Afghan women learn to use a water filter and share some opinions about the upcoming departure of Americans troops from Afghanistan. Mark Schapiro talks by Skype with journalist Mimi Wells on assignment for CIR in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

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Mark Schapiro: So, it’s very nice to see you again, Mimi. We’ve been reading about some of the action that’s been happening in that area, and it seems to have intensified. Do you feel that, being there?

Mimi Wells: On my way up here, we were rocketed three times. I was in the public affairs office, and we had to sprint out and take cover in a bunker, and we were in there for a long time. It was scary.

And in the Black Hawk I was on, it was actually pitch black; they fly by night-vision goggles. We’re coming up the mountains into Kunar, and all of a sudden, a burst of machine gun fire, and we were shooting down, and I guess we were getting shot at. And it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on. That was the first time I’d been shot at inside of a helicopter.  

Schapiro: So you went on a mission today. What was that mission?

Wells: I went with Lt. (Lauren) Luckey, who is the head of the female engagement team here, who really is the only female engagement team member here in northern Kunar. She grabbed a couple of female soldiers – three of them – to come along.

The mission was to show these women how to use these water filters and then give them to them. And it was quite interesting because we ­– first, we went in with Lt. Luckey and the three female soldiers. You know, the women took their burkas off, and even though I had my camera, it took a little coaxing, and we were in a courtyard together, and it was quite an open, interesting environment.

And then, because the filters were being presented by this group out of Hawaii, and they’re men, they asked if they could come in, and that was sort of an issue. And then the women decided they could come in if they wore their burkas. So then we’re sitting there in the courtyard and these women are ­– through the burka – learning and putting together these water filters.  

Lt. Lauren Luckey: Twist here and it’s locked.

Wells: And then they put a burka on me, actually. They wanted me to try a burka on, and I wore one for a little bit to try and get an inside view of what that’s like.  

Schapiro: How did that feel?

Wells: It was very interesting. At first, I thought, “Well, this isn’t as bad as I thought it was.” It’s really this mesh screen, and there are a lot of holes in it, but then you realize you have no peripheral vision.

And then afterwards, we ate. The men were outside eating, and the women, we all sat inside. A lot of the women left, but some of them stayed and they took off their burkas and were eating and talking a little about politics and what’s going to happen when the Americans leave, etc.

Schapiro: What was the nature of that conversation?  

Wells: You know, this is a generation of women – they’re like in their 40s, I want to say – they recall that time that they wore skirts and sleeveless shirts, and they’re educated. And they are here in Kunar, and they’re doing their best. They’re teachers, they are in an elevated position, so to speak, and they think it’s all going to basically go to hell when the Americans leave.

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Mimi Wells

Mimi Wells is a multimedia journalist based out of New York. In May 2011, she graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She then studied Pashtu on a scholarship from the South Asia Language Institute. In September 2011, Mimi traveled to eastern Afghanistan with the support of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Her writing and photography have appeared in the International Herald Tribune, and The New York Times.

Mark Schapiro specializes in international and environmental stories. His award-winning work appears in all media: in publications such as Harpers, The Atlantic, Mother Jones and Yale 360; on television, including PBS FRONTLINE/World and KQED; on public radio including Marketplace; and on the web. He is currently writing a book for Wiley & Co. investigating the backstory to our carbon footprints. His previous book, "EXPOSED: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power," reveals the health and economic implications of the tightening of environmental standards by the European Union.