This bullet was a gift I received from a Taxi driver in Iran. It was March of 2022 and a friend and I were in Iran during Nowruz (Persian new year); we had had an unsettling experience at a hotel and were trying to get away as fast as possible. An old man picked us up. As we drove, I noticed that the lock screen of his phone was a photo of a handsome young man brandishing an AK-47. I asked if it was him. He proudly said yes. I dug a little deeper and discovered that our driver had a fascinating past. For those of you who have ever sat in Tehran traffic, you know there was time to dig deep into each other’s life stories. 

As we delved deeper into our conversation, he unveiled the scars on his arms and his chest, and one on his neck; remnants of a dark period in his life where he endured imprisonment and unimaginable torture in Syria and Iraq. He was subjected to electrocution, whippings, waterboarding, mock-executions, sleep-deprivation, and had had finger nails and teeth pulled out. We could sense the courage emanating from him as he recounted his experiences fighting for the PKK (The Kurdistan Worker’s Party); a Kurdish militia.

I couldn’t help but share my recent expeditions in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, which, since 2019, has served as my base while I documented the reconstruction of the city of Mosul. To my delight, his face suddenly lit up, as if a spark of shared connection ignited between us. H asked to see photos of my journey, and I obliged, showcasing my collection of photos from the region.

After about an hour, the taxi ride drew to a close. With gratitude and kindness, he insisted on presenting us with a a gift. Though he didn’t have much,  he reached into his jacket and revealed an inner pocket full of small, gleaming bullets. With a warm smile, he handed one to each of us, put his hand over his heart, got back into his taxi and drove away. 

I’d love to say that this was an extraordinary encounter, but his story is one of many similar stories I have heard. Unfortunately I have witnessed the evil that men are capable of inflicting on each other. However, each and every story serves as a powerful reminder of the resilience of the human spirit and the unexpected connections that can be forged in this life.