was abuse. There was pain.

The pain was going on. [I used to watch my daddy, jump on my mom...] I could do nothing about it. All I could do was leave.

His father died. He’s not mad at him.

He doesn’t have a girlfriend. Never had.

I’m a virgin.
Nobody is getting this. This is all locked.

He’s 51 years old. He’s a big boy now.

I’ve been hurt a lot of times. But guess what? I’m always happy!


Hurricane Katrina formed as Tropical Depression Twelve over the southeastern Bahamas on August 23rd, 2005 as the result of an interaction of a tropical wave and the remains of Tropical Depression Ten. The system was upgraded to a tropical storm status on the morning of August 24th, 2005 and at this point, the storm was given the name Katrina.

Katrina continued to move towards Florida, and became a hurricane only two hours before it made landfall between Hallandale Beach and Aventura on the morning of August 25th. Although the storm weakened over land, it regained hurricane status about one hour after entering the Gulf of Mexico. The storm rapidly intensified after entering the Gulf, growing from a category 3 hurricane to a category 5 hurricane in just nine hours. This rapid growth was due to the storm’s movement over the “unusually warm” waters of the Loop Current, which increased wind speeds that reached up to 280 km/h.

Katrina made its second landfall in the early morning of Monday, August 29th as a category 3 hurricane. After moving over southeastern Louisiana and Breton Sound, it made its third landfall near the Louisiana/Mississippi border, still at category 3 intensity. Katrina maintained strength well into Mississippi, finally losing hurricane strength more than 240 km inland near Meridian, Mississippi. It was downgraded to a tropical depression near Clarksville, Tennessee, but its remnants were last distinguishable in the eastern Great Lakes region on August 31st.

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for southeastern Louisiana, including the New Orleans area in the morning of Saturday, August 27th, 2005. The United States Coast Guard began prepositioning resources in a ring around the expected impact zone and activated more than 400 reservists. It moved its personnel out of the New Orleans region prior to the mandatory evacuation. Aircrews from the Aviation Training Center, in Mobile, staged rescue aircraft from Texas to Florida.

President George W. Bush declared a state of emergency in selected regions of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi two days before the hurricane made its final landfall. That same evening, the National Hurricane Center upgraded the storm alert status from hurricane watch to hurricane warning over the stretch of coastline between Morgan City, Louisiana to the Alabama-Florida border.

On Sunday, August 28th, as the sheer size of Katrina became clear, the National Hurricane Center extended the tropical storm warning zone to cover most of the Louisiana coastline and a larger portion of the Florida Panhandle. The National Weather Service’s New Orleans/Baton Rouge office issued a vividly worded bulletin predicting that the area would be “uninhabitable for weeks” after “devastating damage” caused by Katrina.

As most of the city’s citizens had fled the city, those without cars or the financial means to relocate were left behind. These people were largely poor and predominantly black, exposing the racial dimension of New Orleans’s persistent poverty: Most New Orleanians are poor and most of them are black. The elderly poor were also disproportionately affected by the disaster: three quarters of the New Orleans area's nursing homes were not evacuated before the hurricane struck.

At a news conference on the morning of August 28, shortly after Katrina was upgraded to a Category 5 storm, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin ordered the first-ever mandatory evacuation of the city, calling Katrina “a storm that most of us have long feared.”

The National Hurricane Center maintained the coastal warnings until late on August 29th, by which time Hurricane Katrina was over central Mississippi. Katrina's storm surge caused 53 different levee breaches in greater New Orleans, submerging almost the entire city.

Two-thirds of the flooding were caused by the multiple failures of the city’s floodwalls. Not mentioned were the flood gates that were not closed. Most of the major roads traveling into and out of the city were damaged.

The Superdome, which was sheltering 26,000 people who had not evacuated, sustained significant damage. Two sections of the Superdome's roof were compromised and the dome’s waterproof membrane had essentially been peeled off. The people that made their way to the Superdome, found themselves crammed into sweltering and fetid conditions. At a second shelter, the convention center, evacuees were terrorized by roaming gangs and random gunfire.

