04/19/2013 12:54 pm ET Updated Apr 19, 2013

'To Boston From Kabul, With Love': Beth Murphy On Why Afghans Held Her Sign (PHOTOS)

Hey random stranger, hold this sign I made,” wrote one Redditor Tuesday, trying to make sense of “To Boston. From Kabul. With Love.” The photo essay that has been circulating online depicts Afghans holding a handwritten sign with the titular message handwritten in black. Scroll down for images.

The photographs, one of which features two women in full hijab, are striking, and not a little confusing; the backstory is a hard one to decipher.


Someone lower in the Reddit thread posits that no one in the photographs can read English. Otherwise, how could a people constantly absorbing casualties find the empathy to mourn deaths in the invader's homeland?

But the filmmaker behind the series, Beth Murphy, who spoke with the Huffington Post by phone from Kabul, says that's the unlikely scenario she encountered.

Murphy, a documentarian from Boston, was filming in Kabul when bombs shook her hometown marathon, killing three and wounding hundreds.

On Monday, Murphy thought she was rereading one of her own texts reassuring family checking in a week earlier after one of the deadliest insurgent attacks in a decade swept Afghanistan. But the text was from her husband in Boston: “We’re ok. And everyone we know is safe.”

Murphy couldn’t shake “the sick irony of waking up here with that going on there.” Her response was to "send love home," by photographing herself with a simple message. In an email, she explained why she ditched her original idea, and began documenting Afghans holding her sign instead:

My intent changed as I talked to people here about what had happened – many had heard the news – and I saw the pain in their faces, and reminders of their own hardships. They said, “I’m so sorry,” with that defining head shake that doesn’t need another word of explanation; it says, “I understand.”

Her first subject was Frozan Rahmani, a project officer for the global non-profit CARE International. Rahmani, an Afghan native, gave Murphy insight into why citizens of war-racked regions would grieve violence elsewhere (Murphy recorded the words):

“Every time I hear about attacks happening, whether it’s in the United States, Pakistan, England or here, I became too sad. All those people had hopes and dreams for their futures. Their parents had hopes and dreams for their futures. It doesn’t matter that we experience this more often here. No one should experience any of it ever. It’s always the innocent who suffer.”

When Rahmani expressed that she wished she could do something for Bostonites, Murphy asked if she would be the face of her message home. As Murphy encountered more people through the day who wanted to talk about the bombing, she gathered more pictures.

Frozan Rahmani.

There was, however, one point that drew a conflicted response, Murphy said. “When they asked, ‘How many people were killed?’ and I answered, ‘Three,’ I could see them trying to digest it. They wouldn’t say anything -- they were too kind -- but I could see it on their faces. Like, ‘Oh, only three.’”

To Boston With Love
To Boston With Love