J. Malcolm Garcia first went to war in 2001.
He had been reporting for The Star since 1998, spending much of this time covering social service agencies and their clients. Those often were residents who had found themselves on life’s margins and were not used to reporters seeking their opinions.
When Garcia arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan, he found himself again seeking out those not used to being interviewed. Among them: members of the approximately 200 families in Bamiyan, a community about 10 hours north of Kabul whose residents in the summer of 2002 had been forced into living in a series of caves after the Taliban had leveled their villages.
They didn’t mind talking to Garcia. One of them, when Garcia slipped on a treacherous cliff ledge, provided a prosthetic leg for him to grab.
“They just really seemed grateful that someone was interested,” Garcia said recently.
He’s still seeking such sources out, but not just in Afghanistan. Garcia, who has worked as a freelance writer since 2009, has sought out oil boom workers in Chad and beleaguered earthquake relief officials in Pakistan, among others.
As Garcia writes in his introduction, when he returned to Kansas City after his first trip to Kabul, he couldn’t keep from thinking of the faces he encountered there. So he has gone back. Now Garcia’s overseas reporting has been collected in “What Wars Leave Behind: The Faceless and the Forgotten.”
Here readers will find precious little politics. A story Garcia filed last year from Kabul, and which appeared in The Star, concerned the approximately 6 million young people in Afghanistan whose futures grew more uncertain as NATO coalition troops prepared to leave.
His sources included a 16-year-old shoeshine entrepreneur.
“I come from a social services background, and I have always been attracted to the grassroots lives of people who fall below the radar of the news,” said Garcia, who now operates out of the Chicago area. “They are in the news when something really bad happens and then the news moves on. But those people are still in that bad situation.
“Despite all the anti-Western sentiment that we hear in the news, the people I spoke to really had nothing against Americans. They had no agenda against any group of people. They just wanted to get on with their lives, and they seemed puzzled that they had been caught in this situation.”
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