Hurricane Katrina displaced a million people, and killed almost 1,800. About a fifth of its citizens were trapped in the city without power, food, or drinking water. Rescue efforts were extremely slow and many were stranded for days on rooftops and in attics before help finally arrived. The city became a toxic pool of sewage, chemicals, and corpses, and in the ensuing chaos, mayhem and looting became rampant. Relief workers, medical help, security forces, and essential supplies remained profoundly inadequate during the first critical days of the disaster.

President Bush waited four days before his first brief visit to the region. Two-thirds of Americans considered his response to Katrina inadequate. To repair his image, Bush acknowledged the government’s faltering response and pledged “one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen.”

Background info

The Tree

I’ve seen it all.
I’ve been here a lot longer than them. I saw how they came here, the man and the woman. And the grandmother. After a while, the little girl as well. Who shot up like a weed.

To be honest I had a bad feeling about it. I knew what could happen. I mean, look at me properly, then you’ll see for yourself. Looking like this is nothing to be proud of.

They gave me something to watch, that’s true. How they slowly built that house of theirs, stone by stone; day by day it became more beautiful. So proud when they painted it green. Dark green. Hands on hips they stood looking at it – me too: it looked a real picture, I can’t deny it.

But I knew what could happen, with the water and the wind. And they knew as well. But they didn’t talk about it.

Even when more and more often, a radio programme was interrupted for an extra weather report. They just turned the radio off. The neighbours –they left. They asked if the man and the woman would keep an eye out. And they all hugged each other – something they never did before.

Suddenly it came, the water, in one huge wave. An enormous, angry, raging, mass which swept everything away with it. Houses, livestock, boats, people.

I was literally the only thing that still stuck out above the water. Absurd, I didn’t care if I stayed, I was already dead anyway.

There. There! The woman swept by in front of me, she disappeared in a flash, into the dark waters. The man couldn’t do anything, he was holding on tight to his mother and daughter. He couldn’t let them go, what could they have held onto?

Onto me, of course.

The man tied his mother and his daughter to my highest branch. Here, where this bird is sitting. With a fishing net that was floating about. And I prayed that the water level wouldn’t drop as fast as it had risen.

The man hauled himself into a white fishing boat, startling white, that came drifting by, and he scrabbled towards her screams. He saw how the mud sucked her deeper and deeper into the water. It was only a couple of metres that divided them, but those two metres were full of wood and branches and iron and debris. She sank down further and further, he came closer, centimetre by centimetre. Stolidly the man battered his way through the broken pieces that were something once. He’d make it... he wouldn’t.... he would...?

A prince on a white horse. That’s what the woman said later, when the water had ebbed away. That’s how she saw him as he came to her, as her prince on a white horse.

They began again. Stone by stone. They’ve painted the house yellow. Light yellow. With hands on hips they stand looking at it – me too: it looks a real picture, I can’t deny it.

The Tree

On the 20th of April 2010 the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.

In their September 2010 report BP says the accident started because the solutions to reduce the risk of uncontrolled release of formation fluids throughout the life cycle of the well wasn&lsqou;t properly executed. Resulting in the loss of control of the pressure of the fluids in the well. The blowout preventer, a device which should automatically seal the well in these kinds of events, also failed to engage, ultimately causing a series of explosions on the rig. Eleven men working on the platform were killed and seventeen were severely injured.

It took almost three months to permanently seal the gushing wellhead, after it had already released close to five million barrels of crude oil. Estimations are that 53,000 barrels (8,5 million liters) per day escaped the well just before it was capped.

It is estimated that between 6500 and 180,000 square kilometers have been affected by the spill. Although different parties say different things.
BP contracted Polaris to assess the area affected and come up with recommendations for the cleanup. They believe all of the oil remained on the surface, and only ten percent of the oil actually reached the shoreline. After thoroughly surveying the coastline, they assessed that about 1600 kilometers had indeed been affected.

BP claims to have spent more than 10 billion euro on the cleanup and to have set aside a 16 billion euro fund to compensate people and businesses for damages relating to the spill.
Polaris, the company coordinating the cleanup, made plans up until the end of December 2011. One of the major concerns for the cleanup team was the oil buried beneath the sand. With hurricane season approaching, they were concerned that storms might remobilise some buried oil that they haven't yet found.

