“What is a woman doing here? Why did you bring her?” The screams of the vigilante who poked his head inside his car echoed in the head of Maria Grazia Cutuli, an Italian reporter at the time 32 years old. Through the window, sacks of ammunition and mountains of debris could be seen, a tank in the distance. It was June 1995, on the outskirts of Kabul, when the Taliban had already conquered Kandahar and were a few months away from dominating most of the country. The driver managed to defend himself with another couple of shouts.
The journalist had met a Taliban leader. He had already interviewed Ahmad Masud, the leader of the resistance, but that was best not to tell the sentry. The local Taliban leader hardly wanted to speak to her because she was a woman and did not understand how her Kabul bosses had sent her an interviewer. But something got out of him.
Then Maria Grazia worked for the magazine Epoch and he had taken advantage of his vacation to travel to Afghanistan with a photographer friend, Raffaelle Ciriello. Afghanistan was of little interest to an Italian news weekly, especially when the focus was on the Balkans. But she was the same, driven by instinct and by what she had read from another journalist, the Frenchman Olivier Rolin, who described Kabul as “the center of the world, that is, nowhere.” The words of Olivier Rolin and later his novel, Port SudanThey were one of the particular treasures that Maria Grazia would later share with me, as with other dear and fortunate friends.
On that first trip, Maria Grazia wrote about war, kalashnikovs and various stalkers. But also the strength of individuals in the face of horror. Afghanistan pushed her to seek the brightness of life in the midst of tragedy. We are talking about men and women who suffer, but who strive to move on because life, in the end, does not stop, she said. From there a report on hope was born, with volunteers, doctors, interpreters, women, men and children full of energy. There are always people, and with them, also hope. It’s the roses, “the roses of Kabul “, she baptized them.
After that first trip, he returned to Afghanistan over the years, also before it was the focus of world attention after 9/11. And she no longer had to go on her vacation but as an envoy from the Corriere della Sera, the first newspaper in Italy. He was polishing that theory of the Kabul roses. “It will be the women who save Afghanistan,” he used to say.
Among the many nonsense that is read when something serious happens is that the western media – as well in general – have not covered what was happening in Afghanistan, or that they did a little while ago 20 years ago and another little now. Many have done it and it has often been thanks to the effort and passion of journalists like Maria Grazia, even when readers were turning to something else, which is most of the time.
Some with more resources, as always, cover better and longer the places when there is news and when there is no news. The New York Times has evacuated now dozens of people he had working there, many Afghans. The agencies have continued there, although their teletypes did not reach very high on the cover, also the EFE agency. Often at the cost of risking life. A few weeks before the Taliban assault, a Reuters journalist was killed while doing his job.
Even with few resources, we have not stopped telling the story. Probably, dear reader, you did not read the story of the girls that an Afghan newspaper made and we published on July 5, but hopefully you have read some of it. the interviews and testimonies of the last two weeks, with a special effort to get people from Afghanistan to speak, be they experts or witnesses.
I have been thinking a lot about Maria Grazia for weeks. I have dreamed of her again after many years. November 19 marks 20 years since the Taliban killed her on the road between Jalalabad and Kabul. I was with Julio Fuentes, sent from The world, Harry Burton, an Australian cameraman, and the performer Azizula Haidari.
Maria Grazia would have despaired of the horror scenes of the country that she already knew so well. But I would have liked to be there. And I don’t know how, but I would have found those roses again.