people are mostly the same wherever you go, regardless of race, religion, culture or for whichever side of whatever conflict they may currently fight on, all are essentially the same. whatever else their beliefs, they want to work, provide for their families and provide a better life for their children than the one that was offered to them.
this desire seems more prevalent and evident in the countries i've worked in across the middle east and in south asia, than when i'm back home in the relative comfort of western society - or maybe it's just more striking. the desire to work hard and achieve something, even if that is simply to provide bread and water each day.
walking around the streets and alleyways of hawler, or erbil - depending on your allegiance, kurdish or iraqi - was a great opportunity to see this. markets, bizarres, souks, traders, street sellers of all kinds from kids recycling cans and bottles to carpenters offering their services for hire or the gold merchants with their sparkling displays, or even the old blind guy stumbling through the street hand out stretched for any change that might come his way; all are trying their best to get by.
the guy in the photograph below, i had walked past a few times in the weeks i was there, he runs a commercial laundry service from his home a stones throw from the foot of the mighty citadel (the oldest continually inhabited place on the planet, yet is still being denied unesco world heritage status). i'd said hello a few times over the weeks as i searched the streets for the shots i wanted, but had never wanted to interrupt his work.
on this day he summoned me over, my kurdish limited to allowing me to get a taxi to wherever i needed to go, his english non existent, yet he made it clear that he wondered why i had never taken his picture. i tried to explain that i was trying to be respectful and not to interfere in his day. whether this was understood i am not sure, but smiles and handshakes seemed to appease him and i grabbed my polaroid, took a couple of shots of him in the alleyway and handed them over to him, offered my thanks for his time and went walk away.
as i did so, he caught my arm and pointed to my nikon, gesturing that he wanted me to take some proper pictures with the proper camera, i hadn't done this initially because i knew i would not be able to send him a copy of the pictures. i thought nothing of it at the time and went to raise the camera when he stopped me and hurriedly set about rinsing off the sheet he had been laundering and hung it on the line next to his shop front before taking up a position to the side of his handiwork.
i was a little bemused, but nonetheless fired off a couple of quick shots as he wished, shook hands again and went on my way through the alleyways in search of other shots.
later that evening when i was pouring through that day's images deciding which to work on, i came across the picture below. the exposure and focus was a bit iffy, clearly i was concentrating more or trying not to offend the guy than i was on my camera, but the image struck me immediately as one i would keep for myself if nothing else. at the time of shooting the image, i had not noticed his genuine pride, his poise and assured look. he clearly wanted me to take an image of him at his work to take away with me, not just hand over a couple of polaroids for him to keep. he was proud of his work.
it struck me then that pride in your work may not come from the activity, the level of education or skill required, but simply from what that work enables. achievements of doctors, professors, and politicians may be more widely celebrated, but if the pride you get from your work is simply that it enables you to provide food and water for your family, that achievement is surely the equal of any and one of which you should be truly proud.