The cleanup operation has not been able to remove every last drop of oil. They have relied upon natural processes of weathering, microbial activity and evaporation to break down residual oil.

According to data published by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in November 2010, the spill has affected thousands of birds and dozens of sea turtles. It is not yet clear how much life on the sea bed has been affected. Research has produced images of mounds of dead organisms including corals, and has found areas where the ocean floor is coated in a dark brown slime about 4 centimeters deep.

Background info

The New Child

I am important. Very important. That’s what they say.
I don’t know. I lie here, cosy in the dark, in warm water, bobbing about a little.
But they say it. They talk about me. All those voices.

Her voice, from the one they call mummy, that’s the one I know best.
She goes really fast. Sometimes she just stumbles over every word she says. It gives me the hiccups.
It is a really lovely voice though. It has a warm buzzing sound.

This other voice is much higher. That’s sister’s voice.
Sister talks all the time about someone called Simo. That’s her brother and something awful happened to him. When she was there, with him. I don’t know what exactly, because sister doesn’t know what exactly, she says, and then she can’t stop crying, and I really can’t hear anything anymore.

They were playing, in the cow pasture.
They were always playing together. Sister stroked his bald head.
Then she saw that thing. It looked like a pineapple and it was lying on the rubbish tip. She picked it up and showed it to him.
‘Give it to me’, he said, ‘that’s dangerous, they told me at school.’
She gave it to him and then there was a bang, and suddenly he didn’t have a head anymore. Or arms, I don’t know, each time she tells it differently.

When sister cries, then the murmuring voice is even more loving and warm.

Lately sister doesn’t cry as often. But she doesn’t talk either. Only sometimes to the owl. I hear it talk back to her. Whoo, whoo. He only does that for her, says the murmuring voice.

There is also a deep voice.
He said not so long ago, ‘That grenade should not have been lying there. I’ll find who’s to blame.’
‘You’ll never find him,’ said the murmuring voice. ‘Only the neighbours are allowed on the cow pasture. But if nobody has said anything by now, they never will.’
‘I can’t live with that,’ the deep voice said.

Then she had an idea. She had a sign made and she hung it next to the front door.
The sign says: "This is to inform you that this was Simo’s house. His family, friends and neighbours grieve for him. He died before his time."
‘Look,’ she said, ‘whoever is guilty also grieves for our child. It’s here, in black and white.’
Since then the deep voice sounds much more lively.

But sister still says nothing.
‘I don’t want no more’, that’s the only thing she says.
Then I feel a wave over my head and it gets a bit stuffy and close here for a moment.

But, now, here it is.
I mean: here am I.
And I am very important. The doctor said so.
She, the murmuring voice, didn’t really want this. ‘Imagine, at my age!’ she said.
But the doctor said, ‘Only then will sister be able to forget her grief a little, that’s the miracle of a new brother or sister.’

That miracle, that’s me. What do you think of that!
I’m quite looking forward to it. Yes, I’ve lain in the bath long enough. I’m getting out. Sister, where are you?
Look, I’ve got a bald head as well!
Sister, here I am!

The New Child

The War in Bosnia and Herzegovina was an international armed conflict that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina between April 1992 and December 1995. The former Yugoslavia consisted of six republics and two autonomous regions. Today Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia are independent nations. Serbia and Montenegro comprise the rest of Yugoslavia.

Bosnia-Herzegovina has the most complex mix of religious traditions: Bosniaks (Muslims), Bosnian Serb (Eastern Orthodox), and Bosnian Croat (Roman Catholics). Bosnian Muslims are Slavs who converted to Islam in the 14th and 15th centuries after the Ottoman Empire conquered the region.

From World War I until the end of the Cold War, Bosnia was part of the newly created country of Yugoslavia. Bosnia declared its independence in March 1992.

Serbia is the largest and most populous of former Yugoslavia. Two thirds are ethnic Serbs of traditionally Eastern Orthodox religion. Until 1989, Serbia also had two autonomous regions, Kosovo and Vojvodina. Kosovo, bordering Albania, was the historic seat of a traditional Serbian kingdom and the site of the famous Battle of Kosovo in 1389, when the Serbs were conquered by Ottoman forces. Today Kosovo&lsqou;s population is almost entirely ethnic Albanian, most of them Muslims. The Albanians are a pre-Slavic ethnic group speaking a distinct language unrelated to the various forms of Serbo-Croatian spoken throughout the former Yugoslavia.

