The power of eyes

Sikander (Besham, Pakistan)

Besham, Pakistan

Early on in Khaled Husseini’s book The Kite Runner, the main character says, “To this day, I find it hard to gaze directly at people like Hassan, people who mean every word they say.” The reader can’t read this line without conjuring up some mental image of Hassan, and that image will likely be centered on one thing: his eyes. (Alright, you could argue that’s two things.)

A delight of travel is to see the eyes of other people and absorb not only their beauty but also what they convey about the breadth of human experience. The Pakistani man in this photo, for example, is Sikander, who I met on a minibus in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. Sitting next to me, he expressed concern for my long legs in the confined back seat, and he asked if I was warm enough as the van puttered upward into high mountains and a thunderstorm. At the end of the long day’s journey, I took this picture as we drank tea together, lightning ripping through town on the streets outside. Sikander had just invited me to spend the night with his family, which he hadn’t seen in a year (he worked in Bahrain and was on his way home for an annual one-month break). He was a man of few words but his eyes filled in the gaps. They expressed a kindness, a familiarity with hard work, a rootedness.

At the end of an extended period abroad, particularly to a region where eyes rest in rugged faces, I find that my own eyes feel different. It’s hard to explain really, but I suppose something happens when we allow our eyes to connect to other eyes. We shape one another.

One of my favorite photo essay sites is’s The Big Picture, which will lay out the world before you in all its startling beauty and horror. Check out the 46 images in their “Faces of Haiti” essay. If interested in more of my own images of faces in Asia and Latin America, you can find a few on youtube at “Faces of the World and some Bob Dylan.”

Posted by | Comments (3)  | January 28, 2010
Category: Images from the road

3 Responses to “The power of eyes”

  1. Shalabh Says:

    Beautiful post!! There are no other words for it.

  2. brian | No Debt World Travel Says:

    I think this is why it is suggested to not wear dark shades or sunglasses in certain countries because people can’t see your eyes. It can be considered standoffish even if no disrespect was meant.

  3. Ted Beatie Says:

    This is a great story, Joel. The eyes are the most dynamic, most universal, most expressive part of the face. What I love when traveling is seeing how the same emotions can appear differently in the facial structures of different cultures.