A stack of yellow-spined National Geographic magazines never fails to excite me.
I used to pore over my parents’ editions back when I was about 13 years old; the photographs were electrifying. Like this 1985 cover of an Afghan girl.
Although I did love the photographs of animals and nature scenes, it was the images of people which sucked me in the most.
I recall one series taken in a Muslim country, perhaps Saudi Arabia, which showed an execution scene. I have not seen the pictures for nearly 30 years, and yet they are as clear in my mind as the image above.
Several photos were presented. The prisoner – I believe it was a woman, as she was fully covered – was lead to a perfectly swept city square. Around the square were men, crowded at least 5 people deep, and waiting quietly. The executioner was in attendance, an enormous curved sword in his hand.
The woman was pushed down into a kneeling postion.
The next shot showed a crumpled body on the perfect grey tiles. A crowd member standing between the camera man and the prisoner obscured the neck and head of the deceased. The executioner held his sword aloft; it dripped red.
On the ground, a pool of dark, dark blood crept away from the dead woman. The next shot showed a larger pool, a river even, which had moved towards the men at the base of the picture.
I stared at the blood. Again, and again. Absolutely fascinated. Fascinated that a body could leak so much blood, but also that such an event could ever actually happen and people would prepare an arena especially, and congregate to witness it with no apparent shock or sense of horror.
One day, I sat down in front of the pile of magazines, but couldn’t find the one containing that sequence. I looked and looked, but it was gone. Maybe my parents hid it, a little afraid of my obsession?
Now, as an adult, I have subscribed to National Geographic on and off. Above my son’s desk, just to to left of mine, is a pile of magazines from 2006. The cover story in the January edition reads Who’s winning in Irag. Pages 20 and 21 show an image of a woman Hamina Khidhir Abdullah lying on a hospital bed, one leg amputated and stitched crudely just below the knee, the other leg with an open wound showing deep tissue injury. She stepped on a land mine whilst picking herbs in northern Iraq.
I caught my son staring at the picture.