Croatia is the second largest republic of former Yugoslavia, more than three quarters of its residents were ethnic Croatian and only a few ethnic Serb, who were concentrated in the Krajina region, which closely follows Croatia&lsqou;s border with Bosnia. Most Croatians are Roman Catholic. Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia in June 1991. During the summer of 1995, Croatian forces reclaimed the Krajina and drove more than 200,000 Serbs into exile in Serbia.

Montenegro was the only republic not conquered by the Ottoman Empire or other outside powers and its population is mainly Serb Orthodox.

Macedonia is home to mostly Macedonian Slavs who are for the biggest part Orthodox Christians with some Muslims, Albanians who are principally Muslim, and a host of smaller minorities (Turks, Gypsies, Vlachs). Macedonia became the only former Yugoslav republic to make a non-violent transition to independence in 1992. The Albanian population has long demanded some degree of cultural autonomy and, until the current crisis, most Macedonian-Albanians have attempted to go about this by working within the existing power structures.

Slovenia, the smallest in land mass but the wealthiest of the former republics, is also the closest to western Europe, sharing a border with Austria. Its population is almost entirely composed of ethnic Slovenes, who have their own distinctive Slavic language and traditions. Slovenia declared its independence at the same time as Croatia, in June 1991.

The war came about as a result of the breakup of Yugoslavia. Following the Slovenian and Croatian secessions from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, the multi-ethnic Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina had passed a referendum for their independence on 29 February 1992. This was rejected by the political representatives of the Bosnian Serbs, who had boycotted the referendum and established their own republic. Following the declaration of independence, the Bosnian Serbs, supported by the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic and the Yugoslav People's Army, mobilized their forces inside the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to secure Serbian territory and war soon broke out across the country, accompanied by the ethnic cleansing of the Bosniak population, especially in Eastern Bosnia.

It was principally a territorial conflict, initially between the Serb forces, mostly organized in the Army of Republika Srpska on the one side, and the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina which was largely composed of Bosniaks, and the Croat forces in the Croatian Defence Council, on the other side. The Croats also aimed at securing parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina as Croatian. The Serb and Croat political leadership agreed on a partition of Bosnia with the Karadordevo and Graz agreements, resulting in the Croat forces turning on the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Croat-Bosniak war. The war was characterized by bitter fighting, indiscriminate shelling of cities and towns, ethnic cleansing and systematic mass rape, largely led by Serb and, to a lesser extent, Croat forces. Events such as the Siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre would become iconic of the conflict.

The Serbs, although initially superior due to the vast amount of weapons and resources provided by the Yugoslav People's Arm the JNA, eventually lost momentum as the Bosniaks and Croats allied themselves against the Republika Srpska in 1994 with the creation of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina following the Washington agreement.

After the Srebrenica and Markale massacres, NATO intervened during the 1995 Operation Deliberate Force against the positions of the Army of Republika Srpska, which proved key in ending the war. The war was brought to an end after the signing of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina in Paris on the 14th of December 1995. Peace negotiations were held in Dayton, Ohio, and were finalized on the 21st of December 1995. The accords are now known as the Dayton Agreement. The Dayton Peace Accords, signed on the 14th of December, 1995, by Presidents Milosevic, Izetbegovic, and Tudjman, affirmed Sarajevo as the capital of Bosnia but carved Bosnia into two autonomous and ethnically based entities, separated by a demilitarized zone. The Serbs, in control of the Republika Srpska, were rewarded for their unbridled aggression and genocide with 49% almost half of the territory of Bosnia. The Bosnians, who were granted the remaining 51% part of the country, called the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, an uneasy alliance of Bosnian Muslims and Croats. Each entity has its own government, military, and police. A central government handles banking and foreign policy.

Background info

The Colour of War

Today began with an explosion by the bus stop.

Everything that is being brought in here is red. First, the red is sorted. From very red to a little bit red. Very red is easy, very red is dead. But you still have to check that mountain of piled-up flesh. There could still be something alive in there.

