Democracy in a finger

I connect to the world through my eyes. Images have always helped me understanding the world and interpreting both my experiences and the outside.

On April 5th, in Afghanistan more than seven million women and men went to vote to choose a new president. I was in Italy on that day: with my feet in a continent and my heart elsewhere, in Kabul. I was torn by the desire to be in the present, yet dissatisfied by my geography and uncomfortable with the feeling of being in the wrong place.

Considering the context and the threats that made many foresee an apocalyptic scenario, election day went pretty smooth: relatively few casualties, relatively little fraud, an unexpectedly high turnout and a significant women’s participation (amounting to almost 40% of the total voters).

The escalation of violence in the past few weeks, however, has changed many things and quite quickly perspectives shifted from the political to the personal, widening the distance between here and there and making it harder to both understand and explain the reasons of my choices.

From a distance, and listening to my friends’ accounts, April 5th has been a great demonstration of democracy. It was a day of lived and participated democracy, maybe not of the kind you may read on manuals, but rather declined in local shades and tones and therefore, possibly, even more authentic. The final results will arrive in the coming weeks and only then we’ll know whether it has been an isolated moment of positivity or a tiny seed with deep roots. For now, we are left with the good taste of hope. A contagious taste, one that is hard to forget once you’ve tried it.

It is perhaps this taste, the taste of hope and unpredictability, that keeps me bound to Afghanistan – a taste that, however vivid, is very hard to describe with words.

Once again, an image can come to the rescue to describe what I cannot otherwise.

On April 5th, when the polling stations were about to close, Shafi Sharifi posted a photo on Twitter. It captured the hand of a man and a ballot: a hand with only fours fingers, a missing index finger and an ink-stained fourth finger. We don’t know this man’s name, we only know that he went to vote in 2009 and Taliban chopped off the tip of his index finger as a punishment for disobeying to their request to boycott the elections. Violence did not deter him and in 2014 decided to vote again ignoring the renewed threats. At the polling station, after he casted his vote, he asked to dip his fourth finger in the blue ink since he did not have the index anymore.

It is because of that bit of missing finger that I look forward to going back to Kabul.

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