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Seventeen years after she stared out from the cover of National Geographic, a former Afghan refugee comes face-to-face with the world once more.
Daring the border, Debra Denker and Steve McCurry join Afghans who fight and those who flee in a stalemated war that has killed countless civilians and forced a quarter of the population into exile. 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. In January a team from National Geographic Television & Film’s EXPLORER brought McCurry to Pakistan to search for the girl with green eyes. The journey that began with the loss of their parents and a trek across mountains by foot ended in a refugee camp tent living with strangers. In the mid-1990s, during a lull in the fighting, Sharbat Gula went home to her village in the foothills of mountains veiled by snow.
Her husband, Rahmat Gul, is slight in build, with a smile like the gleam of a lantern at dusk.


At the age of 13, Yusufzai, the journalist, explained, she would have gone into purdah, the secluded existence followed by many Islamic women once they reach puberty.
Faced by questions, she retreats into the black shawl wrapped around her face, as if by doing so she might will herself to evaporate. They showed her picture around Nasir Bagh, the still standing refugee camp near Peshawar where the photograph had been made.
For a week they moved through mountains covered in snow, begging for blankets to keep warm. To live in this earthen-colored village at the end of a thread of path means to scratch out an existence, nothing more. In the street she wears a plum-colored burka, which walls her off from the world and from the eyes of any man other than her husband. They are haunted and haunting, and in them you can read the tragedy of a land drained by war.


There are terraces planted with corn, wheat, and rice, some walnut trees, a stream that spills down the mountain (except in times of drought), but no school, clinic, roads, or running water. Her asthma, which cannot tolerate the heat and pollution of Peshawar in summer, limits her time in the city and with her husband to the winter. A young woman named Alam Bibi was located in a village nearby, but McCurry decided it wasn’t her. She had returned to Afghanistan years ago, he said, and now lived in the mountains near Tora Bora. Sharbat has never known a happy day, her brother says, except perhaps the day of her marriage.



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