If there’s life, a card is hung around the neck. A white card. In contrast to the post-its on the corpses – the post-its are light yellow. The colour doesn’t mean anything. It could just as well have been the other way round.

A number is put on the white cards. We write next to it what has to be done. Amputation, stitches, that sort of thing. After that they have to wait.
Not all of them want to. Some find themselves more important than their number.
Those in most pain are often the most patient. Or they’re in too much pain to protest.

The noise...
The banging on the iron gates. From family members who want to know. If their son or mother is lying in the pile of flesh. How many limbs they still have left. When, for God’s sake, they will be helped.

I smoke a cigarette. In the canteen. Where everything is blue. Blue floor, blue walls, blue tablecloths. No red anywhere. Endless blue.

I can carry on. From one stretcher to the other. Grandfathers, children, women, men – too young to be men.
I know that what I do is good. They can get going again. Soon they’ll be on their feet.
At the barre – as if they could still be ballet dancers.
On the exercise step – not with one, but with two artificial legs. There he is, my champ.

I have to be pleased with that.

The nights are the best. Then I lose myself in the soft flesh of Swedish Ana who has stood close by me the whole day long, while I rooted around in that other flesh.
I don’t think about my wife then, she’s just sent me a parcel. I don’t think about anything then.
Until the soft groans that rise from all the beds – constantly, all night long – drown out our pleasure. The night brings no solace.

Tomorrow is another day.
Maybe a day without explosions. With only gunshot wounds.
Maybe an appendix? I’d kill for an appendix.

A bang... and an echo. Coming in.
Today will be red again.

But there’s also blue.
No matter how red it gets here.
Soon there is blue.
Heavenly blue.

The Colour of War

When the Soviet Union finally signed the peace accords in April 1988 and had started to withdraw their troops in May of that same year, the second phase of the Afghan Civil War began. By February 15, 1989 when the last soldier had left, the Afghan communist government was left to fend for itself against the mujahideen. U.S. intelligence agencies were expecting the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan regime, which had been in place since the military coup, named the SAUR Revolution, on April 27th, 1978, to collapse within three to six months. It would take three years of heavy fighting.

Amongst the reasons for it lasting this long were the large quantities of military hardware donated by the Soviet Union, in 1989, the army and pro-government militias still had lots of tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery pieces, modern fighter-bombers and attack helicopters. Also the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan continued to receive lots of financial aid from the Soviet Union, valued between two and six billion dollars a year, and Soviet military advisors were ever present in Afghanistan. And, pro-government militias were of unexpected strength. Numbering 40,000 men drawn from the Uzbek minority, they took their orders directly from president Najibullah, who used them as a strategic reserve.

On the other hand, some of the mujahideen benefited from expanded foreign military support from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other nations. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, at the head of one of the mujahideen forces, was the primary beneficiary of U.S. support, because it was delivered through its middleman Pakistan. Hekmatyar was Pakistans favorite.

Because the Afghan government did not fall apart as soon as they had expected, the American and Pakistan supporters of some of the mujahideen decided to hasten its demise. They planned an operation to capture Jalalabad. And the Pakistanis intented to install a government under their favorite, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. They desired Jalalabad as their provisional capital.

When the attack began on the 5th of March 1989, it went very well for the mujahideen at first. They captured the village of Samarkhel and the Jalalabad airfield. But government troops that started to surrender, along with unarmed civilians, were tortured and executed by Hekmatyar's and some other forces. This made the option of surrender impossible for the leftover communists who then fought even harder. Soon, the attacking forces were soon blocked by the main Afghan army positions that were protected by bunkers, barbed wire and mine fields. The government troops had lots of support of the Afghan Airforce; cluster bombs were used intensively. Scud firing batteries, deployed around Kabul and manned by Soviet troops fired many missiles in support of the Jalalabad garrison. Despite their imprecision, these weapons had a severe effect on the morale of the mujahideen, who could do nothing to prevent them.

mad Shah Massoud, located from north to central Afghanistan, controlled the strategically important Salang highway and made steady progress to capture the Bagram airbase just outside Kabul.

Hekmatyar's forces developed a reputation for attacking other resistance forces, especially those of Ahmad Shah Massoud. By 1992, Afghanistan was in dire straits. Reserves of natural gas, Afghanistan's only export, had dried out since 1989, rendering the country completely dependent on Soviet aid. By 1991, the Soviet economy was itself faltering, preventing the Soviets from fulfilling their commitments and until completely dropping their support of the Afghan government.

In January 1992, the Afghan Airforce, which had proved vital to the survival of the regime, could no longer fly any aircraft through lack of fuel. The army suffered from crippling food shortages, causing a very high desertion rate. With the end of the Soviet aid, the government could no longer satisfy weapon demands of the pro-government militias, and their loyalty began to waver.

Finally, after negotiations between the government and Ahmad Shah Massoud, the main government militia defected in April 1992 to the mujahideen.

Najibullah's regime began to collapse and soon after he resigned. On April 14, 1992 Massoud and his forces had taken Charikar and Jabalussaraj in Parwan province with only minimal fighting. At this point it was reported that Massoud had approximately 20,000 troops stationed around Kabul. Also the government's Second Division had joined Massoud. And by mid-April the Airforce command at Bagram had capitulated to Massoud as well. With no army to defend it, Kabul had become completely defenseless.

With Najibullah resigning, the way for a neutral interim government was made. A group of mujahideen generals and officials declared themselves an interim government for the purpose of handing over power to the dominant and most popular military force: General Ahmad Shah Massoud.

But Massoud was hesitant to enter Kabul and waiting for the political parties to reach a peace and power-sharing agreement first. In April 1992, with the Peshawar Accords, an interim government was formed with a Supreme Leadership Council, and a transitory presidency that was given to Sibghatullah Mojaddedi for two months, after which Burhanuddin Rabbani was to succeed him. Hekmatyar was given the post of Prime Minister, but he did not accept this position for he did not want to share power and Pakistan was urging him to take power for himself. Massoud in a recorded conversation tried to convince Hekmatyar to join the peace agreement and not to enter Kabul. But Hekmatyar replied: "We will march into Kabul with our naked sword. No one can stop us."

And so they did. Hekmatyar's forces began to infiltrate Kabul. This forced Massoud to advance on the capital in order to preserve the Peshawar Accords and prevent the establishment of a Hekmatyar dictatorship. The different mujahideen groups entered Kabul from different directions.

Hekmatyar's forces were far from the key points of the city like the Presidential Palace, the Prime Minister's office, Kabul International Airport, the Defense Ministry and many other important government offices. The mujahideen weren't. After suffering heavy casualties, most of Hekmatyar's forces fled out of Kabul and deserted their positions.

Kabul came completely under Islamic State control on April 30, 1992, but the situation was far from stabilized. Though Hekmatyar's forces had been driven out, they were still within artillery range, and soon started firing tens of thousands of rockets, supplied by Pakistan, into the city.

Background info

Keep on Steppin’

Marjoleine Boonstra

Femke Wolting
Bruno Felix

Céline Linssen

Design & Animation
Jurriaan Esmeijer
Christiaan de Rooij

Interaction design
Jurriaan Esmeijer

Marjoleine Boonstra

Harry de Wit

Mix & Sounddesign
Marc Lizier (Kink Audio)
Jannes Noorman

Adrian Brine
Adam Fields
Tim Gunther
Dorothy Heady-Caroll
Claire King

Animation & Graphics assistants
Tim Jonkmans
Yvonne Brouwers

Gijs Kattenberg

Alison Dunnette

Editor Submarine Channel
Geert van de Wetering
Remco Vlaanderen

Yaniv Wolf
Daphne Plomp

Line producer
Willeke Steenbeeke

Editor in chief HUMAN
Bert Janssens

Thanks to
Karel Brascamp
Patrick Gutlich
Vera Holland
Rob IJpelaar
Lies Janssen
Arnost Kraus (Kemna Casting)
Christine Nevejan
Rico van Nieuwkoop
Koop Reijnders
Ilja Roomans
Willemien Ruys
Grace Schouteren
Lars Verkerk
Jorrit de Vries

This production was made possible with the support of the Dutch Cultural Media Fund and VSB FUND

A Submarine Channel production in co-production with HUMAN Television